Do you wish dragons were real? They sadly aren't, but we can pretend they are by using the power of Photoshop! In this tutorial I will show you how to create a mini dragon using a few stock photos. You will learn how to build a dragon out of real animals, how to place it in a hand, and then how to color and blend the elements to make them look like a whole.
In order to complete this exercise, you'll need the following resources:
- Bat wings 1
- Bat wings 2
- Lizard head
- Lizard horns
- Lizard scales
- Lizard eye
Woman showing her hand
1. Prepare the Assets
Before you start, you need to find perfect stock photos for your vision. The elements must have a certain perspective, but it's not the only thing you should pay attention to. The quality of all the elements will have to be adjusted to the one with the lowest quality. Make sure all your images are big and high quality to achieve the best results!
We have a lot of images, but we only need certain parts of them. For example, I want to use the head of that lizard and nothing more. In order to do this we need to select the area we want separated. There's no magic trick for this—if you want accurate results, use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a path around the area. It sounds scary, but you can learn it in a mere 60 seconds from our video Getting a Grip on the Pen Tool.
After you draw the path, right click it and select Make Selection.
Go to Select > Inverse (Control-Shift-I) and delete the background. Then you can crop (C) the image and save it as PSD or PNG to keep the transparent background.
Repeat the process to isolate the other elements too. We need:
- Left wing
- Right wing
You don't need to place them all together yet.
2. Create a Basic Mock-Up
You may have your vision, but you can't really see it until you put all the elements in place. This will be your job in this part.
Take your background image and save it as a new file—this will be our main area of work. Make sure the image is big (mine's 3840 x 7560).
Drag all the isolated images into this file.
Place the body of the lizard inside the hand, trying to see behind the fingers. Lowering the Opacity for a moment may help in this task. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to resize and rotate the body.
Ignore the position of the neck and place the head where you want it to be. Again, use the Free Transform Tool to achieve the best results.
Let's adjust the neck to the head now. Select the layer with the body and go to Edit > Puppet Warp. Place pins along the body in this way:
Drag a pin to drag the area attached to it. This way you can reshape the body. Press Enter when you've finished.
Place and resize the tail to fit the body.
Use Puppet Warp again to wrap the tail around the fingers.
Place both wings on the back of the body.
Let's give the lizard bigger eyes to make it look cuter. Select the layer of the head and go to Filter > Liquify. Use the Forward Warp Tool and the Bloat Tool to reshape the eye. You can also keep the eye small, if you want the dragon to be a miniature rather than a baby.
Place the isolated eye in the head.
Use all the tricks you have learned here to add the horns to the head.
3. Fit the Elements
We can roughly see the dragon in all these elements, but they don't look like a whole yet. Let's fix it!
Lower the Opacity of all the elements for a moment to see the hand clearly.
Take the Pen Tool (P) and select the part of the hand that covers the dragon.
Make a selection (Control-Enter), and then go to Select > Modify > Feather. Make the radius very small, for example 3 pixels. This will make the selection smoother, so that it fits the level of blur in the picture.
Go to Select > Inverse (Control-Shift-I). Create a New Layer and use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill the selection with any color. Name the layer Mask and hide it.
The mask is very simple to use. Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the mask to create a selection. Then click the body layer and select Add Layer Mask.
Let the magic happen!
Can you see a white thumbnail next to the other on your layer? Hold the Alt key and drag it to other layers to give them the same mask.
Most of the elements look much better now, but we need to fix the tail that's behind and in front of the fingers at the same time.
Click the white thumbnail to select it. Then take a Hard Round brush and paint with white to reveal the part of the tail that's supposed to be in front. Use the [ and ] keys to adjust the size of the stroke when you need to be more precise.
Curious how it works? Check out Quick Tip: Layer Mask vs. the Eraser Tool in Adobe Photoshop
Painting on a mask is a great way to blend the elements! This time take a soft brush and use it to blend the borders between the images wherever needed. Decrease the Flow to be more precise.
