The design community produces tons of CG resources you can use freely. But how do you create such elements yourself and make the best use of them?
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
Here Michael Ostermann will guide you through the process of creating abstract 3D elements in Maxon Cinema 4D. Then he puts them together in Photoshop to generate an incredible fashion illustration.
Before you start the tutorial, try to work out how you will use the elements in your compositing so you have an idea of the size they need to be rendered at. While Michael has used Cinema 4D, most 3D suites will work too. If you don’t own one, grab the fully functional demo of Cinema 4D from maxon.net, or start at Step 9 and just work in Photoshop using the renders from the project files.
Time to complete
Maxon Cinema 4D Broadcast or Suite (other 3D applications will work too), Photoshop
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
Begin by installing the free Noise Deformer and Spline Noise Deformer plug-ins available from
bit.ly/4mhnR. In Cinema 4D, select the Freehand Spline button from the toolbar and simply draw some squiggles. Throw in a circular spline ( Objects > Spline Primitives > Circle) and reduce the radius to something small – I used 7cm. Drop these two spline objects into a Sweep NURBS object and you will obtain something like what is shown above.
Now drop a Spline Noise Deformer (
Plugins > Spline Noise Deformer) onto your Freehand Spline object. It’s a good idea to play around with the settings to get a feel for how they work. I used a Strength of 185cm, a Helix Frequency of 278cm and I set the Noise Type to None. I’d encourage you to add as many Spline Noise Deformers as you wish – for both the freehand and circle splines – as this is perfect for creating a seemingly random look.
Select all objects and hit
Alt + G to group them into a Null Object. Add a Noise Deformer ( Plugins > Noise Deformer) and drop it into the Null Object.
Now crank up the settings. In the Noise tab, I chose the Voronoi 1 noise type and set the Global Scale to 0,62cm. In the Object Tab, I set the Min Strength to -134cm and the Max Strength to 96cm. Boom – you have your first abstract 3D element. It’s as simple as that.
Now add a material to the Null Object. I used one from the Greyscalegorilla Texture Kit (downloadable from
greyscalegorilla.com/store for $69) – but any high-quality monochrome material will do.
After you apply the material, go to
Render > Render Settings… (or hit Cmd/Ctrl + B) and alter the output to the size you want. In Photoshop you tend to want to operate at the highest resolution possible, but in 3D work you will want to render as small as you can get away with to keeps render times down. In the Save tab, check the Alpha Channel and Straight Alpha boxes. Go to Render to Picture Viewer ( Shift + R) and save the result as a PNG file to retain the transparent alpha channel.
As well as splines, you can create abstract shapes from primitives. Create a new project and add a small cube (
Objects > Primitive > Cube) or any other basic object, and group it inside a Null Object.
Drop a Noise Deformer inside that Null Object. Here I set the Min and Max Strength to -50cm and 70cm respectively.
Add a MoGraph Cloner object (
MoGraph > Cloner) and drag the Null Object onto it. In the Attributes panel, set the Cloner object’s mode to Grid Array. This replicates the cube in all three dimensions to create a larger ‘cube of cubes’. By applying distortions to individual cubes within a grid you can get hugely varied spiky surfaces.
With this cube grid selected, go to
MoGraph > Effector > Random. Adjust the Position, Scale and Rotation settings until you get something crazily organic.
Now group everything inside a Null Object again and drop in another Noise Deformer. This time I used the ‘Electric’ Noise mode, with the Min and Max Strength set to -201cm and 298cm. Add a material of your choice and render it. As you will see, it takes just a few quick and easy steps to create abstract elements.
You can use these deformers in several other ways as well. For example, create a new document and go to
Objects > Primitive > Sphere, then change its type to Hemisphere in the Attributes panel.
Now go to
Objects > Modeling > Atom Array and drop the sphere into the new object. In the Attributes panel for the Atom Array, set the Cylinder Radius to 1cm.
Drop a Noise Deformer onto the sphere layer and adjust its strength to create more randomness.
Repeat the preceding steps to create all kinds of unusual shapes out of primitive objects, then apply interesting greyscale materials. Above are some examples of abstract elements I made using the techniques covered earlier.
Now we’ll start bringing the abstract renders into Photoshop. I worked on a photograph kindly provided by Mary Kuzmenkova (
kuzmenkova.com), but you can apply the following steps to a model shot of your own choosing, using either the renders we’ve provided in the project files or your own.
First we’ll create some weird shoulder accessories for the model. Place r1.png over his right shoulder and erase any parts you don’t want (some resizing may also be necessary depending on the photo you’re using). Repeat this step for the model’s left shoulder.
Place r2.png and make several copies of it, each smaller than the one before. Put them all on either side of the model’s torso, and erase anything unwanted. Select the top half of the model with the Quick Selection tool (
W), copy it and paste it into a new layer. Place r3.png into a layer just below, duplicate the render and arrange the two elements on either side of the model’s neck.
Place r4.png over the model’s head. We want to make the ‘netting’ more obvious, so use
Edit > Transform > Warp to stretch it a bit over the dark background while keeping most of it on top of his face.
Not all CG elements have to be madly abstract – simple elements can be used to contrast with and highlight the organic ones. For example, we’ve provided a fairly simple render of a ring (r5.png). Place this in this composition, then choose
Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. Using a soft round brush ( B) and a dark colour, paint over the areas where the model’s arm will block the ring. Create another layer containing shadows, and use Blur > Gaussian Blur to make them look more uniform and the render more realistic. Repeat the whole step to add a second ring.
Place r6.png and resize it over the model’s arm. Duplicate it three times and move each of the ends a little using Puppet Warp (
Edit > Puppet Warp) to create a bone-like structure.
While using Puppet Warp, move the pin on the right ends of each element down a little bit to make the bones in the hand. Duplicate the whole structure and rotate it until it fits over his upper arm too. Erase anything unwanted.
Bring in the lattice render r4.png again and place it over his arm. Reduce the opacity a little to make it see-through. Adjust the lower edge using the Warp tool to make it look like it is practically glued to the model’s arm.
Having done that, select a soft round brush and erase large areas of the render over the arm. Then reset the opacity back to 100%.
Now we’ll use a 3D render not as a visible element but to add texture to parts of the photo. Place r7.png in your document and duplicate it. Place one of the resulting pair of elements over the trousers and set the blending mode to Overlay with 50% opacity. Place the second on top of his jacket, again using an Overlay blending mode but with the opacity at 10%. We’ve slightly lightened the images above to make it easy to discern the results.
To finish, let’s make some shadows from gradients. Select the gradient tool (
G) and create a monochrome gradient running from dark grey to transparent. Draw shadows on the model’s face and chest, using a radial gradient to apply shadows behind his head and behind all renders.
And that is pretty much it – except that the project files include another render called r8.png. Try to decide where this could best be placed.
Michael Ostermann is an illustrator based in Vienna, Austria. He has been creating digital art for several years and enjoys experimenting with surrealistic concepts. Michael says he usually likes to start with a good photograph that sets the mood of the overall image. He then applies his self-made resources and uses several photo-manipulation techniques, seeing where it leads. Contact