Creating Water Reflections
Creating the shot
Welcome to my second guide, this one will walk through the creation of the shot below from Estelyon. This tutorial uses Photoshop, but I'm sure there are tools in the free program Paint.net that would match PS well. I tried to make this easy to follow, please let me know if you need more info!
Choosing The Screenshot
- The end results are only going to look better if the screenshot is well chosen. It is true that you can manipulate some average shots to make them good, but aim to start with a good looking view with good lighting for the view. If you find a good camera angle, cycle through the different lighting choices, take a few shots with different lighting in the same position for more options. CXL only offer one good full daylight and a dusk and dawn only, I would lose two of the night slots to open up a couple more daylight versions… anyway, enough of that.
- Depending on how much adjustment you want to undertake, here are some things to bear in mind – If one of those suspension bridges is in shot, be prepared to do more masking between the cables.
- On a night shot, take a day version; this will make selecting and masking the sky easier. The color range in the night shot is limited (maybe about 5 colors), it will take more effort to make sure the buildings don’t get auto selected here.
- On a day shot with water, take a night shot, it’s flat shaded, easier to select except that strong shadow. The unrealistic harsh black shadow can make the selection trickier, you could always take a few different night lighting schemes to move the shadow, a lot more work though.
- If you’re seeking a strong water reflection, take a low shot. This is critical; every object that can’t be reflected on one horizon line (reflection plane) will need a separate cut out layer. I will cover how to deal with this but it is more work!
Other Reference Used
For the shot we’ll step through now, I sourced a suitable sky and a water ripple image, be sure to find an image higher resolution than your source screen shot. The sky shot was chosen because of the strong pink and blue sky which matched the lighting on the models. The buildings have a vivid pink directional light with a blue atmospheric back lighting.
The water ripple image was used for nearly all my reflection shots; it is a pretty high resolution image too. It was chosen because of its good contrast properties, the color isn’t important. The image will be used with a different transparency effect to only show the light and dark contrast.
I would recommend that the screen shot stays at the source resolution and is the master file, this differs a little from KR153’s technique about importing the screenshot into the sky image, but the principle about matching resolutions remains the same. The main reason being that you will enlarge your city image and end up with a grainier result is the image is saved at a bigger resolution.
We’ll use this shot, taken at my screen resolution of 1900x1200pixels. The images seen in this tutorial are resized for easier viewing. This shot presents some challenges with the reflection planes, there are a few. As mentioned above, a low shot is easier!
I will point you to KR153's great sky tutorial, the techniques used are the same, and the methods are almost exactly the same in Photoshop and paint.net. It saves some duplication too!
In Photoshop, I save the selection off as a mask. When the selection area is live, just hit the grey mask icon which will produce a mask layer. If the transparency is reversed, just press CTRL+I to flip the mask. This mask layer will come in handy later for other layers.
Add the sky
I dragged the sky layer into the master file under the masked city layer. Position the sky to show the most amount of the horizon possible.
I then lightly distorted and squashed the sky to match the perspective of the screenshot better. This is a light adjustment, I can get fussy…
You can probably see a lot of noise in the sky I chose. Because the sky isn’t the visual priority here, I will use the Reduce Noise tool found in Filters>Noise>Reduce Noise. The image below shows the settings I used.
I also tone the sky to be a little brighter using curves, accessed by CTRL+M. By dragging a single point to make a light bulge in the histogram, the image will get brighter without losing its white and black value. Using brightness and contrast will get you there too, but will lose some of the color range in doing so.
Trim the bottom part of this layer so it doesn’t show in the water area.
Just Add Water
As you can see from the image below, the water ripple image used doesn’t fit right in close view.
To fit it better, I moved the layer so the water line is almost touching the visible area of the masked layer..
I just want the ripples from this layer; it will help integrate the reflection layer later. I desaturated the layer by CTRL+SHIFT+U. I then used curves to darken the layer and crush the black level a little as seen in the shot. This flattens the look of the layer to match the visual look of the render, I wanted to avoid going totally realistic, more just to get the impression of realism.
Time to Reflect
This is where the fun starts. Make a copy of the masked city layer and the sky, both need to be reflected. Merge the duplicate layers into one by hitting CTRL+E when both layers are selected. This will be your main layer to copy the different reflections from. We will need to make separate layers as indicated below, the red line shows each reflection plane we have to do. The lower the shot the easier (did I say that already???), one reflection plane!
Lets start with the main reflection, with the selection box, select everything above the main reflection plane wit the bottom edge at the red line, copy and paste into a new layer., Go to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertically, then position the new top edge at the horizon plane. Done.
For visibility, hide that new reflection layer. Go back to the merged main layer and box select the two piers on the left as shown below. Copy, paste and vertical flip like before. The right pier is on a different line, offset to match up, The front view makes this easy.
Then using the Polygonal Lasso Tool, trim the piers out. Notice the perspective line on the left one, time to fix that.
Select the area that falls off in perspective, then go to Edit>Transform>Skew, this will keep your selection parallel. Match to the legs as shown.
Repeat steps to mirror and trim the main pier as shown. This reflection will require a little more work.
I then split the layer to one with the railing and edge, the other with the main building. Skew the pier edges to match, and fix the roof of this out building.
Go on to roughly adjusted the other roof edge by selecting the area, cut and Shift+Paste the selection in as a layer below the pier edge layer. Skew to fit and trim edges that are seen on the pier legs.
Repeat steps to select and adjust the main pier building, several skews were required for this. Then trim off any protruding bits by the legs.
See how a single reflection plane is easier? If you have a couple of foreground boats, this is usually easier to fix than the piers.
Combine the pier layers, put the layer above the main city reflection layer. CTRL+Left Click in the masking layer of the city screenshot. Click the mask button to integrate, viola! Notice how the reflections look pretty convincing. They are not exact, but close enough for the effect.
I use the a Photoshop filter to do this, but the results look like your looking down on water. To get a more horizontal reflection distortion, I fisrt scale the reflection layer to double height, make sure the layer is cropped at the bottom of the screen to make repositioning easy and exact.
Then go to Filter>Distort>Ripple and use the effect appropriate to the scale of the shot. For more distant views, go for the smaller ripple option. Rescale the layer to 50% height, watch those ripples get flatter!
Now for the big reveal! The layers should be as follows, from the top –
- Masked main screenshot – 100% Opacity
- Sky Layer – 100% Opacity
- Rippled Screenshot Reflection Layer – 30% Opacity
- Water Ripple Image Layer – 100% Opacity
The Finishing Touch
Create a later above both ripple layers. Go to the Brush tool; select a 10% opacity soft brush in solid black. Carefully brush in a soft shadow on the edges where the reflection planes start. This will blend the reflection layer in and add an ambient occlusion style depth to the image. I also darkened the water ripple image a little for rich dark murky water.
Thanks for reading, check out my map tutorial too, hope this has helped you have fun with adjusting your shots, no actual buildings were harmed in the making of this tutorial.
thanks for this! now i need practice
This is very helpful, i will follow this when i get the chance
Yey!!! Thanks a lot. A thanks for posting it so soon!
I'll give a shot asap
Wow, this is just cool. Thanks for sharing!
Great ideas. I hope to see this implemented in more CJ's soon.
Ghulyen - thought you'd like the example image!
Lol. I do. This image was perfect for what you did. It's really a great picture: very realistic The angle, the light and the city are all "synchronized" in this photo
Very nice tuto! This fills another big gap, thanks!
Great tutorial! +like
Share more pictures please.