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Design Cool Game Graphics Using Displacement Maps

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Read Time: 14 min

This tutorial takes inspiration from survival horror game graphics such as Resident Evil and Doom. What makes survival horror games distinctive is that the player often finds himself alone in dark, claustrophobic, vulnerable situations. Ammunition and health power-ups are usually very limited while enemies are plentiful – all this is designed for maximum game play suspense.

This tutorial re-creates a fictional game cover by combining Photoshop's channels with the Lighting Effects Filter to produce realistic displacement maps. To start off, you'll create a three-dimensional distressed logo, then combine the same techniques along with some advanced path functions to make the rusty background panels. Finally, we'll show you how to color correct a Cinema 4D creature render so it senselessly blends into the environment.

Step 1

Start off by opening "Baking_tray.jpg" from the "source" folder. This is an ideal grungy, metal image for displacing the logo design.

Step 2

For precision, I initially work in Illustrator to create the logo and then import into Photoshop. Open "Title.jpg" from the "source" folder and go Image > Adjustments > Invert (Command + I). Now go to Select All (Command + A) and Copy to the clipboard.

Back in the "Baking_tray.jpg" image, switch to the channels palette and click on the Create New Channel icon. Now Paste the selection into the new channel and label it "Logo."

Step 3

Duplicate the new channel by dragging its' thumbnail into the Create New Channel icon and label it "Logo blur." Now give it a Gaussian Blur of 5 px.

Step 4

Target the top "RGB" composite channel and then switch to your layers palette. We'll be making extensive use of channels in this tutorial, so remember, when you're in the channels palette, you need to have the composite channel targeted to work on the actual layers.

Duplicate the "Background" layer by dragging its thumbnail into the Create New Layer icon and label it "Logo raised." Now for the fun part. Go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. Select a Spotlight option and follow the settings shown below, selecting "Logo blur" in the Texture Channel drop-down menu, checking the White is high option and setting the Mountainous slider to 100%. You can also save settings for future use indicated by the arrow – I called mine "LOGO LIGHTS."

Step 5

Command–click the "Logo" channel to generate a selection, then go to Select > Modify > Expand by 2 px.

Step 6

Add a new channel, then with black set as the foreground color hit Delete to fill the active selection with white. Label this channel "Logo expanded." You'll be using this to trim away the excess area next.

Step 7

Generate a selection from the "Logo expanded" channel and then Inverse it (Shift + Command + I). Now with your "Logo raised" layer targeted, hit Delete. I've temporally disabled the visibility of the "Background" layer to view the result.

Step 8

Open "Scratches.jpg" from the "source" folder and Select All/Copy. Back in your logo file add another channel, Paste the selection and label it "Scratches." Now enable the visibility of the top composite "RGB" channel and press Command + T to resize, covering the logo.

To make things clearer, you can always change the channel's default red to a more friendly color. First select Channel Options from the fly-out menu, then pick a color by clicking on the color swatch and then adjusting its' opacity to taste.

Step 9

We'll be using this channel to distress the logo, so you want to avoid any large white chunks that would make the smaller text illegible. Use a small, hard edged, black brush to erase areas as indicated. Also, feel free to use the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to add further scratches.

Step 10

Soften the "Scratches" channel slightly by giving it a Gaussian Blur of 2 px.

Step 11

Duplicate the "Logo raised" layer and label it "Logo Scratches." Apply the Lighting Effects filter again using the same settings as previous, but selecting the "Scratches" under Texture Channel, unchecking the White is high option and setting the Mountainous slider to 12%. I saved these settings as "LOGO SCRATCH LIGHTS."

Step 12

Duplicate the "Background" layer and label it "Inner scratches." Now hit Command + F to apply the filter again. To create the illusion of depth, use the Arrow Keys on your keyboard to nudge the layer content 4 steps to the right and 4 steps down.

Step 13

Click on the Create New Fill or Adjustment layer icon and use the drop-down menu to select Solid Color. Click on the Color swatch and choose C: 75, M: 68, Y: 67, and K: 90. Ensure this layer sits above the "Inner scratches." Now set the Blending Mode to Multiply and drop the Opacity to 75%.

Step 14

Target the "Logo scratches" layer and add a Drop Shadow/Bevel and Emboss Layer Style as shown to accentuate the depth.

Step 15

Target the "Color Fill 1" mask, then choose K: 50 as your foreground color. Select the Gradient Tool (G) and use the Radial preset to drag from the center out – this now reveals some hidden detail and also gives a subtle hint of lighting.

Step 16

Double-click the "Background" layer and label it "Original metal," now add a group folder at the top of the stack and label it "LOGO." Shift-click all your layer thumbnails and then place them within the folder.

