Integrating a Creature into a New Environment

Introduction

What we see around us is because of the light rays bouncing off objects. Taking objects from a specific environment and integrating/blending them into another environment is a very difficult task, because the color/lighting of the object is coming from it’s original environment. It is also difficult because it requires both image editing and digital painting knowledge. This tutorial will take you, step by step, on how to integrate a creature (a lion) into a new environment, totally different from the original one. This tutorial assumes that you master the basic Adobe Photoshop techniques and tools, like selecting, layering, painting, dodging and filtering.

1. Studying the new environment

What we do as the first step is loading the new environment for our lion into Photoshop, and study it. The things to looking for are: where the light comes from, where are the shadows situated, where is the ground plane situated (in the example below we cannot see it, but we must guess it by looking at the grass).

environment

2. Decide where to place the creature

Now we must decide where to place the lion, so we make a selection using the “Magnetic Lasso” tool combined with “Rectangular Marquee” tool(adding them) to do a selection like the one showed below. Then copy the selected area, and paste it again, in a different layer, just where it was placed before. The image must look exactly how it was looking before, after doing this operation.

grass selected for copying

3. Select the creature from it’s original environment

Open the photo where you have the creature, and select it using again the powerful “Magnetic Lasso” tool. This tool is very efficient when the selected area is very clearly defined from it’s background. You can use other selecting techniques as well.
The result should look like in the image bellow. Here we are not interested in lion’s legs details
because they will be hidden in the grass anyway.

lion selected for copying

4. Pasting the selection

We copy the selected lion from it’s original picture, and paste it as a new layer into our working picture. It must be placed between the environment layer and the grass layer created on step 2. The image should look like this:

lion pasted between layers

5. Erasing the grass

We must erase some of the grass from the grass layer created on step 2. We will keep only the taller grass, so we can see the lion through it. We use for these the “Eraser” tool, but with a very low opacity (around 25%). In this case it doesn’t be perfectly erased, because it will be a very dark scene anyway.

grass erased to see the lion

6. Editing the lion

In this step we are going to edit the lion, so it blends into a warm dusk environment from the more gray and cold original environment. First we must pick the color of the sun lit grass using the “Eyedropper” tool. We then use this color to fill the lion’s layer with it at 15% opacity and keeping it’s transparency locked (we don’t want to fill the whole layer, only the lion). Check the layer’s keep transparency, because we only want to paint the creature pick the “Brush” tool, pick a normal round fuzzy brush with it’s size set to a pretty big value (for me, working on a 1024×768 picture was around 125 px). Set it’s “opacity” and “flow” to low values (around 28%) and paint the creature with a black color, making shadows with respect to the light source position(the sun in this case).
Do this until you are satisfied with the results. In my case, I had to deal with a glow effect, because the light source was behind our subject, so the lit areas are very intense. In order to accomplish this effect I used the “Dodge” tool to lighten the lion’s edges. Care must be taken at casted shadows, like the one from the trees in my example. The result is shown below:

lion edited to blend into environment

7. Adding more detail

To obtain the glow effect that we were speaking in step 6, we must unlock lion’s layer transparency and use the “Blur” tool only on the lighten areas, not on the dark ones. Then pick again the “Brush” tool, keeping the settings we used before. The lion casts also a shadow on the grass, so we need to paint the lower part of the grass in the grass layer, to make it darker, like in the picture below. In a most clear environment (like a lion on a road for example), we would have to do a more clear casted shadow, technique which will be cover in another tutorial.

lion edited for glowing

8. Finishing up

The lion looks pretty good, but it also shows an unnatural smoothness. To make this more beliveable we duplicate the lion’s layer, and put it’s copy just above it. Set the new layer’s blending mode to “Multiply”. Then filter this layer using a “Sharpen” filter, and adjust it’s opacity until it looks natural.
Some more “Dodge” touches may be useful on lion’s hair, because light is not completely occluded by hair.

final blending

Layers layout

Here is my final layout of the layers.

layers layout

Conclusion

There are more details that can be added, you can spend hours detailing every shadow of every grass thread, or even use a fur texture on the lion, not using a “Sharpen” filter as I did, but the basic workflow was described above.