USE YOUR BRAAAAIIINNNSSSS... RESEARCH THE SUBJECT!True of every piece of work you start - if there isn't an underlying reason for the work being done that's clear in your mind before you begin, it will hurt the look of the final image. The devil is always in the details, and when I look at my finished work I know exactly why I added each element to it. If there is something in there that just doesn't make sense, you can be sure people will notice.
Here's the original image and the finished image. So why did I choose to make the changes I did? Well, in my mind Keira was to be a relatively 'fresh' zombie. So her skin has the beginnings of putrefaction and the onset of decomposition, hence the ghastly colour tone and mould. The darker patches on the skin are intended to suggest the blood beginning to settle underneath, with the onset of livor mortis, when blood stops flowing in the veins. On her face, I wanted to suggest the dead skin beginning to crack where it's moving but no longer flexible - so I added severe wrinkles around the mouth and eyes.See the white eyes? I'm a big fan of Zombie Fiction, and as far as I'm concerned Max Brook's WORLD WAR Z is the final word on Physiology of the Undead, so that's what I followed when making my Zombie. Brooks describes the undead as being unable to blink, so over time the surface of the eye becomes worn away by dust and grit. Little details that not everyone will get, true - but they make your work fun for you, and that little bit more vivid for everyone else - so throw them in when you can!By way of contrast, take a look at JohnMcConnell's fantastic PICKING WILSON'S BRAIN entry from the same contest . This Zombie looks older - it's much more decomposed and worn away. In particular, check out the brilliant work on the facial details - the eyes have fallen back into the skull, and the cheekbones and eyesockets are visible, breaking through where the skin is getting thinner as decomposition speeds up. The softer, more vulnerable features like the nose and lips are almost entirely gone. Again, these are wonderful, necessary details that make sense in the anatomy of the finished work.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:17:36 PM]
ENVIRONMENTMy first step was to get rid of the background and place Keira in more suitable setting. While it's still fine if you don't want to go to the trouble of masking out your subject and sourcing an alternative backdrop, it's another added detail that lends depth to your finished image. This derelict building suited me perfectly, and after some quick Desaturation and colour adjustments to make things even more gloomy, I was ready to mask out Keira and place her in her new home.
Although it didn't matter to me this time, If you don't want to permanently alter your source images when you play around with their values, it's advisable to make Image Adjustments in separate Layers. This applies the Adjustment to every layer below. (If you look closely, you can see I am already experimenting with subtle colour changes in the eyes and skin here.)
Adjustments on separate layers have the added benefit of allowing you to revisit the adjustment at a later date in your work and changing it if needed - and, even better, you can add a Mask to the Adjustment and paint it out in selected places, if you need to.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:18:01 PM]
SKIN TONENow the main figure has been masked out, that Mask can be copied and applied to any subsequent layer. To do this, go to your Layers Palette and ALT - CLICK and HOLD on the Mask, then drag it onto whatever layer you want to copy the mask onto.My first aim is to remove her nice, healthy skin tone and replace it with something more bloodless and sickly, so I create a new blank layer, and copy the Mask of the figure onto it. I change the BLEND MODE to COLOUR and select a pale blue from the colours palette. Next, I begin to paint over the figure. With Blend Mode set to colour, what I am doing in essence is applying a localised colour adjustment using the existing tones underneath. Varying brush opacity and flow while doing this lessens and increases the effect, so try experimenting to get a natural look - using 100% will look horribly flat and dull.
