Articles, Tutorials

Using Photoshop CS3 3D Tools

October 18, 2010 • By

In this tutorial, we’ll be using Photoshop CS3’s 3D rendering features to recreate something close to Neytiri, the lead female character of the Na’vi race. In the James Cameron movie – Avatar. Just to point out, Photoshop CS4 offers more a robust 3D features; one of which is to paint directly on 3D models or objects. CS3 ‘somewhat’ doesn’t have these capabilities among other things. However, we’ll get around this in our tutorial using a technique that hinges on the manipulation of texture maps of the 3D model.


Scenes from the Avatar movie:

Step 1

I started off with the free 3D program – Daz Studio 3. Loading the popular Victoria 3 model (there’s also the Victoria 4 model which offers higher resolutions), from Studio>People>Victoria.

The face here will be the main focus on manipulation for an Avatar-like character.

Step 2

Selecting the face with the mouse, Go to the Pose/Animate Tab, and click on the Parameters tab for the settings of the ‘Morphs’. Below, are the adjustments made for a face of a Na’vi humanoid. Unfortunately, there were no Morphs available for the nose.

This is the closest we can come to recreating a Na’vi face. Yes the ears needs to be a little higher and the nose a lot flatter. Like I mentioned earlier, there were no Morphs for the nose. Of course, this tutorial is primarily on how to paint or manipulate 3D objects/models in CS3. Also, I chose not to include any props (items such as hair and ferns for clothing) to the model. This is because when exported, they are rendered badly in Photoshop as they appear shredded.

Step 3

Next, click on the PowerPose tab to adjust the posture of the model.This is something easy to do by just a click on the ‘points’ on the body and dragging in the direction desired.

Below, I effected just a simple walking pose; with the positioning of the figure done, the model is all set to be exported in u3d format.

Step 4

Now to export the model in u3d format. Go to File>Export and in the export dialog box, name your model and save it as an u3d file. Do not save the model as an obj file as it does not come which the texture maps needed. That done, accept the Export settings.

Step 5

Open the u3d file in Photoshop and it will be loaded automatically into the main document from size view. To rotate our model, double-click on its thumbnail in the Layers Palette to make it active in 3D Transform mode.

Step 6

That done, a set of 3D tools appears on the menu bar – Options bar to be precise. Select the Rotate Tool (R) to turn the model in a front facing position. Hit Enter to apply the transformation.

Step 7

For the skin of the Avatar, download any zebra pattern texture and load it into Photoshop. Enter into the Free Transform mode (Ctrl+T) and use its Skew and Distort Tools to mash the stripes of the pattern into an
adjacent angle as possible. Head to Filter>Liquify and in the Liquify window, use the Bloat Tool to create uneven surfaces on the pattern.

Step 8

After applying the Liquify Filter, select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and drag it vertically at the right side of the zebra pattern. With the selection made, press Delete to remove the little portion selected and then, press Ctrl+D to clear the selection. Below is a straight line on one end of the pattern.

Step 9

Duplicate this layer and use the Flip Horizontally option of the Free Transform Tool to position the pattern copy in the opposite direction to the original. Press Ctrl+E to merge the layers into one.

Step 10

Press Ctrl+I to invert the colours of the zebra pattern. This is to make more white stripes visible than the black ones. For we need the ‘whites’ for our skin. Also keep this window open or minimize for later use.

Step 11

Now for the more interesting and crucial part of this tutorial. Below the model’s thumbnail in the Layers Palette is a list of textures for various body parts. Double-click on ‘texture 1_0‘ to bring up the texture map for the main body. Duplicate the main texture, ‘background’ as we dont want to make a mistake on the original texture that would prove irreversible when changes are made. So working on a copy is a safe bet. Below is the texture map of the main body all splayed out in a rather ‘freaky’ manner.

Step 12

Press Ctrl+U for Hue/Saturation and set the Hue to180 for a bluish colour.

The result:

Step 13

After the changes are made, press Ctrl+S to save. Close the texture window and voila! The model in the main window is automatically updated.

Step 14

Double-click on ‘texture1_2‘ under Textures in the Layers Palette and add the same blue hue as with the body. Select the Burn Tool (O), with an exposure of 15%and darken lightly around the edges of the face. Also, use the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to copy lighter portions of face while holding the ALT key and releasing it. Make copies over the nose to make it look flat like a Na’vi’s.

Step 15

Select the brush Tool (B), and set the its opacity 75%. Change the foreground colour to pink and paint the nose and the ear areas.

Step 16

Go to the zebra pattern window and drag the pattern into the texture window. Set the Blend mode of the pattern layer to Soft Light and opacity 65%.
Save and close the window.

Step 17

Double-click on ‘texture1_8‘ to display the eye texture and then duplicate it. Select the Elliptical Marquee Tool and make a circular selection over the iris.

Step 18

Paint with a yellow brush within the selection.

Step 19

Change the layer’s Blend mode to Overlay.

The result of our image so far:

Step 20

For the luminous dots of the Na’vi, enable the face texture once again and with a Hard Round brush, make dots over the face in a new layer. Notice I added a swirl-like pattern as well -just trying to be creative here.You can play around with the face adding your desired styling. The lips as well was painted with pink. Double-click the layer and for a Layer Style and select an Outer Glow style and increase its Spread to 4 and Opacity to 85%.

The result shows the markings nicely adapted to the contours of the face but however, its rather dull in appearance.This will be fixed when the brightness of the image is increased eventually.

Step 21

Over the 3D layer, create a Levels Adjustment Layer by going to Layer>New Adjustment>Levels. Make the following adjustments with the sliders as shown below:

Now isnt she a beauty? There’s actually controls to change the lighting of the model in the 3D Transform mode but these do not offer parameters to adjust their intensities or orientations. This is why I stuck with the Levels command instead.

Step 22

The skin of the Na’vi is unacceptably to smooth and so it must be roughen up a little by creating a texture over it. Download this stone texture from freetextures.organd have it dragged into the already open ‘texture1_0‘ window.

Step 23

Erase the stone texture around the body parts; it doesnt have to be so accurate just as long as the stone texture doesnt exceeds the boundaries of the body texture.

Step 24

Set the stone texture’s Blend mode to Soft Light and its Opacity to 65%. Use the Eraser Tool with an opacity of about 15% to fade the texture at chest, mid sections, palms and backsides.


The result:

Step 25

Finally, going back to the ‘texture1_0,’ the part and under arms was darken slightly with the Burn Tool. Below is the final result:

This is a cross section of the Na’vi model at various positions. Pretty impressive backside – I mean, the nicely patterned stripes obviously.

The Na’vi model at side views:

A background, Gradients, shadows and dry ground texture were added to the mix for a scenic composition.

From my portfolio, is my completed ‘Nubian II‘ artwork using to a degree, similar techniques from the tutorial to paint on the 3D model below. Other elements in the picture were manipulated entirely in Photoshop. Hope the basics of this tutorial sparks off something of a career in 3D in the digital art sphere.

By David El’ Ella

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