Applying Free-Form Distortions: Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-on-One

by Deke McClelland

This excerpt is from Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-on-One. How can you master the fundamentals of Photoshop CS4, with all of its incredible features? Deke McClelland's proven One-on-One learning system offers step-by-step tutorials, five hours of DVD-video demonstrations, and hands-on projects to improve your knowledge and hone your skills. Read about features such as Photoshop's new Adjustments panels in the book, and see how they're used first-hand in the video. The combination is uniquely effective.

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If commands like Smart Sharpen and Reduce Noise represent Photoshop's most practical filters, the award for the most powerful filter goes to Liquify. Except, it's not a filter at all. Like Camera Raw (“Correcting with Camera Raw,” page 83, Lesson 3), Liquify is an independent program that runs inside Photoshop. This particular program lets you distort an image by painting with a collection of tools. One tool stretches pixels, another twists them into a spiral, and a third pinches them. These and other tools make Liquify ideally suited to cosmetic surgery. Whether you want to tuck a tummy, slim a limb, or nip a nose, Liquify gives you everything you need to do the job.

In this exercise, we'll do something radical. We'll take a photo of my mild-mannered little boy, Sammy, and transform him from side kick into superhero, complete with square chin, rugged jaw, cocky sneer, and eyes bright with righteous anger. In all Gotham City, only one filter can aid us in this goal, and that filter is Liquify.

Pearl of missing image file Wisdom

Be forewarned: Unlike other exercises, in which my instructions are concrete and easy to replicate, these next steps are subject to more interpretation. I'll be asking you to paint—not inside lines, as in Lesson 6, but completely free-form. You don't necessarily need heaps of artistic talent, but a little doesn't hurt. And regardless of how talented you are, your results and mine will be different. Don't sweat it. Even when all you're doing is making a big mess, this is one entertaining function. In fact, I've never once demonstrated the Liquify filter—whether to a few family members or an audience of five hundred professionals—that it doesn't inspire giddy laughter. So don't be frustrated; be amused.

missing image file

Example files: Gold Hero.jpg | Sammy start.jpg

  1. Open an image that you want to distort. After capturing the image of my son dressed up for Halloween that appears at the top of Figure 8-29, it struck me that it might be fun to make him appear every bit the caped crusader that his outfit suggests. A couple of hours of dodging, burning, sponging, healing, and painting produced the bottom image in the figure. Although it possesses an undeniably graphic quality, the boy continues to exude cuteness, the kind one associates less with a guardian angel and more with an excitable cherub. Few superheroes list “cute” or “cherubic” on their resumés, and so these attributes, however laudable, must be eradicated. To join me in my quest to convert child into champion, open the image titled Gold hero.jpg, included in the Lesson 08 folder inside Lesson Files-PsCS4 1on1.

    PhCS4 1on1 fig08-29.tif

    Figure 8-29.

  2. Choose the Liquify command. Go to the Filter menu and choose Liquify. Photoshop displays the Liquify window, which appears in Figure 8-30. The window sports twelve tools on its left edge and a row of options on the right. The rest of the window is devoted to the image itself.

    PhCS4 1on1 fig08-30.tif

    Figure 8-30.

Many of the same navigation techniques that work outside the Liquify window work inside it as well. You can zoom in or out by pressing Ctrl+ or Ctrl+ (- or - on the Mac), respectively. Press the spacebar and drag to pan the image.

  1. Select the warp tool. Click the topmost tool in the Liquify window or press the W key to select the warp tool (Photoshop calls it forward warp, as if there is any such thing as backward warp), which lets you stretch or squish details in an image by dragging them. Of all Liquify's tools, this one is the most consistently useful.
  2. Adjust the Brush Settings. Set the Brush Size to 100 and the Brush Pressure to 50.

As with the other tools in Photoshop, you can change the brush size by pressing a bracket key. But the shortcut behaves a bit differently. Press the or key to scale the brush by 2 pixels. Press and hold the key to scale more quickly. Press Shift+ or to scale the brush in 20-pixel increments. (In Liquify, there is no such thing as brush hardness.)

  1. Arch the eyebrows. Using the warp tool, drag the eyebrows to make them appear arched, as in Figure 8-31. This is an exaggerated effect, so if you try to pull it off in one or two brushstrokes, you'll smear the colors and wind up with digital stretch marks. Here's how to achieve more photorealistic results:
  • Keep your strokes very short—just a few pixels at a time.
  • Because you're keeping your brushstrokes short, you'll need a lot of them. I reckon I laid down 20 strokes in all.
  • Drag on the detail you want to move. For example, to move an eyebrow, center your brush cursor on the eyebrow and then drag. If you drag next to the eyebrow (which, although it may sound weird, is the more natural tendency), you'll pinch the eyebrow and slim it down to a thin line.

    PhCS4 1on1 fig08-31

    Figure 8-31.

If you make a mistake, you'll be glad to learn that Liquify offers multiple undos using the same keyboard shortcuts available elsewhere in the program. Pressing Ctrl+Z (-Z on the Mac) undoes or redoes a single brushstroke. To revert multiple brushstrokes, press Ctrl+Alt+Z (-Option-Z). To redo a brushstroke, press Ctrl+Shift+Z (-Shift-Z).

For the present, be careful to avoid painting the eyes. We'll edit them in the next steps with a different tool.

