Born to be Wild




Paranormal PSP8--Tutorial Index--New Features--Layers & Masks--Born to be Wild


I've been using graphics software of one sort or another for nearly a decade, but until recently I've managed to stay out of the Usenet graphics newsgroups.  What an eye opener! In each of the 6 groups I've been monitoring over the last few months, at least three or 4 times a week someone writes in to ask "How do I blend 2 photos together?"

That's not an easy question to answer, because there are at least 10 different ways to do this, and pros know that you "choose your weapons" on a case by case basis. But a skill at the core of successful and flexible image compositing is understanding the power of the Mask.

Masks have changed a bit in PSP 8, so I invite you to join me in the Masks Unmasked series of tutorials- lessons designed to help you understand the how, the why  and the fun of masks.







Inspiration can come from just about anywhere. In my case, the inspiration for this lesson came while I was driving down I-275.  It was rush hour, traffic was backed up and there was this huge Kaluha billboard with a woman morphed into a tiger off to the side of the road.

If I were a more normal person, I might have been inspired to stop off someplace for happy hour. Instead, being me, I was mentally scanning my stock photos to see if I could put something similar together.

To complete this tutorial you'll need the two photos I used, both of which can be found on my Resources page. I'm not going to kid you-- selecting the right photos for a project like this is crucial. The things to look for are

  • •Similar pose-- both our leopard and our pretty lady are facing head on to the camera. She comes to us from Stock.xchng a free photo site on the web at http://www.sxc.hu and the cat is from a stock photo disk in my own library.
  • •Simlar lighting- we can (and will) adjust the color and saturation to match, but the shadow and light patterns have to be roughly similar or your final product will look clumsy
  • •Appropriate bone structure. This woman is far more easly morphed into a lean-faced, high cheekboned leopard than to a broader faced tiger. It can be done (and I'll teach you some tricks for "fooling" the eye as we go along) but it's a lot more work. Want to morph a human into a wolf or Husky, German Shepherd, or Collie? Look for a photo of the human with their chin lowered. looking up from underneath their own eyelashes... (like the picture of Val Kilmer at left) The perspective will elongate the nose, narrow the chin and make the matching go more smoothly.
  • •Make sure the eyes in the photo-- usually the human's, but sometimes the animal's are clear and well photographed. The eyes are key to making this work.

The next decision you need to make is: are you going to make the person look like the animal, or the animal look like the person? If you're doing this for that Kaluha ad and you're using a pretty but largely anonymous model  when you need to make a sacrifice in the interest of harmony, it's a no-brainer, because everyone knows what a tiger looks like but few folks will recognize the model. If, however, you are turning your brother-in-law into a bear for his birthday card, his features are more important than the bear's.

In this tutorial we're going to use masks to seamlessly blend two photos..

For more information, contact me at



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JP Kabala,
Kabala Portfolio Design
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If you like, you can use either of these  graphics for the link.

Shakespeare said "He who steals
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My lawyers and I won't have to do anything to you for violating my trust in re this-- there's a higher power for that. :-)  And trust me, what goes around really does come around

This tutorial can be completed in any graphics application that supports masks, including PSP7 and Photoshop. The locations and names of some of the tools may vary from version to version or application to application, but we will be using standard tools present in most image editing programs.

Let's Get Started

1. Copy the two files, morphcat.jpg and morphwoman.jpg, found on the Resources page to your computer, and open both images in PSP.

2. If your layers palette isn't currently visible, press the F8 key to make it visible.

3. Copy Morphwoman to the clipboard and paste the image into morphcat as a new layer. Name this layer "Woman" and close Morphwoman.jpg

4. You've probably noticed that morphwoman is a great deal larger than the cat picture. Don't crop it yet. Click on the "woman" layer, then choose the Deform tool from the Tools toolbar. This will place adjustment handles around your woman layer, including those portions that extend beyond the boundaries of the background layer. Zoom out (click the icon with the magnifying glass with a minus sign in the center on the bottom of the overview window or use the minus sign key on the numerical keypad)  until you can see all the handles. There should be 8 of them, one in each corner, and one at the center of each side, plus on the center pivot and the rotation arm (see sidebar)


 If you've never used the Deform tool (called the Deformation tool in PSP7 and the Free Transform in Photoshop), attached to the center handle, or pivot point, is an arm that allows you to rotate the contents on an axis set at the point of the pivot.

