Brush up your compositing skills with this high-tech wintry scene.

This futuristic image – which resembles a Bond villain’s polar lair – is created using three separate applications, and will put your compositing skills through their paces.

The structure’s blueprint is created in Illustrator, and then transformed into a 3D object using Cinema 4D, before being composited into the landscape in Photoshop.

If you’d prefer to focus on the Photoshop compositing, you can start this tutorial at Step 3 and use the renders supplied on the cover disc. Once you’ve got your 3D structure in Photoshop, the real work starts: you’ll learn how to clean up the render and make it sit convincingly within its environment.

You’ll also hone your lighting and shading skills. You can download the background image for this tutorial from stock.xchng for free, from

01. Using Illustrator, create a new file and create an interesting image using a series of shapes and arrows. When you’re happy with the composition, then export the file in Illustrator 8 format (.AI), so it can be imported into Cinema 4D.

02. Import the .AI file into Cinema 4D and extrude every path into 3D. I used different setting on each to give it a more interesting look, with less extrusion on outer shapes and towards the centre. It’s worth rotating a few shapes for a more dynamic look. Add two lights from the side, and apply a material with a high level of reflectivity. Finally, render it to a 3,000-x-4,000-pixel PSD with the alpha channel information saved.

03. Open the render in Photoshop (if you’re using my pre-prepared render, open the file microbot_render_ 1.tif on the CD). To remove the black background, go into the Channels and choose the alpha channel by pressing Cmd/Ctrl and clicking the Layer. Press Cmd/Ctrl + J to copy the selection to a new layer. Add a new layer and fill it with a blue, then add another layer and add a gradient from the top to middle, with a darker blue. This will later form our sky.

04. Make another Layer and select a region with the Marquee tool (M) on the bottom. Fill it with a colour for our floor base layer. Select all, then choose Filter > Gaussian Blur, set to ten pixels. Next, add a new layer and add a gradient as in step three, using a dark colour and setting the layer mode to Multiply. Move this to the top of the stack.

05. Next we need to change the colour of the render, adding more blue. Adjust the Levels settings to make it brighter, then adjust saturation, and finally adjust the colour balance in both highlights and midtones. The key is to experiment until you get the desired look, and keep the effects on separate layers for later adjustments.

06. To create the floor, use the Pen tool to draw a path, and select it then mask it. To create the environment, download the free snow scene from stock.xchng, Place it into the scene in Photoshop, and match it to the render by transforming it until you get a good fit, paying attention to the perspective.

07. Use the Lasso tool to make a selection in the snow, then copy this and transform it on a new layer, placing it where we want the snow. Next, use the stamp tool (S) and use Alt/Opt to set the source area, with Sample set to Current and Below. Using a big, soft brush, cover everything with snow and save the brush for later use in this masterclass. Our image is starting to take shape, but if you need to modify part of the render, use the Polygon Lasso, make a selection and delete it. Use a new layer and the polygon lasso to fill this hole with a colour.

08. Let’s make some snow on the bottom of the 3D shape. Press F5 to select brushes, and use a 35-pixel brush with 55% hardness. Ensure Scattering, Pressure and Opacity sensitivity are turned on – and ideally, you should be using a graphics tablet for this style of painting. Paint lines on the bottom as shown in the image, varying your brush size. Use different tones and the colour picker to choose a good base colour and make out a more darker and brighter one so you can also add bit of shadow and light.

09. Next, create another layer for the shadows, remembering that the render was lit from the left-hand side. Select the render layer and invert the selection. Choose a basic brush and roughly paint out the shadows, ensuring the right colour tones – but avoid black. From here, we need to clean up the shadows, so use a smaller brush and fine-tune the details. You can add a mask later and use a large, soft brush to erase a parts of the edges.

10. Create a new layer on top of the render and, with the Alt/Opt key pressed, click between the layers to make this a clipping mask. Create a new, basic brush for a snowy, icy effect. I used the following settings: Brush Size – 59 pixels; Brush Tip Spacing – 58%; in Brush Shape Dynamics: Jitter – 69%; Minimum Diameter – 14%; Angle Jitter –14%; Roundess Jitter – 33%; Minimum Roundness – 46%. Set the Scattering for both axes to 227%.

11. To correct any lighting glitches, make a new layer and use the Pen tool to make the selections that you want to correct. If you’re creating paths, you can save them as selections for later use; if you’re using the Polygonal Lasso, then save your selections as alpha channels. When you’ve made a selection, Cmd/Ctrl + click on the path layer to add a new layer, then press Cmd/Ctrl + H to hide the selection and paint over it, varying your tones – here, I added a brighter colour to the top section.

12. To add light to the corners of the renders, duplicate the render layer and choose Filter > Find Edges, then Cmd/ Ctrl + I to invert it. Set the blending mode to Screen to remove the black, then add a layer mask. Next, you can remove all unneeded elements, such as the bottom lines using a big, soft eraser. Choose the top surface path, and make a selection with it, and use the saved snow brush from Step 7, painting more snow on top. Create a new layer, then using the same selection fill it with a blue for the sky’s reflection, and set the blending mode to soft light and reduce the opacity.

13. Create a new layer, and set the blending mode to to Vivid Light, with the clipping mask on top of this layer. Using a big, soft brush with a reddish orange colour, add some highlights to the scene. Give the background a bit of a curve to flow with the render by using the Warp Transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to transform it, as well as scale it slightly smaller.

14. To add a lens flare, create a blackfilled layer above the layers and set the blending mode to screen. Add a large Gaussian Blur and increase it by 200-300 per cent – this will form the sun haze on the leftside of the image. Add a mask to erase part of the light and make it softer, then lower the opacity until it looks realistic. Here, I added a composition lighting which I made with gradients, set the blending mode to Multiply and then used more dark colour on the edge where less sunlight will be.

15. Experiment with different formats for the final canvas. Here, I’ve made a selection that I filled with black, so I could frame the scene in widescreen format.

16. Some final corrections might be needed, especially if shapes are overlapping the edge in the foreground. Using the mask and a soft brush, fix these and use the Heal Brush tool to add more snow to the edges of the structure. Using a custom brush to add some contrails in the sky, and possibly a moon – you can create one using the snow texture. Make a circle selection, then go Filter > Distort > Spherize twice, with a setting of 100 per cent. Then scale it by half and add a mask to remove light from the right-hand side.


Use Cmd/Ctrl+Y in Illustrator to show only path outlines, making it easier to work with overlapping shapes. Objects further away usually becomes more brighter and less detailed. Switching into the tools you can do with Shift + {toolkey}. You can press Alt/Opt while using the lasso tool to use the polygonal version so you don’t have to switch them.

Who: Working under the name Microbot, David Fuhrer is a Swiss-born 22 year-old interactive designer and artist. With a degree in multimedia from the SAE Institute, he now lives in Switzerland and works as on a freelance basis.
Software: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Maxon Cinema 4D
Time to complete: 5 to 15 hours
On the CD: All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here or are available on the cover CD.