Create a Metallic Sci-Fi Robot in Photoshop

  • Tutorial details

    Photoshop CS
    3-10 Hours
  • Premium Content

    Project Files

In this lesson you will learn how to create a futuristic looking Sci-Fi scene in Adobe Photoshop. We will use cool techniques to create abstract environments that add a great 3D depth. We will also turn a photo into a great looking metallic robot, so you should really take a look — seriously!

In this tutorial we are going to use the incredible zebra mask zentai P14 stock photo by mandylio.

Step 1

So, navigate to the stock photo linked above. Press Download to get it in high resolution. Open up the photograph on a separate layer in Photoshop, name the layer Original.

Step 2

Duplicate the Original layer, name it Working Copy – and work on this one from now on. Use the Brush Tool, the Clone Stamp Tool and the Smudge Tool to clean up some of the wrinkles (most obvious areas are marked in the figure).

This is not that important, but if you are going for a perfect look some work with this should really pay off in the end.

Step 3

Make sure the background is totally filled with black (still on the Working Copy layer). Use fills, brushes and selections to fill in the blacks.

Step 4

Now we will make a pattern/brush of this, so right-click the the Working Copy layer and select Duplicate Layer. Duplicate to a new document.

Step 5

Use the Lasso Tool to drag a selection around the head of our character. Fill the selection with black.

Step 6

Use the Crop Tool to crop the image so that it only shows the white shapes.

Note: I use a White shield color when using the Crop Tool here, the default color is Black (I changed it for visualization purposes).

Step 7

Convert the image to Grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale) – discard any color information if asked.

As we will convert this image to a pattern & brush, it is a good idea to clean up the edges so that it will not look square. Grab a black brush and start filling in where necessary.

Red = Black

Step 8

Sharpen the image a bit (Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen), then convert it into a pattern (Edit > Define Pattern). Name it something that you will remember later in this tutorial.
While you are at it, you might want to define a brush preset as well (Edit > Define Brush Preset) — the brush will not be used in this tutorial, though.

Step 9

Go back to the previous document. Add a new Black & White Adjustment Layer, then create a new layer Eye Fills.

Fill the character’s eyes with black. The reason why we put it on a separate layer is that we want to be able to toggle “eyes” or “no eyes” to see what looks the best later on.

Step 10

Go to the Channels window (Window > Channels), activate the Red Channel and load the channel as a selection.

Step 11

With the loaded selection still active, add a Solid Fill Layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color) — select white as the fill color. Name the layer Character Lines.

Step 12

Now, before starting to work on the background it is practical to extend the canvas size a bit so that we have more room to work with. Go to Image > Canvas Size.

Step 13

Create a new layer Very Thin, then group it (Ctrl/Cmd + G) — name the group Lines.

Select the Pattern Stamp Tool. In the options for this tool, set the pattern to the pattern that we created earlier. Set the blending mode to Lighten and enable the Impressionist setting. Use a 1px soft brush to draw the first lines holding the head of our character.

Step 14

Create a new layer Thin, inside the Lines group. Set the brush size to 3px and continue to add some more lines, this time not only to the head — but also to the arms.

Step 15

Create a group named Abstract BG, then continue to add strokes of various width on each layer — this time in random directions (mind the pose of the character and try to mimic its direction).

Try to create a depth by stacking layers and using different sizes of the brush.

Switch off the Impressionist setting for the Pattern Stamp Tool to create sharper and more abstract shapes for the background.

Note: this tool works in mysterious ways. Have fun with it, use different sizes and short strokes from different directions and angles. Since the blending mode is set to lighten you will add shapes all the time, not remove — so do not be afraid to play around.

Lowering the opacity is a great trick here to create depth.

Create more layers, use the same technique to create more abstract elements. Scale up the layer apply a layer mask and remove unnecessary details. If your shapes loose quality when you scale up, you can use the Smudge Tool to smooth them up. Add some noise to the smudged parts to keep a sense realism.

Step 16

Now, to make the character blend in a bit better we are going to hide the Working Copy layer and modify the mask of the Character Lines layer.

Click the layer mask icon for the Character Lines layer, then select the Gradient Tool (G). Use a linear gradient (black color fading out to transparent), and drag from the bottom edge of the image to the chin of the character.

While doing the gradient I also used the Brush Tool to modify the shape of the head (drawing with black on the layer mask).

Step 17

I wanted the lines/strings to come from all directions, so to create this effect I still used the Pattern Stamp Tool with the same pattern — but I used a fade setting for the brush preset.

This will make the size of the brush fade by the length of the strokes.

Step 18

To add a bit of texture to the background you can go ahead and render some fibers on a new layer (Filter > Render > Fibers). Set the Blending Mode to Color Dodge and use Levels to balance the effect.

Add a layer mask to the layer and hide everything (fill it with black). Use a large brush at low opacity to show some of the details (white color). Then use a very small brush (range 5-10px) with “Scattering” turned on to make some glitter (still white color).

Step 19

At this stage I was not very happy with the looks of the character, so I put some more work into it. I wanted a more metallic feel, so I began by duplicating the Character Lines layer two times.

On the first copy I applied a Glowing Edges filter (Filter > Stylize > Glowing Edges) — renamed it Character Outlines.

On the second copy (placed below the first) I used a soft black brush to modify the Layer mask to mimic shadows & highlights.

I also used the Dodge & Burn Tool to modify shadow & highlights of some of the abstract background elements.

Step 20

Add just a small amount of noise if you feel your abstract elements need more texture and sharpness.

Step 21

Duplicate the Character Lines layer again, and modify the Layer mask to add shades to the face. I noticed that the face and the body needed some smoothing, so I went ahead and used the Smudge Tool on some parts of it. Determine your light source and mask Character Outlines accordingly.

I worked about 1 hour on this part, so do not stress it.

Step 22

If you zoom in the character’s left hand you will notice that there are some noise around it. Use a Layer mask or the Eraser Tool to clean this up.

This step takes a while to complete if you are going for perfection, but it’s good practice and the final result will look much sharper if you spend some time working on details like these.

Step 23

When you are happy with how the character looks, you can put all its layers in a group and continue working on the background.

To add some more depth, I went ahead and rendered some regular clouds — scaled them up 300% then scaled down only the height so that the clouds become more like fog. Used a regular Layer mask to remove some of the details.

Step 24

Now add a Curves Adjustment Layer to crank up the brightness and contrast just a little bit.

For the coloring I used Gradient Fill Layers with Blending Mode set to Color at 65% Opacity.

To colorize selective parts of the image, use Clipping Masks.

Step 25

If you want a more vivid and bright picture you can create a new layer on the top of your layer stack. Select a large soft brush at low opacity and click areas where you want light.

First add some yellow lights. Change the size of your brush to adjust the spread of the light, change the opacity of the brush to adjust the intensity of the light. Clicking once in the areas where you want light is enough (you do not have to stroke). You can also click multiple times to increase the intensity gradually.

Then add create a new layer and add some white lights using technique. You may also have to modify the Layer Masks of your background if it gets to bright.

Step 25

To brighten the already bright parts of the image you should add a Curves Adjustment Layer. This will raise the brightness and lower the darks, hence making the picture more eye catching.


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About the Author

Mickel is a web creative that is constantly looking for new challenges and ventures.

He is the founder of PixelTango, as well as a interactive web design agency. He also likes to DJ and produce music under the name Allic.

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