Time Out…

28 07 2009

Due to some circumstances revolving around my current employment situation, I am taking a few weeks off of the Tuesday tutorial while some stuff gets sorted out.  I have a few traditional posts on the burner, as well as a plan to shift to some 3D rendering tutorials for a bit, but I need to take care of some things before I can drop the needed time into them.

In the mean time, please take a look at my old tutorials, use them, abuse them, change them, and let me know what you come up with.  What I have on here is what I was able to create based off tutorials for making websites, and heavily torquing them to fit the needs of an LA.  I dropped a good amount of time getting these techniques to where they are, and I have no doubt there are ways to make them better, so consider this a call to open up some dialogue:

How would you change my tutorial to make it go from mediocre to awesome?

Tuesday Tutorial: Wood Decks

15 07 2009

One of the things that most people can get to look pretty decent, but not great, is wood decking.  Unlike wetlands its not one of those things that, when done wrong, looks like something fundamentally different, but being able to create a deck that really shines without spending a ton of time on it really can make a great touch.

Step 1:Paint Outside the Lines

This is a very familiar step, select and area larger then the deck itself.  You need the extra room to allow for some of the filters to work without screwing up the edges of the deck.  Next, pick a color for the decking- I went with R: 129 G: 87 B: 60.  Its got a little orange to it, but its not highly saturated.  This color will essentially be the mid-tone for the deck, so make it what you want the average color to be.


Then fill the large area you selected (On a new layer) with the brown color.


Step 2: Adding Grain

To get a nice wood grain for your decking boards, start off by adding noise.  You want to use monochromatic to keep the noise to shades of brown, and I prefer using gaussian because it seems to give a less regular, boring look.  I used 12.5% for the amount of noise, but it will vary some based on the scale of the rendering.


Next, you want to add motion blur to the grain to turn it into strips of color.  You want to pick the same angle for the motion blur that you want to use for the boards- I’m using 45 degrees as it looks good, but also makes life easier when it comes to making the stripes.  As for the distance of the motion blur, I used 66 pixels because it made any color stripe about 5 feet long in the plan, which gives it some good variation.


Step 3: Add Some Character

The last step for the wood grain is adding knots, imperfections, and character to the wood grain.  For this I used Filters>Distort>Ocean Ripple.  I went with a setting of 2 for both magnitude and size, but it, again, comes down to finding a setting that looks good based on your scale.  You want to have some knots in the wood, but you still want long segments of fairly straight color.


Then trim away any excess from outside, and you have your decking base.


Step 4: On The Board Walk

The first step to adding boards to your deck is to create a pattern.  First, pick a color that is a darker shade of brown.  The tone can be a little more red, as you are looking down through the gaps to dirt/shadow, and you don’t want the board gaps to just look like another large straight wood grain line.  I went with R: 80 G: 39 B: 26.


Now you want to make 45 degree angled stripes.  Use the line tool, with a width of around 2 pixels.  Then click the mouse to start a line, and push and hold shift- this will lock you into a line that is either 0, 45, or 90 degrees.  That way you know that you have exactly a 45 degree angle.  Then, draw a second line the same way.  To make a pattern you will need at least 3 lines, so now merge the two layers of lines, and copy paste them.  You should be able to move the new layer to the side until one of the lines perfectly overlaps one of the original lines, giving you three.  If you used this alone as a pattern, the anti-aliasing would be screwed up from the double layering of one of the lines, so delete the doubled up line from the pasted layer, and you will have 3 diagonal lines (I went one step too far, and did 4 using the same method a second time).


Now to select an area to make the pattern from, merge the line layers together, and turn off any other layers.  Using the rectangular selection tool, click on one of the squares in the center of the middle line, and again, hold shift as you drag it down, locking it to moving at a 45 degree angle, creating a square.  You might be tempted to drag it down until its just outside of the two side-lines, but that will give you a strange gap in your pattern, as the repeating tile will not have the full width of the line:


So make sure that you get part of the line, essentially all of the line other then the single pixel that is grabbed in the upper left and lower right of the selection box:


As you have before, go to Edit>Define Pattern and give the line a name, like “Decking” or something of that ilk.  Its key that you have all layers other then the line turned off so you have the lines on the transparency grid, or when you paint with the pattern your wood grain will be covered.  Once the pattern is made, magic wand select the area not on the deck, then invert selection, and paint the decking pattern:


Step 5: Shading and Shadow

To give the decking a good three dimensional quality, you need to add shading for stairs and decking.  First, pick a dark gray color, like R:69 G:69 B:69.


Then pick a brush that you will use for the railing shadows- I’m using 15 pixel, 0% hardness, 27% opacity.  Turn the mode to “Linear Burn” or “Color Burn”.  These both darken the color, without graying it out, like an actual shadow.


