Free Photoshop Tutorial: Combining Reality with a Rotoscope-Style Painting In Photoshop


In this tutorial, we are going to feature how easy animators can combine reality using the rotoscope-style painting. “Rotoscoping” is the term used when artists paint or trace over live-action film, frame-by-frame to create an animation. This technique is widely used in animated TV commercials and Hollywood movies – most notably the recent Keanu Reeves film, “A Scanner Darkly”.

We will not create an entire animated sequence here. But we are going to learn how to give a photo that same rotoscoped effect. It is very easy to do! Rather than applying the effect to the entire image, though, (which we certainly could do if we wanted) we are only going to apply it to the main subject of the image. We leave everything else in the photo untouched so it looks like we are combining a painting with reality.

Here’s the photo I’ll be starting with:

Step 1: Select the Main Subject of Your Photo
Use the selection tool of your choice to select the main subject of your image

Step 2: Copy the Selection To A New Layer
With the main subject selected, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to copy the selection onto a new layer above the Background layer.

Step 3: Apply the “Poster Edges” Filter To The New Layer
With “Layer 1” selected in the Layers palette, go up to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choose Artistic, and then choose Poster Edges.

Step 4: Add a Black Stroke Around The Main Subject
We are going to enhance the effect a little by adding a black stroke around the main subject. With “Layer 1” still selected, click on the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:
Click the “Layer Styles” icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.

Then, choose Stroke from the bottom of the list of Layer Styles that appears:
Click on “Stroke” at the bottom of the list of Layer Styles to select it.

This brings up the Layer Style dialog box set to the Stroke options in the middle column. Photoshop always sets the default color of the stroke to red (which makes no sense at all). We want our stroke color to be black, so to change it, click on the color swatch to the right of the word “Color”:
Click on the color swatch to change the stroke’s color.

Photoshop’s Color Picker will appear. Click in the bottom left corner of the large square area on the left to select black. You will know you have selected pure black because the values for the “R”, “G”, and “B” options on the right will all read “0”:
Select black for the stroke color by clicking on the bottom left corner of the large square area.

Click OK to exit out of the Color Picker. Then, back in the Stroke options in the Layer Style dialog box, set the stroke Size at the top to somewhere between 2-4 pixels depending on the size of your image. I’ve left mine set to the default of 3 pixels. Then change the stroke Position to Center by clicking on the down-pointing arrow and choosing “Center” from the list:
Change the “Size” of your stroke to somewhere between 2-4 pixels, then change the “Position” to “Center”.

After adding the black stroke around your subject (the two people in my photo), your image should now look something like this:
This is the image after applying the black stroke around the main subject to enhance the rotoscope “tracing” effect.

Do not click out of the Layer Style dialog box yet. We have one more effect to add.
Step 5: Add a Drop Shadow
With the Layer Style dialog box still open, click directly on the words Drop Shadow on the left of the Layer Style dialog box. Make sure you click directly on the words and do not simply click inside the checkbox. We want access to the Drop Shadow options, and for that, you need to click directly on the words:
roto_step5Click on the words “Drop Shadow” on the left of the Layer Style dialog box.

The middle column of the Layer Style dialog box will change to show the Drop Shadow options. The first thing we want to do here is lower the Opacity of the drop shadow down to around 40% so it’s not so dark and intense. Then, increase the shadow Distance by dragging the slider to the right. Keep an eye on your image to see how far your shadow is extending outward from your subject as you drag the slider. I have increased my shadow distance to 30 pixels. Depending on the size of your image, you may want to set yours higher:
Lower the drop shadow opacity and increase the shadow distance.
Here is the image after adding the drop shadow:

Here, for comparison, is the original image:

roto_step1 roto_original

And here is the final “rotoscoped painting combined with reality” effect:
The final effect.
And there we have it!

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