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Create a Halloween Inspired Flaming Wooden Skull

Halloween is Coming! – Time For Our First Halloween Tutorial!

We’re going to be celebrating Halloween in style this year, so please enjoy our first of several Halloween inspired Photoshop tutorials.

Final Image

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Step 1

Create a new document (600X650px) and fill it with a linear gradient ranging from 1e1d21 to 2c2e29. I want to avoid using black for my background, and it can cause your images to be a little flat. Using near-black colors will often add greater depth.

Step 2

Now paste in this photo of a sandy beach:

Sandy Beach Photo.

Resize and position your image so that the sand takes up most of your canvas:

Step 3

Now change your sand photo layer’s blend mode to ‘multiply’.

Apply a layer mask (go to: layer>layer mask>reveal all). Drag a black-transparent linear gradient down from the top of your canvas. This should mask off the top of your sand photo, letting your sand fade nicely into your background.

Step 4

Now cut out and paste in this photo of a skull into the center of your canvas:

skull photo.

Step 5

Now cut out and paste in this great image of a tree branch (select the best looking branch for your composition):

tree branch photo.

Call this layer ‘tree branch original’.

Step 6

Now duplicate your branch layer, and hide the visibility of your original.

Now go to edit>puppet warp (you’ll have to use regular warp if you don’t have CS5). Warp your branch to fit the shape of your skull.

Very importantly, after warping your branch, go to filter>sharpen>sharpen. This should help retain the details of your branch, and make sure it doesn’t become too blurry.

Step 7

Now keep duplicating and warping your original invisible branch layer, and fitting each duplicate to the shape of your skull.

The images below show the progress of this technique:

Step 8

Now merge down all of your warped branch layers, until you have your wooden skull on a single layer.

Move your skull layer above your wooden skull layer. Turn off the visibility, but feel free to turn it on for reference if you need.

Then create a new layer called ‘dodge/burn’. Go to edit>fill and fill your layer with 50% gray. Then change the layer blend mode to ‘overlay’.

Use a soft black paintbrush to paint in your shadows, and a soft white paintbrush for your highlights.

Step 9

Move your skull photo on top of your dodge/burn layer and make it visible. Then change it’s blend mode to ‘multiply’.

Step 10

Now tidy up your wooden skull layer. Use your lasso tool to select and stray areas that are jutting out, and generally clean up the edges a bit.

Step 11

Download this photo of a bonfire.

Paste it to be positioned beneath your skull layer, and also beneath your skull in terms of composition.

Change your layer blend mode to ‘screen’. This hides the black background of the photo, but lets the flames remain visible. Use a soft eraser to erase the hard edges of the image, just to blend it very smoothly with your background.

Step 12

Now duplicate your bonfire layer, which should make it much more intense. A little too intense though, so drop it’s opacity to 45%.

Step 13

Now duplicate your fire layer again, and move it to be ABOVE your skull layers in your layers palette. Use a large, soft eraser to erase the areas underneath your skull, meaning that this top-layer of fire only contains data that covers the bottom part of your skull. Then duplicate this layer several times to make it more intense (it will be very faint if you just leave one layer). Merge these duplicates together and call this layer ‘top flame’.

Step 14

Repeat this flame technique to create a smaller flame coming off of the side of your wooden skull. Make sure you’ve duplicated your flame enough times for it to be intense, and then merge these duplicates together.

Then use your puppet warp tool to make the flames seem like they are coming off of your skull, rather than just placed next to it:

Step 15

Add a few more flames to your composition, using your puppet warp tool and eraser to help shape them nicely.

Step 16

Now create a new layer beneath your skull and fire layers, but above your sand and background layers. Call this layer ‘light source’.

Create a radial gradient ranging from orange to transparent. Then use your transform tool to squash your radial gradient and widen it, until it’s an oval type shape.

Finally, move it to the bottom of your canvas, and reduce this layer’s opacity to 25%.

Step 17

Now create a ‘Channels’ adjustment top layer (settings below):

Step 18

Now apply a gradient overlay adjustment layer (settings below). Reduce this layer’s opacity to 15% to make the effect far more subtle:

And We’re Done!

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:

About the Author:

Tom is the founder of PSDFAN. He loves writing tutorials, learning more about design and interacting with the community. On a more interesting note he can also play guitar hero drunk with his teeth.

Leave a comment


  1. zerofx says:

    very nice tutorial, very inspiring!

  2. image viewer says:

    I have always loved this type of tutorial to look upon. Soon I am going to have a party based on this theme, at that time would love to use this. Will try to make such more templates. I just want to make my party rocking and this would be a great choice.

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