Program: Photoshop CS4
Translatable: No, sorry
Difficulty: Medium-hard; involves use of layer masks and smudging - newcomers to these are welcome to try!
I can't believe I am finally making my own tutorial. Here goes!
1. Here is a CGI rip of one of my favorite video game characters of all time, Terra Branford, courtesy of thelifestream.net. Normally, this picture would be the background of the website it's from and no one would pay attention to it. However, I think it would be a shame to waste such a nice render, and I decide to use it for an icon. I guess you think so too, so you decide to copy and paste it to Photoshop and crop out the pose you want.
Here it is:
Pretty nice, huh? However there's one problem: it's dark. Very dark.
2. Let's lighten up the picture a bit. Copy the layer and set it to screen at 75%.
That's a little bit better, but it's hardly what you're looking for. But be patient! We don't want this picture to get too bright, now do we?
3. Go back to your first layer and then go to image -> auto tone.
That's even better! It's even like the computer knew what we were looking for.
4. To make the picture nicer, let's sharpen the first layer.
Now her hair is nicer! But it's added a bunch of splotches to her skin, which isn't so nice, and it's made the creases on her shirt sleeves more noticeable too. Don't worry, we'll be able to get rid of those later.
5. We still have to make the image brighter! Let's make a new layer to solve this. Go to layer -> new adjustment layer -> brightness/contrast. Set the brightness to 15 and the contrast to -50.
6. That seems pretty good. But it still seems so gray and dull. We can use selective coloring to solve this. Go to layer -> new adjustment layer -> selective color.
Here's the settings I used with absolute:
Reds: -100, +100, +100, -7
Yellows: -100, -100, +30, -100
Cyan: +100, -100, +100, -40
Blues: +85, +50, +5, +75
Whites: -37, -63, +23, +5
Neutrals: -20, -12, -1, -4
Blacks: -20, +12, +19, +6
This is what I used but play with what you like. If you change your mind later, you can always edit the layer at another time.
7. This is great, but I think her skin could be a bit more lively still. Now we need to do something that will only brighten up the skin without oversaturating the rest of the image. The answer to this is creating a layer mask. We're going to make a new brightness layer now with brightness +15 and contrast -50.
Let's make another change to the icon. While Terra has blonde hair in this picture, in her original game back on the SNES, her sprite's hair was green. I want this icon to reference that, so we're going to use the wonders of selective coloring to change hair color on this picture.
Here's the settings I used with relative:
Yellows: +85, -92, +100, -40
Greens: +100, -100, +100, +80
Whites: +4, -40, +8, +4
Neutrals: +50, -35, -30, +50
Blacks: 0, 0, 0, +100
Here's the result:
Uh oh! While her hair certainly looks more green, so does the rest of her body. How are we going to make sure that she doesn't look like she has a bad case of jaundice? Another layer mask, of course. This time, we're going to apply a layer mask just to this selective coloring layer. Fill it up with black as before and color the parts over Terra's hair with white. You don't need to bother with the hairs on her face and against her jacket's flap - we'll be taking care of those later.
Much better! As a reminder, you can still adjust the selective coloring layer to make the hair more agreeable to you.
The image is still a little a bit too bright for my taste, so I added another brightness/contrast layer. I set the brightness to -32 and the contrast to 25.
Now, the picture is all done. At this point, I decided to compress all the layers into one. I right-clicked on one of my layers and select flatten image. However, you might be wondering, why isn't the icon still isn't as pretty as the one in the preview? Her skin and sleeves are still grainy. Did I trick you? Well, it wasn't entirely false advertising. I used the exact same layers on my base in the preview. However, there's the key difference: the bases are different.
However, you don't need to be an artist to clean up an image like this. Photoshop has a very useful feature: the smudge tool. We don't need fancy brushes or even serious artistic talent to make the image look nicer and even more realistic.
At this moment, I'd save the image to make sure that I can start over if I make any mistakes. Photoshop allows you to undo several of your moves, but it only goes so far.
Using the smudge tool and a 12px brush, I zoom in 400% and go over the creases on Terra's right sleeve. The sleeves were originally designed to be creased, but I feel that it looks distracting after sharpening the image as we did in step 4.
It's very simple. All you have to do is move the brush against the contour of the sleeve to make it flow in the same pattern. Make sure the lighting is still like how it was in the original. If you have the two things, your result will be natural-looking.
Don't worry if they're not perfect. No one is going to be scouring your icon looking for small mistakes. Just keep on working until you feel that it looks realistic to you. If you mess up, you can just go back to your saved picture.
After some smudging, he is my result.
I do the same thing with Terra's other sleeve, using a 3px brush. Now, it doesn't look so grainy
Now I work on Terra's shirt, also using a 3px brush.
However, Terra still has the few loose hairs that we mentioned earlier. We can now get rid of those. The jacket flap is pretty grainy, so I decide to smooth it out completely, working from its top right corner to Terra's shoulder. I'm careful to make sure we don't have any dark splotches in the middle of the flap so it looks like the light still reflects off of it evenly. As for the lock of hair on her face, I smudge it perpendicularly against her face so that it blends evenly. Then I smooth out the area her hair was with the rest of the shaded area on her cheek.
Be careful not to smudge the rest of her hair into the jacket flap or her face.
One last problem: grainy skin isn't particularly attractive. So, we're going to fix that too. Use the smudge tool against the grainy parts of her skin and make sure it blends evenly with the lighting or shadow there.
There we go! Now our image is done.