The following walkthrough outlines the techniques and resources used to create a Giger influenced ‘Biomech’ piece.This type of work requires an important added ingredient: patience!
The complexity of the artwork is achieved by repeating mechanical and organic elements, cut from various stock images:
To begin, create a new document at print size – the example is A3 (297mm x 420mm), 300dpi. For my buddies in the US, a good preset to use is: New > Preset > US Paper > Tabloid – which will be plenty big for creations like this. Get used to working big, as it allows for higher detail; and clients usually require commissioned work to be at ‘print size’.
The ‘human’ element of this piece will act as the primary focal point, make sure you pick a goodun!! Once a suitable portrait has been selected, use the Pen Tool to cut the face from it’s environment – don’t worry about the hair too much, as the top area of the head will removed later in the composite:
The issue with working big, is that it will be harder to find suitable stock images at the right size. It’s worth spending the extra time getting the stock right, as quality resources really pushes up the overall quality of a piece.
Create a new Layer Group (Ctrl/Cmd + G), drag your portrait layer into this group and name it ‘Face’ – this is essential, make sure you don’t skip this! This step invloves taking out the healthy hues of the skin tone using a number of techniques. The process is listed below:
1. Original, unedited pic.
2. Create a new layer above your portrait stock, set the layer mode to color. Create a selection based on the ‘Portrait’ layer (Ctrl/Cmd + click layer icon), select a dull blue tone and fill the selection with Paint Bucket (G) (Shortcut: Alt + Delete). Tweak the layer opacity so the tone isn’t too overbearing, examples uses 24% opacity.
3. Create another layer set to ‘Color’ layer mode, above the portrait stock. Use a dull blue once again, and paint over just the lips – change opacity as necessary. Example piece uses 24% opacity for this layer.
4. I repeated the above steps to lighten the area above the eyes, using another layer set to Color and the opacity reduced.
5. This step is where the big change occurs; with the portrait layer selected, I used a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to blast the colour information.
Tweaking the eyes for a Giger style composite isn’t necessary, however it can definitely add an otherworldly flavour to your work. The technique employed for the example piece uses a combination of two techniques. The first process is to sample tones (Eyedropper Tool I) from the whites of the eyes and paint with a Soft-Edged Brush (B) on a new layer above (pic 2 below). The second process is to create a duplicate of the face layer, and set it to screen. You can continue duplicating until you have the desired ‘brightness’ of the iris’ – and then merge them all together. Use a layer mask to selectively apply the brightness to the eyes only.
THE ART OF THE PEN TOOL
If you’re the kind of person that lacks patience with long monotonous tasks, then this may not be the walkthrough for you!! Chopping out mechanical elements with the Pen Tool (P) can be pretty heavy going, but also quite therapeutic. If you’re not yet familiar with the Pen Tool (P), I’d highly recommend you get to know it well. There are other methods available, but nothing that comes even close to matching it’s accuracy and efficiency.
The Giger Style composite works well with wires, rusty engine parts, corrugated tubing and animal horns. Experiment with different elements and see what you can come up with! Here’s a look at the elements used for the example piece, and how they look once cut out:
This will be the step that seperates ‘the men from the boys‘ so to speak! If you have the gusto to tackle this kind of work, then the world is your oyster.
Once happy with your mechanical and organic stock, you can start arranging your elements. To achieve a sense of symmetry, you may want to duplicate a stock element (Ctrl/Cmd + J), and then Flip Horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). As you build the parts up around your foreground figure – the piece will become more complex and ‘alien-like’. Use Transform Tools like Rotate (Ctrl/Cmd + T) to create interesting angles, and the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select and delete any elements you want ‘chopped’ vertically.
Here’s a breakdown of the example piece being built-up using the stock elements, with the model layer group made visible on the last image:
BLENDING LAYER GROUPS
One of the most powerful features of Layer Groups, is the ability to add a Layer Mask and blend many layers in one go. Remember when I said to ensure your Model Stock and all it’s layers should be in a Layer Group? That’s where this step comes into play
Add a Layer Mask to your Model Stock Layer Group (Add Layer Mask icon, bottom of layers palette), and use a very large Soft-Edged Brush (B) set to Black to blend your Stock Model layers:
As you can see from the workflow – Layer Groups are used for pretty much everything! A clean stack like this will allow you to hide and show large groups of elements instantly, and save you time hunting for layers in a complex piece. Here is a before and after shot of the Layer Group blending for the Stock Model:
The same is repeated for the neck and upper torso:
For the example, I wanted to increase the prominence of the tech elements over the top of the face.. To achieve this look, the mechanical elements near the top of the head were duplicated (Ctrl/Cmd + J) and set to Soft-Light layer mode. Position the mech elements above the Stock Model Layer Group in the stack, and then blend using Layer Masks:
A look at the Head Overlay elements in the layer stack:
COLOUR PROCESSING & BACKGROUND
Pull in a suitably gnarly background – I used a great texture from Lost&Taken, and tweaked the vibrancy and colours by directly painting on new layers set to Overlay.
Colour Processing can vary wildly, depending on the style you would like to achieve. For the example, I used a combo of Adjustment Layers, including Gradient Map, Color Balance and a new Layer set to Color, to manually paint in some of the hues. There are so many possible combinations, it’s very hard to illustrate a ‘set way’ of working with colour – just experiment and find the balance that suits your tastes.
Before and after some colour work and the addition of the background:
After a bit of sharpening, here’s the final piece in it’s full glory: