#59: SHADOWS & LIGHT (Vue)
(and other apps)


I did a tutorial for postworking renders about six years ago, this one, so it's about time I did another, more up-to-date tutorial on the subject! ;)

Postwork can dramatically improve your renders, fix faults, add new items and all kinds of things, so it's really something to be aware of and try, if you haven't.
Postwork requires a 2D art app, like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, GIMP or similar. I use Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, each has advantages, but recent versions of Photoshop do have some really neat features for improving renders, but most things can be done in either app.

I will explain some of my workflow and tips, but we all have our own way of doing things :)

Here, the intial, untouched render and the final postworked version, show how greatly you can improve an image.




  • I render out and then save three copies of my scene from Vue or whatever 3D app, saving it as .tif and .psd and .bmp in 16 bit where possible.
    Reason for this is because it's vital to have multiple originals, in case you accidentally erase, save over etc, an original!
    Also, saving 16 bit lets you have a high colour for later use if you wish: it's easy to reduce bit depth, but you can't add bit depth later. Note, some older 2D apps can't work with 16 bit images, also most plugins can't be used either, so I reduce bit depth later, see below.
  • Load the file into my app, usually Photoshop CS4 32 bit version, currently. Reason I use the 32 bit verison is most plugins won't work in 64 bit :(
  • I save this file with a new name, typically adding an extension onto it like this "Myfilename_work1"
    This lets me keep sequential files, and I will re-save it, adding to the extension number, as I go on. "Myfilename_work2", "Myfilename_work3" etc
  • Before I procede further, I will now "fix" parts that had problems in the original scene. Usually when you make a render, bits won't be right, for example, a person's hair will stick out through their hat. It's just an unavoidable problem at times, but very easily fixed by hiding the "bad" parts or making them invisible (100% transparent) , and re-rendering a small section of the whole image that's just going to sort the problem.


Here we have an example of such a problem. When I made this character in Poser, part of his hair stuck through, and I couldn't fix this problem there, or in Vue.

You can also render out object masks in your 3D app, if need, for precise artistry in postwork. They let you apply effects, cut bits out, very precisely.


So, I went into Vue, selected the hair object, used "Hide from Render" (or you can make the material 100% transparent), and render out a small section around the problem area. You don't need ot render out the whole image again, just this part, but if your 3D app doens't have the ability to render just a selection out, alas, you need to render it all out again. If you zoomed in to get the one part you will of course, alter the scene perspective etc! Hence, you need to render out a selection, or, the whole scene again.

I then saved out this "fixed" version (again in three formats, trust me, you always want extra copies!), brought it into Photoshop as a new layer above a copy of the original layer. I then moved the small "fixed" piece to the right position, and merged it down onto the copy of the original layer, fixing the problem!

You can also use "Layer Masks" for this kind of thing, when it's more complex, to hide parts that may overlap and look wrong.

Please note: Important rule!! Always ALWAYS, duplicate layers in your 2D app, and work with the duplicate layers!
This is because, if you screw up, you can always go back to the original layer, so, for every addition, change etc, duplicate the layer (or duplicate and merge copies, if multiple layers). I'd also note down in each layer's name what effect I had done, helps if you go back some time later to re-work and udnerstand how oyu did it.

It doesn't matter if you have a file with dozens of layers, that is much better than screwing up and losing all your work, gaaaaaah!! ;)

After I have completed these "fixing" operations, when I'm happy with how it's going, I will save the file, then save again with a new sequential name, as explained above. Then, and only then, I'll merge it down to a single layer, deleting unused layers, and reducing the picture to an 8 bit image, and save it normally.
This avoids accidentally screwing up the original file by saving over it with the 8 bit version! Not that I have ever done such a thing, *cough!*, but it would suck if you did ;)

My original "Lost River" render, was a bit dull, the watefall didn't look too good, and I wanted to add a rainbow to the waterfall to add beauty, and a special effect to show it was a "magical" setting with the heroic wizard using his powers.

Here, I fixed the waterfall, by using the "Smear" tool, making a copy of the layer using the "Motion Blur" filter on it and deleting most of the picture around the copied layer to just leave the waterfall itself, and added some painting with a small brush as well to enhance the waterfall's looks.


Next, I brightened the image up, made it more "eye popping" by adjusting the "Vibrance" of the picture (vibrance = a feature found in CS4 Photoshop similar ot Saturation).
I often also tweak the "Levels" and "Curves" of a picture, plus Saturation (similar to Vibrance), and other settings perhaps. There's so much you can do in that way, that the possibilities are too numerous to try and explain! Please try them for yourself :)

I also used the "Smear" and "Liquify" tools to improve the boat's wake, so instead of a solid edge, it was soft and feathery in places.



Finally I added a rainbow and a magic effect.

Rainbow: there's various ways to make one, depending on what art program you use. But basically, a circular gradient fill with a spectrum colour range, with transparency, should do it. You'll end up with a rainbow in a circle.
Just tweak to fit, and blur it, make the layer opacity down to a suitable amount, as rainbows aren't solid objects. Then I used a "Layer Mask" to hide parts of the rainbow that shouldn't be seen.

Always remember that when adding effects, usually they shouldn't be solid but blend into what's below, to make it blend it's pretty easy to achieve by reducing the layer's transparency. The Rainbow's layer is only at 37% opacity, to let it blend into the scene, rather than be a solid object as you see below (before I fixed it).


