This tutorial shows how to develop a futuristic fantasy theme out of a plain background using photo manipulation, photo montage techniques coupled with some painting inside Photoshop.
Preview of Final Results
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Futuristic Matte Painting.zip | 35 MB
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Create an Amazing Futuristic Matte Painting Photoshop Tutorial
- California Coastline – SXC
- Sky1 – SXC
- Sky2 – SXC
- Sky3 – SXC
- Sky4 – Orangen Stock
- Dark sky – Night Fate Stock
- Building – SXC
- Helipad – SXC
- Base Texture – CGTextures
- Mountain1 – SXC
- Mountain2 – SXC
- Mountain3 – SXC
- Mountain4 – SXC
- Mountain5 – SXC
- Mountain6 – SXC
- Mountain7 – SXC
- Glacier – SXC
- Halong Bay – SXC
- Machu Picchu – SXC
- Yosemite – Dex-Mecha
- Beach – SXC
- Planet – SXC
- Bird Brushes – Adaae-stock
- Bird Brushes2 – Redhead Stok
Step 1: The Idea
When I found the California coastline image I thought to create something interesting with it. I imagined theme and put it on the canvas that you can see below. Some futuristic unconventional building and a huge helipad or aerodrome and some floating mountains or rocks! As I came to a conclusion about what to create I painted it out loosely. I blocked the initial shapes and details using default chalk brushes in Photoshop. Just to give some direction and mood. I encourage you to start by blocking the shapes. Later on we will fill them with photo elements. Please keep in mind you are not just limited to these instructions. They are there to give you some direction. There is always plenty of room for your own creative freedom to improvise things. That is what tutorials are about. So let’s get started.
Step 2: Setting up the Background
Create a new document at 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels height. Bring the California Stock image into Photoshop. Drag and drop it into the working document. I tend to keep things organized into groups to the extent it is sensible. Though we don’t need to create a new group for every single layer. Create a new group called “background”, drag the background image into the group folder.
Flip the canvas by choosing Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontally. Reposition the image. Use the coordinates if you need.
Press Ctrl+M, adjust the values slightly using the “Curves” dialogue box.
Step 3: Replacing the Sky
We have just set up the background. Let’s actually start to build the scene. We are going to work from the back to the front fashion. So we start from the sky. The sky is the key element in an image that defines the mood and lighting. The sky existing sky isn’t going to work for us. Add a Layer Mask and paint out the sky with the Brush Tool.
The sky is keyed out. We will create our own sky by blending different skies together. Let’s open up the Sky1 and drag it into the main document. Resize and reposition the sky. Create a new group called “sky” below the “background”. Drag the sky layer into the group.
Adjust the saturation using Hue/Saturation dialogue box. Press Ctrl+U to load the Dialogue box.
Drop in Sky2 just above the Sky1 layer. Squash the layer in both directions and re align just as you can see here.
Here I kept the portion of the layer I wanted and masked out remaining area using a Layer Mask. Pick a soft brush to paint inside the mask.
Mix it up with the sky below. Match the lighting and color using Curves and Hue/Saturation adjustments.
I sampled the color from the sky layer and painted to fill the gap.
Drop in the Sky3 into the Sky group. Reposition the sky. I wanted the top right portion of the image. So keeping it intact hide the remaining with a Mask.
Adjust the tone and lightness with Hue/Saturation box.
I Duplicated the background Layer. Disabled the mask, copied the portion that I wanted. Blended it using Layer Mask and Curves adjustments.
Step 4: Creating the Futuristic Building
This is what we are going to create
So we have this idea of having a giant structure in the scene based on the sketch. To create the initial shape we will use Illustrator’s 3D tools. Switch to Illustrator. Press Ctrl+N to create a new document. Draw the outline shape using the Pen Tool. Change the stroke color to #ffffff
After the shape is defined go to Effect > 3D > 3D Revolve.
Copy the object and paste it into our document as Smart Object. Place it above the mountain range in the middle ground. Create a new group for the object. For the sake of simplicity call it “Building”. This is going to be the base layer that contains photo elements and details.
