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Use Filter Forge and Adobe Photoshop to Create a Yellow Brick Road

This post is part of a series called The Wizard of Oz.
Draw the Cowardly Lion From the Wizard of Oz in Adobe Illustrator
Create a Photo Manipulation of the Emerald City of Oz With Adobe Photoshop
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Filter Forge is a plugin for Photoshop that allows you to build your own filters. In honor of our Wizard of Oz celebration, what better way to run it through its paces than by creating a yellow brick road?

1. Obtain the Plugin

Filter Forge can run as either a plugin for Photoshop or a standalone piece of software. Either way, it will still need to be installed. There's even a free 30-day trial version so you can try it out to see if it's right for you. Head on over to www.filterforge.com to get things started.

Filter Forge website

2. Use a Starter Brick Filter

One of the most impressive features of Filter Forge is the ability to create custom filters with the Filter Editor. This feature is a node-based editor that requires no coding at all! The available nodes are logical, intuitive, and robust. 

Step 1

Open Photoshop and create a new document with File > New. This file will hold the base texture maps for our 3D rendered road and will require a lot of pixel area. Enter a Width of 2000 pixels and a Height of 2500 pixels and a Resolution of 72 pixels/inch.

Create a new file in Photoshop

Step 2

Open the plugin with Filter > Filter Forge > Filter Forge 4. The plugin will open in its own window. The main portion of the window is the preview area. To the left is the library filled with several factory preset textures and filters. Unfortunately, there's no Yellow Brick Road filter included. Instead of crafting one from scratch, use the Filter Library: Download more filters link at the top of the window to browse the online library.

The Filter Forge interface

Step 3

Search for the Castle Bricks filter and click on the Open this filter in Filter Forge button to automatically download and open the filter.

Download the Castle Bricks filter

Step 4

Castle Bricks is an impressive brick texture and will serve well as the basis to build the pavement for the favored highway of Oz. But it won't work in its present form, so it will require some modifications. 

The Castle Bricks filter

3. Use the Filter Editor

It's time to pop the hood on this filter and take a look at how things work.

Step 1

Press the Filter Editor button and choose the Edit this filter option to begin editing the network of nodes that makes up this filter. When the Filter Editor opens, the main window becomes a workspace for the network of nodes that controls how this filter works. It may look intimidating and confusing at first, but it's really quite simple and remarkably easy to use.

The Filter Editor

Step 2

The color of the bricks is an integral part of the Yellow Brick Road. The color is right there in the name! So these dull gray stones just won't do. 

Click on the Bricks Color node and the left panel will display the settings for that node. Click on the color chip to change it to a bright yellow, #FFF404 (the bricks in the preview will appear multi-colored, but don't panic—those will be changed soon enough).

Change the Brick Color

Step 3

Likewise, change the Mortar Color to a dark brown, #58410F.

Change the Mortar Color

Step 4

Click on the primary Bricks node and set the H Range (Hue) to 5, L Range (Lightness) to 20 and S Range (Saturation) to 50.

Adjust the brick color settings

Step 5

Click on the Bricks Bond node and set the Value to 4. This adjusts how the brick pattern is situated. This value adds in a bit of imperfection so the arrangement doesn't look quite so mechanically perfect.

Adjust the Bricks Bond Value

Step 6

Currently the Result node shows the bricks as a brilliant blue. That's the direct opposite of what is needed! The reason for this is the Invert node near the top of the network. Select that node and Delete it.

Delete the Invert node

Step 7

When the node is deleted, the inputs and outputs are broken and need to be remapped. The right edge of the primary Bricks node has a large green arrow—this is the output of that node. Click and drag on that arrow to connect it to the input of the Blend node that the Invert node was previously connected to.

Remap the Bricks output to the Blend input

Step 8

Press the Components button to open a library of component nodes. Click on the Noise category, and drag a Perlin Noise component onto the main workspace.

Add a Perlin Noise Component

Step 9

In the Perlin Noise settings, set the Roughness to 75 and Contrast to 64.

Adjust the Perlin Noise settings

Step 10

Then map the output of the Perlin Noise node to the Foreground input of the Blend node. This blends the noise with the brick color and provides a less mechanical appearance by adding a bit of grunge into the brick color. This is the equivalent of using layer blending modes in Photoshop.

Map the Perlin Noise to the Foreground of the Blend node

4. Add Texture and Depth

The filter is generating a good yellow hue for the road, so let's turn some attention to the roughness of the surface. The bottom cluster of nodes controls the depth and texture for the bricks.

