Create a fantasy-horror scene in Photoshop

Create a fantasy-horror scene in Photoshop

Today I’ll drive you through the process of making a fantasy horror scene in Photoshop. We will use some of our grunge textures to realize the background scene, several Photoshop filters to create light effects and we will turn the picture of an innocent child into a diabolic character. I’ll show you how the liquify filter can be used to modify face lineaments. Inspiration derives from horror movie posters design. Are you ready to enter in the dark horror world?


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Step 1

Let’s start creating a new A3 document in Photoshop.

new document in photoshop

Step 2

We want to create a dark grunge background. The best way is to combine a uni-color layer with an overlayed texture. Let’s start setting background color to a dark grey. Right-click on the background layer and select “blending options”. Here add a color overlay (#3d3d3d).

color overlay

Step 3

To create the grunge effect I’ve decided to use one of our Old Dirty Paper Textures. Open one of the textures in Photoshop and desaturate it by pressing shift+Ctrl+U. Set the layer blending mode to overlay. Select both the background and the texture layer and group them by pressing ctrl+G. Title this group “background”.

grunge background

Step 4

To create the floor we will use another of our textures. Download the Bleached Paper texture set and choose one of the texture. Paste it into the main Photoshop canvas. Desaturate it (Image>Adjustments>Desaturate) and invert image colors by pressing ctrl+I.

bleached paper texture

Step 5

To create the idea of perspective, press ctrl+T to activate the free transform tool, and squash the texture by dragging the top-center anchor point lower down.

reduce texture height

Step 6

Move the floor down. Remember that we don’t want to create an obtrusive element, but a soft floor where to put on the “magic book”.


Step 7

Download the image of an open book. I’ve used the pen tool to extract it, but you can use the extraction method you prefer. Anyway after removed the background paste the book into the main canvas.

Note: if you want to learn more about Photoshop extraction techniques, take a look at this article: 6 techniques to extract anything from its background.


Step 8

The book needs a grunge look. The first thing to do is to grab the burn tool (O) and start painting over the book to darken it in some points. Secondly press ctrl+M to open curves window. Here create an anchor point an move it to the bottom-right side to darken more the book and increase its color contrasts. Finally duplicate the book layer and set the duplicated layer blending mode on “multiply” with opacity 50%.

book modified

Step 9

Create a new blank layer below all the book layers and title it “shadow”. To create book shadows effects select a black soft (hardness 0%) brush and gentle paint at the bottom of the book. Instead of create shadows on a single layer, I suggest you to create several spots on different layers playing with their opacity levels. In this way you’ll have more control on the final result.

book shadow

Step 10

As we made with the book, use the burn tool and curves to darken a little bit the floor:

darken the floor

Step 11

At this point we can introduce the main character of our composition. I downloaded the image of a child from Shutterstock. If you don’t want to download a premium image, you can easily find free images of kids on sites like stock.xchng or morgueFile. In alternative you can use one of your photos.


Step 12

Let’s start modifying the kid image. Apply curves (ctrl+M) to darken it. Duplicate the image, then got o filter>other>high pass and enter a value of 8 pixels. Set this layer blend mode to overlay. High pass filter is often used to give a sort of HDR look to your photos.


Step 13

Select all the child layers and press alt+ctrl+E to merge them into a new layer. We will work on this layer and, in case you won’t be satisfied after played with some filters, you can delete the layer at any moment and merge again child layers. Let’s modify the face, starting from the brows. We will eliminate them. Grab the patch tool (J) and select them. Drag the selection up to the forehead. The patch tool basically replaces selected pixels with the ones of the area where you move the selection.

patch tool

Step 14

My favorite way to transform people lineaments is by using the liquify filter. Go to Filter>Liquify. In the new window we have some tools that can be used to distort the face. You only have to decide where to apply the filters. For example my first idea is to enlarge child eyes. If you want to do the same, grab the Bloat tool, set a brush size great enough to cover the entire eye and click a couple of time on it.

