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How to Create a Human Cyborg Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Science Week.
How to Draw a T-Rex Dinosaur
How to Create a Retro Poster With an Astronaut Child in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

The future is near. Are you ready for a world of cybernetic organisms?

Learn how to transform your photos into cool cyborgs in the tutorial below. I'll show you how to use techniques like Frequency Separation to remove skin imperfections before bringing our cyborg to life!

Find more great inspiration for sci-fi designs on GraphicRiver. And you may also want to check out our free course on compositing in Photoshop. Daniel White shows you how to create a post-apocalyptic robot scene in a series of detailed videos. Or learn the basics of photo manipulation in Photoshop with Abbey Esparza.

Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Find Inspiration

Every great photo manipulation needs a collection of good stocks on deck as well as some inspiring reference art. For this cyborg, I was inspired by the popular style of manipulation seen in work from artists like Michael Oswald.

So to complete our cyborg, we'll need to keep a few important notes in mind:

  • Cyborgs have clear, human features...
  • ... though their bodies are usually broken down into several bionic components.
  • They'll integrate modern technology into their design.
  • They can come in any race.
  • And they sometimes take over the world. Simple right?

Be deliberate about your stock choices. For our subject I've chosen this Woman Stock. Though the image is no longer available, you can find many incredible stocks like it on Envato Market.

Cyborg reference from photodune

The reason why I chose this stock is because of the woman's intense gaze. So try to find images with commanding body language that you can easily manipulate down the line. Beauty and glamor photography work great for this, although you may have to deal with simple edits later (like removing skin cream from her face).

2. How to Airbrush Your Photo

The cyborgs we've come to know in the movies have smooth, perfect-looking skin, most likely because they're made out of metals or other advanced materials. So to achieve this look in photography, we'll turn to the technique of Frequency Separation.

Step 1

Open your reference into Photoshop, changing the dpi to 300. Create a New Group named Retouching. Control-J to Duplicate your reference, placing the copy into the group.

Create a New Group

Step 2

Before we smooth out her skin, we'll need to remove the white dots of skin cream on her face. So select the Polygonal Tool (L) and make a selection on the left side of her face.

Select the skin with the polygonal lasso tool

Copy and Paste that selection onto a New Layer, and Flip it by going to Edit > Transform Flip Horizontal. Place the skin copy over the white dots, using the Eraser Tool (E) to erase any harsh edges.

Cover the skin cream with skin

Merge the layers together. Clean up the skin with the Stamp Tool (S). First select the tool and hold Alt to source the skin, and then use the sourced skin at 30-50% Opacity to blend it into the skin area. We'll clean up any other imperfections next.

Face After Hiding Skin Cream

Step 3

Now for the Frequency Separation. Learn more about this technique in this tutorial: Using Frequency Separation to Retouch Skin.

Control-J to Duplicate the revised stock. Name the top layer High Frequency and the bottom layer Low Frequency. Turn Off the Visibility of the High Frequency layer, and then select the Low Frequency layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, setting the Radius to any number that blurs the details of your portrait. Here, I set mine to 7.

Blur the Portrait with Gaussian Blur - Frequency Separation

Turn the Visibility On for the High Frequency layer. With this layer selected, go to Image > Apply Image and enter the following settings:

Apply Image Settings - Frequency Separation

Make sure the Blending is set to Subtract and the Layer is set to Low Frequency. Then plug in the numbers above for the Scale and Offset. After you hit OK, set the Layer Blend Mode for the Low Frequency layer to Linear Light.

Frequency Separation Layers After Apply Image

Step 4

What we have done is separated the texture (high frequency) from the tones and colors (low frequency). Now we can airbrush the skin to make it look smoother.

With the High Frequency layer selected, grab the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and create a selection of the skin, making sure that the selection's Feather is set to 25-30. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and blur the skin. Continue doing this all around her face, changing the Radius each time depending on how much you want to soften the skin and lessen the look of pores.

Merge the frequency layers together when you're finished.

Smooth the skin with gaussian blur and frequency separation

Here is the model with much smoother skin. We'll continue to adjust it as we proceed.

Frequency separation result

3. How to Create the Cyborg Sketch

Step 1

Let's move on to the sketch! It's important to note that you'll need a Graphics Tablet as we'll be employing some important digital drawing/painting techniques later down the line.

Select the Brush Tool (B) and use a Hard Round Pressure Opacity Brush to begin drawing your cyborg details. Keep the Flow and Opacity set at 100% but make sure the Pen Pressure for Opacity option is checked.

Hard round brush settings

Draw simple gray lines over the model indicating the areas where you would like to break down her robotic components. Try to be cognizant of how the human body relates to certain parts moving or connecting together.

Study other cyborg references or look up robots for indications of where it might be a good idea to place these lines.

Draw the cyborg sketch over the reference

Step 2

Switch over to a much harder brush, with an Opacity and Hardness of 100%. Starting with the face and hand, make those lines much crisper.

Create Cleaner Lines and Details

Continue to push forward by making some of those lines thicker. This is when we begin to fully develop the model as an actual robot.

Darken the robot lines

The hands and neck, for instance, have components that are painted black to represent the spaces needed for those moving pieces. Try to understand the possible functions behind your details for a more believable result.

close up of the hand details

Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase the parts of the gray sketch that are still showing through underneath. Concentrate on creating super clean lines to the best of your ability because this is a machine after all.

