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Create Stunning "Tron Legacy" Fan Art in Photoshop

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Read Time: 11 min

Disney's "Tron Legacy" featured some stunning special effects. In this tutorial we will explain how to achieve similar results using digital painting, composition, and lighting effect techniques. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

Step 1: The Sketch/Lineart

Before I begin painting, I already have a solid idea in my head of what I am after. And because I prefer realism, collecting plenty of references is a must! I compiled a handful of photos from the film that initially inspired me and will help me achieve the realistic look I had in mind!

Once I have sketched out my idea, I clean up the lineart so I can see it more clearly, and I am now ready to block in the colors! I also think it's best to start with a darker canvas color (such as grey or an off-white). It's probably just me, but I find staring at a pure [#ffffff] document somewhat intimidating and uninspiring.

Step 2: Blocking in the Base Colors

On a new layer underneath the sketch lines, I begin painting in my base colors. I make sure to break up the coloring blocks into separate layers (i.e.; Face - Hair - Top - Hand - Disc). It just makes it easier when they are separated, and I can focus on one section at a time rather than painting them all on one layer! I'm also not too fussed about the base color- most of the skin tones seen in the film are very much desaturated and are mostly highlighted with hues of blue and grey! First, the hard edged air brush is my primary weapon of choice, and can be found in any version of Photoshop!

Step 3: Shading

I always start with the face when I begin adding the tones, as that is primarily the main focal point and the hero of the painting! On a new layer, and still using the Hard Round Airbrush with an opacity of 40% - 50%, I roughly begin to block in the shades. I find it's best to start with the mid tones, and gradually go darker (his neck and ear being the darkest parts so far) so that the tones don't get too blotchy or muddy to begin with. You don't have to be too precise just yet! Keep it loose- it's just about building up the shadows right now.

Step 4: Texturing

Once I am happy with the shadows and highlights I have built up around the whole face so far, I use the eyedropper/color picker tool on the tones I have already painted there, and begin blending them together with the David Nagal Skin Texture brush pack! This will gradually eliminate any visible brush strokes and the skin values will start to blend rather seamlessly, and the face will take an almost 3D looking appearance.

Step 5: Detail & Lighting

This is always the most tedious part! On a New Layer, I zoom right in and go over the smaller areas with a 3-5px brush. This is just about tightening the overall details such as his eyes, eyebrows, nostrils, lips and ear. This is also a great time to introduce stronger highlights and shadows. I have also switched the background color to a darker shade so I can see the rim lighting along his face much more clearly, and it appears to really pop right off the page! It's always an incredible little touch that adds that little 'wow' factor to your art, especially against a darker background!

Step 6: Hair

Now I will fill in the hair with the Round Blunt Medium Stiff brush (found in Photoshop CS5). This brush is not absolutely needed as you can get the same effect with a 1-2px hard edged airbrush and a lot of strokes. This is just quicker for covering a larger area of hair. I actually alternate between a single pixel brush and this, so you can mix it up to get a variation of weight with each hair strand!

Once again, I begin by adding in the mid tones with a medium level opacity, then gradually build up the darker areas. On a separate layer from the previous tones, I add in the lighter strands over the top where the light picks up the hair (see around the front edges and ear). Also when painting hair, it's best to keep your strokes going outward from the scalp- just follow the where the hair grows!

Step 7: Finishing Touches

Once I am done filling in the hair, I just used the Dodge tool (set to Highlight) and ran it down a couple of areas to pick up a bit more highlights and give it a touch of subtle dimension.

Step 8: Face Stubble

Just to finish off the final details of his face, I create a new layer, and label it Beard. With a 2-3px hard round airbrush, I just lightly fill in around his chin and jaw to bring out the stubble and make it look more rough. I also alternate between tiny dark brown strands, and white (where the light picks up).

Step 9: Clothing

Now that I am happy with the detailing of his face, the next area to move onto is his shoulders/clothing! Being a darker, almost black tone, it doesn't call for too much detail and work. I'm really just going to add highlights and a bit of texture here and there. It's tricky to see the black line work, so I just color inverted my line art to white (Command/Ctrl + I) so it is much more visible.

Step 10: Texturing the Clothing

The brush I chose to highlight this with is a soft, speckled skin brush (Found in this skin brush pack as linked above), but I thought it was just perfect to use for adding just a hint of roughness to the material of his suit. Once again, working on a low opacity (around 20%-30%) with a medium grey tone, I gradually build up the light on some more open areas.

Step 11: Lighting

Then finally adding a little more rim lighting with the Hard Round Airbrush again to sharpen some of the edges.

Step 12: Creating the Background

For the background, I wanted to do something very simple, but not too plain and bland. I took more inspiration from the movie and decided to go with a simple Cloud background.

I created a New Document (relevant to the size of my workspace, say 7000px x 5000px) and with my foreground color set to a turquoise (#007486) and my background color a much darker shade of that (#00131a) I simply went Filter > Render> Clouds.