Step 1

Adjust the Slider Control for the Bricks Roughness to 10.

Adjust brick roughness

Step 2

Open the Components panel again and look into the Noise category. Drag a Stones component onto the work space and set the Roughness to 76.

Add a Stones noise node

Step 3

Drag a Blending component from the Processing category onto the work space. Then map the Perlin Noise output to the Blend's Background input. Map the Stones output to the Blend's Foreground input. Map the Blend output to the Bricks input. This blends both of the textures together into a unique combination to give the bricks a rough surface.

Map the Perlin Noise and Stones to Blend node to connect to the Bricks node

Step 4

Add a Slider Control component from the Controls category. Set the name to Mortar Width and the Value to 6. Then map the output of this control to the Mortar Width input of both Bricks nodes. This way changes to the Mortar Width will be updated in both Bricks nodes.

Add a control slider for the mortar width

Step 5

At this point, the network should look something similar to this. Don't worry if your nodes are in different places—they are easy to move around, and the position doesn't matter. It's the connections that are important.

The final filter network

Step 6

Press the Save Filter button to return to the primary interface of Filter Forge. The filter preview updates to reflect the new filter settings.

New texture previewed in the Filter Forge interface

Step 7

Go to the Settings tab and set the Size, pixels to 500 to reduce the physical size of the bricks in the final texture. Click the Seamless Tiling option (the Size will auto-adjust when you engage this option to make sure the texture can tile properly).

Change the brick size and make the texture seamless

Step 8

The bricks appear very dark at the moment, so go to the Lighting tab and change the Environment texture to Forest. Set the Brightness to 200 and the Surface Height to 35.

Adjust the lighting for the texture

Step 9

At this point, if you want just a basic texture to work with in Photoshop, press the Apply button and Filter Forge will render out the texture. But if you want to generate maps to use in the 3D feature-set, continue to the next series of steps.

The finished filter appearance

5. Use 3D Texture Maps

Filter Forge can generate several different types of texture maps that can be used to define specific properties of 3D elements in Photoshop and any other 3D program.

Step 1

While still in the Filter Forge interface, go to Filter > Render Maps > Diffuse Map. Then click Apply and the program renders out a texture to be used just for the colorization of the 3D road.

Render the Diffuse Map

Step 2

Once the filter is finished rendering into Photoshop, make sure there are no bright magenta areas that need to be cropped out (this only happens if the document dimensions don't work with the seamless tiling parameters), and save this file as YellowBrickColor.jpg.

The diffuse map

Step 3

Run the Filter Forge plugin again and this time set the Filter > Render Maps > Bump Map. Apply this setting and save the result as YellowBrickBump.jpg.

the bump map

Step 4

Run the Filter Forge plugin again and this time set the Filter > Render Maps > Normal Map. Apply this setting and save the result as YellowBrickNormal.jpg.

the normal map

Step 5

Open the attached OzLandscape.jpg file in Photoshop. This is a composite landscape image that will serve as the basis for our Lemon-hued Highway adventure!

OzLandscape image

Step 6

Add a new layer with Layer > New > Layer (Shift-Control-N) for the road. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to create a tall, narrow selection, and Fill it with White.

Add a new layer for the roadway

Step 7

Go to 3D > New 3D Extrusion From Selected Layer. Photoshop switches to the 3D interface and turns the filled rectangle into a 3D box. In the Properties panel, set the Extrusion Depth to 10 px to make the box very flat.

Turn the rectangle into a 3D box

Step 8

Use the Move Tool (V) and the 3D transform widget to Rotate and Scale the box until it fits into the scene as a basic roadway.

Rotate and scale the box to be a roadway

Step 9

In the 3D panel find the Road Front Inflation Material. Then look in the Properties panel and click on the document icon next to Diffuse. Select Replace Texture and load YellowBrickColor.jpg.

Assign the Diffuse Map

Step 10

Click on the document icon again and select Edit UV Properties. In the Scale section, set the U/X to 125% and the V/Y to 20%.

Set the UV properties

Those settings adjust the scale of the brick texture along the 3D object so the bricks appear to be life-size and not stretched.

Bricks in the proper scale

Step 11

Next, assign the YellowBrickBump.jpg file to the Bump setting and adjust the Bump Scale to 5%. Set the UV Properties to match the settings used in the Diffuse Map.

Assign the Bump Map

Step 12

Likewise assign the YellowBrickNormal.jpg to the Normal map, using the same UV Properties.

