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In this tutorial I’ll show you how to make a dramatic building explosion scene. You will learn advanced techniques to create an exciting effect and learn to take care of many details. This is not a beginner tutorial so you should practice to know basic photoshop tools before giving it a try.
As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:
Open sky stock. Crop it to take only the part below:
Hit Cmd/Ctrl+J to duplicate this layer. Choose Edit-Transform-Flip Horizontal:
I use a Hue/Saturation layer to change color of this sky a bit. Go to Layer-New adjustment layer-Hue/Saturation:
To brighten the top left of sky, make a new layer and I use brush with color #d7d7de. Painting on it and change the mode to Soft light 100%:
Open building stock. Isolate building from background and move it into our document, use transform tool ( press cmd/Ctrl+T to active this tool) to change its direction to create a dramatic look for our picture:
To make color and brightness of this building fit the background, I use an adjustment layer with Clipping Mask. Go to Layer-New adjustment layer-Hue/Saturation:
Since this step we’ll make explosion effect. It might be pretty easy and the explosion might look ok from afar or with small size. But with such a specific case ( building explosion), in close-up view we have to take care of much more details to get rid of fake look.
Open explosion 1 stock. Move it in to our picture, resize and transform it to the direction of building:
To remove most of dark part of background, I use Blend If tool. Right click explosion layer, choose Blending options. Hold down the Alt key while dragging the right black button of This Layer:
To remove the remained part of background, add layer mask and use black brush with hardness about 40-50% to erase to get the look below:
Name it “explosion 1″.
Open explosion 2 stock. Move it into our document and scale down to fit the size of our picture.
Add layer mask and use black brush with hardness about 30-40% to clear unecessary parts to leave only explosion part:
Lower opacity to 50% and call it “explosion 2″.
Duplicate explosion 2 layer, change the mode to Screen 100%. As usual I use layer mask to remove any unwanted parts:
Duplicate this layer three times and move around the explosion. Name them as “explosion 3″, “explosion 4″, “explosion 5″, “explosion 6″. Use layer mask and black brush ( if you want to clear) or white brush ( if you want to restore) any parts if necessary. You can see how I apply this step in screenshots below ( pay attention to layer mask thumbnail to see how I erase or restore explosion parts on each layer):
Open fire stock. Make selection around fire and copy it into a new layer ( right click this selection, choose Layer via Copy). Drag it in our our main document, resize, transform and place it onto explosion part:
Change the mode to Screen 100% and use layer mask and soft black brush to clear black parts outside the fire:
Duplicate this fire layer five times and move them around explosion. Call all fire layers as from “explosion 7″ to “explosion 12″:
To make the explosion effect look more realistic we must make some reflection of light from it on background. Make a new layer and place it under all explosion layers. Use soft brush with color #cda266 painting around explosion parts. Remember to down opacity for the further parts from explosion. Set the mode to Color 100%:
To make the part nearest the fire brighter, make a new layer and use brush with color #fbe0b0. Paint under explosion bottom and set the mode to Overlay 100%:
In this step we will make explosion effect more visible. Create a new layer on the top. Use soft brush with color #f69e44 painting over the explosion. Put the mode as Soft light 100%:
New layer again, I use brush and color #fbe29d painting on the bottom of explosion. I change the mode to Overlay 100%:
Open smoke stock. Make selection for one smoke part and set feather for it as 80:
Copy it and paste into our canvas, place it to the left of explosion, downsize it to fit the background:
Add layer mask and use brush with 100% opacity to remove any rough edges and brush with 50% opacity to blur smoke effect:
Duplicate this smoke layer and put as Screen mode 100%:
Do the same with the right side of explosion but I use one layer as Normal mode 100%, two rests as Screen mode 100%. Rename all smoke layers as from “smoke 1″ to “smoke 5″:
Now we’ll make broken effect for glass caused from explosion. Create a new layer under explosion layers ( above building ones). Use broken glass brush, number 997 ( or any one you like) to paint on glass part near the explosion. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+ T to transform it to fit the direction of building:
Duplicate this layer to make this effect more visible:
Create some new layers and use another broken brush to paint around the explosion, remember always to use transform tool in the same way above to make it look realistic, duplicate if needed ( I use 9 layers for this effect):
To make broken glass holes, make a new layer above broken ones. Use Polygonal Lasso Tool to make random hole shape on broken parts as shown below:
Use hard black brush (hardness 95-100%) to paint within these selections, then lower opacity a bit to 90%:
In this step we’ll make explosion sparks. Create a new layer on the top. Use brush with 9 px, color # f7dcb1 and press F5 to make settings for it as the images below shows:
Paint randomly on the pic:
Go to Filter-Blur-Radial Blur:
Move it down a bit:
Duplicate this layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%.
