From to or
Program: Photoshop CS3
Difficulty: Easy [I've taken care to explain every step that might confuse those who are still new to Photoshop]
Number of steps: 23 [+1 optional]
Translatable: Unfortunately no, since it uses several Selective Color layers.
This icon came entirely as a fluke, an odd child resulted from the combination of some tutorial steps illustrated on good_tutorial (a community that I highly recommend, to beginners and veterans, alike, since it contains an ungodly amount of information about digital image modification) and wacky additions on my part. Still, the result was interesting enough that I thought I might just share it with others, letting them modify the steps and applying them to their own images.
The first thing one can notice about this image is just how dark, drab and dull it is -- I can't much stand working with such bases, since lighting them up usually washes out the color even more, while attempting to boost it up via selective coloring causes an ungodly amount of pixelation if the screen-cap isn't top-notch DVD quality (and even then I've had all sorts of problems). My advice in this case would be to not try this method unless you have a very good quality image, because not many caps can withstand the brutality of screening and coloring, it would seem.
First thing's first -- prepare the base by cropping it however you wish and resizing it to 100 x 100 pixels [Image ---> Image Size or Press Ctrl + Alt + I] I generally prefer to work with it at full size for as long as possible, since my eyesight is rather poor and I can't quite notice the more subtle changes in an icon-sized image.
Now, we can brighten it up in three ways -- Screen layers, Curves or Levels. I used to apply only Screen layers when I first started making icons, since they're a very easy tool to use. The downside, however, is the fact that they tend to wash out the image even more, further reducing contrast and color intensity. This is the reason why Curves and Levels are preferable -- they brighten up the image, while preserving a good amount of contrast and color vibrancy, if the input and output numbers are adjusted to the specific characteristics of the screen-cap. In this case, you should open up a new Levels layer [Layer ---> New Adjustment Layer ---> Levels]
The particular settings for this image were taken from this on the good_tutorial LJ community. They're pretty generic, so they work well with just about any dark image. However, I advise you to modify them if the result isn't satisfactory, for some reason or other (such as in the case of a dark image that still has some bright spots -- with the current input, those would become jarringly intense) In the case of my image, the numbers worked just fine, so I left them as they were.
RGB Channel: 11 1.25 202
Red Channel: 0 1.00 233
Green Channel: 0 1.00 233
Blue Channel: 0 1.00 231
This brightened image will now act as the new base. However, I don't recommend merging the layers, in case you might want to modify them later on. For this reason, press SHIFT+ALT+CTRL+E. This creates a merged copy of the two layers, while leaving them entirely unmodified and still present in the workspace. Here you can make a number of small modifications to the image, with the filters (apply a blur or a sharpen filter, if you see a need for it: [Filter ---> Blur ---> Blur or Filter ---> Sharpen ---> Sharpen]) I left this image as it was, since I didn't want a blurry look at the moment -- sharpening was completely out of the question, since the selective coloring used later on would have given the icon a very grainy look.
Here I've used a Screen layer, since the icon is still too dark and this tool is the easiest to use in working with lighting levels. [Right-click the new base ---> Duplicate Layer ---> Change the blending mode to Screen]. Still, keeping in mind what was said earlier, adjust the opacity of the layer so that it doesn't end up bleaching the small bits of color that you're trying to preserve. I set this one at 50%.
Next, a dark-blue Exclusion layer. These are very useful when dealing with an image that contains skin-tones which need improving, since it tends to give them a warm, natural look. The only problem that you might encounter would be in an image that contains a good deal of blacks, which would catch a decidedly bluish tint due to this step. [Layer ---> New Fill Layer ---> Solid Color] In this case, I chose #02031a and set the layer to 50% opacity.
Even if it got brightened a bit, the image has lost a good deal of its contrast and depth. For this reason, go back to the base made at Step 03, duplicate it and set the new layer at Soft Light. This boosts up the contrast a good deal and gets rid of the washed out effect, but it can also darken the image substantially -- reason why you should adjust the layer's opacity to the needs of your icon. Over here, I set it at around 70%.
The lack of color vibrancy in this image is simply annoying. For this reason, there is a very serious need for a Hue/Saturation layer. [Layer ---> New Adjustment Layer ---> Hue/Saturation] Fiddle with the settings until the color levels seem just right for your image. In this one, I used the following:
The reason why I reduced the blues so drastically here (bringing them to the value before the application of the Hue/Saturation layer) is because they were responsible for the sky turning an ugly, eye-searing magenta color. Since I want Yubel-Johan to be the focus of the picture, the neon-sky had to go.