Step 13

Select Infinite Light 1 in the 3D panel. Use the on-screen light direction widget to rotate the light to match the angle of the lighting in the scene. In the Properties panel set the light's Color to a pale yellow, Intensity to 110% and Shadow Softness to 10%.

Adjust the 3D lighting

Step 14

Create a selection around the 3D road and go to 3D > Render (Alt-Shift-Control-R). Photoshop combines all the texture information and the lighting into a final render of our Yellow Brick Road!

Render the Road

6. Photo Manipulation

The rendering of the 3D road completes the involvement of the Filter Forge plugin for this project. The following steps are traditional Photoshop techniques to composite the render into the scene and complete the final image.

Step 1

Control click on the 3D Road layer to create a selection, and then go to Layer > New > New Layer Via Copy (Control-J) to copy the pixels to a new layer. This creates a rasterized version of the render without losing the 3D information. Name the new layer Road Render and hide the original 3D Layer.

Create a rasterized layer from the render

Step 2

Create a copy of the Road Render layer with Layer > New > New Layer Via Copy (Control-J) and move it further "back" into the scenery by scaling it slightly smaller and moving it upwards. Then go to Edit > Transform > Warp and use the warp cage to shape the road around the curve in the photo.

Edit a copy of the road layer to fit around the curve

Step 3

For both road layers, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All to conceal the entire layer. Then use a Soft Round Brush with white paint on the masks to reveal the pavement only along the roadway.

Use layer masks to fit the yellow road to the path in the photo

Step 4

Open the Brush panel Window > Brush (F5) and make the following brush settings.

Brush Tip Shape Settings:

  • Brush tip to Chalk 36 pixels
  • Spacing: 33%

Shape Dynamics:

  • Size Jitter: 22%
  • Angle Jitter: 100%

Scattering Settings:

  • Scatter: 76%
  • Both Axes option enabled
Custom brush settings

Step 5

Add a New Layer for the Shadow Area and set the Blend Mode to Darken. Use the newly defined brush at 40% Opacity with a dark green paint #243400 to add shadows to the edge of the roadway.

Adding shadows to the road

Step 6

Add another New Layer for Grasses. Use the Clone Stamp Tool (S) with the Dune Brush preset to sample pixels from the grassy field and clone them onto the foreground edge of the roadway so the road appears to be behind blades of grass.

Step 7

Add a New Layer for the Distant Road and use a Soft Round Brush tip at a very low brush size, around 6 pixels, with bright yellow paint #ffff2a to carefully trace along the roadway in the distance. Change the blending mode to Overlay and reduce the Opacity to 74%.

Add in the distant road

Step 8

Create a selection of the roadway by Shift-Control-clicking on both layer masks for the Road Render layers. Then add a Curves adjustment layer and create a hill-shaped curve as shown below to brighten up the yellow road.

add Curves to the roadway

Step 9

Add another New Layer for Sun Rays. Use the same custom brush that was used to add the shadows to the roadway, but this time use it at 100% Opacity and white paint. Create a mass of brush marks in the center of the canvas.

Add white brush marks to the center

Step 10

Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur and set the Blur Method to Zoom and the Amount to 100. If the effect is not strong enough the first time, run this same filter twice.

Use the Radial Blur

Step 11

Set the Blend Mode to Screen and use Edit > Free Transform (Control-T) to scale the light streaks up and re-position the effect so it is directly over the sun in the photo.

Scale and move the light streaks to be coming form the sun

Step 12

For the finishing effect, create a merged layer at the top of the stack by holding down Alt and going to Layer > Merge Visible. Then go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter (Control-Shift-A). In the Basic tab set the Clarity to +64 and the Vibrance to +18.

Apply Calrity and Vibrance from the Camera Raw Filter

Switch to the Effects Tab and in the Post Crop Vignette section set the Amount to -33. Then press OK to apply the filter.

Add a Vignette

And You are Done!

Click your heels together three times because you are finished! Congratulations on a fine piece of digital artwork. This piece would have been much more difficult to accomplish without the help of the Filter Forge plugin. The ability to creatively craft your own filters and use them as 3D render maps can unlock new worlds of wondrous possibilities.

How did your custom filter turn out? Share your image below in the comments!

Want More?

Are you inspired to tackle more photo manipulation projects? Want to try your hand at some custom Photoshop brushes? Check out my profile here at Tuts+ for my other Tutorials, Quick Tips, and Courses.

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