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29 December 2008 @ 11:58 pm
Manips Part I - Choosing a base III : lighting, color or black & white  
Third post of the ongoing "picking a base" series where I try to explain what it is I do with manips, and most importantly, WHY I do it.  Again, we won't be getting to the manip today.  Very soon, I promise.  But first this is all about picking the right place to start.

The things I look for in a base:

1. hotness
2. image resolution
3. image file size
4. head position
5. body type


This might be, more importantly, called "shadows" instead of lighting.  When I talk about finding the right lighting I'm not talking about the lamp in the picture, but instead about where the light is coming from in all of your shots.  If you're trying to take a face from a picture where the light source is in the upper right corner, you need to make sure you're putting it into a photo that ALSO has the light source in the upper right corner (or vice versa).  This is because all of these lights create areas of light and shadow on the face

Sometimes this can be corrected by manually adjusting the lighting (I'll get to that, in a future tutorial), but the best way to work is to try to match your lights.  Especially if the face you're looking for has deep shadows.

Like the following photo.  If you remember from the first part of this tutorial, you probably wouldn't choose this picture just because Buffy's head is at a very unusual angle.  BUT we're not talking about her chin/face angle here... take a moment and look at her face, and see if you can figure out where the light is positioned.

Where is the light coming from?  Click below and you'll see - for the most part the light is coming from the lower right hand corner of the frame.  Thus if you wanted to use this shot for a manip, your base would need to have the same or similar lighting.

Check out this photo (it's another gimmie)

Where is the light coming from?  If your answer was "the window!" you're so right!  But also, the light is coming from the top of the window (which is why her gown is illuminated past the window ledge).  Click the picture below to see a diagram of the direction.  Also note the just how deep the shadows are in this photo.  The very bright light creates deep shadows on her arms, on her neck, and on the side of her face.

This is one of my favorite source pictures, but I'll be honest, I'm not pleased with how the manip came out.  I really wanted it to be of Buffy/SMG, but I didn't have any pictures that really fit the lighting or the tilt of the head.  So I tried to use a face that had very high and bright light on it, to at least match that, even if I didn't quite get the head position:

<< You'll note that her neck/face looks really UNCOMFORTABLE.  I transformed this really beautiful picture to something that looks a little staged - like Buffy was caught doing something bad because her face is scrunched on her neck, and because the shadows don't match.  It's ok, but it's not flawless.

I cannot stress how important getting the lighting as close as possible is.  This is one of the things that your inexperienced graphics viewer may not be able to identify is wrong in a manip, but their unconscious brain will tell them that picture is slightly off.  The closer you get, the closer you will be able to fool people, creating seamless work.

Now, here's the good news:  MOST (but not all) show promotional shots don't have strong light sources.  Or the strength of the light will be full on the actor's/actresses' face.  THIS IS GOOD.  If you start with a base that doesn't have deep shadows, you can use those promo shots!  If you start with a base that has some shadows, you can use those promo shots and add the shadows in.  So my best advice is to download as many shots of your actor/actress as you can, and grab those promo shots.  Often (especially in this day and age) they will be really high resolution, often higher than screencaps and better quality, because they're from the ad-company who wants you to see, and love, those characters.

Oh, and a word about screencaps: Screencaps can be *great* for getting nonstandard facial positions.  Screencaps can be *AWUFL* for getting strong lighting, or clearly isolated heads on plain backgrounds.  Since there are usually 3 different lights for each shot, the mix can be quite dangerous, and can read as "off" even when the dominant light is dead on.  Also, for older shows the screencap quality can be quite dissapointing, and unless you're going to go recap everything yourself, proceed with caution.  And most often, I don't advise using screencaps as BASES because of the lighting.  Unless you're going to do a whole course about how studio lighting is used, it's very tough to get the lighting totally dead on if you're using screencaps as a base.


color or black and white

The eternal question - do you do color manips or black and white?  Color manips means you have to match skin tone.  Black and white mean that the colors aren't as vibrant.  Color is new.  Black and white is classic. 

For color manips:
you've got to match the skin tone in some shape or form.  If you don't, you'll have a sun-tanned body and a white-skinned head and they will look BAD.  Very bad.  So remeber that skin tone is made up of a variety of colors - from pink to brown, and depending on the lighting used a face and neck will reflect all of those colors in tiny variations. 

Now, there is a way to *attempt* to get skin tones from two different pictures to match in photoshop - it's called "color match" and here's a tutorial on how to do it (and some other ways you might want to use it).  

Don't forget to be objective about the photos you're using - unfocus your eyes and see *just* color instead of the details of the faces. 

Some skins have red shadows:

<< which, if you're trying to sub someone out (say Faith or Willow for Buffy?) you'd need to duplicate that reddish/orange hue on the shadows of the face otherwise it won't look right

Some have blue with pink underlights

<< say if you're trying to have Xander or Oz or Faith in place of Angel, then you're going to have to duplicate both the blue shadows and the purple/pinky undertone on the rest of the face.

For black and white manips:
you've got to be even more conscious about variations in shadows and light, because that's the ONLY thing that your viewer sees.  Some people find this much easier.  Some find it harder because then you really have to be careful about your lighting all the time.

For example, take a look at the pictures posted overhead changed to black & white:

<< now as long as you've got someone with a relatively pale face you can swap either Buffy or Angel right out of the photo!  There are no high lights on Angel's face (although be careful - Buffy's face is actually outlined because the light source is behind them, and you'd want to see if you could duplicate that if you swapped her face out). 

Or for the one that had all those multiple underlights and shadows:

<< now all that unresolved stuff is gone!  The only thing you need to worry about is finding a face that's in shadow with the nose and brow highlighted. 

It's relatively easy to change your color bases to black and white, and it's one way to resolve *some* of the multiple things you're going to be juggling to make a manip work.  On the other hand, if you are able to match (particularly match skin tone) it lends your manipulations a vibrancy and pop that the more subtle b&w don't.  You choose.