The picture is starting to take a clearer form, so it's easier to see what it's lacking. In my case, I decided to add a front leg to make the body more complete. You can use the same stock photos to find these elements.
Once again, look at the image as a whole and decide what else could or should be reshaped or blended for a better effect. This is the last chance to do it without consequences!
4. Adjust the Colors
When we chose the stock photos, we didn't look for matching colors, because they can be easily changed. And that's what we'll do now!
Select the head layer and open Window > Adjustments. Select Hue/Saturation and clip it to the layer. Then play with the sliders to make it fit the body.
Do the same with the other elements. In some cases you'll want to keep some areas unchanged; in this case, paint on the mask next to the adjustment (white thumbnail) to hide some parts of it.
You can also use this adjustment to make the eyes more vibrant.
The head looks a little off, because it has a much finer texture than the rest of the body. You can fix it by selecting parts of the scales with the Lasso Tool (L) and copying them as a whole (Control-Shift-C). Place the scales on the head and modify them to fit their surroundings.
Use the Layer Mask to blend them with the head.
5. Blend the Elements With the Environment
The position and shape are correct, the colors are matching, but all the elements still look kind of separate. It's because each of them has shadows coming from a different light source. We need to adjust them to a single light source—the one established by the background.
We've got a lot of layers, masks, and adjustments, which makes it hard to see anything. Save your project as a new file to create a backup, and then select and merge (Control-E) some layers to make it look more like it did in the beginning.
Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment to one of the wings. Clip it and give it a shade that it would have in the shadow.
Use a Layer Mask to reveal the parts that are actually in light. Make sure you're basing the lighting on the background!
Do the same with the other parts.
Some parts still contain shadows coming from their original background. Let's fix it. Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment, check Colorize and make the wing brighter, with the color of the surroundings.
Use a Layer Mask to blend it.
In some cases this trick may fade the contrast in the illuminated places, like here:
In such a case, double click the adjustment and play with the lower Blend If slider. Hold Alt and click the marker to split it for a smoother transition. You can learn more about Blend If from my quick tip the Magic of Photoshop's Blend If and from the 60-second video How to Use Blend If in Adobe Photoshop.
Use these tricks to fix the shading on all the elements.
We need to blend the dragon with the hand as well. To achieve this effect, add the Hue/Saturation adjustment to the background layer. Make the hand dark, but highly saturated, fill the mask with black, and then reveal the parts that the dragon touches.
Create one more adjustment layer like this and darken the parts that are closest to the dragon.
Once again, look at the picture as a whole and try to see its weak spots. Which parts kill the illusion? Find and fix them!
Use a mix of the tricks you have just learned to add reflected colors to certain areas. This will integrate the scene even more.
6. Add the Finishing Touches
The dragon looks real already! But if you want to make it even prettier, you need to use a few more tricks.
Select the tail layer and go into Quick Mask mode (Q). Take a soft brush and paint over the edges of the tail.
Exit the mode (Q) and invert the selection (Control-Shift-I). Hide the selection for a moment (Control-H).
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use it to blend the tail into the blurriness of the picture.
Do the same with all the other elements to soften their sharp edges.
One wing goes deeper into the background, so we need to put it slightly out of focus. Select it and go to Filter > Blur > Tilt Shift. Experiment to achieve the effect you want.
Let's make the other wing slightly translucent. Hide it for a moment, and then select the part of the background behind it and copy it to a new layer above the wing.
Make that copied part blurry.
Use a Layer Mask to blend the part.
Let's make the eye more lively. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) to create an elliptical-shaped selection.
Use a soft brush to paint a blue glow within the selection.
Use a harder brush to add a white shine within the selection.
The dragon is finished, so you can now only add small fixes here and there, depending on what you missed during the process. One major thing you can add after merging all the layers is Filter > Noise > Add Noise. The dragon should fit the quality of the background.
Now you have your own mini dragon! And, by the way, you have learned many useful Photoshop tricks you can use in your future projects. Do you want to learn more about photo manipulation? Try these: