Ever done a piece with a character on a background looked at it and thought ‘Something’s not right here’. Chances are the character and the background haven’t been blended together well. It’s a common element that I see overlooked quite often in fan manips, the character just looks like it’s been pasted on to the background as opposed to being part of it. In this quick workshop I’ll explain some techniques to help get rid of that pasted on look. I will be using Photoshop for this exercise but the same principles can be used in other design programs.
Part 1 – Final Character Manip
I’m using my Lady Sif manip as an example for this workshop. It’s probably best to finish your character manip off first and foremost before delving into the scene you want them pasted into. I’d recommend using a neutral grey background to work with at the start, like 50% black or somewhere around that area. Flat white or black backgrounds is actually trickier to work with because they can do funny things to your eyes, making things look darker or brighter. If you need a temporary background to work with, I suggest one with similar colour neutrality to it.
Part 2 – Adding The Background.
The background is a mix of a couple of different images from another movie still. Also, take note of the lighting direction of the background, notice how the light is coming from a similar angle as to the light on out character, little details like that are important to consider. As of now our Lady Sif seems to stick out a bit too much, the colours don’t really match and she’s too crisp, time to fix that.
Part 3 – Tonal Values.
First things first, she’s way too bright. Using the Levels function I darken the tonal values of her and try to match it with the background tonal values. I still want her be quite luminescent so I don’t drop it much, just enough to get rid of some of the ‘shine’ as it were.
Part 4 – Colour Saturation.
The background is quite monochromatic and our character is a bit to coloured. She’s already quite reddish in hue overall so we don’t really have to do much in terms of altering colours, but we do have to remove some of the colour intensity. Using the Hue/Saturation tool I remove some of the overall colour using the Saturation slider until the her colours invoke a similar look to that of the background.
Part 5 – Blurring
Still photos generally don’t look that sharp, there tends to be a sort of blurriness to them so it’s time to remove some of the crispness to the character. In the Filter options I select the Guassian Blur filter and set it to around 0.2. I find it’s easier to control using a lower setting to begin with, that way if need be you can add a little more at a time (simply by hitting Ctrl/Cmd+F) until you get the desired result. You don’t what the character too blurred, you still want it to be more in focus than the background, but just enough to remove hard edges.
Part 6 – Additional Smudging
This bit is optional, but if the edges still look a little too crisp and cutout, try using the Smudge Brush (R or Shift+R) on a low to medium strength setting just around the edges to help blends things in a bit more.
Part 7 – Grain
Our background is quite grainy, so we have to match her with it. Again going to Filter I select the Add Noise function, I tend to prefer this to the Film Grain option, but sometimes the Film Grain options produces better results, just see what looks better. With Add Noise selected I make sure the monochromatic box is checked and set the amount to a fairly low amount. Again it’s probably best to set the Noise amount to low and add a little at a time if needed.
Part 8 – Final Touches
We’re more of less there now, to help blend things a bit better I start adding in a few wisps of hair, a few last lighting touches, a touch more smudging here and there, and we’re done! Take note that the same principles basically apply when it comes to fan posters because you really want to avoid that cutout/pasted on look, so I hope this workshop helps!