Crafting home-made fire effects is a fun way to add visual energy and excitement to your digital artwork. I'll show you how to safely create, capture, and use custom-made fireball brushes in Photoshop.
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1. Household Materials
The materials for crafting your own fireballs are surprisingly simple and easy to obtain. Not only are they inexpensive, but they are also readily available. Nothing that would even raise an eyebrow at your local store—just regular household items.
The basic materials for crafting the fireballs are:
- powdered coffee creamer
- length of clear vinyl tubing
- heavyweight paper or card stock
- adhesive tape
- candle or some other source of sustained open flame that can be easily controlled
- ignition source like a lighter or matches
Cut a quarter page from the card stock and roll it loosely into the shape of a funnel. Then use the tape to attach the funnel to one end of the vinyl tube.
2. Casting Fireballs
Safety Warning! This will produce real, actual fire. It can burn or ignite objects that are flammable. Please be careful! Perform the technique in a well-ventilated area with surroundings that are flame-resistant or, even better, outside. Always keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case things get out of hand!
Place the candle on a non-flammable surface in front of a dark background. Something as simple as a small sheet of metal on a wooden stool works just fine. Light the candle and let it work up a strong, sustained flame.
Pour some of the powdered coffee creamer into the paper funnel (about 2-3 tablespoons worth), and then carefully hold the funnel next to the flame, pointing towards it. Blow into the other side of the tube so it projects the creamer into the flame. The cloud of powder will ignite and create a fireball!
3. Capturing the Fireball
Now that we feel like a wizard being able to cast fireballs, let's discuss how to capture the pyrotechnics digitally.
Make sure the area you are using has very little ambient light. The fireballs should be the primary light source. Keep the background dark and plain; occasionally, splatters of creamer may need to be wiped off the backdrop. I find the resulting images work best if the camera is on a tripod and the focus is already set to be on the candle flame.
You will need an assistant as one person needs to operate the camera while the other creates the fireballs.
As for camera settings, it's important to shoot on continuous mode to capture as many frames of the fireball as possible. Then it's the shutter speed that is essential in capturing the crisp, sharp fireball images. If the shutter speed is too slow, the images will look blurry. So use as fast a shutter speed as possible while adjusting the aperture and ISO to compensate for any lighting issues. In these shots, I used the following settings:
- F-stop : f/4.5
- Shutter speed: 1/2500 sec
- ISO: 800
4. Creating the Brushes
While having beautifully isolated photos of fireballs is quite satisfying, the real value is converting them into a digital resource such as Photoshop brushes. That way they can be easily used in digital artwork.
Open one of the fireball photos in Photoshop and go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. You want to make sure the background is as dark as possible, so drag the leftmost slider towards the right until the background becomes completely black.
Add a new layer with Layer > New > Layer (Shift-Control-N) and use the Brush Tool (B) with a Soft Round tip and Black foreground color. Paint over any stray particles of creamer that are distracting or background elements that are visible.
Add a Black & White adjustment layer. If the fireball has too much internal contrast and the gray tones appear too separate then open the Properties panel and adjust the Yellow and Red sliders until the gray banding smooths out.
Photoshop reads brushes as black being positive, so our fireball needs to be a dark form against a white backdrop. That's the opposite of how it currently is, so add an Inverse adjustment layer. Then create a merged layer at the top of the stack by holding down the Alt key while going to Layer > Merge Visible.
Create the brush by going to Edit > Define Brush Preset. Give the brush a name and press OK. Then the brush will be available at the bottom of the Brush Presets list.
Congratulations on creating your very own fireball brushes in Photoshop. Now go and make some stunning artwork that incorporates these digital assets.
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