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Creating a Spy Fly Photo Manipulation

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Read Time: 7 min

Welcome to a new Photoshop based tutorial. This time I'll try to describe the main steps in creating a dead robot fly. Before we get started, I would like to thank Hortensiu Milstein (Personal Portfolio) for the great collaboration. We decided to make this tutorial a year ago, but the lack of time postponed the realization of this tut. This piece was actually created for a contest and off course the first prize was the result. The concept of this illustration was to take a picture and be creative, use parts of that image and create something unique. So, let's get to it!


The image looks 3D like and this is something Hortensiu specializes in. If you check his portfolio out, you will see a few great 3D works. Hortensiu had a really great vision and he knows well how to place objects in 3D space.

The main idea of this tutorial is about being as creative as it gets using a very low number of resources. As you can see below in this illustration we've used used only two images. Before you start, take a look at the images you will be using: this is the main image required for the contest and for the background we used an image from cgtextures or you can use this one at sxc.

Final Image Preview

Take a look at the image we'll be creating. You can view the final image preview below or view a larger version here.

Step 1 - Reference Material

For this work I already had an idea about the look of the final result, but wanted to document myself so I went searching for reference material (positioning, how a dead fly looks, how the wings and legs look and so on). Open Google and search for a fly, dead fly and stuff like that (remember that you will not use these images in your composition, you will just look at them for inspiration and reference). I selected about four images. It's very important to feel the matching possibilities of your reference images. The image below is the image we will use to create the fly.

Step 2 - Sketching the Image

Next we do the sketch to have a clear idea on what it should look like. Because not all of us have drawing skills you can chose to make this step another way. Simply copy a dead fly image and above that create a new layer and draw over the fly. You don't have to make every detail; just a quick sketch to help you define the shape of the fly should work. Open a new document 750px by 1024px and import the sketch into the document.

Step 3 - Choose Parts from the Image

Now look at the image and choose what part of this image you'll use to combine your work. You should keep in mind the lines of our fly (the lines you draw) and choose the parts with the same orientation in space.

Step 4 - Creating the Fly

Start with a cut on that binocular to use on the back of the fly. Use the Pen Tool (P) to create a path, then press Command + Enter to transform the path into a selection. Copy and Paste in our document, then use the transform and warp transformations to fit it in the fly shape. Just apply a little motion blur on that piece to reduce the reflection.

Step 5

Now, duplicate this section a few more times, transform and place them to create the desired shape. Along the way you should mask a few parts and use Burn Tool (O) on the edges in order to create some damage on that shield and shadows.

Step 6

Next apply a drop shadow under the sections. Create a new layer below the shield pieces and draw the shadow using a black brush.

Step 7

To make the intersections between the shield elements cut a bar from the green grating in the reference image. Copy/Paste and desaturate this element, then use the warp transform again to fit it in position. Remember to keep a copy of this element unwarped for the fly legs.

Step 8

Use the same transform technique to fit the middle section. Use the Dodge Tool (O) to increase light on some areas.

Step 9

Now for the mechanical interior use shiny metallic elements. Apply a drop shadow and separate it from the object. Desaturate the object and place it in position. Use the Burn Tool to add shadow.

Step 10

The head of the fly will be something like a hi-tech lens. For this use the binocular piece. Transform and position it in place.

Step 11

Create some details using some more elements from the image.

Step 12 - Create the legs and wings

Remember the grating element? Go back to Step 7. Now we use that for creating the legs. Use warp and transform to create the leg segments.

Step 13

For the wing you can use the same segment from the legs, but you need to make them skinnier, or stroke and apply Bevel and Emboss.

Step 14

To create the wing material, use the tablecloth texture.

Step 15

Transform it to fit the shape of the wing.

Step 16

Desaturate the layer. Now use the Eraser Tool (E), set to a soft brush, to erase the wing and create a broken wing texture. Also, use the Burn Tool (O) at the edges of the wing. In the end set the Opacity of the layer to 80% or so.

Step 17

You can apply some color effects to your wing and maybe erase some more parts to give a more powerful rust and damaged wing effect. Copy the right wing and place it in the left side, use warp and transform to position it correctly. Use the Blur Tool (R) to add some macro effect. Add some film grain effect. You have finished creating the fly so you can delete the "sketch" layer.

Step 18 - Add Post FX

Move all the layers that you used to construct the fly into a group. Next, import your background image. For the macro shot look we're going for, only use part of the background image zoomed in.

Step 19

Make a selection using the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) set to Feather 100px. Then invert the selection and press Command + J to copy a piece of the background with that selection.

Step 20

Next go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set it to a value of 2.6px. You will notice that the background is different and this is because I decided to use a different area of the same background image.

Step 21

Next you need to duplicate the "background" layer one time. Set the first layer to Overlay and Opacity to 24%. Also, set the second layer to Luminosity and Opacity 100%. And last create a new layer and place it behind all the layers, then fill it with #666666.

Step 22

To give it some color, create a new layer above all the other layers. In this layer, use the Radial Gradient Tool (G) set to black to create a dark gradient, as shown below. Then set the layer to 17% Opacity.

Step 23

Create a new layer below the one in Step 22. Now set up the Brush Tool (B) with a soft brush and these colors: #6bb0d3 and #134b49. Use this brush to add a color pattern, as shown below. Then use the Eraser Tool (E) set to a soft brush and erase two spots, as shown. In the end you need to set the layer to Vivid Light and Opacity to 7%.

Step 24

Place the fly on the background.

Step 25

Now the final steps is to add the fly shadow and some extra details. Create a new layer below the fly and use a soft, black brush to create a shadow.

Step 26

In the end, add some oil splash using a splash brush and a broken part of the fly.


Hope you learned some new techniques and had fun while doing so. You can view the final image below or view a larger version here.

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