Another step taken from the earlier tutorial. This might seem very counter-intuitive, but a darkening layer wouldn't hurt at this stage, since while the colors have been brightened, they'll need to have a bit of depth to them later on, when the image will be lightened up even further. As with the Exclusion layer, create a color fill layer [Layer ---> New Fill Layer ---> Solid Color]. A light, natural-looking peach (#f3e0bf) is the best choice, since it doesn't darken too much and gives the color a bit more power. Set the new layer to Color Burn blending mode and play around with the opacity, until you're satisfied. I set it at 50%.
Again, taken from the tutorial above. Yubel-Johan's robe and face are still pretty discolored, reason why another color-fill layer isn't a bad idea at all. Duplicate the previous one and set it to Multiply blending mode, making sure to greatly reduce the opacity, otherwise it will be very difficult to lighten the icon up later on. I set my opacity at 30%.
I wasn't satisfied by the somewhat pasty look of his skin, so I duplicated the Multiply layer again, erasing every part of it except for the area corresponding to Yubel-Johan's face. Still, it seemed rather dark, so I lowered the opacity to 18%. Use this step if you consider it necessary.
A new Levels adjustment layer, since the icon's gone south again. Here I needed something that lightened the overall image, made the colors pop out some more and gave it the contrast that it was seriously missing. My settings are the following: (they tend to have rather dramatic effects on images, so try to modify them or change the opacity of the layer if they create something eye-searing)
RGB Channel: 15 1.00 232
Red Channel: 12 1.00 247
Green Channel: 9 1.00 245
Blue Channel: 8 1.00 240
The image is much brighter and clearer than the original base, but it still needs more work. The first problem is the weak lighting, while the second is the painfully orange color of his eyes, in jarring contrast with the more muted tones of everything else. There are a number of options here: Curves for more brightening, Channel Mixer for color manipulation and enhancement, Selective Color for the very same, plus a boost in brightness. I'm still very inexperienced when it comes to using the Channel Mixer option, so I usually rely on the Selective Color option when it comes to altering the color makeup of an image and/or lighting it up. The downside of this is that the tutorial isn't translatable to PSP, GIMP or any other image-manipulation program that doesn't have a similar function included.
This layer doesn't change all that much -- it only boosts up the color in Yubel-Johan's face, eyes and cape by manipulating the reds, cyans and whites in the image, adding or subtracting a particular type of color from their composition.
Another Selective Color layer. By now, the problems are obvious -- too little progress when it comes to the brightness level and a far too vivid orange when compared to the color intensity in the rest of the image. This next layer should take care of that, to an extent:
Most of the manipulated colors were in the Neutrals section, in this case. The interesting trick with Selective Color is that any potential mistake made in the specific color sections can be quickly corrected by reducing that particular color in Neutrals, just as too little of a color can be corrected from the same section. Another interesting aspect in regards to Neutrals is the fact that an image can be brightened when inputting negative color values in this window, just as it can be darkened and over-saturated when increasing the numbers to positive values. In this case, the orange eyes soften quite a bit and the icon lightens up at the expense of only a slight drop in color in other areas.
The icon is far too blue right now -- something that will be adjusted through Selective Color as well, since it's an easy tool to use when it comes to color-manipulation.
The most obvious change is brought about by the significant modifications in the Neutrals section again. There's an excess of red and magenta right now, but at least almost all of the dark blue has disappeared from where it shouldn't be and the image is beginning to look a tad more natural. I reduced the Black value in Neutrals in order to keep the overall combination from turning dark and painfully intense once more -- this is a useful step when you want to reduce the darkness of any particular color used by the Selective Color tool.
This step does little more than reduce a bit of the intensity of the reds within the image, by increasing the cyan value a bit. Use it only if the image benefits from it.
As nice as this bright look appears after all that earlier gloom, the truth is that the icon is over-saturated with shades of red right now. Some might like this particular coloring, but I try to keep some amount of diversity in an image, reason why some of the earlier blues must return, albeit much reduced and without darkening the icon again. A final Selective Color layer is the most indicated tool.
Again, the significant modifications are made in the Neutrals section, with the shades of blue brought out by increasing the cyan value, reducing magenta and yellow and boosting up the blacks in order to offer some more vibrancy after the earlier brightening.
The colors look pretty nice right now and you can very-well leave it at this. However, I have something of a mania for light textures. They're very useful when it comes to modifying or emphasizing the direction from which the light emanates in an icon. Over here I initially went against the current, applying this texture set to Screen, opacity 100%, in order to give the cliff-face next to Yubel-Johan a small splash of color -- a reddish hue, in this case, since it goes well with the predominant light blue and cyan tones.