Next, generate a selection from your "Logo expanded" channel, add a new layer at the bottom within the group folder and fill the selection with black. Now temporally disable all the other layers' visibility and use the Pen Tool (P) set to Paths to plot a closed path as shown.

Step 17

Switch to your paths palette and Command-click the path thumbnail to generate a selection. Back in your layers palette ensure the new layer is targeted and fill the selection with black.

Step 18

Label the new layer "Clipping mask," then enable the visibility of all layers. Now press Alt and click between each layer thumbnail in turn so all the layers are clipped to the base layer.

As the clipping group uses the non-transparent areas of the bottom layer as a mask, there's no possibility of edge interference from other layers, so your left with a clean edge. Set your logo file to one side, because in the next step you'll be creating the background.

Step 19

Create a new RGB document 21cm wide by 27cm high with a resolution of 300dpi and the background content set to white. Open the "Baking_tray.jpg" again and go Image > Rotate Canvas > 90 degrees CW. Now drag/drop it into your document as a new layer. Transform to fit and label it "Metal," then duplicate the layer and go to Edit > Transform > Rotate 180 degrees. Now set the Blending Mode to Multiply and label the duplicate "Metal multiply."

Step 20

Add a central guide, then revisit your logo file and Shift-drag the "LOGO" folder thumbnail into your working document and position as shown. You're now finished with the logo document, so you can close it.

Step 21

Download and open the chevron image and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to Copy the top half, then Paste as a new layer below the "LOGO" folder. Go back to the chevron image, Inverse the selection and Copy > Paste again. Temporarily drop the opacity of this layer and align the stripes. When your done, set the opacity back to 100%. Now select the Eraser Tool (E) and use a medium, soft-edged brush to blend the top layer.

Step 22

With the top "chevron" layer targeted hit Command+E to Merge Down. Re-size and position at the top of your canvas, label it "Chevrons," and set the Blending Mode to Exclusion. Now hold down Alt while clicking on the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon and pick Levels from the drop-down menu. In the next window check Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask. Now set the blackpoint to 42, the midpoint to 0.55 and the whitepoint to 242.

A normal adjustment layer will modify the target layer, as well as those beneath it, but clipping an adjustment to a single layer will leave the underlying ones intact.

Step 23

Load "MetalgrungeBrushes.abr" brushes from the "source" folder, then add a mask to the "Chevrons" layer . With black set as your foreground color, paint on the mask using a stamping fashion to erode areas – remembering to rotate and flip the brushes to avoid repetition.

Step 24

Add a new layer beneath the "Chevrons," label it "Top grad," and set the Blending Mode to Multiply. Now Shift-drag a short Linear Gradient from the top using the Foreground to Transparent preset.

Step 25

Expand the "LOGO" group folder, then add a new layer below the "Clipping mask" and label it "Logo Shadow." Command–click the "Clipping mask" layer to generate a selection and with your new layer targeted fill with black. Now Transform from the center to enlarge fractionally.

Step 26

Now give the "Logo Shadow" layer a Gaussian Blur of 24 px and set the Blending Mode to Multiply.

Step 27

Open the "3D_render.tif" from the "source" folder and drag/drop as a new layer at the top of the stack and label it "Mutant."

Step 28

Add a new layer below the "Chevrons," set the Blending Mode to Multiply and label it "Bottom grad." Shift-drag a Linear Gradient from the bottom using the Foreground to Transparent preset as you did in Step 24, but making it slightly deeper.

Step 29

Add another new layer beneath the "Mutant," set the Blending Mode to Multiply and label it "Mutant shadow." Now use the Transform Tool's Distort and Perspective functions to reshape it.

Step 30

Now give the layer a Gaussian Blur of 8 px.

Step 31

Add a mask and use a 50% black Linear Gradient to gently fade the shadow from the top of the canvas as shown.

Step 32

Disable the visibility of the "Mutant" layer and the "LOGO" group folder. Target the "Mutant shadow" layer and hit Shift + Command + Alt + E to Stamp Visible (this will make a composite layer from all visible ones). Name the resulting layer "Background merged."

Step 33

Now organize some of the layers; first, delete the white "Background" layer, then position the "LOGO" group folder below the "Mutant layer." Next, add a new group folder called "BACKGROUND" and position it below the "Background merged" layer. Now Shift-click all the layers below it (shown in blue) and drag them into the "BACKGROUND" folder.

Leave the visibility of the "Mutant" layer off for the moment. Next, you'll be adding paths to add some depth to the background panels, so pull in some guides as shown.

Step 34

Use the Pen Tool (set to Paths), and press Shift to constrain 90/45 degree angles and snap them to the guides as shown. I've stroked them with pink and turned the guides off for clarity in the screenshot. Remember, you can always use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to modify individual points as required.

