B-movie poster art

Prepare to shock! Terrify! Amaze! Photoshop and Illustrator guru Mark Mayers demonstrates how to recreate the shlock B-movie posters of cinema’s golden age.

This spoof movie poster design is a simple but effective way of tackling those graphics challenges where there seem to be too many thoughts to fit in: it enables the designer to combine slogans and other textual elements with the bare bones of a storyline and striking images, all bound up in an iconic format that everybody will recognize.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be the classic 1950s B-movie style that you adopt – the entirety of cinematic history is at your disposal. Take your pick from gangster movie, romantic comedy, war film or chick flick.

In this tutorial, Mark Mayer shows you how to combine 3D renders with stylized photography, text and smoke to capture all the camp horror of an alien invasion.

01. Open City_render.png from this month’s cover CD in Photoshop. In the Channels palette, click on the Create New Channel icon at the foot of the palette. Next, open Alpha_1.psd select all, and copy and paste it into your new channel. Repeat for the remaining masks: Alpha_2.psd to Alpha_5.psd (leave Alpha_6.psd for later).

02. To fix any flaws on the render, create a new layer and make selections from your Alpha channels by holding down Cmd/Ctrl and clicking them. Ensure the Clone Tool has the Sample All Layers option checked and work within the your selections. Don’t sweat over areas that will be hidden in the final composition. When you’re happy, hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Down.

03. The background buildings have a cyan cast – this is easy to fix. Generate a selection from Alpha 5 and hit Cmd/Ctrl + U to access the Hue/Saturation slider. Next, use the Edit menu to select the cyan; adjust this to -85. To add more contrast to the entire image, duplicate this layer, set the blending mode to Multiply and adjust the opacity to 30 per cent. Now select Merge Down, naming this layer City.

04. Open Sky.jpg from the cover CD and drag it into your Photoshop document, positioning it beneath the City layer. Name the layer Sky. By using the Free Transform tool while tweaking the warp and perspective, you’ll add a dramatic look to the composition. Next, clip a levels adjustment layer (see Tip Box, right), setting the midpoint slider to 1.19. Clip a colour balance adjustment layer, setting the red midtone slider to +12 and the blue midtone slider to +26.

05. Delete any white halos on the City layer (Layer > Matting > Defringe by 1px). Continue with any colour adjustments to blend all the elements together. I changed the Hue/Saturation of the foreground buildings by using Alpha 3 as a selection, setting the blue’s saturation to -27 and Lightness to -7.

06. Open Structure_render.png, hold down Shift and drag it into your Photoshop document. Both documents share exact pixel dimensions, so holding Shift while dragging automatically makes a new layer. Position this beneath the city and name it City Wrecked. Add a layer mask to this layer as well as City. Using a variety of natural media brushes, knock away areas on both masks to reveal the building’s structure.

07. Further the effect by using the Burn tool to create inner shadows and scorch marks on both layers. Open Sky.jpg again and use Quick Mask to make a soft-edged selection. Copy and paste it at the top of the layer stack, setting Blending Mode to Screen. Scale, rotate and erase areas to create billowing smoke from the skyscrapers and some foreground mist. Duplicate and transform the layer a few times.

08. Tidy up the Layers Palette (drag all smoke layers into a new folder, naming it Smoke). Open Saucers_render.png, and Shift-drag it into your image under the smoke. Defringe it by 1px (see Step 06) and name it Saucers. Add a layer mask, generate a selection from Alpha 3 and erase any saucers overlapping the buildings. Now clip a levels adjustment layer and set the midpoint to 0.72.

09. Open Fireball.psd and drag into your image below the Smoke folder. Select Blending Mode > Screen. Scale, rotate and duplicate each layer until you’re happy. Erase areas by generating selections from your alpha channels and also a selection from the mask on the City layer. Next, drag all the layers into a new group folder and name it Fire.

10. Add some alien death rays by drawing a closed path and generating a selection. Ensure white is selected as your foreground colour and Foreground to Transparent is set on the Gradient tool. Add a new layer at the top and add a gradient, duplicate, rotate and scale for the remaining saucers. Merge them, and select Blending Mode > Soft Light. Duplicate the layer and add a slight Gaussian Blur, select Blending Mode > Normal and the Opacity to 60 per cent. Add some glow by using a white, soft brush on a new layer, setting the Opacity to 70 per cent. Drag all these layers into a new group folder called Rays.

11. Open Models.jpg. An easy way to isolate the figures is to create a density mask: inspect the channels to see which one holds the most contrast – in this instance it’s the blue. Duplicate it and hit Cmd/Ctrl + xL to access the Levels; and drag the midtone slider to the right and the white point to the left. What you’re aiming for is a clean silhouette of the figure.

12. Clean up the channel by drawing closed paths around any areas the levels missed. Make a selection and paint out any background areas using a white brush. Invert the selection and paint remaining areas within the figures with a black brush. Next invert the channel (by default, white areas are selected). Cmd/Ctrl and click the channel. Change Contract to 3px and feather by 1px, target the composite RGB channel and copy it.

13. Paste this into your Photoshop document at the top of the layer stack and scale/position as shown, defringe by 1px and name it Figures. Clip a levels adjustment layer and set the midpoint slider to 0.77 and the white point slider to 161. In the next step you’ll be adding a ‘hand-tint’ effect, so add a normal Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, setting the saturation to -40.

14. Load the Retro_colours.act swatch, create a new layer above the Hue/ Saturation layer and name it Figure tint. Set the Blending Mode to Color and adjust the Opacity to 55 per cent. Generate a selection from the figures layer and use the swatches to tint the figures. Invert the selection, add another layer in Colour Mode and tint the background. Use selections from your other layers and channels to erase areas.

15. Launch Illustrator and open the Graphics.ai file. Copy > Paste the elements as Smart Objects into a new group folder called Graphics at the top of the layer stack. Make a selection from your Figures layer, target the main heading Smart Object layer and select Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection. Using Smart Objects makes it simple to update and change your artwork on the fly – double-clicking on the layer icon will open a version of your vector. Once you’ve saved the file and returned to Photoshop you’ll immediately see it’s been updated.

16. Open Distress.jpg and Shift-drag it as a new layer, naming it Distress 1. Set the Blending Mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 52 per cent. Open Alpha_6.psd and paste it into the document as a new channel. Generate a selection then go Select > Similar. Create a new layer at the top and fill it with white. Name the layer Distress 2 and set the Blending Mode to Soft Light. Next, add a layer mask and erase areas as desired. Finally set the Hue/Saturation layer from Step 15 to Overlay Mode and adjust the Opacity to 60 per cent, and you’re done!


01. The renders here were made in Daz Bryce; Digital Arts gave away Bryce 5.5 in the August 2007 issue. If you missed the issue, you can order it at digitalartsonline.co.uk/ buy. For speed, you can import 3D models freely available from the Web; always check the licencing restrictions if you intend to use the models for commercial use.

02. The benefit of using adjustment layers is that no edit is permanent until you flatten the image. You can revisit the image at any time and finetune the adjustment by double-clicking its layer icon. A normal adjustment layer affects all the layers immediately below it. To clip an adjustment to just a single layer hold Alt/Opt while clicking on the ‘Create new fill of adjustment layer’ icon at the foot of the layers palette, and you’ll be presented with a new window. By checking Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask, you’ll affect only that layer leaving any others intact.

Author’s URL:  Mark Mayers –  www.markmayers.co.uk


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