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How to Create a Surreal Animal Photo Manipulation With 10 Photos in Adobe Photoshop

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This post is part of a series called 10 Years of Envato Tuts+!.
How to Create a Set of 10 Folk Flowers in Adobe Illustrator

In this tutorial I'll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a photo manipulation featuring an elephant and a rat skateboarding together.

First we'll build the base scene using two stock images. Later we'll add the road shadows, replace the sky, and import the skateboards. After that, we'll add the elephant and rat, and we'll blend them using adjustment layers, masking, and brushes. We'll import other elements, such as hats, lollipop, and luggage, and we'll use several adjustment layers to complete the final effect.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1293 px document in Photoshop with the given settings.

Step 2

Open the background image. Drag the image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V). Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

Step 3

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 12 px.

On the filter mask, select a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to erase the midground and foreground, leaving the blur effect visible only on the background.

Step 4

Create a new layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to remove the existing shadows of the objects on the road. We're aiming to make the main light come straight across from left to right, so the existing shadow should be erased or reduced.

Step 5

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and change the Midtones settings:

Step 6

Add a Curves adjustment layer and increase the contrast a little. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the middle to keep it a bit hazy.

Step 7

Make another Curves adjustment layer to increase the fuzziness of the middle. On the layer mask, paint on the top and the bottom of the background.

Step 8

Open the road image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the road area only and drag it into our main document using the Move Tool. Place it over the existing road. Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to remove the sidewalk.

Step 9

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 6 px to the road. On this filter mask, use a soft black brush to clear the blur effect in the midground (this is in order to locate the main elements).

Step 11

Make a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the road.

Step 12

Create another Curves adjustment layer to make the road hazier and mistier. Paint on the foreground to reduce the hazy effect there.

Step 1

First, create a new layer and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the sign with the letters JCT/181 (no need to be so precise). You should disable the Gaussian Blur filter on the background layer to see more clearly.

Fill this selection with a dark brown color (#1c190c) and flip it vertically (Edit >Transform> Flip Vertical). Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate it onto the right of the sign to fit the light direction. Make it longer and much thinner.

Step 2

Lower the opacity of this layer to 80% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to this layer.

Step 3

Make shadows for the other objects: signs, bushes, etc. They should be long and thin.

Step 4

Make another layer and use a soft brush with the same shadow color (#1c190c) to paint random shadows for the small bushes in the distance.

Select all shadow layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them. Lower the opacity of this group to 30%, and enable the Gaussian Blur filter on the background one.

3. How to Replace the Sky

Step 1

Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select the sky only and place it in the upper half of the canvas.

Use a layer mask to remove the hard edges at the bottom and blend it with the existing sky. Lower the brush opacity when masking off the sign area so the integration looks smooth and natural.

Step 2

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px to this layer.

Step 3

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #ece900.

Step 4

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights settings:

Step 5

Use a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the sky.

Step 6

To make the sky blend better with the background, create a new layer and use a large soft brush with #d6c7b3 color and about 45% opacity to paint on the middle of the canvas. You can use a layer mask to correct anything that looks too misty.

4. How to Import the Skateboards

Step 1

Open the skateboard image. Cut out the skateboard from the white background and place it on the right-hand side of the road. Duplicate it and make it much smaller, and then place it on the left.

Step 2

Create a group for the skateboards and change the group's mode to Normal 100%. The light on some wheels of the skateboards doesn't really suit the main light source. To fix it, make a new layer and change the mode to Multiply 100%. Use a yellow color for the brush (#b8ab0) and paint on the indicated details to reduce the light there.

Step 3

Use another layer (Multiply mode) with the color #5e5847. Paint on the metal details below the deck to make them a bit darker.

Step 5

Make a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the skateboards. Paint on the shadow areas below the deck so they won't be affected by this adjustment layer.

Step 6

Add a Levels adjustment layer with the same purpose. The selected areas show where to paint on the layer mask.

Step 7

The main light comes straight from left to right, so the shadows will only show the griptapes and decks. Create a new layer below the skateboard group and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the deck of the big skateboard and fill it with the color #1c190c. Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

Lower the opacity of this layer to 60% and use Control-T to make the shadow longer below the skateboard.

Add a mask to this layer and remove the left of the shadow. Also decrease its visibility on the right.

Step 8

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 3 px to the shadow layer. On the filter mask, paint on the left part of the shadow as it should be harder than the rest.

Step 9

Duplicate this shadow layer and move it below the small skateboard. Scale it down a lot to fit the size of the skateboard. Use a layer mask to remove the left and right of the shadow (the lifting parts).

5. How to Retouch the Elephant

Step 1

Open the elephant image. Isolate the one on the right and place him above the big skateboard. Resize him to fit the skateboard and remember to convert this layer to a Smart Object.

Step 2

We're aiming to turn this elephant into a baby one. Searching for references using Google, we can see the top of a baby's head is rounder, the legs and trunk shorter and plumper, and the skin smoother and less wrinkled.

