Creating a diorama with PhotoShop

submitted by Jim Bertges


Before I get started, let me say that
I am a mere dabbler in PhotoShop.
Everything I know and plan on
demonstrating here, I taught myself.
So, I’m sure there are many others
with far more experience in this
program who could create a far more
comprehensive demo. However,
no one else has stepped up to
do anything, so I have taken it
upon myself to show how easy it
is to manipulate photos of your
models using these photo programs.
What I have done here is a really
simple setup that I hope inspires
others to experiment and perhaps
provide far more exciting demos
than this one. In the meantime,
let’s get on with it.

I’ve been thinking of doing this tutorial for a while, but I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I originally thought I’d take my camera down to Century City and use
its skyscrapers as a backdrop for this picture, but I never got the time to do that. Other locations came to mind, but they all involved driving and doing some complex setups. Finally I decided just to keep it simple. So one bright Saturday in February,
I took my camera and my Polar Lights Godzilla out to the front of my house
and shot some pictures.

Across the street from my house
I set my Digital camera on a tripod,
tilted the camera up to include plenty
of sky in the shot and snapped away.
It’s important to shoot both pictures
from the same angle so shadows fall
in the same direction in both.

Then I went back to my front yard,
put the Godzilla model up on a ladder
and had my son hold a piece of blue
poster paper behind it. The camera
stayed on the tripod and was at the
same angle as it was when I shot
the house.

With these two pictures tucked away inside my camera, I went inside and transferred
them to my computer. I use PhotoShop 5.0, which offers a number of tools and options. For the purposes of this demo, I’m using as few of them as possible.
The first thing you’ll notice when you open PhotoShop is that on the left side of
the screen you have a box of tools. As in many computer programs, if you place
your cursor over any of the little pictures and hold it there for a second, the name
of that particular tool will pop up. These tools allow you to manipulate your
pictures in many different ways and we’ll get into that as we use them. On the
other side of the screen is a box that lets you work on the various layers of
your project. You can think of layers like cells in animation, they’re like pictures
put on clear acetate that you can lay over each other to create a scene.
The first layer is always the background, then as you cut and paste other bits
into your scene, they become the subsequent layers. On the lower right of your screen in PhotoShop is a box that helps you keep track of your layers and select which layer you wish to work on. There are other tools to use and adjustments
to be made in this area, but again, we’ll talk about those when we get to them.

This is how the screen looks in PhotoShop 5.0.

 On the left are the tools for manipulating the
picture on the desktop. On the right are controls for those tools, a selection of “brush sizes” for use with the Brush Tool, Eraser
Tool, Airbrush Tool & Line Tools. Beneath that is the box that indicates the layers involved in
your current project. You use this box to select the layer you wish to work on. You can also change the position of the layers
& manipulate them in other ways.

You can see that there are some rough
edges on this copy, but once it is pasted
back in place those edges will blend back
with the original background and disappear.
The only places that will have to be dealt
with are those areas around the roof that
will overlap the Godzilla photo. So, the copy
of the house was set aside while I worked
on the Godzilla picture.

The first thing I did with Godzilla was to crop the photo as close as I could to the actual model using the rectangular selection tool. Then, using the “Lasso” tool again I outlined the image
of the model, but not too closely, so I wouldn’t accidentally cut out any of the image itself.
After this selection was made I used the “Inverse” command from the “Select” section of the
tool bar. This reversed my outline and selected everything but the Godzilla image.
Then using the “Cut” command, I was able to eliminate everything but Godzilla and the
small amount of blue that was still around him. Next, using the “Magic Wand” tool I was
able to select those blue areas (the Magic Wand selects areas of the same color all at once)
and cut them out as well. The remaining areas of background were carefully eliminated
using the “Eraser” tool. A box just above the Layers box allows you to select various sizes
of “brushes” to use with your Eraser and other tools. I selected a small, hard-edged Eraser
and zoomed in close to the areas I wanted to erase so I would be sure not to eliminate too
much. The final result is Godzilla floating on a white background.

The next step is to combine the cleaned up Godzilla with the background picture of the house.
In the “Select” section of the menu bar, I used a Select All function on the Godzilla picture
and then from the “Edit” section I used “Copy”. Then taking my cursor to the house picture
(I guess I should mention that I had both pictures open on the desktop at the same time as
well as having the copied picture of the house by itself also open.) Once I’ve clicked anywhere
on the house picture, I chose the “Paste” command from the “Edit” section. And pasted the Godzilla picture on top of the house. This created a new layer in my project so I had the
house photo as the background and the Godzilla as the first layer above that.
It all looked something like this.

So, I had Godzilla floating in the air
above my front yard. This is a point where
I made some adjustments. In the “Image”
section of the tool bar, there is a sizing
function so you can enlarge or reduce
the image on a single layer to your liking.
I sized Godzilla so he’d look properly
menacing as he loomed over my house.

The next step is to create that
Godzilla sandwich I mentioned earlier.
It’s time to do the copy and paste thing
with the picture of the house.
Once the picture of the house by
itself is pasted into place, I use the
“Mover Tool” to slide it around until the
edges match up perfectly with the
background. There is a wire running
behind Godzilla, which ruins the illusion,
so I used the “Smudge Tool” to rub it out
and make it look like a wisp of cloud.

With the house in its proper place, I used the
Magnifying Toolto inspect the edge of the room
and the Eraser to clean up any edges that
interfered with Godzilla. At this point the picture
looks pretty much done, but there is still a little
manipulation to be done. You can see in this
picture that I already started some of those
changes. In order for a large object such as
Godzilla to look like he’s off in the distance,
he has to be made less sharp.

All these manipulations were made only to
the Godzilla layer.  First I reduced the contrast
using the “Adjust” section of the tool bar, using
the “Brightness and Contrast” I increased the brightness slightly while reducing the contrast.
From the “Filter” section I selected a slight
“Gauzian Blur” to push him farther back. Finally,
to help simulate the effects of atmospheric haze,
I made the Godzilla layer slightly transparent
using the layer box tools.


When I was satisfied with the look of my Godzilla, I was ready to compress the image.
In the “Layer” section of the tool bar I selected the “Flatten Image” command, which
squeezed all the layers together into one. With just a little more adjustment to the
“Brightness and Contrast” of the overall picture, I saved the whole thing as a jpeg
and here is my final result.