Shop Talk

Character Design Using Photo-Manipulation

Character design is a powerful process in the development of video games and animated movies, but can also be used for creating new creature based works of art. Traditional or digital painting is the most common method, like the stunning example above by Lukas Brezak, but photo-manipulation techniques can also work wonders.

Since it’s getting close to Halloween, we’ll avoid hunting for unique and strange creatures, and instead call upon the powers of research, visual impact, and color to bring a new creature to life.

Step 1:  Start by taking a portrait you want to work with, one that is crisp and has enough pixels. Alternatively, source a stock photo like the one we’re using from Pexels. As the final result will be an alien, the first thing is to change is the skin tone to something a little other-worldy. There are a few ways to do this, but the most common is by adjusting Hue/Saturation.

Depending on what color mode you are working in, the results may be different. In the image seen here, the left was adjusted in RGB mode while the right in LAB mode. LAB stands for Lightness, Channel A (green-red), and Channel B (blue-yellow). The benefit with using LAB to adjust colors, is that the hue changes are smoother, richer, and there are less overall artifacts.

alien digital art photo-manipulation character design

Step 2: Now that we have the color down it’s time to start manipulating the features. This can be easily achieved by using masks, liquify, and the content-aware scale tool. To make the face taller and more alien like, a selection was made on the top portion of the face and then pulled up slightly. Content-aware scaled the face while keeping the features in line with the new size. No pixel smearing here.


Step 3: Now the liquify tool can be used to alter the other features. Just make sure to make small adjustments. In the liquify window, the face tool is the most powerful when it comes to altering features. Eyes can be enlarged and rotated, the face can be widened/narrowed, and much more. You might need to warp the face a few times to get it where you want, just click “ok” and use the liquify tool again.

Pro-tip: For each new face warp, it’s a good idea to duplicate the layer you’re working on. This way you can go back to a previous warp if you don’t like the recent one.

Step 4: In order to make this new alien creature look a bit more realistic, the eyes need a little bit of adjusting. To create the large almond shape eyes commonly associated with aliens, the entire eye was filled with a nebula texture. Something that looked like outerspace but with only subtle changes. This texture was masked into the eye, a highlight was painted, and Lighting effects gave the eye more depth and gloss.

Go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects and play around with the settings until the eye texture looks more like a glossy orb.

Step 5: The final steps are to add all of the little details that will give the piece more visual impact. A portrait of a new character is great, but often it’s these final elements that will tie everything together and give the character life and personality.

The background and lights seen in the image was a bokeh texture that was duplicated and masked, each one using different adjustment layers. This gave the background a more intense feel than the lights on the figure. Finally, custom shapes were used to give the alien some stellar headwear and the fingers were adjusted to be more like the original image.

A new character has been brought to life, and is only missing an extra-purr-estrial companion.

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(Header Image: “Alien ii” by surgeryminor)

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Art historian, burrito enthusiast, and Email Marketing Specialist here at Redbubble.