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Animate Any Person with Rain and Lightning


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Creating animation in Photoshop is not as easy as people would imagine. There's a few tricks that can be used to create some simple yet effective techniques. In this three part tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a stormy rain effect with lightning from scratch. We're going to use a photograph of a random person in this picture to illustrate how the effect can be used. I'm assuming you know how to use Photoshop comfortably before trying this effect.


We first need a photograph of a person to use in our image. The sort of photograph you use won't matter much so long as the photograph is a high enough quality to work with. The sort of image we're looking for can have the target in any position you like, since being able to see their face isn't so important. Again, just make sure the photograph you choose to use is of a high enough quality.


Sylar Small Resolution




I am going to be using a photograph of Zachary Quinto, aka, Sylar from Heroes. You can use just about anybody you like, or use my image: Sylar. http://www.identifydesign.net/screenshots/sylar.jpg


Our first step is getting the photograph suitable to work with. This step can be skipped depending on the photograph you use, though. We want to "cut" our person out of the photograph so that we can paste them onto a more eerie background. Adding rain and lightning to a boggy moor will produce a much more stunning result than animating somebody's bedroom with lightning, for example. Just consider whether or not the background is suitable; an outdoor scene will produce the best results.


Cut Out your Character


Select the Polygonal Lassoo tool from the menu. We want to cut away all excess imagery from our person. This can be a long process depending on the size of your photo, but be sure not to cut any corners. The smoother edges we have the better it will look when we're done.


Simply use the Lassoo to select the areas you want to delete from the photograph. Be sure to zoom in very far to the get the most accurate selection. Make sure your Lassoo is set to zero feathering and make sure Anti-Alias is ticked. Take your time when cutting people out. Rushing will result in a very poor result. Start off by removing the majority of the background in one stroke:




And then tidy it up after to produce a smoother edge:




You can then smooth the edges off if you like with the eraser tool for the crispest result, but since we're going to be putting our image onto a dark background, this step might not be necessary. Continue to chip away at your background until you've removed it all and have a smooth edge you're satisfied with. If you do use the erase, be sure to use a ~50% opacity brush. Removing too much in one stroke will make your edges too sharp.

You can use the freehand lassoo tool for this step. I use the Polygonal Lassoo, however, because, despite being line based rather than free hand, it provides more control and as a result, a better end result. Also, in the event your hand slips with the Polygonal Lassoo, you won't ruin all of your selection and have to start again.

Once you're finished, you should have your person or character completely cutout from their background. This provides us with the perfect image to use in our finished result. Your cutout should look a little like this:




Download The Sylar Cutout PSD



Preparing for the Storm


Now we're going to start work on our final image. Create a new document 520x520 pixels with any colour background. We want to choose a suitable eerie background to achieve the best result. I'm going to use a photograph of a random city at night

(Download Photo of Night time City);


you can use just about any background you like. Just remember that our end result will look much better if we use a darker, eerier background.


Paste your background photo onto your new canvas. Position it to your liking and then paste your cutout onto the image. You might notice, depending on the original size of your cutout, that it's a little too big. No problem, we're going to re-size it to fit; select your cutout's layer, go to Edit -> Transform -> Scale. Hold down Left Shift and drag one of the corners to re-size. Holding down Left Shift ensures that the proportions are kept the same. When you've resized to a size you like, let go and press the Ok button at the top of your screen.


Now our cutout is sat on top of our background, like so:




Before we create our rain effect we need to "touch" our image up slightly to make it suitable for heavy downpours. At the moment our sky is too bland for a thunder storm and Sylar is looking way too bright considering he's stood in the middle of nowhere at night. We're going to fix both of these concerns before we make our rain and lightning.

Fixing up the Clouds

Firstly, let's touch the sky up a little. I'm not going to go into too much detail here as it's not the purpose of this tutorial; but essentially we're just going to make some clouds and mix them in with the background. Create a new layer below your cutout but above the background photo, press D to reset our colours pallete and then go to Filter -> Render -> Clouds. Then go to Filter -> Render -> Difference Clouds and press CTRL & F two times to repeat the last step twice.