  1. Switch to the pucker tool. Click the fourth tool down or press the S key. This selects the pucker tool, which lets you pinch portions of an image. If you're familiar with the Pinch filter, Pucker is similar but offers about a million times more control.
  2. Reduce each eye. Toddlers have lots of physical characteristics that distinguish them from adults. They're short, they have pudgy cheeks and limbs, and their skin is really smooth except for occasional patches of dried snot and spaghetti sauce. But if I had to choose their most unique feature, it'd be their eyes. Kids have adult-sized eyeballs packed inside pint-sized heads, which makes their eyes look enormous. Outside Japan, superheroes don't have big old baby eyes, so Sammy's must be reduced.

Raise the Brush Size value to 200 pixels. Then click each of Sammy's eyes. Click quickly and do not drag. If one click doesn't do the trick, do another one. The finished eyes should look like those shown in Figure 8-32 on the facing page.

PhCS4 1on1 fig08-32

Figure 8-32.

  1. Switch to the twirl clockwise tool. To give Sam a menacing appearance—so that he can more easily intimidate criminals and thwart their evil plans—I want to slant his eyes very slightly. Click the third tool on the left side of the window or press the C key to select the twirl clockwise tool.
  2. Slant the eyes. Center the brush cursor on the iris of the left eye (his right). Then click. Again, click briefly; do not hold or drag. The eye spins a degree or two clockwise, raising the outside edge and lowering the inside.

To slant the right eye (his left) in the opposite direction, you could switch to the twirl counterclockwise tool. But as it turns out, both tools do double duty. To twirl a detail opposite to the direction in which the tool usually works, press the Alt key (Option key on the Mac) and click. The results of both twirls appear in Figure 8-33.

PhCS4 1on1 fig08-33.tiff

Figure 8-33.

  1. Return to the warp tool. I imagine Sammy to be the sort of edgy, cynical, postmodern superhero who openly sneers at his archenemies and lesser opponents. And there's no better tool for constructing sneers than the warp tool. Get it now by pressing the W key.
  2. Work the nose and mouth into a sneer. Reduce the Brush Size to 120 pixels. Then drag downward on the nose, up on the nostrils, up on the left side of the mouth, and down on the right. You'll also want to drag that crease that connects the nose and mouth on the left side of the image. The results of my 30 or so brushstrokes appear in Figure 8-34.

    PhCS4 1on1 fig08-34.tiff

    Figure 8-34.

  3. Switch to the bloat tool. Okay, we've managed to outfit Sam with smaller eyes, arching eyebrows, and a tough-guy sneer. But he's still a little kid. It's time to bulk him out. Click the fifth tool on the left side of the window or press the B key to select the bloat tool.
  4. Bloat the chin and jaw. Start by increasing the Brush Size value to 400 pixels. Then test the waters by clicking and holding for a brief moment on Sammy's chin. Also click a few times along the left and right sides of his jaw. I want you to really exaggerate the jaw line (see Figure 8-35), so feel free to hold down the mouse button for, say, a half second or so at a time. However, as when using the pinch and twirl tools, I recommend that you refrain from dragging. (In other words, hold the mouse button down but keep the mouse still.)

    PhCS4 1on1 fig08-35.tiff

    Figure 8-35.

  5. Pucker the forehead. In real life, Sammy doesn't have much hair, so he has an ample forehead. That gives him a sort of Poindexter look that superheroes shun. Best way to get rid of it? Pinch the forehead down to a more reasonable size. Best tool for the job? The one you already have, the bloat tool.

Center your brush cursor somewhere along the hairline. Then press the Alt key (Option on the Mac) and click for a half second or more. The Alt key reverses the behavior of the tool, swelling with the pucker tool or, in our case, pinching with the bloat tool.

Continue to Alt-click (or Option-click) along the hairline until you get an effect similar to the one pictured in Figure 8-35. For the best results, move the mouse at least slightly between (not during) clicks. This varies the center of the distortion and keeps your pinches from resulting in sharp points of converging color.

  1. Apply your finishing touches. Continue distorting my son's face as you see fit. (Naturally, I rely on you to apply your adjustments in good taste—he is my beloved progeny, after all.) For my part, I smoothed out the eyebrows, lifted the cheeks, tugged down the hairline, lifted the shoulders, and increased the size of the chest, all using the warp tool. When you arrive at an effect you like, click the OK button to accept your changes and exit the dialog box. Just for the sheer joy of it, Figure 8-36 shows my final effect incorporated into an elaborate poster treatment. Note that I used ImageImage Size to stretch the image vertically. This gives the head a less squat appearance. I also dodged and burned the chin to lend it more volume.

    PhCS4 1on1 fig08-36.tif

    Figure 8-36.

Pearl of missing image file Wisdom

Unlike the other filters in Photoshop, Liquify does not remember your last-applied settings the next time you choose the command. So if you apply the filter, think better of it, undo the operation, and decide to take another stab at it, steel yourself to start the Liquify process over again from scratch. My advice: Be sure you've completely finished distorting an image before clicking the OK button. And don't even think about clicking Cancel unless you're content to trash everything you've done since you chose FilterLiquify. If you're really in love with a distortion, you can save a wireframe mesh that reflects your brushstrokes by clicking the Save Mesh button and entering a filename. But be sure to click Save Mesh before you click OK or you will lose your mesh forever.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-on-One