The copied Mask means I don't have to worry about painting over the background photo and any painting I do will be applied only within the masked area. Without it, you run the risk of painting colour outside the skin edges and into the surrounding areas. If you are confident in your painting, it's not strictly necessary, but I find it's a precaution usually worth taking.At this stage I also I desaturate Keira quite a bit - the more desaturation you do, the closer it edges to black and white, but handled with restraint it has the effect of diminishing colour vibrancy. You can also paint desaturation locally by using the Sponge Tool (located with the Dodge and Burn Tools). Next, I sparingly use the Burn tool around the eyes and hands to emphasise depth and shadows. Be careful with the burn tool, it's an incredibly blunt instrument![Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:18:29 PM]
EYESAs I mentioned earlier, I want to make the eyes an unnatural white for extra-creepy effect. I copied the coloured part of the eyes onto a fresh layer and masked them. I then turned the blend mode to SCREEN and played around with the brightness, contrast, opacity and saturation until I achieved the pale, milky and unsettling effect I wanted.
Because the blend mode is set at Screen, too much of the underlying eye is visible through the new layer, so I sampled the white of the eye using the eyedropper tool (hold down ALT when using the paintbrush), and on the source image Layer I gently painted out the original eyes using varying brush opacities. This reduces the effect of the 'underlying' original eyes, and allows the new, overlying Blend Mode Layer to dominate the overall look.We're not quite finished with the eyes yet, but will come back to them later.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:18:51 PM]
MOUTH / ADDED ELEMENTSShe can't be pouting, can she? She wants to eat you! So an appropriate mouth was required. Once I had the source I masked it, sized it and pasted it in place. Any time you combine sources from different photos you will face the challenge of making them look as if they are part of the same image. You can't allow colour mismatches or different light / shadow directions, as these will instantly make your work look amateurish. I always use the COLOUR BALANCE and DESATURATION from the Image / adjustments drop down menu to fix any issues at this stage. This is another example of trial and error - you have to experiment until you get it right.
Likewise, I add a broken fingernail and a huge chest wound in the same way. Zombie's wouldn't often have manicures, I suspect... and something fatal had to have happened to cause her current condition.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:19:12 PM]
WRINKLES and VEINSThe wrinkles I've added to Keira's face are very simple to do. Create a new layer and turn the FILL down to 0%Next, add a Bevel and Emboss effect to it. To simulate wrinkles, the effect must be set to DOWN. If you want to create raised veins, set it to UP. Either way, because the Fill is set to 0%, the only thing visible on this layer will be the Bevel shadow and highlight. Use a very small hard edged brush to paint on this layer and it shows the effect of deep lines eating into the source image. As a further tip, you can change the Shadow (multiply) and Highlight (Screen) within the Bevel by sampling colours from your image, rather than using the default black and white.
Again, try experimenting with bevel sizes, light angles and such to suit your image. When beginning work with this effect, I always start by randomly drawing some temporary black lines of varying size onto the Bevel Layer so you can see the result of your experimenting with the settings. When you get the effect you like, just delete the temporary lines.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:19:32 PM]
DECOMPOSITIONThe skin isn't damaged enough yet, despite the colour work I did earlier, so I needed to add texture and lividity to it to simulate the corruption that occurs in a rotting body. Actually, this was a bit of a happy accident. I was playing around with adding various wounds to Keira, but nothing looked quite right. On a whim, I pasted a source of a dreadful skin wound onto her face and switched the Blend Mode to overlay, and was surprised to see it looked more effective viewed that way.
So all it took was finding a few horrid sources (which I won't show here due to their explicit nature, sorry!), using the 'WARP' tool to make them fit, changing the blend mode to overlay at a 60 - 80% opacity, and doing the previously discussed colour balance / desaturation effects to make them all fit together tonally. Then, a quick mask to make them fit naturally, and Keira has her undead skin![Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:20:10 PM]
ROTTING FABRICThis was my favourite thing to do in this image, because it looks so effective and is so easy to do. I could have left Keira's clothes unblemished, but adding to them with rot and mould is another one of those little details I'm so fond of.So, I found a nice mould texture from texture stock site UrbanDirty.com, and pasted it onto a new layer directly above the Keira Source, scaled it, then switched the blend mode to MULTIPLY. I reduced the Layer Opacity down to 65%. It was still a bit harsh, so I desaturated it and used the 'Colour Balance' settings to make it more green and rotten looking.Once I was happy with the overall look, I created a mask over it and began to paint white directly onto the mask with varying opacities of stroke, following the folds and shapes of the clothing. Note that as masks always work in pure black and white - the 100% black area being masked. So if you paint with a 30% white brush, you are allowing 70% of the unmasked area beneath to show through.You can also work in the reverse, if you like - select your mask and press CTRL 'I' to invert it to white (allowing everything in the texture layer to show through), then paint with black (to hide it) - whichever works best for your purpose. I switch between the two modes as I work, because it's the best way to see the form underneath as well as the overall shape.