Go to Edit -> Transform -> Perspective and move the corners around to randomise the clouds a little. Confirm when you're happy with the appearance. Next, set the cloud layer's blending mode to Lighten.




It won't look very realistic yet but we're not done. With the clouds now only showing at their bright parts, we want to erase the majority of them. To do this, select everywhere in your image below the sky. When you have this selection, go to Select -> Feather and choose 25 pixels, then press delete.


Nearly done! Set the blending mode of your clouds layer back to normal (We changed it to Lighten to easily see the layer below). We're going to colourise it. To do this, press CTRL & U. Tick the "Colourize" box in the bottom right and input: Hue: 20 Saturation: 35 Lightness: 0. This will turn our clouds orange. Real life lightning clouds always have a crimson cum orange look about them because of the static electricity within. That's why we're going to go for orange. Your image should now look like this:




The final step to touching the sky up is lowering the opacity of our new clouds layer. This will lower the brightness and make sure it's looking lovely and realistic. An Opacity of about 35% should work perfectly well. To make it even better, you can blur the clouds layer a little. Don't blur it too much, though - people don't blur clouds in the sky!

Fixing up Sylar

Create a new layer above Sylar. CTRL & Left Click on your cutout's layer to get it's shape as a selection. Fill our new layer with this selection with the colour black. The shortcut way of doing this is pressing D to reset our colours palette and then ALT & Delete to fill the selection with the foreground colour. Since we just reset them, that'll be black. Lower the opacity of this black layer to about 75-80%.




Now select a feathered erase brush about 200-300 pixels. Set the opacity to about 20% and put the flow at about 40%. Slowly, and carefully, erase the left hand side of the black layer gently Don't erase too much and don't erase too far to the right. We want to make it look like all the light is coming from Sylar's right, which is our left. When you've done this, it should look a little like this:




In the second part of this series of tutorials, we'll show you how to add the animated rain effect to our image and, indeed, any other images you desire. Part three will then show you how to add the lightning effect. Let's move on Part Two: Add An Animated Rain Effect


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In our previous tutorial, Animate a Person with Rain and Lightning, we showed you how to prime photos onto original backgrounds to create eerie backdrops suitable for rain and lightning. In the second part of three, we're going to show you how to add rain to your image and animate it. This effect is simple to make and simple to re-create, whilst maintaining a high standard upon completion.


Creating the Rain

In order to create the best rain effect, we're going to want a seemless appearance. In order to achieve this we have to create a new image twice the size of our current image (If you've just joined us at this tutorial, just create a new layer above the image you wish to add rain to, or read Animate a Person with Rain and Lightning to familiarise yourself with what we're working with). This is because of the filters we're going to use to create our rain image. So, create an image 1040w x1040h pixels. Create a new layer and fill it with black.


Go to Filter -> Noise -> Add Noise. The amount you enter will heavily modify the amount of rain in our final image. If you enter too much, the effect will look pretty unrealistic. I'm going for 25%, which is a nice, balanced number. When you've got your noise, go to Filter -> Blur -> Motion Blur. Here is the part where we decide if we want drizzle or thunderous, monsoon rain. Since we're going to be adding a lightning effect, it might be best to go with heavier rain.


Set the angle to 45 degrees and set the blur amount to 50 pixels. This will create a diagonal streak effect that already looks a little like rain. When you've done this, press CTRL & A to select our layer, and then press CTRL & C to copy it. Minimise this document for the time being and go back to your Sylar / Cutout file. Press CTRL & V to Paste our rain effect onto our image. Make sure you paste it above the rest of your layers, and be sure to move it around a little so that you're using the centre of our rain layer and not the edges.


Set this layer's blending mode to Lighten, and our effect is already taking shape:




n order to create our animated rain effect, we want to repeat this process a few times. Essentially, our rain effect will be multiple rain layers cycling between each other to create a random, streak effect. I would recommend four layers minimum for a random effect, although you can use as many layers as you like.


The end result will be enormous if you use too many frames at this size. Consider this when making your rain layers; too many will result in a gigantic filesize for our end result.

