I’ve come to like creating fake ‘Movie Stills’ for characters that don’t exist or for films yet to be released. I have the most fun with these type of artworks, I think it’s because I really like to push it to the limits in terms of how ‘real’ I can make them, sort of my own personal challenge. In this very big workshop I’ll explain the process I went through for my recent Supergirl image, it’s quite a bit longer than previous workshops because I felt that I couldn’t really sum up the process in a few paragraphs. For those following at home this was created in Photoshop, so I’ll be explaining things with the assumption that you have some basic knowledge of the program.
Part 1: Casting.
I have trouble coming up with a potential modern actress for Supergirl so after asking around the net I settled on a popular choice, Amber Heard. I then hunt the net for some images of our newly selected actress and come across two images that will suit the purpose, one is a head shot, and the other is a body shot, both of which have similar lighting directions. The finding of the body shot is a bonus because the head will fit more naturally than it would if I used someone else’ body for the project. With my images selected I roughly cut out the head and paste it onto the body, pulling and stretching and resizing it until it sits right. This causes blurriness and pixilation issues but it’s only being used as a rough layout for the moment.
Part 2: Rough Dressing.
With my pose sorted it’s time to start adding some rough colours and textures. I actually use still images from the original Supergirl movie as well as Superman Returns for some rough pieces of clothing just to give me a starting point. None of this will remain in the final image, it’s just there to give me a rough idea of where to start as well as a guide for lighting and colour.
Part 3: Undercoating.
Now that I’ve got a starting point it’s time to detail a rough direction in which I want to take the costume design. I make a quick paint pallet using the colours of the image and start painting in various design motifs until I’m satisfied with the style. This is by no means the final design I’ll settle on, again as it’s the early stage most of this won’t remain in the final image, it’s more about playing around at this point and just letting things go with the flow. The only real guide I’m going off is a previous Superman image I created, I want something similar but not necessarily the same design.
Part 4: The Building Begins.
I’ve settled for the light, colour and style directions, now it’s time to begin the real work, the hard work. I’m not gonna lie, these things take time and patience. I’m gonna use a promo image from Superman Returns as my main source of manipulation material, what helps is it’s got a similar body angle and lighting direction to my model’s body. The lower torso is the easiest thing to start with so that’s where I begin.
NOTE: It’s important when sourcing photographic elements for your manipulation to try and get similar angles and lighting directions to the image you are using, conflicting lighting elements and wrong angles usually are easy to notice.
Part 5: Tricky Bits
One of the trickiest parts is the breast area, simply cutting a piece out and warping it to look rounded isn’t going to look convincing, so I’ll employ a little trick I’ve learned. For the moment I just use a piece of shoulder from my Superman image, it has the same sort of shape and lighting that I need, so I cut out a piece, flip it and position it in place. I’ll better detail this later using a reference of a woman wearing an actual shirt to guide me but for now it will do as a base.
Part 6: Arms Length.
Now it’s on to the shoulders. I want some different blue tones throughout the costume design, so I start to cut various pieces from the Superman image, paste them in and style them to the desired effect for our Supergirl. No idea why I started this now, something like this should have been left for later, let this be a case of do as I say, not as I do .
I continue down the arms, for the main pieces here I’m gonna have to use pieces from Superman’s leg as it has better light direction than his bent arms. His legs are huge, so it’s simply a matter of squashing them a bit and erasing the left overs until it fits nicely over our model. I repeat the process on the other arm. After a while (quite a while) I’ve come to the stage where the torso is beginning to take shape, it’s by no means finished, but it’s well on its way.
Part 7: Lower Body
Now to the skirt, I actually use pieces of curtain and draped cloth for this as I’m unable to find a skirt that I like. If you’re unable to find a photographic element that suits your liking, I’d suggest actually spending the time to create what you want from scratch, sure it’s more work, but ultimately you’ll get what you want.
I also use elements of Superman’s cape for a few folds and creases, simply a matter of cutting pieces out and squishing and warping them to fit correctly. Eventually I get the point where I’m happy with the skirt layout, so I merge the pieces together and make them a single uniformed colour.
Part 8: Breaking My Own Rule….Again.
Here’s another case of do as I say, not as I do. For some reason I neglected to create a Path around my figure at the beginning, DOH!. Must have gotten caught up in what I was doing because normally that’s one of the first things I do. A Path is simply a device used to cut objects out in a specific shape in an image, it’s just a case of using the Pen tool, setting it to Path mode, tracing around whatever it is you want to cut out, bringing up the Selection then copying and pasting that Selection onto a new layer. Turning off all the layers except the head and body, I trace around the figure until my path is complete, I then bring up the Selection, invert it (Ctrl + I) and delete the background.
