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Victor Murillo Jansegers and ‘After the Storm’

By Victor Gavenda

If you spend much time on the Create Magazine website, Victor Murillo Jansegers’s work may look familiar. This Spanish artist was one of the ten community winners of our Fall 2016 Take Ten challenge and the grand-prize winner of the Spring 2016 Take Ten challenge. Curious to know more, we recently talked to him about his background and process.

Murillo was born in Castellón de la Plana, a small city on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and still works there today as an illustrator and graphic programmer. In the last year, he has focused more on user interface, user experience, and interaction design.

Murillo, a big fan of generative art, loves to explore geeky algorithms (his words) for creating procedural images or altering the pixels of a photograph; he likens the experience to creating a Photoshop filter.

Examples of Murillo’s experiments in procedural art.

He also continues to experiment with compositing. To better understand how he works, we asked him to break down the techniques behind the Adobe Photoshop CC collage he submitted for the Fall 2016 Take Ten contest. 

Click the video on the left to see the ten Adobe Stock images we supplied for the Fall 2016 Take Ten challenge. On the right, “After the Storm,” Murillo’s submission created using those ten images.

As with every Take Ten challenge, Murillo had ten Adobe Stock assets to work with. He could combine them in any way as long as he used all ten and the finished work somehow spoke to the theme (in this case, “The Storm”).

His “After the Storm” evokes the memory of a battle against the elements by replacing the head of the human book reader with a tall ship, sails in tatters, still buffeted by swirling waves and threatening clouds. It’s an impressive scene.

Murillo first assembled the composition as a collage and then carefully retouched color and used Levels and Curves adjustments to normalize tonal levels throughout the composite. Next, he switched to the brush tool and painted in highlights on a new transparent layer, adjusting the colors to suit the local environment. He works with a stylus on a tablet.

Painstaking attention to detail is always key to a convincing fantasy image. The sails on the ship in “After the Storm” give every impression of having been through a gale. They’re torn and shredded, with ragged edges and gaping voids. The jibs are so weather-beaten that they have become limp and threadbare—the color of the sunset is visible through them. One jib is even on the verge of floating free in the wind.

In the original stock photo, however, the sails are taut and pristine; the jibs are opaque. “The boat itself was a real challenge. The photo had too much information for the image I had in mind,” Murillo says. Most of the intricate rigging (the ropes and pulleys) had to go, as it would likely have been lost in the storm. Murillo used the Clone Stamp tool and the Spot Healing Brush tool to eliminate those details by copying pixels from the sail area and painting over the rigging where it crossed the sails.

To affect the original sails themselves, he added layer masks so he could “damage” the sails by painting on the mask with the Brush tool using shades of gray. To create rips and gashes in the sails, he painted with pure black. (A black mask conceals the pixels on its layer, allowing imagery from the layer beneath to show through. Lighter shades of gray let some of the texture on the masked layer remain, producing the translucent appearance of the jibsails.)

The uppermost jib billows gracefully upward. Murillo achieved this with Photoshop’s Puppet Warp. He set pins along the long edge of the jib as well as at each vertex of the triangle. Then he dragged up on the pins in the middle of the long edge to form an arc, at the same time allowing the vertex pins to keep the basic shape of the sail anchored in place.

Puppet Warp in action on the sails.

The water seems to swirl around the ship, an illusion Murillo created by opening the Adobe Stock water image that clearly shows the horizon line and choosing Edit > Transform > Warp.

To get the water on the right side of the island to swoop around, Murillo turned the control points in the corners of that side of the image into smooth curves. The key was to rotate the control handles for each point so that they form a straight line.

First he dragged the upper-right corner down and to the left and adjusted the control handles so they sloped smoothly down to the right at about a 45º angle. That narrowed the image around the area of the horizon, making it easier to focus the next adjustment on the waterline.

Next, he dragged the lower-right corner point up and to the left to start the water curling counter-clockwise. Again, he rotated the point’s control handles so they formed a straight line. It required extreme manipulation to get the water to loop around; he twisted the control handles a good ways counter-clockwise. 

Approaching maximum warp, Captain!

Finally, he placed the mouse pointer just below the horizon near the right edge of the image and dragged down. That tightened the curl of the water, but also moved the other control points. Murillo says that many more small tweaks were needed until he was happy with the final adjustment.

Not even tiny details like the rocks at the water’s edge escaped Murillo’s eye. He used Photoshop’s Pen tool to extract them from a larger image, then added Levels and Curves adjustments to enhance their cragginess. The stones are convincingly integrated into the splashing surf around them. Murillo was careful to select portions of the source images where the foaming water contained a great deal of detail. He composited the splashes into the image using the Screen blending mode. He also added a layer underneath the water on which he painted with dark, aquatic tones to give the roiling water more depth.

Another element that gives “After the Storm” its power is the unified lighting. When compositing images from a variety of sources, the believability of the final scene depends on all of the images appearing to have the same source of illumination. “Undoubtedly, this was the most difficult part of the challenge,” Murillo says. “I always leave this part to the end.”

You can learn more about the work of Victor Murillo Jansegers on Behance and on the website for his design firm, Uve Studio.