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How to Create a Surreal Animal Photo Manipulation With 10 Photos in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a photo manipulation featuring an elephant and a rat skateboarding together. 

First we’ll build the base scene using two stock images. Later we’ll add the road shadows, replace the sky, and import the skateboards. After that, we’ll add the elephant and rat, and we’ll blend them using adjustment layers, masking, and brushes. We’ll import other elements, such as hats, lollipop, and luggage, and we’ll use several adjustment layers to complete the final effect. 

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1293 px document in Photoshop with the given settings.

new file

Step 2

Open the background image. Drag the image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V). Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add background

Step 3

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 12 px.

background gaussian blur

On the filter mask, select a soft round brush with black color (soft
black brush) to erase the midground and foreground, leaving the blur
effect visible only on the background.

background gaussian blur masking

Step 4

Create
a new layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to
remove the existing shadows of the objects on the road. We’re aiming to make
the main light come straight across from left to right, so the existing shadow
should be erased or reduced.

background cloning

Step 5

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and change the Midtones settings:

background color balance

Step 6

Add a Curves adjustment layer and increase the contrast a little. On
this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the middle to keep it a bit hazy.

background curves 1

Step 7

Make another Curves adjustment layer to increase the fuzziness of the
middle. On the layer mask, paint on the top and the bottom of the
background.

background curves 2

Step 8

Open
the road image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the road
area only and drag it into our main document using the Move Tool. Place
it over the existing road. Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add road

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to remove the sidewalk.

road masking

Step 9

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 6 px to the road. On this filter mask, use a
soft black brush to clear the blur effect in the midground (this is
in order to locate the main elements).

road gaussian blur

Step 10

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to alter the road’s color.

road color balance

Step 11

Make a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the road.

road curves 1

Step 12

Create another Curves adjustment layer to make the road hazier and mistier. Paint on the foreground to reduce the hazy effect there.

road curves 2

2. How to Make the Road Shadows

Step 1

We will now add shadows for the objects on the road. 

First, create a new
layer and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the sign with the
letters JCT/181 (no need to be so precise). You should disable the
Gaussian Blur filter on the background layer to see more clearly.

select sign

Fill this selection with a dark brown color (#1c190c) and flip it
vertically (Edit >Transform> Flip Vertical). Use the Free
Transform Tool (Control-T
) to rotate it onto the right of the sign to
fit the light direction. Make it longer and much thinner.

sign shadow

Step 2

Lower the opacity of this layer to 80% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to this layer.

sign shadow gaussian blur

Step 3

Make shadows for the other objects: signs, bushes, etc. They should be long and thin.

other road shadows

Step 4

Make
another layer and use a soft brush with the same shadow color (#1c190c) to paint random shadows for the small bushes in the distance.

bushes shadow

Select all shadow layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them.
Lower the opacity of this group to 30%, and enable the Gaussian Blur
filter on the background one.

shadow lowered opacity

3. How to Replace the Sky

Step 1

Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select the sky only and place it in the upper half of the canvas.

add sky

Use a layer mask to remove the hard edges at the bottom and blend it
with the existing sky. Lower the brush opacity when masking off the sign
area so the integration looks smooth and natural.

sky masking

Step 2

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px to this layer.

sky gaussian blur

Step 3

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #ece900.

sky photo filter

Step 4

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights settings:

sky color balance midtones
sky color balance highlights

Step 5

Use a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the sky.

sky curves

Step 6

To make the sky blend better with the background, create a new layer
and use a large soft brush with #d6c7b3 color and about 45% opacity to
paint on the middle of the canvas. You can use a layer mask to correct
anything that looks too misty.

paint mist

4. How to Import the Skateboards

Step 1

Open the skateboard image. Cut out the skateboard from the white
background and place it on the right-hand side of the road. Duplicate it and make
it much smaller, and then place it on the left.

add skateboards

Step 2

Create a group for the skateboards and change the group’s mode to Normal
100%
. The light on some wheels of the skateboards doesn’t really suit the
main light source. To fix it, make a new layer and change the mode to
Multiply 100%. Use a yellow color for the brush (#b8ab0) and paint on the
indicated details to reduce the light there.