To create more of a robotic expression, fill in the eyes with some black as well, using the Brush Tool (B).

Here is the cyborg so far. Let's move on to the background scene.

Cyborg progress with crisp black lines

4. How to Build the Cyborg Background

Step 1

Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the white background of the original reference and hit Delete on your keyboard to remove it.

Delete the white background

Then Copy and Paste your Metal Texture onto a New Layer below the woman layer. Adjust the position so that the circular part fits behind the model's head.

With the texture selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and blur the background with a Radius of 5 pixels.

Blur the metal background

Step 2

Copy and Paste the Electric Circuit Stock onto a New Layer. Adjust the position so that the lines flow from behind her head, and set the Layer Blend Mode to Overlay.

Just like before, blur the circuit stock by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, with a Radius of 5 pixels.

Add the Circuit Stock

5. How to Add Details and Color to the Cyborg

Step 1

For a more cohesive look, let's get rid of her blonde hair. Create a New Layer and select the Brush Tool (B). Set the Hardness to 50-80% and start to paint black all over the hair using the same brush as before. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Color Burn and adjust the Opacity to 87%.

Paint the hair a darker color

Step 2

Let's tackle the skin again. Create a New Layer and use a Soft Round Brush with 30-50% Opacity and 0% Hardness to soften her skin with more color. Hold the Alt key over her skin to set that color as your Foreground Color, and then begin painting with it in the nearby areas.

Continue to do this with the rest of her face and body. Imagine that her skin is made out of hard, reflective materials. Try to make her skin as silky as possible without losing too many details.

Paint the skin for a smoother effect

Step 3

Incorporate more technology. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to cut out the USB port from its reference. Paste it onto the canvas on a New Layer and create two more copies. Position each port side by side and Merge the layers together.

Add the usb ports

Step 4

Let's add color! Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup above all your other layers. Set the 3DLUT File to Crisp_Winter.look.

Add a color lookup adjustment layer

Next, add a Levels Adjustment Layer with the following settings for the RGB and Blue Channels to intensify the lighting and give a blue tint to the scene.

Add a levels adjustment layer

Add another Color Lookup Adjustment Layer. This time set the 3DLUT File to Crisp_Warm.look. Place it above the Levels layer for more contrast. Lower the Opacity to 70% and set the Blend Mode to Darken.

Things are getting pretty intense.

Add another color lookup adjustment layer

Step 5

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select an area of the Blue Gem Stock and Paste it onto a New Layer. Position the stone over the triangle and onto her forehead. Add a Layer Mask to the gem layer and paint black onto it to shape the stone into a triangle.

Add the gem stock

Set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the stone. Use a dark blue color #00197a to paint an inner shadow along the edges of the triangle.

Add shadow to the stone

Step 6

Fill in the rest of the metal details with solid color. Feel free to experiment with which colors you like best.

Fill in the metail details

6. How to Finish the Cyborg Manipulation

Step 1

This next series of steps involves a lot of painting, so a graphics tablet is necessary. Dedicate New Layers to highlights and shadows. 

Add highlights and shadows
Here's a side-by-side look as the cyborg gets highlights and then shadows.

Step 2

Start using a Hard Round Brush with an Opacity of 80-100% to make your details crisper.

Paint more crisp details

Notice that I've added light tan highlights #ece6f0 around the black robotic components. This will help give them more volume and sheen. Continue to evolve the shading of your cyborg by paying attention to the edges of the skin surface.

Paint darker skin tones, #6a4f65 particularly within the dark spaces of her fingers, to make them look as if there's real thickness in the material used to create her. Continue this effect with the rest of the body, especially with her chest and arm.

Paint the highlights and shadows on her hand

Step 3

Add more character with unique details. Create bolts for her forehead, make the stone more 3D, and even draw the symbols for the USB port.

Paint more details

Step 4

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Curves. Adjust the curves for the RGB and Blue Channels to bump up the intensity of the lighting.

Add an adjustment layer of curves

Let's add some warmth. Follow up with a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer. Set the 3DLUT File to FallColors.look and lower the Opacity to 25%.

Add a color lookup adjustment layer

Step 5

Finish your manipulation by diving back into the details. Fix the neck and collar bone areas to give them more volume.

Fix the collar bone

Switch over to a Hard Round Brush with 100% Hardness to clean up the edges of your manipulation.

I also elaborated on the robotic details found in the black spaces of her neck and fingers. Sometimes you can make up components like this as long as they generally make sense.

Clean up the edges with a hard brush

Step 6

Finish with one more layer of highlight. Set a New Layer to Overlay and use a light pink color #cfc0e1 to paint soft highlights onto her chest, shoulders, and hand. The arrows indicate the areas that were affected the most.

Add one last layer of highlight

Check out the final result below!

Congratulations, You've Made It!

This tutorial requires you to put all your Photoshop knowledge to the test! By incorporating photo retouching, photo manipulation, and finally, digital painting techniques you can achieve an incredibly realistic human cyborg.

The key to this project is to stay patient so that you can fine tune the results as much as possible. Make your lines super sharp so that she appears more like a machine than a human.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to leave me any questions in the comments and post your results, no matter your skill level.

And tackle more exciting photo manipulations like this one by checking out some of my other tutorials below:

Human Cyborg Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial by Melody Nieves
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