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How to Create an Apocalypse-Inspired Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

This post is part of a series called X-Men Week.
How to Create the X-Men Logo in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Every superhero movie needs a villain. In the new X-men Apocalypse, that villain is none other than the fierce En Sabah Nur... aka Apocalypse.

Today I'll teach you how to create your very own Apocalypse, using photo manipulation and digital painting techniques.

1. Research and Inspiration

The magic to making photo manipulations work, especially when they're inspired by fan art, is to do thorough research while gathering inspiration online.

About Apocalypse

With a little help from Wikipedia, we know that Apocalypse is "the world's first and most powerful mutant." Born from ancient times, he had a merciless philosophy of eradicating the weak at all costs.

For this portrait of Apocalypse, I'll be using this Strong Male Stock from Envato Market.

X-Men Apocalypse Photo Manipulation Before and After
Before and After: Here's the original stock next to the completed Apocalypse manipulation.

Make sure your stocks have their own sense of character! Here are some reasons why this stock is perfect for Apocalypse:

  • The male subject has strong facial features, including a wide jaw, prominent brow bone, and thick neck (most likely from body building).
  • His blank expression is perfect for warping into a villainous one.
  • Since his hair is cut really short, it'll be easier to make him bald.
  • The image is a nice closeup shot, which will be perfect for a portrait-style manipulation.
  • The portrait is also well lit so all of his original features are clearly visible.

Sticking With the Old Design

If you've seen the trailer to the new X-Men, then you probably realize this design is not like the one from the movie. That's because I've decided to stick to the original character design as a way to pay homage to the comic. The choice to change the armor and style is ultimately up to you. But once you've made your choice, you can start the first steps of this manipulation.

2. Prep Your Stock

Step 1

Since we're treating this manipulation almost like a digital painting, it's a good idea to increase the resolution. Go to Image > Image Size and change the resolution to at least 300 dpi.

300 DPI Resolution for Digital Paintings

Step 2

Next, use the Magnetic Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection around the model. Right-click and press Select Inverse, and then hit Delete to get rid of the background.

Since the model's face is currently set at an angle, Control-T to Free Transform and Rotate the image for a more centered head.

Rotate An Image With Free Transform

Step 3

Apocalypse's skin tone is a muted blue color. We can pull this off easily by using Hue & Saturation. Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue & Saturation and change to the following settings:

  • Hue: -150
  • Saturation: -67
  • Lightness: +3
Change Colors with Hue and Saturation

Step 4

Now let's move on to a quick sketch of the armor. Use a Hard Round Brush to draw a quick sketch of the armor using inspiration you've gathered online. Keep the design simple and symmetrical. The armor design will ultimately change a bit in future steps, so keep an open mind about its potential.

Sketching For a Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Step 5

Even though the face is centered, I'd like to make the neck more symmetrical. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection around the left side of his neck. Control-J to create a duplicate on a New Layer and flip it into place by going to Edit >Transform > Flip Horizontal.

Create Symmetry By Flipping a Pictures Details

3. Creating Apocalypse's Face

Step 1

Did you know that most villains are created with strong, angular features? To make our model look more like Apocalypse, we'll need to adjust the structure of his face. Go to Filter > Liquify and carefully adjust his eyes, brows, jaw, nose, and mouth. Leave a copy nearby just in case you mess up.

Using Liquify to Retouch a Face in Photoshop
Tools like the Forward Warp Tool (W), Pucker Tool (S) and Bloat Tools (B) are great for retouching.

Raise his eyebrows, make his head more round, widen his jaw, and make his bottom lip much thinner using the Forward Warp Tool (W) to push each feature around.

Use Liquify to Warp the Face with the Forward Warp Tool

Continue to exaggerate his brows. Begin to change the expression of his mouth by pulling the ends of his lips down. Don't worry if he starts to look like a caricature.

Exaggerate Expressions With the Liquify Tool
Pull the brows and mouth in opposite directions to exaggerate these features.

Step 2

To create that smooth, bald-headed effect, we'll simply use the Clone Stamp Tool (S). Sample a part of his skin and begin painting it on top of any visible hair. Continue covering up the hair with skin until the head is completely covered.

Use the Clone Stamp Tool to Create a Bald Head
Don't forget to remove some hair from the chin, brows, and mustache as well.