Yeah the shape is good but I wanted it to be a little bit wider. So I stretched it a little bit by pressing Ctrl+T. Add a Layer Mask to the base layer and hide the areas that are covering the trees in the background to make it look like it is behind the trees.
Recolor the building. Create a new layer above the base layer. Press Ctrl+Alt+G to clip the layer to the base layer. Create a new gradient in with similar values. Apply the gradient by dragging with the Gradient tool.
Lower the opacity of the layer to 50%.
Open the building stock and remove the sky using the Magic Wand Tool.
Set a vertical guide. Press Ctrl+T and rotate the building to align with the vertical guide. Make a selection, copy and paste into the main file.
Now clip the layer to the base layer. Flip the layer horizontally.
I stretched and squeezed the layer quite drastically. Try to get it right in one attempt. If you back and forth the image will loose data and blurs.
We will use the middle portion of the image. Hide remaining with a Layer Mask.
Adjust the colors and remove that green shades using Curves and Hue/Saturation.
The image is evenly lit. So paint a dark color on the shadow side of the building. Create a new layer above the current layer. Just sampled a dark tone from the background and painted with a large soft brush. The red color in the below image indicates the painted region.
Adjust the highlights slightly. Click back on the photo element, press “Q” to enter quick mask mode paint over the right edge with around 50% brush opacity. Press “Q” again to exit the quick mask mode. Invert the selection by pressing Ctrl+Shift+I, adjust the highlights slightly.
Deselect the selection. Reduce the saturation of the layer.
Create a new layer and paint a shadow. Clip to the base layer.
The lighting isn’t strong enough. Paint a lighter color with a soft brush. I painted with 50% opacity setting.
Add fine details. I picked a 1 pixel brush to paint subtle highlights and shadows. Spend some time to get it right.
Paint structural details. Pick a small brush to paint details.
Continue to add more details.
Create a window shape using Polygonal Lasso Tool.
Duplicate it several times. Finally merge all the windows and pressing Ctrl+E.
We are here so far.
Add some grain to the building to remove some of the smoothness of the brush strokes. Create a new layer and place it at top in the stack. Load selection from the base layer by Ctrl + clicking. Fill the selection.
Go to Filter > Artistic > Film Grain.
Set the blending mode to Softlight.
Step 5: Creating the Large Helipad
This is what we are about to create. A very large helipad.
We first create the surface of the helipad in Illustrator. We will paint the base in Photoshop. Switch back to Illustrator and draw the outline.
Apply 3D Revolve to the path. Before applying the effect change the stroke color to #ffffff.
It should look like the below.
We don’t need to take the entire object into Photoshop! We are going to take it as paths. That by expanding the object and choosing the paths we require. Expand the object by choosing Object > Expand Appearance.
There are lot of paths in the object. So carefully select the pieces we want. Hold Shift key to select multiple items.
After selecting separate them by moving upward.
Press Ctrl+Y to view the wire frame. The 3D revolve filter created lot of small divisions.
Use the Pathfinder palette to combine the paths.
Copy the object and paste into Photoshop as Paths.
Reposition the Path and Resize it by pressing Ctrl+T. We will form the base shape and texture it later.
Select the topmost path with Path Selection Tool. Right click, choose make selection.
Create a new layer group called Helipad. Create a new layer and fill the selection with a light color.
Select all the remaining paths, right click and choose “Make Selection”. Fill the selection.
Now draw the base. Make selection with Pen Tool.
I filled the selection with a gradient. We have three main layers in the group. Rename them. We will use these three layers as the base for the textures and other details.
The outline is finished. Start texturing the structure. Open up the helipad stock image. Copy a portion and paste into the working file. Place it above the surface layer.
Clip it to the base layer by pressing Ctrl+Alt+G.
Resize the texture.
Color Correct the texture using Hue/saturation, Color Balance.
Adjust the levels.
Increase the blue values slightly using Color Balance.
Lower the brightness on the left side of the texture. Make a quick mask selection
Exit the quick mask mode. Invert the selection. Use the curves dialogue box to decrease the lighting. Make it very subtle.
I painted a dark shade along the edge.
Add some lighting.