bloat tool

Step 15

Another thing I want to modify is the mouth. Practically  I want to transform child mood from peaceful to sad :-(. It’s possible using the Forward warp tool. Decrease the brush size and move the ends of the lips lower down.

move lips lower down

Step 16

Child face is almost complete. The last refinements can be added using burn and dodge tool. Use the burn tool to darken the areas around the eyes, so that the child looks like she hadn’t slept for weeks. Use the dodge tool to lighten the other parts of the face. Here is the child face before and after transformation with the liquify filter:

before and after

Step 17

Another change: we can now lighten child eyes so that they will stand out from the dark grunge scene. To do it let’s use the dodge tool to paint over child eyes:

lighten eyes

Step 18

Let’s switch again to the liquify filter (Filter>Liquify). This time use the pucker tool to decrease pupil size.


Step 19

Here is the result after worked around the eyes. I’ve applied a second time the dodge tool to darken eyes edges.

dark child

Step 20

Duplicate the child layer and apply the high pass filter (Filter>Other>High pass). Create a mask and and use a soft black brush to erase over the areas you want to enhance. For example the face, the upper side of the arms etc. This step will give a dirty look to the child. Here is my result:

high pass result

Step 21

The last touch to the child: download our Old Paper Textures Vol2 set. For this tutorial I’ve used one of the textures available in the free sample, while if you want the entire set plus hundreds of premium design resources, you can register and get access to all our premium areas without restrictions. Grab the texture and paste it above the child:

old paper texture

Step 22

Set the layer blending mode to overlay and reduce opacity to around 40%.

texture to overlay

Step 23

With the texture layer still selected, ctrl+click on the child layer thumbnail in the layers window (window>layers)to select child pixels. Then press the “add layer mask” button at the bottom of the layers window to create a layer mask and remove all parts of the texture that exceed child silhouette.

texture masked

Step 24

Create a new group above all the other layers and title it “light 1″. Create a blank layer inside the group. Then grab a soft rounded white brush and paint some spots. Take in mind that we are going to create light effects so create these spots in the areas you want to enhance (in the center). As I suggested before, create these light effects on several layers, using different brush sizes and setting different opacity values (from 15% to 30%).

light effects 1

Step 25

Make sure to have black and white as foreground and background colors (press D). create a new layer and go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Press alt+ctrl+F to increase filter strength.

clouds 1

Step 26

Set the layer to screen to eliminate black areas. Reduce the layer opacity to 40%. Grab the eraser tool (or create a mask if you prefer) and erase exceeding parts of the clouds, in particular along the edges of the canvas. Eliminate them using a large soft brush until you have a soft cloud effect around the child:

cloud effect

Step 27

Create a new group, switch group blend mode to “Color Dodge” and title it “light 2″. Here we will create abstract light effects. How to create them? We will use a useful Photoshop filter. Let’s start creating a new layer inside the group. Fill it with black. Grab a large white soft brush and create a spot in a casual point.

light spot

You may notice 2 things: how strong the light effects is, and that black areas don’t appear. Both effects are caused by “color dodge” blending mode. To turn this light spot into an abstract, more complex light effect go to filter>distort>wave. Basically the wave generator allow you to create abstract forms or distort existing ones, depending by a series of values that you can set up in the wave window.

wave window

The trick is: after applied the filter the first time, press ctrl+F to apply the same filter again. You can notice that light form changes. Press ctrl+F to apply the filter again and again until you obtain nice abstract swirls:

apply again the same filter

Step 28

Now that we have the light effect, we can collocate it wherever we prefer. For example I’ve put the first one at the top of child right arm. Remember that you can modify these abstract forms eliminating parts in excess with the erase tool (or creating a mask and using a black brush).

light effect 1

Step 29

Using the same technique, create several light effects and put them around the child as shown in the screenshot below:

all light effects

Step 30

The tutorial is almost complete. It’s time for final adjustments. Adjustments layer shall be collocated on top of all other layers. Start adding a hue/saturation layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation) and reduce saturation to -50.


