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How to Create a Tous-Les-Memes-Inspired, Isometric Scene Effect in Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Music Video Inspired Effects.
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In this entry to our series of crafting effects inspired by music videos, we tackle the mesmerizing and beautiful 3D kaleidoscope effect featured near the 3:22 mark of the video for Tous Les Mêmes by Stromae.

Tutorial Assets

In order for the background street scene to appear to be part of the cubes, it needs to have a similar perspective angle as the cubes. It is nearly impossible to find images that line up exactly, but these three images come close enough.

1. Set Up the Document

Due to the very geometric nature of the piece, the size of the actual pixel size of the document is very important, as is the grid of guidelines.

Step 1

Open Photoshop and go to File > New. Set the document's Width to 1232 pixels and the Height to 540 pixels.

Step 2

Go to View > New Guide Layout. Check the Columns option box and set the Number to 16 and the Width to 77 px. Check the Rows option box and set the Number to 12 and the Height to 45 px. This will create a grid of guidelines that will be used to align the design elements.

2. Create the 3D Cube Pattern

An integral part of this effect is the pseudo 3D appearance. The piece appears to be contained with a field of three-dimensional blocks. To create this, we will define and use a custom pattern to fill the canvas.

Step 1

Make sure the Snap in enabled through the View menu, as this will make it easier to use the guidelines. Then use the Pen Tool (P) in Shape mode with no Stroke and Fill set to a dark green (#1f2c21). Then draw out a diamond shape using the guidelines as shown here.

Step 2

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw out a parallelogram that is adjacent to the bottom right of the diamond shape. Use the guidelines to ensure the points all align perfectly. Set the Fill for this shape to be a mid-tone green (#3f6054).

Step 3

Use the Pen Tool (P) to draw out the same shape again, but reflected to fit onto the left side of the cube. Set the Fill color for this shape to be a blueish-green (#1e605e).

Step 4

Select all three shape layers by Shift-clicking them in the Layers panel. Then go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. This creates a single layer of the three colored shapes without combining them into a single shape. Rename the smart object to Cube.

Step 5

Use the Move Tool (V) and hold down the Alt key to click and drag on the cube to produce a copy of it. Create three copies and position them as shown here. Be sure the shapes snap onto the guidelines so everything aligns just right.

Step 6

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to create a selection of the intersection of the four cubes. Be sure the selection is two grids wide by six grids high and positioned exactly as shown here, otherwise the pattern will not repeat properly. Then go to Edit > Define Pattern and name the pattern 3D Cube Pattern.

Step 7

Cancel the selection with Select > Deselect (Control-D). Then create a new layer above the cube layers and call it Cube Pattern. Then go to Edit > Fill and set the Contents to Pattern. Set the Custom Pattern to the 3D Cube Pattern created in the last step.

Step 8

Hide the cube layers that were used to create the pattern. Then set the Cube Pattern layer's blending mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 89%.

3. Set the Background Scene

The inspirational effect from the video has the camera pulling back to reveal the streetscape all intertwined and fitting together into the three-dimensional grid of the cubes. It's a trippy effect that is both visually confusing and beautiful at the same time.

Step 1

Open one of the apartment stock images. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection around the front room of the apartment. Then go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J) to create a new layer of just that room.

Step 2

Return to the main project file and drag the original cube smart object over onto the stock image. Then use Edit > Transform > Scale to scale up the cube to be approximately the same size as the room layer. Then lower the Opacity to 75%. Take note of how the room doesn't match the same perspective as the cube.

Step 3

Hide the background layer and make sure the copied room layer is the active one. Go to Edit > Perspective Warp. Click on the canvas to deposit an adjustable grid. Then reposition the corners' control points to align with one of the apartment walls.

Step 4

Draw out a second grid shape to connect with the first at the corner of the room. Reposition the points on this grid to align with the second wall.

Step 5

Once both walls are defined, press the Enter key to switch the tool to Warp mode. Use the control points of the Perspective Warp tool to adjust the apparent perspective of the room image. The goal is it get it to match the same perspective as the cube overlay, while keeping the elements that get curved or badly distorted outside the bounds to the cube.

Step 6

After applying the Perspective Warp, Control-click on the cube layer to create a selection in that shape. Then make sure the warped apartment layer is active and go to Edit > Copy (Control-C). Switch back over to the main project file and go to Edit > Paste. Rename the pasted layer Apartment 1 and position it just below the Cube Pattern layer.

Step 7

Scale the apartment image with Edit > Free Transform (Control-T) to fit into one of the cube shapes. Consider fitting it into the negative shape so the floor of the apartment image aligns with the top face of a cube. Use the guidelines to ensure perfect positioning.

Step 8

Make several copies of the apartment layer and distribute them randomly throughout the design. Make sure the layers pop to the guidelines so there are no overlapping pixels between adjacent images.

Step 9

Select all the apartment layers in the Layers panel and group them into a Layer Group with Layer > Group Layers (Control-G).

Step 10

Use the same technique to create additional rooms from the other stock images until the design is fully populated. In this example, there are four different rooms that have been created and duplicated to fill out the final design.

With the basic pattern work complete, it's time to turn our attention to the secondary effect, which creates geometric heart shapes from the cubic pattern.

Step 1

Make sure the Cube Pattern is the active layer and go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options. Near the bottom of the dialogue box is a gradient bar labeled Underlying Layer. Hold down the Alt key and drag on the white handle to split it, and then set the first side to 198 and leave the second side at 255. This allows the brightest parts of the rooms to shine through the cube pattern layer.

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and set the Hue to -10, Saturation to +65, and Lightness to -3. This will further enhance the greenish hue of the design.

Step 3

Add a New Layer and name it Heart Shape. Then use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection, using the guidelines to make the selection precise. Start with the far right and work clockwise, clicking at these points:

1. All the way to the right and four grid spaces down from the top
2. Down four grid spaces from the first point
3. Down four grid spaces (to the bottom of the design) and left four grid spaces
4. Up four and left four grid spaces
5. Straight up four grid spaces
6. Up two and right two grid spaces
7. Down two and right two grid spaces
8. Up two and right two grid spaces
9. Down two and right two to connect back with the first point

Then use Edit > Fill to fill the selection with Black.

Step 4

Cancel the selection with Select > Deselect. Then create a copy of the heart shape by using the Move Tool (V) and holding down the Alt key while dragging on the original heart shape layer. Move the copy so the bottom point is exactly four grid spaces to the left of the top left point of the original.

Step 5

Duplicate the copied layer and move this new copy straight down until the point of the "valley" of the heart sits at the bottom edge of the canvas.

Step 6

Hide the heart layers and Control-Click on each heart thumbnail to create a selection of all three. Then add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Check the Colorize option box and set the Hue to 327, the Saturation to 68, and the Lightness to 17. This will give the hearts a rosy tint!

And You Are Done!

Enjoy your wonderfully cubic-kaleidoscope inspired design, inspired by the Tous Les Memes music video effect.

Even though the perspectives of the stock images were all different, and the design required dozens of cube shapes, Photoshop's widely varied tool set allows for the easy creation of even the most unique effects. How did your effect turn out? Share it in the comments below.

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