Apply some Motion Blur.
Distort the light. Press Ctrl+T and hold Ctrl Key and distort the corners. After done press Enter.
Stretch the light layer.
Now we will texture the edge of the surface. Open up the Base stock image. Copy and paste the texture into the document.
Clip the layer to the Edge layer. Reposition the texture.
Adjust the colors
Apply shadow on the left side of the texture. Create a new layer above the texture and pick the below gradient. Drag with the Gradient Tool to apply the shadow.
Click on the main path that we brought into Photoshop. The edge has three separate paths. Select the first path with Path Selection Tool. Right click and choose Make Selection.
Increase the brightness using Curves.
Now load selection from the second path and adjust the curves.
For the bottom most path we cannot use it directly. As You can see it is interfering with the other path. We need to subtract it. So load selection from the second path, on the Options Panel Select subtract from selection then right click on the third path and choose Make Selection.
Click on the texture and adjust Curves.
Duplicate the texture by pressing Ctrl+J.
Increase the layer brightness as a whole
Mask out the left portion of the Highlight pass.
Now we reached the base. Create a new layer above the base and clip it. I painted the base.
Let’s start detailing process. Follow the steps below and spend some time to get it correct. Start by adding loose details with a small brush.
Some subtle shadows and highlights.
Continue to add further details.
I created a shadow layer. Fill the layer with a dark tone. Again all these layers are clipped to the base layer.
Reduce the Opacity to 50%.
Use a mask to erase the shadow layer in the marked areas.
Integrate the base layer in to the background.
Paint a shadow to the base using a soft brush.
Step 6: Adding Island
Create a new group called Island. Bring the Mountain1 stock image into Photoshop. Use Magic Wand Tool to select the sky and remove it. Copy and paste into main file.
Flip it horizontally.
Resize the mountain. I stretched it extremely to match the perspective of the scene.
Clean up the edges.
Open up mountain2 stock image. Select and copy.
Resize. Stretch it slightly.
I trimmed the edge of the mountain. Select and erase.
Clear the water edge using a mask.
Stamp out any unwanted details using the Clone Stamp Tool.
We need color correct the image. Notice the color mountains in the background plate, the lighting and saturation of colors. Keep an eye on the surrounding environment and adjust the colors and lighting according to it.
Add Color Overlay.
I painted some reflections and highlights. Pick a small round brush and sample color tones from the mountain and paint. Vary the brush opacity to keep it a bit random. Since I have a Wacom tablet I have the shape dynamics on and enabled pen pressure settings to paint the fine details.
Step 7: Adding the Beach
Open up the Beach stock image. Copy a piece out of it. Paste into the main file.
Reposition it. Squeeze it down to match it to perspective of the scene.
Use a mask to merge the layer with the background and to create a smooth integration.
Stamp out the people from the image using Clone Stamp Tool.
Close the gap between the mountain and beach. I sampled colors from the beach to paint out the gap.
Remove the junk from the bottom side of the beach. I copied a patch from the original beach image and pasted above the trees. Again I squeezed it down horizontally. Use the brush tool to paint minor parts which are not covered by the patch.
Here is the result.
The water in the image is very saturated. Lower the saturation to match it with the background water.
Make a Quick Mask selection. Press “Q” to enter grab the brush tool and block the saturated area and return to normal mode. Invert the selection
Load the Hue/Saturation box, lower the saturation. Use Color Balance if necessary. Make sure it blends well with the existing water in the background.
Add some haze with a lighter color soft brush above the mountain.
Step 8: Adding the Planet
Open up the planet image. Cut out the planet with Elliptical Marquee Tool.
Change the Blend Mode to Overlay.
Use a mask to blend the planet into the environment.
Step 9: Floating Rocks
Here what we are going to create. The floating mountains have become a striking example of a fantasy world with the advent of the popular Hollywood movie Avatar. Inspired by the concept we are going to create our own floating rocks. We use our initial sketch as a guide to create the rocks. In order to achieve the result we need to combine many different photo elements and color correct them to mix with the environment. Just as we have been doing all along. By now you are familiar with the color correction tools.