Start with any straight railings.  Click the brush where you want to start a railing, push and hold shift, then click where you want the railing to end.  this will give you a straight line with your brush.


Then add in any shadows that should be angled- Supports to the main railing, and for railings along stairs, the railing is at a vertical angle, so the shadow will be at an angle.  The shadow will get closer to the railing as you move down the stairs, but each step will set the railing back to its original distance, so you end with a jagged look like this:


The last touch is to add shading to the decking where it would be cast from changes in elevation of the decking.  Increase the size of your brush by around 2x.  Now, select every other stair that will have a shadow cast on it:


Now use the same Click-Shift-Click method to paint on shadows.  The trick is, run the brush so the middle of it runs along the uphill side of the selection box:


Once you do it for the selected stairs, pick the ones you skipped in the last selection and do it again.


Now, to create the shadow of the deck onto the ground, you could simply to a drop shadow to the layer.  However, that will leave you with the top of the deck making as much of a shadow as a stair that steps out onto the lawn, which again breaks the three dimensional illusion.  The create a shadow that has depth, first, make a standard layer drop shadow, again with linear burn as its mode (Note: you will not be able to see the shadow until you turn on a layer behind it, so turn on the white background layer):


In the layer pallet, right click on the drop shadow you just made, and select “make layer”.  A pop-up will ask if you really want to, and yes, you do.  You will then have an editable drop shadow.  Take your eraser and a nice 0% hard brush, and start deleting parts of the shadow to make the stairs angled and the low areas shorter then the tall areas:


Turn down the drop shadow layer’s opacity to around 65%, and you are all set:


Tuesday Tutorial: Fields and Wetlands

8 07 2009

This week we are again building off of the pattern made in the water tutorial, this time to make a wetland.  Wetlands are one of the trickiest things to render well in plan, in my opinion, as traditional means force you to render what looks like an open prairie field, or a lake.  This type of situation, where hand graphic techniques do not allow for semi-transparency or small scale detail, at least not without a prohibitive time investment, is when Photoshop rendering can really shine.  Before you can make your wetland, you will need to make a pattern for a field.


Step 1: Find a field

First things first: find a photo of a field of grass, a prairie, or a wetland.  The best picture will be one with some regular variation to it, and that is taken from as high as possible, to create less issues with perspective correction.  Optimally, you go out somewhere, and take one yourself, so you know exactly what you get, but for our purposes, I headed back to Google, where I found this gem:


I then trimmed it down to this:


Step 2: Start Making a Pattern

With this particular image, more work is needed to make it into a pattern that won’t be obviously a repeating image.

First take the left side, as you did to make the water pattern, pull it to the right, erase the inside edge to blur it:


After placing the right side, you’ll notice a problem with this image:


Step 3: Fix the Dark Areas

Above the second line you can see that the grass gets much darker, so to resolve this, copy the area between the middle two sections, and drag it to the top of the image:


Then, as you did with the right edge, erase the top edge of the base layer, getting rid of the dark portion of grass:


Move the base layer (That you erased some of in the last step) to the top, and merge it with the top portion you copied earlier:


Step 4: Hide the Repeating Areas

Now, while the drawing looks pretty good, you can see where the repeating pattern of the duplicated white flower (on the left) and the dark chevron shaped seed heads (on the right) might create a very obvious seam look.  To hide these, select an area in the middle of the pattern that is regular, and copy paste it over the problem areas, and blur the edges:


Merge all the layers, copy the top to the bottom and fade it (as you did with the left side).  The last problem area is with the tuft of dark grass on the lower right.  Use the heal brush to copy from a few other areas over the top of the grass:


Step 5: Fix the Color

Last, the grass is a little over saturated and yellow for a wetland, so tweak the hue/saturation to a little more green, and a little less saturated:


That gives you this pattern for fields, or for your wetland’s base:



Step 1: Don’t Stay Between The Lines

For this example I am drawing a wetland that boarders a prairie. (Prairie on the left, Wetland on the right) Start by painting both areas with the prairie pattern:


Step 2: Flood the Wetland

Now select the area to the right of the line.  Because the line will not be perfectly hard, go to Select>Modify>Expand and expand the selection area by around 1/2 of the width of the line. (For this example, it was around 2 pixels)


Step 3: Done! Wait… No You’re Not!

This is about where most wetland renderings stop, and why I have never liked most of them.  Unless this is a wetland that I can water ski in, it should not look like that.  Select the eraser, and set it to something similar to these settings.  The keys are the size, opacity, angle jitter, size jitter, scatter, and count- as these will create the spread to get a lose, open spray of grass.  The exact numbers you will use will vary based on the side of your rendering- my full size is about 1680 x 1050.


Step 4: Put Down a Base Layer

Now spray back and forth a bit over your water layer, creating holes through which the field can be seen.  Don’t release the mouse during this first layer, as that will erase areas of overlap by more then the 60% you have it set for.