Either way, painting on the mask like this should have the effect of letting the underlying image begin to show through more in some places, and less where I decide I want the mould to be thicker. This method means you have to be very careful to remove extra texture from the background. To help with this, you can copy the original 'figure mask' onto the new texture layer (meaning the texture will only show up over the figure), and paint into the mask in the same way, meaning there would be no need to worry about the background. But sometimes, it's more just more fun to work a looser way, which I did in this Chop![Edited by User on 2/24/2011 8:11:49 AM][Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:20:34 PM]
DETAIL PAINTOVER - BLOOD, SHADOWS, HIGHLIGHTS, BRUISES.I'm happy with the work I've done so far, and now it's time to get to the seriously fun part. While all the various added elements are beginning to hang together pretty well, I like to work with the image a bit more to really make it start to pop. At this point, it's advisable to SAVE A COPY OF YOUR WORK and work on another version, in case things go wrong. And believe me, as you experiment with these techniques - until you are super confident, you will make mistakes and have to try again. This is because the effects I'm about to work with are best when painted onto actual, physical source layers, and not onto blank ones. In particular, painting with the brush set to 'Multiply' - it's brilliant for adding shadows, but works best when used directly on a source, not on an empty layer.So, once again it's all about detail. I use a low opacity, low flow airbrush set to MULTIPLY to add areas of blood, shading and bruising, ALT Clicking to sample (a very handy shortcut for the eyedropper tool) surrounding colours and shadows as I work. Doing this ensures the colours I paint with match the source underneath. Unfortunately, it's all about trial and error with this, and a lot of practice, so try and try again is your only real option.
Painting with the brush mode set to 'multiply' is good for adding the impression of blood and bruising. Around the whites of the eyes (remember I said I'd come back to them?) I paint with some icky pinks and very low opacity to suggest blood leaking around the rims and eyelids. Around the mouth and lips I take a darker colour and follow the contours of the wrinkles with harder strokes, and also daub in large areas of deep red as if the skin is stained from her last feed...I painted these little details directly onto the source image, for the most part, but if that makes you uneasy you can always paint on a new layer above it. I don't find it quite as effective, because working on layer above reacts slightly differently and gives a flat look to colour, but handled with restraint it can work.Always remember, though, to reference the source underneath - watch for original light directions, shadows, folds, contours and anything that will react with your overpainting. It's easy to ruin the look of your work if you overwork the source. Experiment with brush tips, scatter modes and opacity for differing effects, depending on what you are painting over - fabric, skin, flesh, hair and so on.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:20:58 PM]
PHOTO FILTER LAYERAlmost done - but remember, whenever you've added differing source images to build a composite image, there is bound to be some issue with the tonal matching, no matter how skilful you are at manipulating the 'Colour Balance' of each added image. So as a finishing touch, create a final adjustment layer set to 'Photo Filter' as your uppermost layer.
This has the effect of applying a blanket tonal cast to all the layers underneath it, and neatly deals with all colour imbalances. Which one you choose is up to you, depending on what you are trying to achieve - in this instance I used the 'Underwater' filter to highlight the sickly cyans and blues throughout, set to about 25%.[Edited by User on 3/11/2011 1:21:20 PM]
GRAAAAH!Hopefully this will give you some useful pointers when you go to create your own Zombie, but remember these techniques can be applied (and usually are) to almost any image you want to create. Good luck, and have as much fun as I did!
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