Step 35

Now select the Polygon under the Custom Shape Tool (U) and set the options to Paths with 8 sides. We want this new shape to modify the original path, so check the Exclude Overlapping Path Areas as well. Now drag, adding a large, central polygon, (I've disabled the guides for clarity in the screenshot) you'll also need to rotate as you drag to keep the sides square.

Don't sweat if you get it wrong the first time, simply use the Path Selection Tool (not the Direct Selection Tool) to position it as required. The shape can also be re-sized by selecting and going to Edit > Transform Path > Scale.

Step 36

Shift-click to select the top four points of the polygon using the Direct Selection Tool, then pull them upwards to elongate the shape beyond your canvas as shown.

Step 37

Set your foreground color to white, then generate a selection from your path. Next, add a new channel and label it "Panels." Then go to Edit > Stroke, in the next dialogue box enter a value of 5 px, and check the Location center option.

Step 38

Now give the channel a Gaussian Blur of 5 px.

Step 39

Duplicate the "Background merged" layer and label it "Panel groves." Now apply a Lighting Effects Filter using a Directional Light setting as shown. Also select "Panels" in the Texture Channel drop-down menu, as well as unchecking the White Is High option and setting the Mountainous slider to 50%.

Step 40

Add a new channel and label it "Rivets," then select the Ellipse Custom Shape Tool. Set it to Fill Pixels. Use the drop-down options menu to choose Fixed Size and enter 30 px in the Width and Height fields. Enable the visibility of the "RGB" composite channel, then adjust the color and opacity of the mask to suit. Now set your foreground color to white and add the rivets along the edge of the panels.

Step 41

Duplicate the "Rivets" channel and label it "Rivets blur." Now add a Gaussian Blur of 4 px.

Step 42

Position the "Background merged" layer above the "Panel grooves" layer and rename it "Rivets." Now run the same Lighting Effects filter you used in Step 39, but select the "Rivets blur" channel in the Texture Channel menu. Also, check White Is High and set the Mountainous slider to 25%.

Step 43

Generate a selection from your "Rivets" channel and Expand by 4 px. Now Inverse the selection, ensure the "Rivets" layer is targeted and hit Delete to reveal the underlying layer.

Step 44

With the background now complete, it's time to blend the creature into its' environment a little better. Start by enabling the layer visibility and going to Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. Select a pink area as indicated with the Eyedropper and then set the Fuzziness to 124. Now set the Hue to +11 and the Saturation to -78.

Step 45

Darken the lower part of the creature by making a layer-based selection from the "Mutant." Add a new layer above it and fill with black. Now Shift-drag a black Linear Gradient from the top of the mask, set the Blending Mode to Multiply and label it "Mutant multiply."

Step 46

Clip a Color Balance adjustment layer to the "Mutant" layer and set the midtone Red to +15, the Green to -3 and the Blue to -49. Now adjust the shadow Red to +8 and Blue to -10.

Step 47

Darken the creature more by clipping a Levels adjustment layer and setting the Output Levels whitepoint slider to 153.

Step 48

Use a large, black, soft-edged brush on the "Levels 2" mask to gently erase the creature's face and hands.

Step 49

The Lighting Effects Filter used in Step 30 has lightened the bottom panel and the figure's shadow. Remedy this by moving the "Bottom grad" layer out of the "BACKGROUND" folder and place it above the "Panel groves" layer. Also, move the "Mutant shadow" layer out of the "BACKGROUND" folder and place it under the "LOGO" folder.

Step 50

Now tweak the overall color by adding a normal Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (don't clip it) at the top of the layer stack using the following settings: Master Saturation: -12, then use the drop-down Edit menu to select Red to -8, Yellow to -43, Green to -65 and Cyan to -32.

Step 51

The 3D render looks a little too crisp compared to the rest of the image. Fix this by giving the "Mutant" layer a slight amount of Gaussian Blur (I used a value of 1.5 px).

Step 52

You're almost done apart from adding some graphics. Go to Image > Canvas Size, anchor your canvas to the bottom and increase the Height to 28.5cm – this allows extra space for the top banner.

Step 53

Finally, open the "Graphics.psd" from the "source" folder. Then Shift-drag it in as a new layer. Zoom in and look out for any areas that could be improved. I revisited the "LOGO" folder and adjusted the Opacities of the "Logo scratches" layer to 77% and the "Color Fill 1" layer to 80%.


The techniques I've explained in this tutorial can be applied to many different projects from print to web. Some great effects can also be achieved by creating complex paths in Illustrator and Pasting as Paths into Photoshop, these can then be converted to alpha channels to use with the Lighting Effects Filter.

The final image is below. You can view the large version here.

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