Step 5: Add Some Character

Go Back over the area, and delete high elevation areas more, and create some interest by erasing small areas more to create small planting islands, and even small bridges between the islands.


Step 6: Finishing Touches

That leaves you with a wetland that looks like this:


Its still much better then standard wetland renderings are, but there is room for improvement.  First, make the water semi transparent, say to around 80% opacity.  This makes it so you can see some subtle grass through the areas that are still solid water.


This makes the water color lose a little to much of its power though, so I then up the hue and saturation on the water layer.



This is almost right, but there is now a tad too much water texture strength at the edge of the wetland.  Run your eraser brush over this area a time or two if you need it, and do any other minor touch ups you feel are needed, and you are set!

If the wetland you are rendering is not part of your design, but an existing condition, you may want to do it without any hard line, as it will create a gentle transition, and wetlands are naturally fairly nebulous in their edge conditions.

Libeskind’s 17 Words of Architectural Inspiration

6 07 2009

This morning, as I was tweaking my website, I decided to add a mission statement of sorts to my front page:

“I believe in working and designing the right way, not just the easy way. I believe that a big idea with deep meaning can always be reduced to a do-able level while maintaining its impact, while a small idea cannot be injected with meaning. I believe that every design challenge should be met like a competition, with bold, innovative ideas, with the knowledge that it can be scaled back to fit real world circumstances.”

This is really the essence of what I think makes the difference between OK design and great design.  The willingness to step way outside the box, into the realm of the unachievable, and then to look at how that idea can be tweaked and pulled on to get a workable design.

Not two hours after I published the addition to my webpage I stumbled onto this gem:

It may seem, as someone who blogs about technology and tutorials on Photoshop graphics, that I might at least take issue with the hand vs. computer portion, but I agree totally with what he was saying.  The computer is a great way to show ideas in new, creative ways.  However, I also fully believe that the hand is the best tool for any conceptual design or rough graphics, and as you can tell from my tutorials, I do think that computer rendered plans are still somewhat cold in comparison to a hand drawing.

While you may not like all of his designs, if more designers thought the way Libeskind does, instead of just a select few, we would have a much more vibrant and less stagnant industry.

Tuesday Tutorial: Waterfalls and Streams

1 07 2009

Waterfalls and streams are things that, in my opinion, can greatly effect the quality of your overall render , even if they are only a minor component of the design.  Done correctly, they can add life and movement to your rendering, done wrong and they become strangely shaped pools.  Today I’m going to go over my rendering techniques for these critical items.  As always, feel free to use them, tweak them, or ignore them.  Let me know what you think!

Streams and Waterfalls

Step 1: Bite Off More Than You Can Chew… Or Need

When you start the stream, the first thing you want to do is pick an area that is a decent bit larger then the area that makes up the stream, to give yourself some room to work.


Step 2: Fill and Distort

Take the area you selected, and fill it with the plain water texture you made with last Tuesday’s tutorial.


Then add the same distortion effects you used last week for the  .  This gives you the same bubbly water look, which works well for a flowing stream.


Step 3: Place the Water

Now you first want to rotate the water so the waves run parallel to the flow of the stream.  If you have a stream with curves in it, you can either just point it in the average direction, or you could warp the water to make it more closely follow the path of the stream (Although that is probably overkill).  Once you have it turned- for this example I rotated it 38 degrees clock-wise.  Once you do that, trim the extra water away, leaving just the stream covered in water.  You can cut some corners in spots where there will be a boulder or a plan covering the stream, but try to play is fairly close in case the stones get removed for some reason.


I am also tweaking the shade of blue slightly to get a richer color for the stream, to counter act the lightening that will happen by hand.  For this I am selecting the layer with the water, and sliding the hue up by 10, and lightness down by 20.


Step 4: Add Some Rapids

To really create a flowing look, both to the stream, and to the waterfalls, use a soft, light opacity brush.  I would do this on a sperate layer for now, and merge layers once you get a look you like; you can only take so many steps back in Photoshop – and this uses a LOT of brush strokes – so you could find yourself wanting to undo something past where it is possible.  I am using a 5 Pixel round brush with 0% hardness, and 10% opacity, with pure white for the color.  You then draw curving lines along the stream- have some curving around rocks, other flowing the length of the stream, and have them ramp up as you approach the waterfall, then even as the waterfall drops, and then a quick drop off after the waterfall “Lands”.  If you used 100% opacity, it should look something like this at first:


The final result, with the 10% opacity, looks like this:


Step 5: Base

Now, fill in the surrounding landscape, including plants, rocks, and the like.  One touch to add is to make a gravel stream bed, so the transparent base looks a little different then the surrounding area.


Step 6: Just Add Water

Now add your water back in, merge it with your layer of white details, and drop the transparency to about 85%.  Congratulations, you have a stream!


Next Week: Wetlands