4. Digitally Paint Villainous Features

Step 1

Now that we have the photo manipulation aspect of this tutorial finished, we can move on to the digital painting. First begin by filling the Background Layer with a Linear Gradient of black to deep blue.

Create a Gradient Background for a Photo Manipulation

On a New Layer with Mode set to Vivid Light, use the same deep blue color to Fill the layer and adjust the Opacity to 20%.

Use a Hard Round Brush to begin painting the base colors for the armor. Since I forgot the metal ears in the sketch, I'll quickly paint over them.

Painting Base Colors for Metal Armor in Photoshop

Step 2

Let's get back to the face. On a layer set to Color Burn, use the Brush Tool (B) to carve out Apocalypse's menacing expression with a dark blue color. Try to work with Blend Modes that are doing justice to your photos. Here we can see that Color Burn allows us to create the expression while still letting the shine from the model's lips show through.

Use Color Burn to Draw a Mean Expression

Step 3

Now use layers set to Multiply to create the proper light and shadow for this scene. Remember it's a pretty dark portrait, so make sure to concentrate shadow underneath his neck and towards the bottom of his armor.

Paint Shadows on Layers Set to Multiply
Take this opportunity to deepen the eyes with a dark red color.

Use the Eyedropper Tool (E) to pick up nearby colors on his face before applying more shadows. Carve out his face with shadow in order to make it look more angular. Concentrate on creating features like sunken eyes, prominent cheekbones, and a tense brow.

Decrease the size of your brush and begin painting wrinkles on the same layer. Exaggerate the wrinkles that are already on the model and draw some more to intensify that aging effect.

Draw Wrinkles Using Multiply Blend Mode in Photoshop

Step 4

It's important to incorporate more light into the scene as soon as possible. This step will help you understand which direction you need to go with the lighting scheme. Paint rim light along the edges of the armor and allow the light to bounce onto Apocalypse's face.

On a New Layer with Mode set to Overlay, paint more light onto his forehead and add a sinister glow to his eyes. You can create shine on any area easily by creating highlights with white. Use the Eraser Tool (E) at any time during this process to soften the effect.

Paint Rim Light in Adobe Photoshop

5. Rework the Armor

Step 1

Don't stay on one part of the painting for too long. Keep bouncing around to see what needs to be done next. Since the face is almost finished, I can now move on to the armor.

The base is way too plain, so I'm going to add a few more design details to make the armor more interesting. One quick way to cheat this is to use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make selections around the neck and letter "A". Control-J to duplicate these features onto new layers. Reposition the neck piece to look like an additional sheet of metal, and resize the "A" to make it larger by hitting Control-T to Free Transform.

Resizing Details in Photoshop With Free Transform

Step 2

Take this opportunity to begin cleaning up all the edges. Metal is hard and smooth so you'll need a Hard Round Brush with 100% Hardness to keep those edges crisp and clean.

Clean Up Your Paintings with Hard Edges

6. Final Touches

Step 1

Villains are usually up to no good, so their armor should reflect that. To add more texture, consider using grunge brushes. Here I used a Chalk Brush from the Brush Presets to paint random texture all along the armor.

Play around with the armor's features. Add character by making it look beaten up and dented from battle. If you're like me, you might not be too familiar with the technicalities of armor design. Just try your best to have it all make sense, and keep plenty of metal references nearby. Here I even added small rivets to hold the "A" in place.

Use Chalk Brush to Create Metal Texture in Photoshop
Don't be fooled by how simple this looks; this grunge effect is amazing for metals!

Step 2

Then I go in with a tiny Hard Round Brush to add scratches on the metal. You can make the scratches go in any direction because they should look as natural as possible.

Draw Scratches on Metal for Digital Paintings
Draw simple scratches on the metal using a tiny brush.

Step 3

The last step of this manipulation is to make it a little brighter. Set a New Layer to Linear Dodge (Add) and begin painting highlights all across the metal for extra shine and intensity. Continue to tweak the highlights until you're happy with the result.

X-men Apocalypse Fan Art by Melody Nieves

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

Photo manipulation techniques and digital painting skills prove to be a lethal combination! By taking advantage of all your skill sets, you can create a super villain of your very own.

I hope you've enjoyed working on this fun tutorial. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments below.

And for more photo manipulation tips, check out these tutorials:

End result
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