Open up the Haylong Bay image. Copy one of the rocks and paste in the composition. Create a new layer called “rock1”. Drag the layer into this group. I turned on the sketch layer. We will shape the photo elements into this shape.
Paste into Photoshop. Flip the layer vertically and horizontally. Erase the portion outside of the sketch.
We need to create the other side of the mountain. Copy a another piece from the image. Rotate it and mask out excessive area forming the edge of the rock. This is the lighter side which is hit by the sun light.
Open up the Mountain3 stock. Copy the peak located at the center.
Paste and rotate the peak. Resize it. Add a layer mask to blend it.
Color correct the three layers.
I painted the remaining area. First painted with a medium chalk brush and move on to paint with a small brush to add fine details. Play around and have fun with it.
Our image so far.
We are now going to create another floating mountain. I have already blocked the shape. Create a new layer group called “Rock2”. I separated the sketch and moved it into the group. We will use the shape as a guide and will clip the photo elements to it.
Bring in the Machu Picchu image. I copied the mountain peak. Pasted it in the Mountain2 group, rotated and clipped to the base layer.
Reduce saturation of the layer and adjust the colors.
Apply color overlay
Pick another bit of reference from the Mountain5 stock.
Color correct the layer. I am not giving any specific values but do it with the tools we have used so far. Then clip the layer to the base layer just above the machu picchu one.
Open Glacier stock image. Copy the rock. Paste and rotate. Place it at very top in the group. We don’t need to clip it to the base layer.
Blend the rock using Mask. Color correct.
Bring in another bit from the glacier.
Blend using a mask and color correct.
Here I added some more elements from the same photo reference.
Painted some details using the chalk brush.
Here is the result.
There is one more mountain we need to deal with. Use the paint layer to hold the photo elements. Just as we did before. Create a new group called “Rock3”. It will contain all elements belong to this one.
Open the Yosemite image. Select and copy.
Paste above the paint layer in the group.
Copy another bit of the mountain.
Open up the Mountain4 stock. Copy the marked portion.
Transform and color correct.
Bring the element from the Mountain6 stock image and reposition it. Lower the saturation slightly. Follow the steps below.
Let’s add one more piece from the Mountain7. Rotate the layer. Color correct using Hue/Saturation.
Paint some details using brush
Step 10: Finishing touches.
We are done with major details. Add some more details to the scene. Here I painted a command center and a helicopter.
Paint some silhouettes of people to indicate life.
I wanted to increase the brightness of the water of the background plate. Duplicate the background plate and increase the brightness using Curves. Mask out everything except water.
Red indicates the hidden area.
I painted some orange tones on the sky to give some vividness.
At this point I wanted to introduce some dark clouds to the foreground. I painted a dark cloudy sky tone. Send it back to the foremost mountain.
Drop the cloudy sky image into the comp. Clip it to the painted layer. Resize it.
We are going to add another layer of sky. Open up the blue sky. To key out the cloud wisps go to Channels palette duplicate the channel with most contrast and softness. In this case it is Red Channel. Duplicate it by dragging on to the Create New Channel button.
Increase contrast using Curves.
Ctrl+Click on the channel. Click on the RGB composite channel. Press Ctrl+J to separate the selection.
Drop the sky into the composition.
Resize it vertically. Duplicate the layer and place above everything. Reduce the opacity if it is too dark or duplicate the layer if it is too light.
Now introduce some shadows to the composition. Use a soft brush.
Duplicate the building. Click on the base layer and press Ctrl+Shift+C to copy. Since it is far away in the distance it becomes less contrast. Lot of atmosphere involves. Use color correction tools to make it mix well in to the atmosphere.
Here I Added one more floating rock. I copied the middle rock and edited it. I painted mountain range in the distance on the horizon line.
Add a flock of bird using bird brushes.
Add a Levels Adjustment Layer at the very top in the layer stack. Adjust the mid tones. It affects the document as a whole. I am satisfied with the result. And it is time to wrap up things. Take a look at the final result.
And that’s pretty much it. You can achieve great results by combining photos and paintig and taking it further by putting the tips and concepts into practice. Take a look at the final image.