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How to Place a Fantasy Creature in a Misty Landscape

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Read Time: 15 min

This time I've got for you a photo manipulation tutorial. We'll grab several photos and create this fantasy mock-up of an unreal creature. We'll learn several non-destructive techniques, apply photo filters to adjust the lighting, and of course a little bit of the creative process involved on this piece. Let's get to it!

Final Image Preview

Take a look at the image we'll be creating. 

Final ClickFinal ClickFinal Click

Video Tutorial

Our video editor Gavin Steele has created this video tutorial to compliment this text + image tutorial.

Before Getting Started

First, look for inspiration. For many years I fell in love with the PS1 game saga "Final Fantasy" and their fighting creatures that the characters ride named Chocobos, huge chickens very powerful in battle . I wanted to make this Chocobo as real as possible. Besides I imagined that in this fantasy world there wasn't stronger material than a chocobo's egg, and imagined the warriors using those shells as reinforcement for those creatures. The idea was crazy but nice and I decided to make it. From there everything was just looking for the right photographs, here's the list:

This isn't a basic tutorial, so I'll skip the elemental instructions, such as "go to Filter > Blur > Blur." This tut is perfect if you want to try your first photo manipulation because is an easy design and you can always add more details either if you create your creature from scratch or download the source PSD file. How long does it take to make? It took around three hours including the searching time.

Step 1

Let's get it started. Open the castle picture, then delete the little lamb by using the Clone Tool, if you're not familiar with this tool take a look at this basic tutorial. Once you have deleted the lamb, double-click the layer miniature to make the "background" layer editable, name it "Landscape", and save the document with any name you choose. Hide the "Landscape" layer for awhile.

Designing the Creature

Let's get started with creating our creature.

Step 2

Open the wild rooster picture, then use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the rooster shape. Copy the selection and paste it into the main document in a new layer named "Rooster," which is above the "Landscape" layer. The layers' order is very important in any manipulation work.

Step 3

Open the egg picture, select it by using any method, you can grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool or the Pen tool to create an elliptic shape, either way is fine. Copy the selection and paste it on the main document into a new layer named "Egg." Place the egg just over the Rooster's body - covering it. Obviously, you can Free Transform both the "egg" and "rooster" layers to make them bigger or smaller in this step.

Step 4

Now add some cracks to the egg. Select the "Egg" layer and add a Layer Mask > Reveal All... then, select the Layer Mask in Layer's Palette by clicking once on its miniature. Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool, draw some cracks on the Rooster's neck, wing and legs and once you make a selection fill it with black (#000000). Feel free to make the cracks as you want.

Step 5

Now let's fix the egg lighting. Since the main source of light came from the left side of the design, we'll add some shadows and lights to the egg to make it match with the overall light, we'll fix the rooster's lighting later.

I like this technique to add lights and shadows because is the optimal over any picture. Anyway, it's a little bit complicated and takes more time than only applying Dodge and Burn to the image. You must create two copies of the "Egg" layer, edit the levels of "Egg copy" to make it darker and "Egg copy 2" lighter. Place the lighter copy above the "Egg" layer and the darker copy below the "Egg" layer.

Step 6

Grab a big and soft black (#000000) Brush, then select the lighter Layer and paint over the Layer Mask. Hide some areas of the lighter layer to show more of the normal layer. Then, select the non-edited layer and with the same brush paint over its Layer mask. This way you'll hide some areas of the normal layer and showing this way a little bit of darker layer.

This is a variable process, so try and try until have your desired result. Finally, merge the three layers into one, I'm adding them into a folder for further reference and merging a copy of it and hiding the originals.

Step 7

Since the resultant egg is a little bit over saturated, we'll use the Sponge Tool to desaturate it.

Step 8

Let's put some feathers above the egg shell. For this, duplicate the "Rooster" layer, place it over the "Egg copy" layer and apply a Layer Mask > Hide All to it. Then using several sizes of both black and white Brushes on the Layer Mask, make visible some feathers over the egg shell. Don't forget that our main source of light is on the left of the design. Take care to put the main shadows on the opposite side of the light source.

Step 9

Create a new layer below the "Egg copy" layer and name it "Egg shadows." Now use a soft black (#000000) brush, with Opacity and Flow at 75%, and paint some shadows behind the egg. Using a smaller Brush, paint some shadows behind the "Rooster copy" into a new layer named "Feathers shadows."

Step 10

Select the Dodge Tool and set an irregular Brush (Any chalk brush is perfect), then set the Range as Midtones and Exposure to 35%. On the "Egg copy" layer dodge the borders of the cracked egg.

Step 11

Now we'll add the rider. Open the rider picture and using the Lasso Tool copy the shape of the rider. Paste it into a new layer named "Rider" on the main document. Also, add rooster, egg and shadows layers into a new folder named "Rooster." Resize the "Rooster" folder to make it a little bit smaller to match the rider size. Put the Rider just on the rooster's back.