Duplicate two these spark layers and move it to the right. Apply Flip Horizontal for them:
Name them as from “spark 1″ to “spark 4″.
From this step we’ll make flying fragments of building caused from the blast. Come back to building layer and duplicate it. Move under layer above building and Hue/Saturation layer.
You can see the the change of our picture, the color of building comes back to its original. To make this color look like before this step, on building layer, press Cmd/Ctrl+U to open Hue/Saturation dialog and fill same settings as we did in step 4. Now we can easily apply some tools for this layer without affecting original building one.
Rename them as “building 1″, “building 2″ or whaterver you want.
To be easier to edit, hide all explosion, broken glasses, spark layers ( you can group them all by using Cmd/Ctrl+G so you just need only one click to do it quickly). On building 2 layer, use Polygonal Lasso Tool ( you can use another tool but I find this tool easy to follow) to make some different selections:
Press Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy them. Make a new layer on the top. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste them into this layer. Move copied parts up to sky spart. Call it “fragements 1″.
Duplicate this layer, move it up a bit, call it “fragments 2″:
To make a 3D effect for fragments, right click “fragments 1 ” layer, choose Blending options:
Choose two these layers, hit Cmd/Ctrl+G to make group for them. Right click this group, choose Duplicate Group. On duplicated group, right click and choose Merge Group. Now we can use this merged group as a normal layer.
On merged layer, choose Filter-Blur-Radial Blur:
Move it up a bit to the left:
Name them as “fragments 3″.
Hide Group 4 and duplicate fragments 3 layer many times. Transform them into differents shapes and directions, position them to get a look that they are being exploded from building ( I use 10 layers for this effect):
To create another fragements, use same method we did in step 19 and you’re free to choose the shape you like. Here is mine:
Apply Radial Blur for them as we did in step 21. Rename all these layers as from “fragments 1″ to “fragments 12″.
We will create group for fragments layers to be easily to edit them together. On fragments 12 layer, hit Cmd/Ctrl+G to create a group. Choose all fragments layers, use move tool to drag them into this new group:
Call this group as “fragments”. Change the mode from Pass Through ( default group mode) to Normal.
To make reflection ( shadow) of fragments through building glass windows, I choose the fragments which are nearest to the glass, duplicate them and apply Flip Vertical for under layer ( Edit-Transform-Flip Vertical). Move it down and lower opacity to 25%. Move this shadow into fragments group, place it at the bottom of it.
Turn on all explosion, broken glasses and spark group. As you see, the fragments come out from blast so they get the light from it. To color them correctly, on fragments 12 layer, choose Layer-New adjustment layer-Color Balance. As the mode of this group is changed to Normal so this Color Balance layer just affect the layers inside this group.
We can see all fragments turn into golden tone. But there are only the parts of fragments which catch light directly from background. So I use soft black brush with different opacities and paint on layer mask of Color Balance layer to restore original colors of fragments. Remember that the nearer fragments should catch more light than further ones so they need brush with smaller opacity.
Create a Hue/Saturation layer above Color Balance layer ( Layer-New adjustment Layer-Hue/Saturation) to desaturate fragments:
Use layer mask to keep some parts which are near explosion bright:
To create more debris for our picture, I use one particle image from particles pack ( I use the 4th image from this pack):
Drag it into our picture, resize and place it on the top:
Name it as “debris”.
Add layer mask and remove any parts which do not look good:
Use same method in step 23 to make reflection for debris but with opacity 20%:
Change the mode of debris to Overlay 100%. To add 3D effect for debris, I use Inner Shadow effect. Right click debris layer, choose Blending options:
To make color of debris fit the background, I use two adjustment layers with Clipping Mask for debris.
Extract model from background and move her in front of explosion, transform her to fit the background:
Create a new layer and place it under model layer. Use soft black brush with small size painting on an iron bar of building that is near to the right leg of model to make shadow for it:
Name it as “model shadow”.
In two next step we’ll make reflection of model through building glass windows. It’s more complex than the cases we usually do so pay attention to it.
Duplicate model layer and place it under model shadow one. Apply Flip Vertical for it and move it under model feet. Transform it to get the look below :
You can see most of the arm meets the one of model but the two legs of reflection should meet the ones of model too. To do it in non-destructive way, duplicate model reflection layer and we have model reflection copy. Hide model reflection layer then on model reflection copy one, go to Filter-Liquify. Choose Forward Warp Tool with settings below ( click to choose Show backdrop to be easier to see if you’re doing right). Depending on the size of your picture you can fill the suitable brush size for the settings.