Step 31

Add a gradient map layer with a gradient going from purple (#050342) to orange (#ff7c00) and set the layer blending mode to overlay with opacity 60%.

gradient map

Step 32

Finished! The last (I promise!) touch could be to create a blank layer at the top of the background group, and use a black soft brush to cover some parts of the grunge texture we’ve used for the background. In this way we can eliminate all those distracting elements of the texture. Here is the final result! Hope you love this dark little witch;-)


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(+add yours)
  1. Nice work, Sebastiano. A lot can be learnt from Photomanipulation tutorials. I can spot your works from a long distance… You’ve got a trademark touch to your designs.. Good work

  2. Such a nice work . Great Thanks for sharing these one…

  3. Spooky, Very nicely done

  4. Matteo Pontonutti

    Excellent tutorial and a fantastic end result! I got lost at the wave filter step though.. i follow your instructions but the shapes created don’t resemble yours. Great job though, thank you!

    • Thanks Matteo,
      Wave filter gives always different results. Just experiment and you’ll surely obtain nice results.

  5. Dawid

    Amazing job man, rss +

  6. Freak Screamo

    that awesome man :D .. how was ur start on that? mean what’s make u talent in that? that really amazing keep it up :)

    • Hi mate,
      Thanks for your kind words. I’m going to publish a detailed article on how to become a self-taught graphic designer, so stay tuned ;-)

  7. From where could I buy his talent ? It’s freaky awsome amazing and little bit scary (for me) :P – my works at cheers :)

  8. Great tutorial.. spooky but very fun to read. Where did you find that girl photo to use? .. I’d hate to know if this was my daughter lol.

  9. that’s pretty awesome :D

  10. hai

    tuyet voi

  11. you did excellent work in this beautiful tutorial. thanks

  12. Could you send me the pictures to make this tut.?
    A lot of thanks =D

  13. Woah!! really awesome effects there. And a good tut too!

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  14. tafartelt

    Very Interesting!
    Thank You!

  15. Awesome, I learned a lot from this tutorial. I like how you explain why we are doing what we are doing so we can know for future projects.

  16. Aljosa

    Thanx a lot…i’ve used different picture of a little girl that i found on the web (lower resolution though :( ), and yes , wave filter works out different way, but never the less, the result is pretty good, especially if you experiment a little with the blur and photo filter….excellent tutorial, really helpful, especially for a complete beginner like myself :) … can’t wait for that article! :)

  17. Uh, scary. Right tutorial for this time of year.

  18. I wanted to let you know I included a link to this tutorial in my blog post here @

  19. hey Sebastiano,

    I am really scared… but a nice tutorial.. So we can see some more horror fantasies in 2011.

  20. Really useful tutorial… Thanks… and I’m waiting the new ones.

  21. Wicked tutorial. This post is great. Thanks for sharing..

  22. A cute kid turned into a scary little girl. You did a great tutorial. Great share.

  23. A very detailed progression of creating this scene. Great end result after a well thought out tutorial. The transformation from the original photo to the finished one is quite dramatic.

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  25. this tutorial is cool. i love to follow every step. Hoping more post to come.
    view mine

  26. Shalvi

    Superb !

  27. Anne Racioppi

    this was a fantastic tutorial. i really learned a lot and i definitely agree with another comment about being able to spot your style. i love photo manipulations, texture, and fantasy as well so it has been a great experience on this site to have high quality tutorials/textures/resources in my favorite style of design. :)

  28. teja99

    Hey!!!!!Nice work……..and an excellent tutorial. But I am having a small problem and the end when we have to gradient map layer. The gradient map layer takes all over the pic instead of just one part as shown in your pic

  29. Excellent tutorial, This will help with my new adobe software

  30. really awesome man..!! I become fan of your website… appreciate you hard work…!! shared your article..

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  50. John

    Hi Sebastiano! I adore this image. I just sent you an email about using it on a book cover. Hope to hear from you soon.


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