Step 12

Next, use a white (#FFFFFF) brush to paint over the wing's layer mask to reveal some little areas of the wing, try to create a nice join between the wing skin and body skin. Also, improve the wing shape especially on the wave next to the body.

Switch the brush size making it smaller or bigger anytime you need to. Finally, use the Eraser Tool to fix some details on the Rider, like the feather, the borders of the chair, or deleting some areas of the leather reins.

Step 13

Let's add some reins. You can either find a picture and extract the reins or create them from scratch. I'll create them from scratch. Create a new layer named "Reins" below the "Rider" layer. Now using the Elliptical Marquee Tool, create an elliptical selection on that layer. Next with the Elliptical Marquee Tool selected, click on the Subtract From Selection option on the Tool's Options Panel.

Select another ellipse, which is smaller than the first one, and try to obtain a nice curved selection like the second screenshot of the image below. Once you have it, use the Paint Bucket Tool to fill the selection with black (#000000). Then, Free Transform the rein to match it perfectly with the contour of the rooster's neck.

Step 14

Add to the rein a subtle Gradient Overlay (#000000 - #010101) and an Inner Glow (#5C5C5C).

Step 15

Duplicate the "Reins" layer a few times and free transform them to place them anywhere you like. Put all the copies into a new Group named "Reins," duplicate the folder, and merge the copy. Put the merged copy "Reins copy" below the "Reins" layer. Now move the copy a few pixels up and to the right, then apply a 2px Gaussian Blur to create a shadow effect for the reins.

Step 16

Now it's time to add the rider's shadow over the egg shell. Duplicate the rider layer and place the copy behind the original, then move the layer a few pixels to the right. Adjust the "Rider copy" Lightness value to -100 in the Hue / Saturation panel.

Hit Command + F to reapply the last Gaussian Blur Filter (2px), as shown Step 15. Using a soft eraser delete the shadow of man's head and chest, and leave only the shadow over the rider chair and egg shell. Finally, change any Fill or Opacity value of the "Rider copy" layer to 75%.

Step 17

Following add more details, we'll add some feathers over the reins. Duplicate the "Rooster" folder and merge the copy, place it above the "reins" folder. Apply a Layer Mask > Reveal all. Now with the work of several sizes of white and black soft Brushes, make visible only a few feathers over the reins and over the egg's cracks if you want to. Besides you can add a little drop shadow to the "Rooster copy" layer, but that's optional.

Step 18

Now we'll add another freak detail to the composition - a ram horn. Open the image and select only the horn, then paste it into a new layer above everything else. You can use the Clone Tool to delete the little fur over the horn.

Now apply a Layer Mask > Reveal All to the "Horn" layer. Use a big, soft, black brush to paint on the layer mask. This will merge the horn over rooster's head. Next, Burn the horn to add more intensity to the shadows.

Step 19

Once more we'll add a shadow to a piece of the image. Duplicate the "Horn" layer. Turn down its Lightness to -100. Transform it a little bit to make the shadow bigger than the original shape and apply the Gaussian Blur filter twice.

Change the Blend mode of "Horn copy" to Multiply and turn down the Opacity to 85%. As a final detail, duplicate the "Horn" layer and put the copy just above the "Landscape" layer, move it a little bit up to create the second horn.

Step 20

Let's review another optional step. Since the "Rider" layer is sharper than the "Rooster" layer, you should go to Filter > Sharpen >Unsharp Mask, then set the values shown below and apply the filter to the "Rooster" layer.

Mock-up the Creature on the Landscape

We'll be working on Mocking-up the creature on the landscape in the following steps.

Step 21

It's time to put the creature on the landscape. Make the "Landscape" layer visible, then put all the layers but "Landscape" into a new folder named "Rider." Duplicate the folder (it's a good idea to save your non-merged layers either in folders or Smart Objects for further editing), merge the copy and place it on top of Layers Palette. Name it "Rider" as well and hide the folder. Resize the "Rider" layer and place it wherever you like. Finally, add a Layer Mask > Reveal All to the "Rider" layer.

Step 22

We'll need to adjust the lighting one more time to match the scene. Duplicate the "Rider" twice, name the first copy "Rider Light" and adjust the Levels to make it lighter. Put it above the "Rider" layer. Name the second copy "Rider Dark," adjust the levels to make it darker, and put it below the "Rider Light" layer.

Step 23

Using a big, black Brush, paint some black areas over the "Rider Light" Layer Mask, this way you'll show a little bit of the dark layer. Repeat the process of painting over the "Rider Dark" layer mask to make some areas of the plain "Rider" layer visible. Finally, Merge all three layers into one.