Magic Effect: this is quite simple. I have lots of custom brushes for Photoshop I've collected, I used one of these: it's a huge brush with a lot of detail, so I painted it, in white on a new layer, then scaled it way dow in size. Afer that I moved it above the wizard's hand.
Then I added a "Layer effect - Outer Glow" and selected a garident of colour, that gives a nice magical look.


Here is how one of these special brushes looks, that I use in Photoshop to make magic effects, on it's own seperate layer.
Now, I add an "Outer Glow" layer style on that brush layer, and set to to use a gradient, not a solid colour. Groovy, eh? :p
Here is a simple render of a character. I used the same brush, but smaller in size to fit the canvas, moved up over his fingers to make him look like he's casting a spell. Then I used a different brush (Hard Pastel On Canvas in this case), to paint in a more solid effect over his fingers and blend it into the swirls, to make it look better.
Here are the settings to show you how it's done.

Now, if you wish to add a special effect, say of a swirl of magic winding around the character, ending in the spell effect, here's how I do it:

I make a "path" in Photoshop, a vector line, or a "Pen line" in Paint Shop Pro, around the character, in the style of a pipe winding around the character. This was done quick and dirty, so it's far from perfect, but you get the idea ;)

Once the path is done correctly, I "stroke the path", using a small round brush (you can use other brushes for other effects of course)

This is the result.

Now I add an outer glow layer style effect, same as used for the brush above.

This is the trick, to make it look like an actual ribbon of energy, I'll need to hide bits that should be flowing behind the character, which is quite easy!

I make a "Layer Mask" and carefully paint with a small soft black paint brush over areas I want to hide.

For an added touch, I added a a gradient of black to white over this layer from bottom right corner up to his hand, the idea being to make the ribbon effect seem to be faint at the start of his feet, and gets stronger as it goes up.

You can also improve tthe effect by altering the original brush used to make the ribbon, here I use a "Star" shaped brush, adding scattering (for duplicating lots of additonal stars along the ribbon, making it very "sparkly") and fade (for a smooth increase in how wide and strong the ribbon is over its length).

Note you need a very large number to get the "Stroke Path" to fade from a small effect to a strong one at the end, when dealing with paths of this kind of length. You'll have to discover what value is suitable for your picture, as it will vary.

Below I show this, with a slightly different path used than before.

There are also many other ways I improve renders in postwork, of course. One of my favourites is to use "Particle Illusion", which creates gorgeous special effcts of sparkles, fire, smoke etc :) Years ago I was lucky enough to get Particle Illusion 2 SE free on a magzine disc, woot! One of my best buys ever!

Here is one of my pictures I made, "Illithid Eclipse", before I added "Particle Illusion" effects, and a few minor touch ups..
Now THAT, below, is far more spectacular, isn't it? :)

I used layer masks, made when I rendered the scene in Vue, to mask out areas where you shouldn't see the fireballs, such as the ornate top of the well behind the kneeling priest. Always be aware of how you can use masks, especially precise ones made in your renderer, to cut out areas you don't want effects to appear on.

I also added some highlights to the men being blown away by the fireball, taking a brush, using the colour of the fireball and lightly paitning and smearing over the men, to give the apperarance of them being lit up by the fire. Then gave them some motion blue, to emphasize the fact that they have been knocked flying through the air!

GeekAtPlay has a video tutorial on using Particle Illusion as well which is cool :)

Also, you can use "Plugins". Photoshop has many special effects you can do with plugins, and they usually work with other apps too, like Paint Shop Pro. I did a previous tutorial showing my favourite plugins:

In this older pic below, I used Ulead GIF-X 2.0 plugin to make the lighting bolts.

Below is another picture I used a plugin on. The original render was a bit dull, I was looking for a bright, warm, unearthly look to it.

So I used the "Brilliance and Warmth" plugin from Nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 (which I got free with a camera, iirc)
Then used the "Clarify" plugin from Xero Graphics (a free plugin)

Lot better I think :) I also add my monogram onto my pics when I'm finished, to let folk know who made them.

So, you can mix many ways to improve your renders to make them more spectacular! :)

Another technique that can be done is to "soft blur layer" the image giving a soft special look to it.
The two pics below illustrate this.

Basically you duplicate the original layer, then gaussian blur the duplicate between oh, 2 and 15, depending on strength you want and size of image (bigger the image bigger amount, or if you want it very soft and dreamy). Then set the soft blur layer to screen, or another type if wish for different effect, then lower it's opacity to a suitable amount to give a look you like. See pic #2 below

A variant on this is to convert the soft blur layer to a greyscale, set it to Hard Light (or another type) for the layer type, then adjsuted opacity. See pic #3 below

It can produce not just a blur, but alteration of tones etc that's very interesting, depending on what style you set the layer to, mess around see what you can create!


#2 Soft BLur Layer, gaussian blur 6 pixels,layer set ot Screen 75%

#3 Soft Blur layer turned into a greyscale, blurred, then set ot Hard Light, iirc.

And another method of picture alteration is to use "actions" in Photoshops, or "Scripts" in Paint Shop pro, these are automated. recorded tasks, that carry out a set of functions to alter an image. You can get or buy these online, or make your own!

Below shows a pic where I applied such an "action". I split the image to show you the original look on right, and the "action" on the left.

Some "Actions" can do "cartooning" which I explained in a previous tutorial.

I hope you find this of use! :)

All original art, writing on this site, copyright of Steven James, "Silverblade the Enchanter" ©2012