Skin Texture tutorial

I’ve been using a technique to retouch skin for a while, and thought I would share it. It is fast, and if done well, fairly seamless. It is not perfect, but it is faster than perfection.

The basic premise is that when you do major changes to a person’s skin, you have to leave the texture behind in order to rebuild the features smoothly. This is especially true when retouching the neck and jaw line, but this technique can also be used on the cheeks, forehead, chin, and other places where the underling skin, absent of it’s texture, is nothing but a smooth complex gradation. This technique allows you to build the gradation, and then go back and put in the skin texture.

1. The first image shows how I like to set up my work. As you can see by the contents of the Layers Palette, the initial image layer is named by the file name (that way I can find the darn thing later).

2. Here is where I do my retouching. I make a duplicate of the initial image (so I can always refer back to it if necessary), and I name the duplicate RET. In this example I went ahead and retouched the neck, especially where the skin was clumpy, and got rid of a some bulges as well. All work was done loosely with the Clone Tool. If you look closely you can see some soft spots where the retouched skin has no texture. Normally this is a problem, but not if we replace the texture.

3. This is my next step, adding a blur layer. To get this layer, I duplicate the RET layer, after I’ve cloned out the major flaws. The blur should be large enough that it covers the smaller flaws and imperfections, smoothing out the potholes and such. In this case I did a Gausian Blur of 5.1, but half the time I end up doing a Median instead as it keeps the gross features, while blurring the fine ones. The number isn’t important, as it is based on the pixel size which will vary depending upon resolution, and the size of your image. The trick is to blur it enough.

4. Here I am adding a new layer which will by my texture layer. Essentially it is a layer set to Overlay, with a 50% grey fill. Nothing fancy here, if your used to working noise in on a separate Overlay layer.

5. This is where the texture it added to our layer. I’m using Grain, and in this case the Grain is the Enlarged setting. The grain from the Grain filter is larger than a Gausian Noise (which is why I use it). The trick here is to try the different settings until you get something close to the native skin texture. This may take a while to get. At first it will appear WAY too sharp (which is okay, and we can turn that down with the layer’s opacity) and the colors will be way off. Do not worry. Complete the steps, and then go back an undo if you don’t like it. I usually test in a small patch, and then apply Grain to the whole layer once I found something close. I also will scale the grain sometimes up or down to get a more precise match. You should not have to go up or down more than 50%. If you do, then you chose the wrong settings for the Grain, and should go back and try another set.

6. Once we have the Grain the right size, we then have to fix a few flaws that the filter does to the Grain. The first one I do it remove all saturation, so the final Grain is completely greyscale. You might wish to leave a dash of color in, but usually it just gets in the way.

7. Now we need to balance the color as the Grain filter tends to leave it too dark or too light. To do this I use Levels on the layer, and pull either of the top ends (darks or lights) until the middle point lines up with the darkest part on the Histogram. In this case, Enlarged tends to go dark, so I drag the dark side up (8-9 usually, but sometimes as high as 14-15). Some of the other Grain settings go lighter, so make sure you don’t skip this step. It is essential that the grain ends up neutral, so it will add a texture to the image without darkening or lightening it. At this point, I usually turn down the Opacity of the Texture to 50% or 40%. Rarely do I need more than this.

8. The final step it to add a layer mask to both the Blur layer, and the Texture layer. I usually fill the mask of the blur layer 100% black, and then working only in the mask I airbrush in its smooth gradation in just the spots I want. I use a light brush doing multiple strokes, rather then try and get it right with just one stroke. Once I have this mask, I apply it to the texture layer. This is a good starting point for the texture as you are only putting it where you covered it with blur to begin with, but I find I need to add a bit more texture to help blend some of the transitions.

9. This last image shows a before and after so you can see the changes to the skin. I don’t usually use this on such a small area, but rather I fix the all of the areas on the skin that need it.

New story

A wrote a short little ghost story last November, and after showing it to a neighbor, promptly forgot about it. Since we’re coming up on halloween, I thought it time to dust it off and let everyone read it. Enjoy.

Last Dance

Crazy Morning with Kittens

We got two new kittens about a month and a half ago, and they are integrating nicely with our madness household. Today, however, they really got into hot water.

You see Trevor was in the middle of his toaster waffles, and got up to tell me something while I was reading through my morning email in the office. This is normal behavior for him, the getting up part, so much so that in ten years I don’t think the verbs “sit” and “eat” have ever been used in the same sentence to describe him. After he told me his joke, he left the office, and in doing so left the office door open. The reason I knew he left the office door open was that not much longer after his exit one of the kittens climbed up the back of my office chair, and proceeded to stroll out onto the desk looking for trouble. The reason why we keep the office door closed is precisely to keep the cats out of trouble, otherwise known as the drifts of stuff in the office all of which must be amazingly tempting to a kitten based upon their behavior.

As I was putting the cat out, Trevor came by again, so I called him in to show him a web page I had up on the screen. It was a report of the recent invasion of our local waters of Humbolt Squid. Since the lad is a budding Marine Biologist (as has been since he was in kindergarten) we like to point out things like this which might be of interest to him. The photos led to a discussion, which led to some wild imagining on both our parts of an invasion of giant squid and robots, and such. Little did we know a real invasion was going on while we were talking.

We stepped out of the office, and while I was closing the door I heard Trevor give a shout. Walking into the living room I found the two kittens on top of the dinning room table happily eating his waffles. They leapt off the table at our shouts, but were soon up on it again while we were preparing more waffles that were not “ruined” by the cats. The second time they were removed by the more effective method of a water bottle spray shot into the face. This lead to a discussion of the idea (presented for the one-thousandth time) of sitting and eating, (the key idea being the two are done simultaneously) as well as the idea of putting one’s chair back under the table when one is not sitting in it so it doesn’t make an excellent cat ladder.

Over all, I suspect little was learned today, except that the kittens now know that human breakfast foods, especially those dripping in syrup, are especially delicious and usually left unprotected in a place they can quickly get to.

On how it sucks to be an artist

A buddy of mine posted this nice article from Salon called “The Creative Class is a Lie“. Below is my response.

In the creative class a lie? I disagree. Perhaps a better statement would be to say it was oversold. But it has always been this way.

When I moved to LA back in 88, there was a whole group of us young turks out to change the world. We were going to be musicians, actors, screenwriters, directors, artists, etc. By the time we hit our mid 30s, most of us had quit the dream, and taken day jobs. Many moved back home, wherever home was. This is the cycle of the “creative class”. There are always more dreamers than jobs, especially for jobs like “movie star” or “rock star”. There is only going to be a few influential rich in any given field, that is how art has always been.

Has the effects of the Great Recession made things more difficult for these dreamers? Possibly, but I would argue that it also has done a better job of separating the wheat from the chaff. 15 years from now, most of those dreamers will be happy and healthy because they will have found something better for their lives. In contrast, right now they are bitter because their dreams got crushed in the cruel, cruel “real world” of having to pay the rent, and buy food. Time will fix this as it does most things. One only has to look a few years backwards to see.
Perhaps the biggest disservice ever given to young bright-eyed creatives is that no one ever tells them their dreams will happily crush their bones to make its bread. The real world is the crucible. It is harsh, cruel, and has no care for your needs. Many will go in, but only a paltry few will remain. And it is at that point–when you have sold everything for the dream and wake up one day, beaten, tired, and lying at the side of the road–that the real art begins; living your life, not the dream.