Pull the legs of reflection until they meets the ones of model. Don’t worry if another parts ( arm) affected as we’ll fix it later. Here is my result:
Add layer mask and use black brush with hardness about 25% to remove the arm:
Now turn on model reflection layer and the part we need to remove is two legs:
Add layer mask and use brush to remove them.
As you can see, there are some fingers of reflection should meet the ones of model. Apply Liquify Tool for them but downsize brush as they are much smaller parts.
My result after this step:
Lower opacity of these reflection layers to 20%:
We can’t see the reflection of model through the iron bars so the reflection parts on it should be removed. Let’s use brush with medium hardness ( 40-50%) to do it on two reflection layers. And you can see my result below:
To change color of model to be fit background, I use a Curves layer with Clipping Mask. Go to Layer-New adjustment layer-Curves:
You may notice that the light on model comes from right to left and the left part of her much darker than the right. In this tutorial we aim to make the main light source comes from behind. To fix it, I use a new layer with Clipping Mask. Press G to active Gradient Tool, choose Linear Gradient with default color ( black and white). Drag a line from right to left:
Change the mode to Soft light 100%:
Use layer mask to remove dark parts on the right side of model and bright part on the left boost:
There are some parts of model still dark against the background. So I use 3 new layers ( Clipping Mask) and soft white brush painting over them. I set one layer to Overlay 100%, two rests as Soft light 100%.
Now we will retouch the face and skin. Create two new layers ( Clipping Mask) and I use brush with color # b2aaa4. Paint on the right side of the face and the arm which is set against the glass window to darken it. Set the mode as Multipy 50% and 20%.
To darken the hair, we continue with two layers ( Clipping Mask). Use brush with color #e7e7e0 painting on bright parts of the hair. Set one layer as Multipy mode 100% and another as Multipy 60%:
To make the reflection of explosion light on model, I use a new layer and brush #fbe0b0. Paint over the model contour and set the mode of this layer to Color 100%:
To add more ambient light for model, I use Inner Shadow effect. Right click model layer, choose Blending options:
You can see a very obvious change after this step.
To create an evil effect for model eyes, make a new layer and take brush with color #fbe0b0. Paint carefully on model eyes and keep the mode as Normal 100%:
New layer and I use brush with same color. Paint around eyes part and change the mode to Soft light 80% to make a glowing effect:
To complete this effect, I use a new layer and white brush with very small size.. Spot in the eyes center and mode is Normal 100%:
To add some depth for picture, I use Blur Tool. Make a new layer on the top ( non-Clipping Mask). Choose Blur Tool ( R) with Strength about 50% and Sample All Layers is checked on property bar. Paint the foreground part that is nearest to viewers:
You can use layer mask to restore any unwanted blurred parts.
We’re going to make some other flying fragments. Use same method in step 19 to make a piece from building and place it in the nearest foreground as shown below:
Remember to position this layer on the top.
Try to make a shape with different angle like mine to be easier to make 3D effect and realistic look.
Apply layer style for it:
Duplicate this layer, transform it into different direction and move it to the right. Try not to make these fragments to hide model part:
Make group for these flying fragments of glass. Duplicate this group then merged it and we have a normal layer. Hide original group. Rename merged group as “flying fragments”.
To create some light reflection on them, apply Inner Shadow effect:
To blur them to fit the blur of foreground, choose Filter-Blur-Gassian Blur:
Because the glass has transparent look so I add a layer mask and use brush with opacity and flow 20-25% to remove most of blur part in it avoiding their contour. Do subtly until you can see background through these glass fragments.
To make more light from explosion on these fragments, add a new layer with Clipping Mask. I use brush with color #fbe0b0 and vary opacity to paint over these fragments. Change the mode to Color 100%.
Use some adjustment layers which are set on the top( non-Clipping Mask) to change color of picture.
Change the mode of this Gradient Map layer to Soft light 100%.
To make picture more contrasted, I use a Levels layer. Choose Layer-New adjustment layer-Levels:
Use black brush on layer mask to remove dark contrast on model boost, legs and sky:
In final step, I use Dodge and Burn Tool to retouch some parts of picture. Create a new layer, set to Overlay 100% and fill with 50% gray:
Use Dodge & Burn tool with Midtones Range and Exposure about 5-10% to brighten and darken some parts of explosion and sky. You can see how I apply it in Normal mode:
You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.
I'm a self-taught designer from Vietnam who enjoys writing and doing most kinds of graphic design, especially photo manipulation. I've always tried to improve my skill and felt happy to share it through my website where you can find lots of my writings as well as photoshop tutorials.
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