Step 13: Morphing the Background

Next, I used the Rectangular Marquee Tool and just chose a small segment of the [rather tacky-looking] cloud fill, and duplicated that little piece (Command/Ctrl + J) onto it's own layer. Then by right clicking and selecting Free Transform, I could then stretch out that little piece to cover the entire document, giving the whole background a nice variation of tones. Almost like a smokey cloud effect.

Hit Command/Ctrl + J to make the selected piece of Cloud into an item.

Step 13

I then used a bit of Dodge tool (Set to Highlights) and Burn tool (Set to Midtones) to darken some areas and brighten others, and moved the Levels (Command/Ctrl + L) just a fraction to alter the overall tones!

Step 14: Final Face Effect

Another nifty effect I decided to add to his face for a little more drama, was a slight blue hue. Select the whole face layer by holding Command/Ctrl and clicking on the BASE layer. Then on a New Layer (called BLUE), use the soft edged airbrush and just gingerly paint in a strong blue (#0cd2f5) around the edges of his face.

Step 15

Next, drop the opacity of that layer to about 50% - 60%, and set its blending mode to Color! I softly erased away some areas that were a bit too heavy. Now his face has a nice splash of blue! I also went over other areas the same way (such as his hair and a tiny bit of his suit) just to balance it out.

Step 16: The Disc

Now that I have the main figure and background rendered to my liking, it is time to fill in the final part. The disc! Once again, I have inverted my black line work to white (Command/Ctrl + I) just to see where I am going with the color blocking. I also lightened the background color again for more visibility.

Step 17: Rendering the Disc

On some new layers, I will use the same soft skin brush (Re Step 10) and lightly fill in some areas of highlights around the center mass of the disc and some sections of his gloved hand- just to separate it from the solid disc color.

Step 18: Disc Detailing

The straight lines through the middle were stroked with the Pen Tool to keep them looking sharp and crisp, and then slightly erased away (with the Eraser tool set at a low Opacity) to take away the solid consistency of the value. I also filled in some little square lights on the edges which I also created with paths to keep them sharp and angular.

Step 19: Disc Detailing

When I'm happy with the rendering, I switch on the rest of the layers and the background to see how it looks together. I also take this opportunity to add some more Rim Lighting around the edge of the disc to separate it a bit more from the environment!

Step 20: Trim Lighting

Now it is finally time to add the effects that really scream "TRON!" First I will start with the yellow light sections. I create a New Layer above everything else, and call it "YELLOW LIGHTS". (I also recommend grouping these next layers into their own folder just to keep them in order)

Once again, I used the Pen Tool to path in the trimmings of light to keep them looking crisp. For the circular part, I just used the Ellipse [shape] tool to get a nice consistent circle (Use the transform tool and angle/distort it a little to sit properly in position.) I then filled in those sections with a solid yellow. I also used a bit of Dodge Tool (set to Midtones) to break up the solid yellow color and add some lighter values throughout.

Step 21: Layer Style

Next it is time to add the effects. By opening up the Blending Options on my 'YELLOW LIGHT' Layer, I applied these settings and tweaked them around a little until I got the desired effect.

Step 22: Disc Trim Lighting

To create the light trim around the center of the disc, it's pretty much the same deal as before: I created another layer, and use the Ellipse Shape tool again, and dragged it to cover the center of the disc.

Step 23: Disc Trim Lighting

This time, I Stroked the path with a hard edged brush set on a relatively thick pixel setting. (90px in this case) and set my foreground/stroke color to just white. I also just erased away a gap in the top of the circle as per the disc's design.

Part 24: Layer Style

Finally, open up the blending options for this layer, and apply the same settings, but with blue rather than orange, and tweak them around to your liking. Now you have some smart looking TRON lighting effects!

Step 25: Light Streaks

Although my painting is relatively complete, there is just one more little effect I feel will give it that extra bit of edge, sleekness and add a slight bit of movement and energy!

In a New Document, (preferably filled in black or a dark color) create a New Layer and call it "Light Streak."

Step 26

Select the soft edge airbrush with the opacity set all the way to 100%, dot in a single white spot.

Step 27

Now apply the Free Transform tool to your fuzzy dot, and pull, squish and stretch the selection [horizontally] until you get a nice, long streak of light! Note: It doesn't really matter if the light streak is too small or too large for your painting; adjusting the size of it won't affect it's appearance as it already has a soft, blurred look already!

Step 28: Applying the Light Streaks

Once I was done creating my light streak, I then dragged that layer onto my painting, and placed them around a few select areas such as the top and bottom of the disc, and a bit of the trim lighting along his suit.

Step 29: Light Streak Effects

I then added a simple "Outer Glow" Layer Style to my streaks to blend them in a bit more with the colors, as opposed to leaving them just plain white. I also strengthened the center of them where they meet the light on the image with the Dodge (Highlight) tool for that finishing touch it needed!


And that concludes my tutorial for my "Tron Legacy - GAME ON" piece! Thank you for reading, and I hope you have learned something from this walkthrough. Please try out some of these effects! They are relatively simple, but it's the simple things that can give your work such a kick!

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