Textures can be somewhat tricky for beginners (I had an immense amount of trouble when it came to using them) reason why I'll go into a bit of detail here. In order to use a texture in Photoshop, open it up in the program, then follow these steps: [Edit ---> Define Pattern] This will open a little dialog box with the texture in question, prompting you if you really want to set it as a default pattern in Photoshop's gallery. After defining it, if you want to apply the texture in question, follow these steps: [Layer ---> New Fill Layer ---> Pattern] Choose the desired pattern/texture from the presented list and it will be applied within a new layer, allowing you to edit it, move it around, adjust the blending mode or the opacity.
In this case, I set the texture to Screen, opacity 100%.
I wanted a bit more brightness in the case of the earlier texture, reason why I duplicated it, set it to Screen once again and lowered the opacity level to 51%. Do this if it will look good on your icon.
Since I was on a roll, I decided that a bit more brightness in that area couldn't really hurt -- reason why I took this texture and set it to Soft Light, opacity 20%. The change is almost imperceptible, but it was enough for me.
The image may have lightened up, but it's still decidedly muddled and lacking in depth. Some more brightness couldn't hurt it either. A relatively easy tool to use, in this case (albeit one that can wreck an image if it's abused) is the Brightness/Contrast layer [Layer ---> New Adjustment Layer ---> Brightness/Contrast]. By modifying the numbers in this field, the lightness of an image can be easily decreased or increased, much as a Screen layer would do. The advantage here is that the degree of modification is a bit more easy to control. The same goes for the Contrast option, which increases the vibrancy of the color and creates a more noticeable difference between the dark and light parts of an icon. The modifications that I made here were subtle:
The colors needed a bit of a kick again. However, I wasn't willing to use another Selective Color or Hue/Saturation layer (and I'm certain that you're sick of them as well). A very simple trick in the case where you want a uniform darkening of the color is to fill a color layer with #000000 [solid black] and set it to Soft Light, adjusting the opacity in accordance to the effect you want it to have on the image. The opposite can be used as well -- a darker image can be lightened by applying a layer filled with #ffffff [solid white] and setting it on Soft Light, with adjusting the opacity. I didn't use this step here because Levels generally give a much greater amount of control, allowing the light areas to be brightened and the darker ones to keep some of their intensity (something which isn't available in a white Soft Light layer's case).
I set the opacity for this layer at 10%.
There's still a bit of a muddled look to this image, caused by the repeated modifications that it's been put through. This is solved easily enough -- duplicate the modified base from Step 03 again, desaturate it [Image ---> Adjustments ---> Desaturate] and set it to Soft Light. The desaturation process makes certain that it doesn't modify the current color-scheme of the icon by adding its own colors on top of it, while also reducing a bit of their intensity if needed. You can make small modifications here as well -- sharpen or blur, if there's a need for it and if the icon appears able to withstand the process. Finally, adjust the opacity again, in order to not end up with far too much contrast.
I set it to 41% opacity.
Most of the modification process is done, but even with a base duplication, the icon looks incomplete and lacks a good deal of the clear sharpness of each individual color that I would have liked to see. This can be resolved easily as well -- go back to the Levels layer in Step 10, duplicate it, drag it to the top and adjust its opacity according to the needs of the image. It should make the colors appear decidedly clear and fresh, if they didn't before. Use this step only if it doesn't make your icon look painfully intense.
The opacity for this layer was set at 70%.
[Optional] Step 24:
At this point, I was entirely satisfied with the colors, but I couldn't help observing something -- in my haste to add a dash of color to that cliff, I had gone in completely the other direction when compared to the icon's natural light-source! The bright spot created by the textures isn't strong enough as to create a disjointed feeling, but I was curious how the end result would look if I flipped the image itself around. Click on the original base and then follow these steps: [Image ---> Rotate Canvas ---> Flip Canvas Horizontal] This step isn't necessary if you like the result as it is or if your image's light-source already corresponds with the position of the textures.
And that's about it. I'm convinced that someone with more experience in this field can produce something similar by skipping probably half the steps in this tutorial :) Still, since working with dark bases can be so difficult and frustrating, I thought I might share this, since the end result was a pleasing one. I must stress something at the end, though (regardless of the fact that I've been repeating it throughout the tutorial): don't use the same values that I've used unless you see by trial-and-error that they happen to work for your particular image. Try to be as creative as possible -- delete layers if their disappearance improves the final result, modify numbers and opacities in order to fit each color scheme. This is intended more as a general guide in regards to dark anime screen-caps -- if it works word-for-word for another image, I would be very pleased, but I doubt that there are many images which share the same color palette as this one. Use the tutorial by adapting it to the icon that you're working on, in order to get the best results.