NEW In PSP8, as a new feature, you can "detach" the pivot point from the center of the object and set a new center of rotation by CTRL clicking on the center pivot handle (the round one) and dragging it away from the center. You can even set a pivot point outside the boundaries of the object itself.  The fact that you need to hold down the CTRL key to make this happen was somehow left out of the help files.

And, if you ever wondered what this icon

 on the Deform tool's options palette is (it's usually grayed out)  it RESETS the pivot back to the center. The only time it is NOT grayed out is if the pivot has been moved from its original position. There's a similar function and  icon for vector objects, by the way

You may not need to use it for this particular project, but I figured I ought to give you the tip.


5.In the layers palette, reduce the opacity of the Woman layer to about 60%- or whatever it takes for you to be able to see both the features of the woman and those of the cat. You'll see that her head is tipped slightly to one side. Using the center handle of the deform tool, rotate the contents of the woman layer until here eyes are level, and her left eye (which is on the right side of the picture, because she is facing you) is aligned with the left eye of the cat. At this point, you should have something like this:

I included a little of the image border area for a reason. (some folks call this area the "chain link fence" but since the cat picture actually has some real chain link fence in it, I didn't want to confuse you!)  Note that the handles around your woman layer are still outside the borders of the cat image. That's perfectly fine for now.  Also note that while her left eye lines up, her right one does not. That's because the anatomy of people and leopards aren't very similar. Our woman has an oval face, and our leopard has a triangular one.

6. Take the middle handle on the left side (just barely visible at the bottom edge of the photo above) and move it toward the right a bit- not all the way over so that the (her right, your left) edges of her face and the cat's are aligned, but just enough so her nose and lips begin to match.  You may need to make a few other small adjustments with the center pivot handle as you do. See below.  I've marked the areas to concentrate on. Make her eyebrow conform to that of the leopard, center her lip and nose on the cat's, make sure the eye stays level, and line up the point of her chin. This isn't rocket science, it just takes a steady hand.





Did you happen to notice that only one side-- the one that will eventually be shown as the human side, really matches up? That's because people aren't cats, and if you want her human side to look like an attractive human, you can only go so far with this. Even the professional Kaluha ad (you can see it at http://www.kaluha.com) took a few liberties with this.  It's all an optical illusion. They used the "torn paper effect" (which I should probably write a tutorial on some day) to mask the discrepancies, but look at the key alignment points- the brow ridge, the eye,  and the chin.  (Also note the pose of their model vis a vis what I said about the Val Kilmer photo above.)


7.  Let's get rid of all the extraneous pixels outside the canvas area now.  There's a really quick shortcut for this.  Hold down the CTRL key and strike the A  (CTRL+A) to select the entire canvas. Then hold down the SHIFT key and strike the R (Shift+R) to crop the image of the woman to the canvas size set by the cat picture. (the long way is Edit>Select All, followed by Image>Crop to Selection if you like menus more than keystrokes)

8. OK, enough of this image preparation stuff! You want to see masks work their collaging magic. In the layers palette, change the opacity of the Woman layer to 100% "Bye, Bye, Kitty" for now. Still in the layers palette, click the third icon from the left. Looks like a pointed little face in a box. (This is written for PSP8. In other applications or versions, you would do whatever it takes to add a mask to the image in your particular software.) It doesn't look like your image changed much, but your layers palette sure did!

Since all of this has changed a little in version 8, let's look at the palette before we move on.

The background layer contains the unchanged leopard. When you clicked the Mask icon, PSP8 created a new layer group called Group-Woman. That layer group contains 2 layers. The woman layer that we have been working on and a new mask layer, which it automatically named Mask-Woman.