First, we'll change the pose of the elephant a bit. Select Edit > Puppet Warp and drag the points on the top of the head downward a bit until it looks rounder. Also lift the trunk and legs a bit.

On the filter mask, use a soft black brush to erase the legs and eye.

Step 3

Add a mask to the elephant layer and use a medium-hard brush to remove the trunk and the bottom of the legs a bit so he looks as if he's standing on the skateboard.

Step 4

We'll use the legs from the original image and scale them much less than the existing ones so they will look shorter and plumper. Select the front leg from the original image and add it to the same position as the existing one. Use Control-T to lift this leg a bit higher.

Use a layer mask to blend the legs with the existing body.

Step 5

Add the other legs and the chest part using the same method.

Step 6

Add the trunk to replace the old one. Use Control-T with the Warp mode to make it shorter and raised a bit.

Step 7

It's time to clone the skin, which will help the skin look smoother. Start with the least rough area of the skin, and from that, clone over the elephant's body. The trick is to reduce the brush's opacity (about 50-60%) so that the cloned areas will look smooth, but still show some original details and textures.

Step 8

Make a group for the elephant layer and related ones. Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones values:

Step 9

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the elephant's color a bit.

Step 10

Create a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the elephant. Paint on the shadow areas and the part behind the ear to make its shadow on the body.

Step 11

Use another Curves adjustment layer to strengthen the shadow of the elephant. The selected areas show where to paint on the layer mask.

Step 12

Create a new layer above the elephant group. Change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 15-20% to refine the light and shadow on the elephant. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

Step 13

Make a new layer under the elephant group. Use a soft brush with the color #1c190c, opacity about 45% to paint the shadow of the elephant's feet on the back of the skateboard.

6. How to Retouch the Rat

Step 1

Cut out the rat from the original background and place him above the small skateboard. Use the Puppet Warp to lift his head a bit.

Step 2

Use a layer mask to remove the bottom of the feet outside the griptape.

Step 3

Change the rat's color using a Color Balance adjustment layer.

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the rat. The selected areas show how to mask off the shadow area of the rat.

Step 6

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to enhance the light and shadow of the rat.

Step 7

Create a new layer below the rat one. Hold Control and click the rat thumbnail layer to load his selection.

Fill this selection with the color #1c190c and flip it vertically. Stretch it and place it above the top of the small skateboard's shadow.

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px to this layer. Also use a layer mask to remove the legs' shadow and make the rat's one blend smoothly with that of the existing skateboard.

7. How to Add the Hats

Step 1

Cut out the hat and place it above the elephant's head. Duplicate this layer and make it much smaller. Add it to the head of the rat after flipping it horizontally.

Step 2

Make a new layer below the hat ones. Use a soft brush with the color #1c190c to paint shadows for the hats.

Step 3

Create a group for the hats and add a Color Balance adjustment layer. Alter the Midtones settings:

Step 4

Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the hat. Use a soft black brush to paint on the shadow area (the right side) of the hats so it won't be affected by this adjustment layer.

Step 5

Create another Curves adjustment layer to increase the shadow of the hats. Paint on the left side (bright area) to keep their lightness.

8. How to Create the Lollipop

Step 1

Open the lollipop image. First, isolate the stick of the lower one and add it below the elephant's trunk. Use Control-T to rotate it to fit the direction of the trunk.

Cut out the candy part and add it below the stick.

Step 2

Use the Dodge Tool on a new layer (set as Clipping Mask) to brighten the top of the candy.

Step 3

Make a group for the stick and candy layers. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to -55:

Step 4

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones settings:

Step 5

Use a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the lollipop.

9. How to Import the Luggage

Step 1

Extract the luggage 1 image from the background and place it onto the big skateboard, between the front legs of the elephant.

Use a layer mask to remove its bottom outside the griptape.

Step 3

Use the Dodge and Burn Tool on a new layer to refine the light and shadow of the suitcase. Also paint the shadow of the handle and some small details to fit the light sources.

Step 4

Open the luggage 2 image. Take the highest piece of luggage and place it onto the small skateboard, to the right of the rat, after resizing it down. Use a layer mask to remove its bottom.

Step 5

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the luggage's color a bit.

Step 6

Use the Dodge Tool to brighten the luggage as it looks too dark at the moment.

Step 7

Make several new layers and use a medium-soft brush with the color  #1c190c to paint the shadow of the handle of the small suitcase, the shadow of the rat on his luggage and skateboard, and the shadow of the leg of the elephant on the big suitcase.

10. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Create a new Color Fill adjustment layer on top of the layers and fill with the color #18011c. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.

Step 2

Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #e10019 and #00601b. Lower the opacity of this layer to 20%.

Step 3

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights values:

Step 4

Create a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #d4a383.

Step 5

Add a Curves adjustment layer to increase the light and contrast of the whole scene.

Step 6

Make another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the left part of the scene. The right should be erased.

Step 7

Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect.

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for your own project. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!