Step 24

Next we'll add the Rider shadow on the grass. For this select the "Rider2" layer, press Command + A to select all and Command + C to copy the image. Create a new layer named "Rider Shadow" and select it. Then go to Filter > Vanishing Point and create a plane as shown in the image below. If you have any doubt about using this filter, then take a look at this basic tutorial first.

Now paste the clipboard over the plane and place it wherever you like, in this case it's a really stretched plane, so the shadow is stretched as well. Once you have it in a right place, turn down the layer's Lightness value to -100 for Hue/Saturation options and apply a 3 pixels Gaussian Blur to that layer.

Step 25

Let's move forward with the shadow. I've experimented with several ways to make the shadow looks real. This time I tried this process and liked the outcome. Select the "Rider shadow" layer and change its Blend Mode to Soft Light and its Opacity to 75%.

Now duplicate the layer and set its Blend Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 45%. Following. Duplicate the "Rider Shadow" once more, distort it making it wider by using the Free Transform options, commit the transform. Now set its Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 25%.

Step 26

Now it's time to add some more shadows. Put all the "Rider shadows" layers into a folder and name it "Rider Shadow." Add a new layer on top of the "Rider Shadow" layers and name it "Shadows" (yes, I know that I'm really bad with layer names). On the "Shadows" layer, using a small soft Brush, paint the shadows of the Rooster's claws on the grass.

Now add another layer named "Shadows," but this time above the "Rider 2" layer. Use this layer to paint hard shadows opposite the light direction. Set the layer's Blend Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 75%. Command-click on the "Rider 2" layer to create a selection of the rider shape, then Invert the Selection and delete the extra shadows of the "Shadows" layer.

Step 27

Let's add some more details. Select the "Landscape" layer and Grab the Clone Tool. Set the clone source somewhere in the grass, then select the Sample value to Current Layer. Create a new layer named "More grass" and start painting a little piece of grass over the Rooster claws.

Add a Dramatic Environment

In the next few steps, we'll work on adding a dramatic environment.

Step 28

First, add a Hue/Saturation layer and turn down the saturation a little bit. Then add a Gradient Map adjustment layer that goes from black to white. Change its Blending mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 30%.

Step 29

Let's add some clouds and a cold fog. Paste the clouds picture into a new layer named "Clouds" above the "Landscape" layer. Apply a Gradient (black to white) layer mask to hide the bottom of the clouds. Then change its Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 75%.

Step 30

Since the "Landscape" layer is a little bit over saturated on the blue Channel, We'll use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the background a little bit. Edit the Master Channel by turning down its saturation to -30. Then edit the Blue Channel setting the Saturation to -100 and Lightness to -30. This way you'll get a darker landscape and a misty sky.

Step 31

Since the chicken is a little bit over saturated, we'll use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer as well, but this time only for the rider. For this let's merge the layers: "More grass," "Shadows," and "Rider 2." Name this merged layer "Final Rider."

Now add the adjustment layer above the "Final Rider" and Option-click between the adjustment layer and "Final Rider" layers to apply the adjustment only for the layer below. Finally, let's add a Gradient Map (black to white) adjustment layer to increase the dramatic effect on the entire design. This makes the effect not that intense. Set the Gradient Map's Blending Mode to Overlay and turn down its Opacity to around 30%.

Step 33

Let's add the mist. Paste the clouds picture into a new layer above the "Clouds" layer and name it "Mist 1." Stretch the clouds height a little bit, as shown below.

Apply a Layer Mask > Reveal All and use a big, black brush to paint over the mask to hide the hard borders of the mist layer and fade it out merging the landscape. Finally, change its Blending mode to Lighten and Opacity to 50%.

Step 34

More mist is needed. Duplicate the "Mist 1" layer several times creating multiple copies. Free Transform each one to make it wider or higher, even add some of the "Mist" layer above the "Final Rider" layer to create the illusion that the fog is in front of the creature as well. Feel free to hide or reveal more areas on each Layer Mask to hide or show some particular background areas.

Step 35

To add a cold effect, add an Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter. Choose Color and set this value to #00415F, set the Density to 50% and place the filter just below the top Gradient Map layer.

The Final Mock-up

Be sure to save your work. Flatten the image and save it somewhere else, but don't overwrite the original document. With the flattened image you'll have a unique layer named "Background." Duplicate it and apply to the copy a Gaussian Blur of 2px. Then Duplicate the blurred copy and hide it.

On the visible blurred layer, apply a Layer Mask and fill it with a Radial Gradient (white to black) to make visible only the sides of the blurred layer, hiding the center of the blur image. Then make visible the top blurred layer and change its blending mode to Overlay and its Opacity to 35%. Then you can crop or resize the image as you wish.


That's it, though it isn't an easy process, as I'm sure you've noticed. Your outcome may be very different than mine. I hope you've enjoyed reading this tutorial and found it useful to improve your photo manipulation skills.

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