Repeat the process of creating our rain layer four or five times and set all their blending modes to lighten. This will make our image look pretty bad, but now comes the fun part of animating it. With your rain layers ready and set to lighten, go to File -> Jump To -> Adobe Image Ready to switch over to Image Ready. Create three new frames in your animation by pressing the new frame button. If you made more than four rain layers, create however many you need, minus one (because one's already made for you!) To animate our rain, we're going to set only one layer of our rain effect visible per frame, and cycle through them. Click on the first frame. In the layer's tab, hide all rain layers except the first one by clicking on their eye icons.


Click on the second frame. In the layers tab, set the second rain layer to visible by clicking on it and hide the first layer by pressing the eye icon. Repeat this process for however many rain layers you decided to make, ensuring you hide the previous layers. If you don't, more than one layer will show which will spoil our effect.


If you press the play button you can marvel at your rain! It looks nifty and realistic, especially when used with darker backgrounds and images. Unfortunately, it's coming down a little fast! We can fix this quite easily. Holding down CTRL, click on all of your frames. Where it has a time written (in my case, "0 sec", but your default might be different), click on it to bring up the times menu. At the bottom, click "Other" and enter 0.04 into the timer window.


At this point we've finished our rain effect! You can raise or lower the opacity of the rain layers to raise or lower the intensity of the rain, but this is entirely down to your personal preference. Your finished result should look like this image: Our Finished Animated Rain Sylar.



In the third and final part of this tutorial we're going to add a lightning effect and light Sylar up in time with the lightning bolts. Part Three: Add Animated Lightning


In the previous two tutorials, Animate a Person with Rain and Lightning and Adding Animated Rain to Images, we showed you how to cutout any photograph and set it on a background, ready it for some animated storm effects and then add the animated rain in. In the final part of this series, we're going to add some animated lightning and make our person flash in time with the lightning strokes.


Creating the Lightning

Rather than create a lightning effect from scratch, we're going to use a stock photo of lightning. Sometimes, stock photography is the way to go, especially when trying to imitate real life effects. I will write a tutorial on how to create lightning from scratch in the future, but that's for a completely seperate tutorial. Anywho, I digress. Search online for a nice lightning photograph with a black or dark background and copy it into your image. 


Paste this lightning layer below your cutout and rain layers and set it's blending mode to Color Dodge. If you used a large image, be sure to scale it down to a realistic level. Once you've sorted the lightning, your image should now look like this:




We're now going to work on making this animated. We're not going to make it move. We're going to use a clever little trick to make it appear like it's moving, when in actual fact it's simply flashing. We need to duplicate our lightning layer four times. To do this, press CTRL & J. Once you've done that, it'll look pretty bad; but don't worry, only one will be visible at a time. The next few steps will refer to editing specific layers; hide all the others by clicking their eye icon when working on one layer.


Set the Opacity of the bottom lightning layer to 50%. Set the Opacity of the layer above it to 100%. Then with the last three layers, set their Opacity to 75%, 50%, 25%. If we made the animation now, our lightning would flash but would not appear to move. We're going to erase parts of the last layer to give our lightning a less stationary appearance. On the layer at 25% Opacity, erase the top half of the lightning, being creative with your brushstrokes as you reach the forks of the lightning. Use a smallish brush, about 30 in size, and make sure it's feathered. When you've erased this, it should look a little like this:




On the layer set to 50% Opacity, repeat the above step but erase less of the lightning away. Use the same creative brushstrokes so that it looks a little like this when finished:




On the layer set to 75% Opacity, repeat the above steps but erase even less of the lightning away. Be sure to apply the same creative brushstrokes so that it doesn't look like somebody's erased half the lightning away. You can even add in your own little strokes for some creativity at this point. The layer at 75% should look like this:




The only modification we'll do to the layer set to 100% Opacity is to erase it's edges slightly. When the Opacity is lowered, the edges of our image aren't visible. Since this layer is set to 100%, though, we can faintly see them. Take your eraser tool and erase along the edges to smooth it out a little.


