The Gospel of Photoshop
I began by opening a photo of Tokyo, which appealed to me because of the many interesting building shapes. Using the Pen Tool, I meticulously outlined the skyline building by building. Although you only see a few seconds of the process in the above video, it took me more than 20 minutes to form the selection. I then inversed the selection so that the sky was selected. I deleted the sky so that only buildings are in the layer.
On a new layer, I laid down a yellow color using the Brush Tool set to a standard brush and maximum shading on the edges, which makes a smooth gradient. In the Layers panel, I changed the yellow layer's Blend mode to Saturation. I repeated the process in another new layer, brushing over a small area of the image.
I opened the Adobe Stock image of a dormant volcano, selected its silhouette with the Pen Tool, and copied and pasted it into the city composition. In the Layers panel, I clicked on the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon and, in the dropdown menu that appears, I selected Gradient Map. I then chose one of my favorite gradients and applied the layer to the volcano layer. I set the Blend mode to Lighten.
Finally, I added a mask, erased the bottom part of the volcano, and brushed over the mask layer with the image of the volcano area so that it looks like the volcano is behind the small buildings.
Inspired by the Japanese animated film Akira, I decided to add a moon in the earth. I opened the gray moon photo, selected it with the Elliptical Marquee Tool, and copied and pasted it into the main image window. I put the moon on a layer below the Tokyo layer, and then I moved and rotated the moon layer.
Similar to the volcano, I made a new Adjustment Layer, chose Gradient Map, and applied a gradient to the moon layer, but this time, I set the Blend mode to Saturation. To make the moon look more convincingly part of the cityscape, I carefully edited the buildings in the city layer to let parts of the moon show through.
I won't show you the video in which I opened and selected the Los Angeles skyline because the process was the same as the one I used for the Tokyo skyline.
The video above begins after I copied and pasted the LA skyline into the main composition. On a new layer, I brushed yellow onto the LA skyline and then set its Blend mode to Saturation. On another new layer, I brushed a turquoise color on top of the LA skyline and set its Blend mode to Divide.
The process of adding the red moon was very similar to adding the grey moon. The video above begins after that, with the creation of the grid you see in the final artwork. It reminds me of a grid in the film The Thirteenth Floor.
To make that grid, I created a new file and, using the Brush tool, I drew a black line on the left side of the file window from top to bottom. I held down the Shift key to keep the line straight. I then simultaneously held down the Shift + CTRL + Alt keys on my PC (Shift + Control + Command on a Mac) and pressed the arrow key on my keyboard three times to move the black line by 30 pixels. I combined the layers into one layer and repeated the action until the lines reached the right edge of the canvas. I duplicated that layer, rotated it 90 degrees to form the grid, and combined both line layers.
To quickly change the grid line color, I created a new layer, attached it to the grid layer, selected a new color, and used the Paint Bucket tool to paint the grid. I merged the two layers into one. After copying and pasting the colored grid into the main composition, I used the Transform tools to stretch it into the shape I had in mind.
After using a Gaussian Blur to give the top moon an outer glow (not shown), I created a new layer attached to a building layer and carefully brushed a turquoise color onto the buildings in the background. I set the layer's Blend mode to Hue. Although this video clip shows me working on only one building, I painted buildings throughout the background.
After adding another layer of buildings from Tokyo to the artwork (not shown), I lightened the colors of particular buildings dotted throughout the cityscape. This not only increased the composition’s visual interest, but it also made those buildings resemble objects in a computer game that highlight when you choose them with your cursor.
To lighten those particular buildings, I made a new layer in which I painted with a white brush on top of each of the buildings. I then created a mask in this layer and used the Eraser tool to partially erase the white, generating the highlight effect.
As a final touch, I gave some buildings a green highlight, following the same process I used in the previous video for the white highlight effect. In the animated GIF below, you can see the final image form layer by layer.