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Fantasy light effects in Photoshop

Fantasy art scenes are usually handled with a liberal sprinkling of Photoshop plug-in fairy dust – but you don’t have to slavishly follow that route. By creating your own brushes in Adobe Illustrator, and using scanned elements with Photoshop, it’s a simple process to create otherworldly scenes that are alive with glow effects and shafts of virtual light.
This masterclass takes a standard stock model – a super high-resolution version is included on the cover CD, or you can use your own – and applies layers of light and vector shapes to generate the main image shown left.
During this masterclass, you’ll learn to wrap your source image into a multitude of layers that add a fantastical theme to your art. The key here is to tread softly. When recreating fantasy light effects, soft brushes and fine application is the order of the day. Anything that’s too heavy can ruin the look.
The masterclass also draws on a element that some Photoshop users are reluctant to explore – that of physical art then added to the composition. Here, Murilo uses tools such as a toolbrush and screwdriver in addition to digital design tools to create the whirling snow effect.
Obviously, the final result is down to you, but you should also experiment with colours and blends once you’ve mastered this technique to create your own look. The best thing is you can create images like this without using a single plug-in.

01. Open the file ‘wonderland.psd’ supplied on this month CD and create a new top layer. Fill the canvas with pink (C12 M30 Y0 K0) and change the blending mode to colour. Next, create another layer and select a soft round brush. Change the colour to a gold tone (C20 M15 Y65 K0) and set the brush size to 300px. Single-click on the middle of the canvas and resize this layer before you move to the top of your image for a smooth colour transition.

02. To create a snow effect, you have to get your hands dirty. Get an old toothbrush, and dip it directly into the paint (but wait until it starts to dry – if your brush is too wet you can’t control where you throw it) To get depth in your illustration, shake a few, larger drops onto the paper first. Then, using a tool such as a screwdriver, quickly raking across the bristles, releasing the paint in a spray. Alter the speed of release and distance from the paper to created varied splatters. Alternatively, open the file ‘painting.jpg’ supplied on the CD.

03. Scan the painting into Photoshop, and select Image>Adjustments> Desaturate. Go to Image>Invert, then select Image>Adjustments>Levels and increase the contrast, changing the input values to 60, 1, 244. Choose the best parts and import to your illustration.

04. Change the blending mode to screen, and move this layer to the top. Open the file ‘model.psd’ and move the model to your illustration under the snow layer. Copy parts of the painting layer and place these mainly over her hair. It should be applied as a very soft detail that will help to blend her to the rest of the image.

05. Now let’s create the heaviest ray of light. Create a new layer, and then make a rectangular selection from side to side and fill it with a white-to-transparent gradient. Make another selection as shown in the picture and hit delete. Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and set the radius to 50 per cent. Rotate the layer and move it behind the model.

06. We’ll now make softer rays of light to place over the model. On a new layer, create a selection with the same size as the one described in Step 5, then select a soft round brush and set the size to 2,500px. Brush outside the selection so it will look like the light is fading out from the top to the bottom of the selection. Duplicate the layer, flip vertically and move a bit lower. Merge both layers, resize, and duplicate them as you wish. As well as the snow layer, it should be applied as a very soft detail over her.

07. Next, open Adobe Illustrator and create a custom brush. To do this, use the Elipse tool and create a symmetric oval shape as shown here.

08. With the Selection Tool, select the point on the right side of that circle and drag it out to the right. Select the Convert Anchor Point tool (Shift+C) and click on the anchor point you dragged to get rid of the handle bars and make it a sharp corner. Do the same to the other corner.

09. With the shape still selected, go to Effects>Warp>Flag and set the horizontal bend slider to 100 per cent. Select Window>Brushes and open the Brush palette. Move this new shape to the brushes window and select it as a new art brush.

10. Start drawing a few shapes as shown and apply the brush you have just created. Try to make smooth lines and change the stroke size if needed. Copy your best shapes to Photoshop and go to Layer>Style>Outer Glow, and change the size to 150px and the blend mode to Colour Dodge.

11. Have some fun experimenting with different settings and layer opacity. There is no limit to your creative freedom so always try different things. Once all the light’s shapes are done, change the layer order, moving some of them in front of the model and others behind the model.

12. Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Colour Dodge. Select a soft round brush and set the colour to white. Go to the Brushes menu and change Spacing to 70 per cent, Size Jitter to 55 per cent and Scattering to 480 per cent. Start brushing areas on the canvas, altering the diameter of the brush and other settings as well.

13. The image now is almost complete. Select a white soft brush and start placing various sized dots around the image on a new top layer. Pay attention to the model’s edges that don’t sit well with the rest of the image. This will help you create a convincing lighting effect.

14. For the final touch add more elements to your illustration. Butterflies? Fairies? Why don’t you try to put some vector and hand-drawn elements? Put some dreamy music on and start thinking about elements which could fit to the subject. This is a very good creative exercise. Film is another great source of inspiration. When you think your illustration is done, flatten your image, convert to CMYK and go to Filter>Sharpen>Sharpen. You may have to increase levels and saturation as well.