skateboards reducing light 1

Step 3

Use another layer (Multiply mode) with the color #5e5847. Paint on the
metal details below the deck to make them a bit darker.

skateboards reducing light 2

Step 4

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the skateboards’ color.

skateboards hue saturation

Step 5

Make a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the skateboards.
Paint on the shadow areas below the deck so they won’t be
affected by this adjustment layer.

skateboards curves

Step 6

Add a Levels adjustment layer with the same purpose. The selected areas show where to paint on the layer mask.

skateboards levels

Step 7

The main light comes straight from left to right, so the shadows will only
show the griptapes and decks. Create a new layer below the skateboard
group and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the deck of the big
skateboard and fill it with the color #1c190c. Convert this layer to a
Smart Object.

select big griptape

Lower the opacity of this layer to 60% and use Control-T to make the shadow longer below the skateboard.

transform big skateboard shadow

Add a mask to this layer and remove the left of the shadow. Also decrease its visibility on the right.

big skateboard shadow masking

Step 8

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 3 px to the shadow layer. On the filter mask,
paint on the left part of the shadow as it
should be harder than the rest.

big skateboard shadow gaussian blur

Step 9

Duplicate this shadow layer and move it below the small skateboard.
Scale it down a lot to fit the size of the skateboard. Use a layer mask
to remove the left and right of the shadow (the lifting parts).

small skateboard shadow

5. How to Retouch the Elephant

Step 1

Open the elephant image. Isolate the one on the right and place him
above the big skateboard. Resize him to fit the skateboard and remember
to convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add elephant

Step 2

We’re aiming to turn this elephant into a baby one. Searching for references using Google, we can see the top of a baby’s head is rounder, the legs and trunk
shorter and plumper, and the skin smoother and less wrinkled. 

First, we’ll
change the pose of the elephant a bit. Select Edit > Puppet Warp and
drag the points on the top of the head downward a bit until it looks rounder. Also lift the trunk and legs a bit.

elephant puppet wap
elephant puppet warp result

On the filter mask, use a soft black brush to erase the legs and eye.

elephant puppet warp masking

Step 3

Add
a mask to the elephant layer and use a medium-hard brush to remove the
trunk and the bottom of the legs a bit so he looks as if he’s standing
on the skateboard.

elephant masking

Step 4

We’ll use the legs from the original image and scale them much less than
the existing ones so they will look shorter and plumper. Select the front
leg from the original image and add it to the same position as the
existing one. Use Control-T to lift this leg a bit higher.

add leg 1

Use a layer mask to blend the legs with the existing body.

leg 1 masking

Step 5

Add the other legs and the chest part using the same method.

add more legs chest

Step 6

Add the trunk to replace the old one. Use Control-T with the Warp mode to make it shorter and raised a bit.

add trunk

Step 7

It’s time to clone the skin, which will help the skin look smoother. Start
with the least rough area of the skin, and from that, clone over the
elephant’s body. The trick is to reduce the brush’s opacity (about 50-60%)
so that the cloned areas will look smooth, but still show some original details
and textures.

elephant cloning

Step 8

Make a group for the elephant layer and related ones. Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones values:

elephant color balance

Step 9

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the elephant’s color a bit.

elephant hue saturation

Step 10

Create a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the elephant.
Paint on the shadow areas and the part behind the ear to make its shadow
on the body.

elephant curves 1

Step 11

Use another Curves adjustment layer to strengthen the shadow of the
elephant. The selected areas show where to paint on the layer mask.

elephant curves 2

Step 12

Create a new layer above the elephant group. Change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:

DB new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about
15-20% to refine the light and shadow on the elephant. You can see how I
did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

DB normal mode
DB overlay mode

Step 13

Make a new layer under the elephant group. Use a soft brush with the
color #1c190c, opacity about 45% to paint the shadow of the elephant’s feet
on the back of the skateboard.

elephant shadow

6. How to Retouch the Rat

Step 1

Cut out the rat from the original background and place him above the
small skateboard. Use the Puppet Warp to lift his head a bit.

