[Graphics] Processing a photo headshot into a painted-looking leaderhead

Submitted By: Buster's Uncle Date: October 06, 2012, 05:53:35 AM Views: 772

Processing a photo headshot into a painted-looking leaderhead

[Another brand spankin' new entry posted ahead of a lot of material.  Order is restored here.]

Some programs have automatic functions for turning photos into paintings - GIMP has oilify, which I don't think is very good.  Nothing, at any rate, substitutes for just rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself, with your human judgment and an artist's eye.  The SMAC(X) leaderheads all originated as paintings, and your eye catches that, even if you don't realize it consciously.  So your leaderhead needs to look like a painting.  Here's how I do it.

Rainbow Lizard had a leaderhead that didn't take to the SMAC palette well, and asked me to look into it.  He supplied the original photo:

(Pay attention to the settings showing in the pictures after this; they mostly tell you how, while my comments will tend to focus on the equally important why.) 

Nothing intrinsically wrong with it; it looks like a leaderhead.  But the color level is low, as is the contrast, and the highlights too white, matching the background.  So that background's gotta go - first thing I did was add a transparent background layer-

-Start erasing the edge next to the spot -on the shoulder- I could tell was going to be most troublesome about wanting to select along with the background-

-Only to discover that those white highlights matched the background way too well for the Fuzzy Select Tool.  I gave up and used the Color Select Tool, after some trial and error, at the default setting-

-and then prepared to begin eliminating all the white inside the figure's borders with the Fuzzy Select Tool (Note the red-block mode setting in the Toolbox.  That's Subtract from the current selection)-

After a few minutes of zooming in and out and deselecting the easy bits on the visor at various Threshold levels -sometimes it would jump to deselect some background, and I would have to [Ctrl]z to back up and try again at a lower threshold- I got all but a bit on the shoulder and neck -

-and did a little more erasing (always have Hard Edge checked when erasing for this kind of thing) and deselecting the rest of the non-background was easy at a low Threshold of 5.0. and that erased border-

-So I hit [Delete] and started processing - and it's easier to adjust with no background to either require more selection of just the skin, or turning wierd while you alter the figure's colors, brightness, etc., if you don't select and leave it out.   Sometimes you like the background and want to keep it, and doing something like this to allow you to paste the figure back over it is called for, instead of in this case, where the background was in the way.

The thing is, photographs are just higher resolution than most paintings.  They contain more detail and more colors; not as many as reality, but a lot more than the average painting.  The eye picks up on the differance, even if you don't realise.  Remembering that is the key to what we're going to do here

First, fiddling with the Brightness/Contast; the image needed serious darkening, and higher contrast brings up detail and the color levels, too.  They also balance each other out somewhat.

And then I brought the Color Saturation up more directly.  This also brightened things more in a different way, and I darkened a little more to compensate.  Everything in this process is partly balancing dark and bright, and all processing/fiddling/altering, done right, results in the right kind of careful artificiality that says painting to the eye.  It was a little too red, so a minor hue-shift, to a hair yellower, too.

Next, I wanted to do something that would mess up the colors of the hair and visor, so I needed to select everything but them:

This involves a lot of zooming in and out, selecting and deselecting at different Thresholds, which is typical for the Fuzzy Select - a very useful tool, but aggravating.

Now here's the thing; human skin contains a lot more colors finely distributed, if you look closely enough, than anyone can manage in artwork, which is why it's so difficult to come up with realistic skin tones when you're going for realism.  Real skin has blues and even greens in it - we're going to reduce those in favor of more of the reds and yellows artists use.

That brought up the color levels 60%, so to compensate-

The shot before last, note the big bit of pink lined by lemon yellow in that problem area on the shoulder.  There's more up the edge of the neck and cheek, so to fix it:

Then I expanded the select to get all that lemon yellow around it and did something simular - in this case, hue-shifting back towards red a little, darkening a little, reducing the color saturation a little more - all of which browns both somewhat. (Browns are more-or-less dingy, dim, orange in computer colors.

Usually, in processing a leaderhead, I'd have done a lot of selective blurring of very fine details with the Smudge Tool on very low power, but this leaderhead is a younger person than most faction leader images, with much more smooth skin than usual in a photo that was low on that sort of detail, too.  There's a trade-off; no time smoothing/simplifying facial lines and fine speckling typical of photo headshots, but the lack of those details is precisely why it adapted so poorly to the SMAC(X) palette - nothing to break up the color patterns, which looked bad.

So, as I said, real skin is higher-resolution than painted, and has a LOT more colors.  Next, I simply change the mode of the image (literally Image>Mode>Indexed) to a lot less colors:

I change it back to RGB, so I can change the mode BACK to Indexed -- I'm hoping that now, it will take to the SMAC(X) palette, which has twice as many colors:

-But no.  That's a little better than the problematic problematic attempt I'm demonsrtating how to fix, but still not good enough.  I [Ctrl]z to back up a step, something you do a lot making graphics, and use that Smudge Tool to smear together COLORS where they are in thick bands and the areas I've learned are going to convert badly.  It's too idiosycratic to be worth trying to show.

Next, I do a little sharpening (Filters>Enhance>Sharpen) at around 30% and blurring (Filters>Blur>Blur) and sharpening and blurring, more sharpening - I'm not sure, but this has always been part of the process, and I think it works because low-level sharpening accumulates interuptions of those strange-looking color bands/patterns, and blurring every third or forth time keeps it from getting too pixelated-looking.  What I'm sure of is that it often makes a big difference in this painting thing.  It's another part you have to use that human judgment and artist's eye, and not something easy to/worth trying to show.

Then a little more selective smearing together of color patches and unwanted detail the sharpening put in with the Smudge Tool, still set to 10%, 20% at most.

One secret to helping when your work doesn't want to convert to the SMAC(X) palette well, is that sometimes, it will do better if you do the scan lines and THEN convert; the alternating contrast lines can break up those color bands/patterns, or form intermingled, alternating patterns that cancel out.

I've described the scan-line part before a number of times, but briefly:  select the entire image ([Ctrl]a, [Ctrl]c to copy, Colors>Brightness-Contrast>contrast +15-20, [Ctrl]v to paste back the copy,  Colors>Brightness-Contrast>contrast -15-20, Filters>Distorts>Erase Every Other Row> deselect.  Scanlined.

For a background, I pasted it over a Matrix thingy, as I did with my own hacker-type faction.  This is the original size of the image, but cropped to the exact porportions of a leaderhead, only a little larger:

However, the youthful look of the leaderhead, the videogame look of the logo and bases for the faction, and the attitude displayed in the leader quote in the .txt file suggests that a background consistant with youth doing as they please, such as a bright video game sorta background, like he had a game paused on the big screen behind him while he spoke on the comm, would be a better fit for this leaderhead.  It would also fit that the figure was obviously backlit to stand in front of something very bright.

Rainbow, see if these instructions are enough for you to do something with the picture - I'd rather make sure I'd empowered you to do it for yourself than just give you a file already processed.  Teach a man to fish, and all that.

Rating: ***** by 1 members.


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