How to Create a Fantasy Scene with Death
Photoshop Tutorial: How to Create a Fantasy Scene with Death

This is the tutorial for the contest entry:
The parts I used to create this image can all be found in the following source image: Cursed Gold
Also check out the full resolution to see more details.


I will explain how I made things and what decisions I made before and during making the image. I use the step by step images to illustrate my story and also add some extra images where needed.

End result:

Step 1

Before even opening Photoshop I did some brainstorming. The skull was the most interesting part for me, I wanted to do something with that. The link with "death" was pretty easily made and not much later it became "Death". I didn't want it to be too serious though, so I thought of something stupid that could have happened to Death.

Of course, "Death" is one of the four Apocalyptic horsemen and his other comrades wanted to fool him (...again. Yeahh, they're really some funny mates :-)). So they told him a certain short cut direction, but it's obvious he'd get lost then.

In the end I skipped the Apocalypse idea, but I did like it that "Death" was a horseman, so he could ride on some animal. This way I could do more with the skull. And then I also liked the little twist that he had to ask some little kid where to go, because that makes the whole image more innocent despite the subject.Enough material to get started!

First a sketch. I took a look at the source image to see what elements I could use and how it could be placed and combined for what I had in mind. There's the skull for "Death" and the animal, and a lot of fabric for the cape of "Death". Then a sword, that could be handy to make some armor for the animal, to give it a bit more dangerous and impressive look.

That in combination with some own drawing should be enough to fill the image :-)
I didn't want the skull to be used 2 times the same direction, to avoid obvious repetition, so I had to find a way to fix that.After some trying I came with some composition that I liked: "Death" on the left side, head in the upper corner, looking down to the kid on the rightdown corner. Because of the camera view, Death looks quite impressive, especially compared to the kid. You are looking up to him, like he is supposing to have some status. Of course, in this situation he looks far from an impressive character. With this contradiction I try to make the situation more weird. The animal was is some kinda Z-shape in a more opposite diagonal compared to the "Death"-kid diagonal, but because of this Z-pose I tried to let the viewer look from "Death" to the kid.

The base is there!

Step 2

I started to cut out the skull. Mostly when I select/cut out an image I make a more or less rougher selection just around the part I needed. As you can see in the image, I cut out the skull with some extra background. I do that because I have the feeling I can play a bit more with the final selection if needed. For the final selection I mostly used the magic wand tool (if there's enough contrast) and after turning the selection into a mask I fine tune it with a soft brush (9 pt). I prefer to give the edges a bit of soft touch (depending how much it would fit within the image), because in my opinion that looks more natural. Now I have to admit that for this entry I kinda forgot to fine tune the top of the skull...

An important part for this image is to show how "Death" feels. The viewer has to see his expressions and the eyes are one of the most important to show what's all in his mind. That's why I started changing the eye holes in the skull. From "neutral" I tried to make them more "desperate and wondering". I did that with Liquify. Quite a big brush, so that I was able to move a whole part of the skull without risking to distort the skull too much. Just little by little moving until I got what I wanted. The eye holes were one part of his expression, the eyeballs had to do the rest.

So I made the eyes too. Big to make him look more wondering where on earth he was while he tried to understand the kid's explanations. The eyes were quite simple. Just a circle with some radial gradient. As pupil a part of the sword that I turned into a circle with polar coordinates and gave some blurred edges to make it look more natural. I put the pupil on the ball, some warping to make it look more round. More about the eye in the next step.