Creating the Flash


Now we're going to create the flash that will light up our image in time with the lightning. It's similar to the lightning in the sense that we meddle with multiple layers and their opacity, but we're simply going to use a level layer mask at the top of our image and modify it's opacity per frame.


To create this, click the little half moon icon in the layers window on the top layer. From the drop down box, choose Levels. In the options that come up, enter Input Levels: 0, 1.00, 1.25 - Output Levels: 0, 255. With the Levels layer mask applied, all layers below it will be applied with this effect; an effect that will increase the vibrancy and brightness of our image. With this layer active and the 100% Lightning image visible, our image now looks like this:




Whenever lightning strikes, the sky always lights up. Our Levels mask is raising the vibrancy already, but the sky itself isn't flashing. To fix this, we're going to add a gradient to the clouds. Create a new layer above the cut out of your person, but below the shadow used to darken them. We're going to set white as our foreground colour first; press D then X. D resets the colour palette and X swaps the colours round.


Select the gradient tool and choose the second type of gradient in the drop down menu; it should look like a white fading triangle. With this gradient selected, move your mouse cursor just below the top of the image and hold down the left mouse button with shift. Move the mouse to just below the lighter part of your image and let go. This will shade the top half of our image. It's too bright, however, so we'll lower the opacity of this layer. 50% is the perfect amount. Our image will then look like this:




Now Comes the Animation


With everything set, we're ready to animate out image now. We're going to apply the various opacity settings and visibility settings to the layers we've made to put this animated storm together. Once again, go to File -> Jump To -> Adobe Image Ready to switch back to Image Ready. The four frames we made before with the rain effect should still be there; create another 8 frames. This will give us plenty of room to work with our animation.


On frame five, set the first rain layer to visible and hide the rest. On the sixth frame, set the second layer of rain to visible and hide the rest, and on the seventh... and so forth. This will make sure our rain is still cycling whilst we create the lightning effect.


On frame five, we want to set the first lightning layer we made (the one at 50% opacity where we deleted none of it) and set it to visible. Make sure the rest are set to invisible. Also, hide the Levels layer mask we made earlier. On Frames 1-4, make sure that the lightning effect and every other effect is hidden. Now activate the gradient layer we made and set it to visible. Lower it's opacity to about 10%.


On frame six, hide the lightning layer we just used and activate / unhide the 100% opacity unedited one. Raise the opacity of the gradient layer slightly, and activate the levels layer mask we made earlier. Set this layer's opacity to about 50-60%. Ensure every other frame of our effect is hidden so it doesn't interfere with what we're making.


On frame seven, hide all lightning layers except the 75% one. Lower the opacity of the levels layer mask significantly and lower the opacity of the gradient as well. On my seventh frame, the gradient is set to 30% opacity and the Levels layer mask set to 35%. On the eighth layer, hide all lightning layers except the 50% and lower the opacity of the gradient again. Hide the levels layer mask; we won't be using this again.


When working with animations, try to avoid deleting layers at all times. Deleting a layer will delete that layer from all frames!

On the ninth frame, hide the rest of the lightning... etc, I'm sure we've established the pattern by now. Hide all of the lightning layers except the 25% one, lower the gradient a lot, to about 5-10%. The final three layers should be left alone; there should be a little period of time between the lightning otherwise it'll just continuously flash.


Sit back and enjoy pressing the play button. Your animation should cycle through. You'll see rain and a flash of lightning, and the sky and Sylar / your cutout should flash up. Pretty neat effect! That's the end of this tutorial. We've learnt how to (briefly) cutout a person from a photograph, add them to a dark and nighttime scene, prepare the background for our storm animation, create the rain, then add some lightning and a white flash to go with it.


This is obviously a tutorial, so I didn't create that epic an animation to go with this. With a lot of time and hard work, you can create some really astounding results with this technique. Just be sure to consider filesize whilst you're doing so, because it's always a factor! If you liked this tutorial, be sure to have a browse around our site. Plenty of excellent tutorials and links to help you further.


Leave us a comment with your results if you work through this tutorial, we would love to see your results. If you have any suggestions for improvements as well, be sure to add them!


Here's my final animation:






Photoshop Tutorials at Identify Design.

Written by Woody.



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