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Archive: Animate a Person with Rain and Lightning

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Friday May 22nd, 2009 in Photoshop Tutorials


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Creating animation in Photoshop is not as easy as people would imagine. There's a few tricks that can be used to create some simple yet effective techniques. In this three part tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a stormy rain effect with lightning from scratch. We're going to use a photograph of a random person in this picture to illustrate how the effect can be used. I'm assuming you know how to use Photoshop comfortably before trying this effect.
We first need a photograph of a person to use in our image. The sort of photograph you use won't matter much so long as the photograph is a high enough quality to work with. The sort of image we're looking for can have the target in any position you like, since being able to see their face isn't so important. Again, just make sure the photograph you choose to use is of a high enough quality.

Sylar Small Resolution

I am going to be using a photograph of Zachary Quinto, aka, Sylar from Heroes. You can use just about anybody you like, or use my image: Sylar.

Our first step is getting the photograph suitable to work with. This step can be skipped depending on the photograph you use, though. We want to "cut" our person out of the photograph so that we can paste them onto a more eerie background. Adding rain and lightning to a boggy moor will produce a much more stunning result than animating somebody's bedroom with lightning, for example. Just consider whether or not the background is suitable; an outdoor scene will produce the best results.

Cut Out your Character

Select the Polygonal Lassoo tool from the menu. We want to cut away all excess imagery from our person. This can be a long process depending on the size of your photo, but be sure not to cut any corners. The smoother edges we have the better it will look when we're done.

Simply use the Lassoo to select the areas you want to delete from the photograph. Be sure to zoom in very far to the get the most accurate selection. Make sure your Lassoo is set to zero feathering and make sure Anti-Alias is ticked. Take your time when cutting people out. Rushing will result in a very poor result. Start off by removing the majority of the background in one stroke:

Take off Big Chunks
And then tidy it up after to produce a smoother edge:
Then Smooth it Off
You can then smooth the edges off if you like with the eraser tool for the crispest result, but since we're going to be putting our image onto a dark background, this step might not be necessary. Continue to chip away at your background until you've removed it all and have a smooth edge you're satisfied with. If you do use the erase, be sure to use a ~50% opacity brush. Removing too much in one stroke will make your edges too sharp.
You can use the freehand lassoo tool for this step. I use the Polygonal Lassoo, however, because, despite being line based rather than free hand, it provides more control and as a result, a better end result. Also, in the event your hand slips with the Polygonal Lassoo, you won't ruin all of your selection and have to start again.
Once you're finished, you should have your person or character completely cutout from their background. This provides us with the perfect image to use in our finished result. Your cutout should look a little like this:

Sylar Cut Out

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Preparing for the Storm

Now we're going to start work on our final image. Create a new document 520x520 pixels with any colour background. We want to choose a suitable eerie background to achieve the best result. I'm going to use a photograph of a random city at night (Download Photo of Night time City); you can use just about any background you like. Just remember that our end result will look much better if we use a darker, eerier background.

Paste your background photo onto your new canvas. Position it to your liking and then paste your cutout onto the image. You might notice, depending on the original size of your cutout, that it's a little too big. No problem, we're going to re-size it to fit; select your cutout's layer, go to Edit -> Transform -> Scale. Hold down Left Shift and drag one of the corners to re-size. Holding down Left Shift ensures that the proportions are kept the same. When you've resized to a size you like, let go and press the Ok button at the top of your screen.

Now our cutout is sat on top of our background, like so:

Sylar is now standing in front of a city.
Before we create our rain effect we need to "touch" our image up slightly to make it suitable for heavy downpours. At the moment our sky is too bland for a thunder storm and Sylar is looking way too bright considering he's stood in the middle of nowhere at night. We're going to fix both of these concerns before we make our rain and lightning.
Fixing up the Clouds
Firstly, let's touch the sky up a little. I'm not going to go into too much detail here as it's not the purpose of this tutorial; but essentially we're just going to make some clouds and mix them in with the background. Create a new layer below your cutout but above the background photo, press D to reset our colours pallete and then go to Filter -> Render -> Clouds. Then go to Filter -> Render -> Difference Clouds and press CTRL & F two times to repeat the last step twice.

Go to Edit -> Transform -> Perspective and move the corners around to randomise the clouds a little. Confirm when you're happy with the appearance. Next, set the cloud layer's blending mode to Lighten.

Sylar is now standing in front of a cloudy city.
It won't look very realistic yet but we're not done. With the clouds now only showing at their bright parts, we want to erase the majority of them. To do this, select everywhere in your image below the sky. When you have this selection, go to Select -> Feather and choose 25 pixels, then press delete.

Nearly done! Set the blending mode of your clouds layer back to normal (We changed it to Lighten to easily see the layer below). We're going to colourise it. To do this, press CTRL & U. Tick the "Colourize" box in the bottom right and input: Hue: 20 Saturation: 35 Lightness: 0. This will turn our clouds orange. Real life lightning clouds always have a crimson cum orange look about them because of the static electricity within. That's why we're going to go for orange. Your image should now look like this:

Our clouds now look orange and a little more realistic.
The final step to touching the sky up is lowering the opacity of our new clouds layer. This will lower the brightness and make sure it's looking lovely and realistic. An Opacity of about 35% should work perfectly well. To make it even better, you can blur the clouds layer a little. Don't blur it too much, though - people don't blur clouds in the sky!
Fixing up Sylar
Create a new layer above Sylar. CTRL & Left Click on your cutout's layer to get it's shape as a selection. Fill our new layer with this selection with the colour black. The shortcut way of doing this is pressing D to reset our colours palette and then ALT & Delete to fill the selection with the foreground colour. Since we just reset them, that'll be black. Lower the opacity of this black layer to about 75-80%.
Sylar should now look very dark indeed.
Now select a feathered erase brush about 200-300 pixels. Set the opacity to about 20% and put the flow at about 40%. Slowly, and carefully, erase the left hand side of the black layer gently Don't erase too much and don't erase too far to the right. We want to make it look like all the light is coming from Sylar's right, which is our left. When you've done this, it should look a little like this:
Now it looks like the light is coming from Sylar's right.
In the second part of this series of tutorials, we'll show you how to add the animated rain effect to our image and, indeed, any other images you desire. Part three will then show you how to add the lightning effect. Let's move on Part Two: Add An Animated Rain Effect

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