Friday, July 01, 2005

how to Photoshop a lightsaber (sort of)

For those who marveled at the amazing lightsaber effects that appeared in this post, I've put together a little saber-making tutorial. It's not a very good tutorial, I fear: while the lightsaber itself came out about right, the rest of the image leaves something to be desired.

Here we go, then.

First, you want to find a decent photo to Photoshop. I decided, once again, on the goofy-faced picture, because nothing says "menacing Sith lord" like me and my goofy face. As you see, though, there's a problem: my right hand in the goofy-face photo isn't gripping anything. There are two ways to solve that problem: reconstruct a gripping hand from scratch, or steal one from another photo. This is what I chose to do, and that's why you see the "ten-foot penis" photo next to "goofy-face": note the fisted right hand. Heh. Fisted.

In the above shot, I've selected the arm I plan to copy and paste. I chose a wide area because my original intention was simply to paste the arm and add a saber. However, disaster struck. Next pic:

See what happened? I pasted the selection onto the goofy-face pic, used the "free transform" function to rotate the arm slightly and keep the alignment, but... I now have two right hands! Having two right hands can be useful when on a date, in the shower, or in bed with your date, but your typical Jedi tends to view any extra appendage as something to be lopped off. I decided that the hand had to be covered, but since there was no way to erase the hand without having to perform massive surgery on the rest of the background, I decided to try something easier, yet more ambitious: to eliminate the entire background and give myself a Sith outfit.

In the following pic, you see the first step in that process:

It took a while, and several sizes of eraser, to do the above job. Shaving close to the edge of the desired image requires blowing your image up about 400%, which is what I did. The results were more or less clean. I kept the formerly clothed areas highlighted so I could think about what clothing to paint in. Black and grey seemed appropriately Sith-ish, so I went for those.

Results below:

I'm not satisfied with the above results by a long shot. It took a while to conjure up anything even remotely fabric-like, and I blame my lack of true artistic skill for that. I dipped into the Photoshop "filter" function many times, and to be honest, I doubt I could reproduce even the above mess with any fidelity. But there we are: a murky Sith uniform. One thing I'll note: I cheated to create those wrinkles and that black shading. Used large black dots because I was having a hard time actually drawing the wrinkles in.

I also drew in a saber handle using the orthogonal select tool, some paintbrushes, and the gradient tool.

We're about ready to give me a red blade. But before doing that, we have to stick the current image onto a Star Wars-style background. Unfortunately, I was experiencing a service outage, so I couldn't access any online images. I hunted around for that moody-sky background I've used before (look on my sidebar). Found it and cropped it:

The next step was to plop my image onto the background, which didn't happen as cleanly as I'd hoped:

At about this point, you may have noticed that my saber handle doesn't appear too well aligned. I noticed this, too, but decided to hold off on repairs until later.

In the next pic, we begin saber-making in earnest. The basic rule for lightsabers is this: all lightsabers are basically white. Take a good look at every lightsaber you see in the Star Wars flicks, and you'll see I'm right. White cores, all of them, except perhaps when seen from afar.

With that premise in mind, the object of the game is to create something with a white core. In the next pic, you'll see that I began by selecting the blade area using the orthogonal selection tool. To align the blade properly, I selected the saber's handle as well. Look:

Yeah, I noticed a few annoying white patches on my uniform, too. Decided to deal with those later as well. Next pic:

As you see above, I chose a large, round eraser to eliminate everything inside the selected area above the saber handle. At this point, we already have a plausible saber, but we still need to impart that lovely red glow, trademark of my dastardly order. This takes a few steps.

First, you have to select an area larger than the just-created blade. See below:

Next, you have to paint in the red glow. I used a large, round brush, having selected the reddest red-- but at 50% strength. Results below:

Notice that the red obscures the lovely white core. We now have to go back in and re-create the core. Like last time, we select the interior:

Next, we erase everything inside the interior:

At that point, you might think you're done, but no: we need to blur the blade a bit to make the glow soft. This is key to making a plausible lightsaber. So--

We select an area slightly larger than the blade, as you see above. Then:

We blur that puppy. And now you've got yourself a lightsaber, my friend. To give the impression of maximum evil, I cropped the pic:

I also dealt with those annoying white patches at the bottom of the Sith robe, blurred the edges of my image to get me to blend with the background better, and tried to tweak my saber handle, ever so slightly. The results aren't perfect, but you get the idea.

And that, ladies, is how we make a lightsaber.


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