add rat

Step 2

Use a layer mask to remove the bottom of the feet outside the griptape.

rat masking

Step 3

Change the rat’s color using a Color Balance adjustment layer.

rat color balance

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the rat. The selected areas show how to mask off the shadow area of the rat.

rat curves 1

Step 5

Add another Curves adjustment layer to increase the shadow of the rat.

rat curves 2

Step 6

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50%
gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to enhance the light and shadow of the
rat.

rat DB

Step 7

Create a new layer below the rat one. Hold Control and click the rat thumbnail layer to load his selection.

load rat selection

Fill
this selection with the color #1c190c and flip it vertically. Stretch
it and place it above the top of the small skateboard’s shadow.

rat shadow transforming

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px to this layer. Also use a layer mask to
remove the legs’ shadow and make the rat’s one blend smoothly with that of the
existing skateboard.

rat shadow gaussian blur

7. How to Add the Hats

Step 1

Cut out the hat and place it above the elephant’s head. Duplicate this
layer and make it much smaller. Add it to the head of the rat after
flipping it horizontally.

add hats

Step 2

Make a new layer below the hat ones. Use a soft brush with the color #1c190c to paint shadows for the hats.

hats shadow

Step 3

Create a group for the hats and add a Color Balance adjustment layer. Alter the Midtones settings:

hats color balance

Step 4

Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the hat. Use a soft black
brush to paint on the shadow area (the right side) of the hats so it
won’t be affected by this adjustment layer.

hats curves 1

Step 5

Create
another Curves adjustment layer to increase the shadow of the hats.
Paint on the left side (bright area) to keep their lightness.

hats curves 2

8. How to Create the Lollipop

Step 1

Open the lollipop image. First, isolate the stick of the lower one and
add it below the elephant’s trunk. Use Control-T to rotate it to fit the
direction of the trunk.

add stick

Cut out the candy part and add it below the stick.

add candy

Step 2

Use the Dodge Tool on a new layer (set as Clipping Mask) to brighten the top of the candy.

candy DB

Step 3

Make a group for the stick and candy layers. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to -55:

lollipop hue saturation

Step 4

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones settings:

lollipop color balance

Step 5

Use a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the lollipop.

lollipop curves

9. How to Import the Luggage

Step 1

Extract the luggage 1 image from the background and place it onto the big skateboard, between the front legs of the elephant.

add luggage 1

Use a layer mask to remove its bottom outside the griptape.

luggage 1 masking

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Master values:

luggage 1 hue saturation

Step 3

Use
the Dodge and Burn Tool on a new layer to refine the light and shadow
of the suitcase. Also paint the shadow of the handle and some small details
to fit the light sources.

luggage 1 DB

Step 4

Open the luggage 2 image. Take the highest piece of luggage and place it onto the
small skateboard, to the right of the rat, after resizing it down. Use a
layer mask to remove its bottom.

add luggage 2

Step 5

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the luggage’s color a bit.

luggage 2 hue saturation

Step 6

Use the Dodge Tool to brighten the luggage as it looks too dark at the moment.

luggage 2 DB

Step 7

Make several new layers and use a medium-soft brush with the color
#1c190c
to paint the shadow of the handle of the small suitcase, the shadow of
the rat on his luggage and skateboard, and the shadow of the leg of the elephant
on the big suitcase.

rat luggage shadows

10. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Create a new Color Fill adjustment layer on top of the layers and fill
with the color #18011c. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.

whole scene color fill

Step 2

Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #e10019 and #00601b. Lower the opacity of this layer to 20%.

whole scene gradient map

Step 3

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights values:

whole scene color balance midtones
whole scene color balance highlights

Step 4

Create a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #d4a383.

whole scene photo filter

Step 5

Add a Curves adjustment layer to increase the light and contrast of the whole scene.

whole scene curves 1

Step 6

Make another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the left part of the scene. The right should be erased.

whole scene curves 2

Step 7

Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect.

whole scene vibrance

Congratulations, You’re Done!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for
your own project. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in
the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final result