How to create an energy sci-fi scene in Photoshop

How to create an energy sci-fi scene in Photoshop

Today we will use Photoshop to combine 3D renders with stock images and light effects. The creative process is not so easy to be turned into a tutorial, so I won’t go into details. This is an unconventional Photoshop tutorial because it is focused more on the process rather then the technique.

I don’t think that a 100 steps tutorial is so useful to the community. From my point of view a tutorial should be focused on a specific technique. It’s the learner that shall  combine several techniques into a complex work. Today tutorial is the result of 6 working hours so it was difficult for me to screenshot every step. This is why I preferred to show only the main phases of my work-flow.

Preview of the result:


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Close Ups:

Support material:

The idea behind the design

Before start working with Photoshop, I prefer to fix ideas on paper. What do I want to realize? A kind of superhero. I’m working hard to achieve a personal style and I’m oriented on energy style images with light and abstract effects. So I decided that the focus of the work had to be a supernatural man.

After chosen the theme, it’s time to find nice images. Normally I use 2 sites to download stock images: iStockphoto which is my favorite one, and 123rf, which is more economical ;-). After having searched for a while, I downloaded two images of the same model. This is because I realized that one of the images could be used as reference while creating light effects.

(the inspirational image is “Cry of Emotion” by Zach Bush)
Creating the background

I wanted to create a dark background to enhance light effects. Then I came across the image of an abandoned castle. It’s perfect. But how to transform this light photo into a dark background? First I duplicated the layer and set the blend mode to multiply. Then I duplicated again the layer, but this time the blending mode was set to overlay. Now it’s time to play with adjustment layers. We want to apply these adjustments only on those areas that may distract the user capturing his attention (the windows for example). So grab the lasso tool and select one of these areas. Then go to Layer>New adjustment layer>Levels and make the area darker. The way to achieve the best result is to use a combination of some adjustments (curves, levels,brightness…).

In order to complete the background we can use a black soft brush to obscure windows and the burn tool for the light on the floor. Remember: a work must have a focus. Since I decided the focus has to be in the center (the superhero), other elements that capture the attention, even if they are nice (the window on the top-left for example) has to be eliminated.

The superhero

After modified the background, we can insert the man. I used the pen tool to extract his silhouette. Then I positioned him in the center of the canvas. When I work with images of people, I usually start increasing the contrast. In this case I also want to enhance the details. If you observe the image of the dude, you can notice a strong muscle structure with highlights areas and shadows. I’m sure that more contrast and the sharpen filter will give a nice result. In order to give a more dramatic look to the superhero I used the Topaz Adjust plugin.

3D renders

At this point I decided to integrate 3d abstract renders into the piece. There’s not a particular reason. After inserted some 3d elements into the work I realized I had a proper connection. Notice the outer glow around the renders: it is obtained duplicating the render and applying the gaussian blur filter. Since we have to respect the way light covers the man it’s important a correct use of the burn tool to make some parts of the renders darker, doing the same for the man’s body.

Light effects

The light effect could seem difficult to be created. The truth is that you only needs a lot of patience: I used only smoke brushes. After have created a new layer, I simply click with the brush. Observing the form of the smoke you can choose a part of it, isolate and use the part to highlight the edges of the body. The reference body is the other image of the same dude, that I extracted and pasted into the piece. This process is more difficult to explain rather than to realize. This is why I made a brief screencast that shows how to achieve the result. To create the radial effect I first merged all the layers with smoke brushes into a new layer (shift+alt+ctrl+E) and then applied the radial blur.

How to create light effects in Photoshop from wegraphics on Vimeo.

Last refinements

The most difficult thing to do working with lots of images is to create a color harmony. Fortunately Photoshop helps us with powerful tools. At the end of a work, I generally apply final adjustments layers. In this case, for example, I applied a gradient map layer at the top of all the other layers, and set the blending mode to overlay. You can notice a more homogeneous color result after the gradient map.


This tutorial explains the creative process behind this work. As you noticed, there is often a simple technique behind complex result. The best way to understand how Photoshop works is practice, sometimes with the help of a tutorial. I hope the suggestions provided in this post will be useful for you.


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(+add yours)
  1. Great Tutorial, I love the final result, Perhaps the original corpse should be a little more align with the light corpse.

    Just Stumble Up

    • Thanks Thomas! I put the light effect more on the left because I tried to follow light orientation on human body (light on the left and shadow on the right).

  2. Just for info, what software do you use for the video part ?

  3. This is great. Good Work.

  4. Superb work. Hope I’ll get it right too. thanks.

  5. Very interesting and effective effects. Thank you for sharing I will have to experiment and follow your tutorial.

  6. Justin

    How did you make the Super man dude like that?
    thats what i wanted to learn

    • Hi Justin,
      It’s explained into the article

      • Justin

        I looked up and down through the article and all I seen about the superhero guy was the drawing of it. I want to know, how did you make his soul.

      • Justin there is a chapter titled “light effect” + a video that shows how I created them.
        The soul was realized using smoke brushes. As the video shows, I isolated parts of smoke that I use to replace human body.

  7. Aj

    Very creative indeed, I admire your work Sir! hope you don’t mind can you also make a tutorial on the inspiration girl? thanks!

  8. Amazing work.

  9. jon

    can someone please make a tutorial of this (cry of emotion)

  10. dru

    Agreed with Jon. You showed us how to do a small worthless part on the chin but you had a white smoked outline of a guy ALREADY THERE!. :\ Understand what we’re saying? The tutorial doesn’t show use how you got from the normal guy to the white ghost outline. Too bad. The end result is awesome but the tutorial is worthless without a better explanation of this.

    • Everything is explained in the video

    • Nome

      Agreed with the two people above (Jon and Dru). The video tutorial doesn’t explain the transformation from a regular man to a complete soul-like structure. You have said you used the smoke brushes, but you haven’t explained how you got the entire man to change to that. And nobody can hear your voice over that loud music. I have a Photoshop project due soon and I was really hoping to learn this concept to use it in my project but now, I am let down because the work is impressive and amazing, but the tutorial doesn’t explain the process effectively.

  11. Damir

    Hi everyone,

    Sorry to bother. It is already asked a couple of times but is there a little more detailed tutorial that you wish to share?
    I just started fiddling with photoshop and the tutorials i saw and made so far, have made me crazy for photoshop! i love it! i am also eager to put in work for great results like this one, and i would be grateful if someone has a ‘newb’ tutorial to offer.

    Thank you!

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    How did you get the ghost like appearance?

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