On to the cape, I originally wanted the cape to flow but the rough pieces I placed in originally never seemed to work, so I decided to just keep it in a neutral position. Using the Superman still again I cut pieces of his cape out and drape them onto her until they formed a cohesive shape that I like.
Part 10: New Belt, Logo, Colours and Background
I’ve had a temporary belt pasted in, now I wanna try and concentrate that. I spend a while trying to find the right shape but ultimately nothing seems to work, which is annoying cause I really want to fix it. I decide for now to leave it and go onto other areas, I find there’s no point wasting your time on one area if it continues to give you problems, just come back to it. I stick in a new temp logo, one taken from a woman’s shirt that fits the contours of the breasts better, and I play around with the blue colours a bit more, desaturating them slightly.
I also decided to put in a test background, I grab a piece from the Superman photo, and copy and paint in the missing areas to fill the whole background. Not certain at this point if I’ll go with that background image, but it gives me something to think about.
Part 11: New Body Parts.
I’m about 80% done now, so now it’s time to start cleaning some pieces up. First thing, I need to recopy the head as the one I’ve currently been using has been stretched and warped beyond belief. It’s simply a matter of cutting out the original image of Amber again, pasting it into the document and resizing it to fit the current head being used. Next we’ve got to brighten the legs up to match the tones of her face, unfortunately her legs are too tonally different to match, and no amount of playing the Levels, Curves or colours is going to help. The easiest solution is to use legs from a stock image of a similar tone to the face, then try and match the shadowing using the Dodge and Burn Tool. Ultimately, I use a combination of new stock legs and brightening the old ones.
NOTE: It’s easier making objects darker than it is making them lighter.
Part 12: Flipping, Belt and Details.
I finally come up with an idea for the belt after spotting an interesting piece of metal work, a sort of bullet effect which makes sense as our character is meant to be faster than a speeding bullet. I combine this with a similar belt buckle design I did for my rebooted Superman concept and make the metal a bit more textured. Now it’s time for some detailing. Seems on the clothing, a few fabric stretches here and there, some grooming of the hair and hair strands, some additional shadowing and highlights are all painted on with a 1 pixel brush. I flip the image as I often have done throughout the project and settle on this as a preferred angle. Only problem is now I have to redo the logo, which wasn’t really an issue as the one previously there was only a temp anyway. Using a combination of metal sheet overlays and fabric I lay a base and design up my stylized ‘S’ logo and shape it to match the contours of the previous logo.
Again using a 1-Pixel brush I zoom in and start adding the details like seems and little highlights and shadows as well as any additional hair stands. I usually have my brush on a low Opacity setting for this and gradually build things up. This takes a while, but it’s worth it.
Part 14: Character Finished.
Supergirl is more or less complete now, now we’ve just got to put her into an environment. I estimate it’s about 12 hours of work so far, I think the skirt was perhaps the longest part, at least 2-3 hours on that alone, there are still some colour and lighting issues and a few hair strands that need to be put in, but they can be addressed at the end. With the character finished I group all the layers into a Group Folder, copy the Group Folder, and then merge the Group Folder into a single Layer.
Part 15: Background.
I decided to use the rough background I started a while ago and clean it up, it makes sense anyway given it’s from a Superman Returns still, all I gotta do is remove Supes. I build up the background using the Cloning Tool and the Brush Tool to paint him out of the shot. I don’t need to do the whole background as Supergirl will take up a large portion of the image, just enough to make sure he is no longer visible.
Part 16: Adding to Film
We’re on to the home stretch now, it’s time to merge her better with the background by adding some film grain. The amount of grain you add depends on the background image being used; it’s usually best to add grain a little at a time, it’s probably also best to duplicate your image first. I duplicate my character Supergirl layer and go to the Film Grain options. I set the grain setting and highlight intensity to 1. Even though I’ve set the grain to its lowest possible setting it’s still too much, so I reduce the transparency to about 75% so that the other underlying Supergirl image shows through slightly.
Part 17: Final Touches
Almost there! All that’s left is to fix a few highlight and shadow issues, some additional stray hairs, a few subtle colour alterations and some additional last minute fabric patterns.
14 hours later we have out Supergirl!