If you'd chosen to create your mask via the layers menu (instead of using the icon), you would have seen five options Hide All, Show All, Hide Selection, Show Selection and From Image. By using the third icon on the layers palette(or,alternately you could have done it via the menus as Layers>New Mask Layer>Show All) you have created a Show All mask-- that is, one that is completely transparent when it is first created. Since this layer is completely transparent, your image doesn't look like anything has changed yet. But look over at the materials palette (see sidebar) .. All of your colors have been replaced by shades of gray. That's because masks are always grayscale

9. Click in the foreground swatch of the materials palette to open up the larger materials picker, and click the Gradients tab. Locate the Black-White gradient and set it as shown below. Then use the flood fill tool to fill the mask layer.

The result will look something like this (size reduced)

Now, before you say, "Well, JP, they blend, but not in the right places!" have a little faith. When you see how easy this is to fix, you'll wonder what all the fuss about masks is about!


10. Remember our old friend the deform tool? Go get it again, and make sure you've clicked on the Mask-Woman layer. You've got deformation handles again. This time, grab the one in the center of the right side ( the 3 o'clock position, if you were looking at a watch face) and slowly drag it to the left until the right edge is about even with the center of her left eye (your right side, since she's facing you). Grab the handle in the center of the left side (the 9 o'clock position) and drag it to the right, stopping just before you get to the cat's ear.

Now your image looks like this. We have a couple of little problems to fix, but we're getting there. If we crop our pretty lady to the top of the leopard's head, she's going to look very odd.  We need to give the leopard a little more forehead before we crop the picture. There are about a dozen ways to do this, including the warp and clone tools, but all we really need to do in this picture is stretch the leopard a little bit.

11. In the layers palette, right click on the background and choose Promote Background Layer from the context menu that pops up. Go back to the deform tool, and make the leopard's face a little taller and a little wider, but keep that nose and eye aligned as much as possible. You won't be able to make the leopard's head match hers completely, but you will be able to do cut the discrepancy in about half like this>>>

12. Now it is time to color correct the leopard to warm the colors up a bit. I used the Adjust>Color> Manual Color Correction, and when I couldn't find a skintone preset I liked, I went to the Woods presets and chose Tulipwood, Raw Wood. You're looking for color harmony here, not an exact match between the skin tone and the fur color.

13. Next, let's do a few corrections to the Mask-woman layer. Choose a small round brush (about 20 pixels) at an opacity of about 35%. Place pure white in your foreground swatch in the materials palette,and paint over the area of the cat's visible eye, slowly revealing the pupil and iris of the woman's eye , but not the fur-covered area surrounding the eye (see sidebar)  If you make a mistake, don't worry! To get the cat's eye back, just change the foreground color to pure black, paint over the area, and then switch back to white and try again.

Why does this work?  We're now at the heart of how masks function.  Masks only apply to the layers in their layer group. When you paint on the Mask-woman with white you are saying to PSP "Show more of the woman layer." When you paint with black you are saying "Hide more of the woman layer."  When you hide more of the woman layer, you see more of the bottom layer-- the cat. If you want to get a better understanding, turn off the visibility of the bottom Cat layer, and you'll see that the mask causes the woman to fade to complete transparency at the black edge, and gradually fade in to full opacity as the gradient fill becomes whiter and whiter. When you pant with white over the eye area, that small section becomes less transparent.

14. If you turned it off before, turn your cat layer back on for the next steps. I did a few little "touch ups" with the paintbrush, black to hide her jewelry a bit more completely where it bled through on the cat's neck, some white to clean up some edges I thought were a little harsh, but now we're ready to crop the image. Choose the crop tool. We're going to have to crop tightly as shown, losing parts of both the woman's ear and the Cat's, because there is no way to resolve the anatomical differences in the ears.

15. After cropping, all I did was CTRL+A select all.  Merge all the layers (Layers>Merge>Flatten). Do not deselect. Add a white border by choosing Image>Add Borders and choose a white color and 25 pixels, symmetrical. Still don't deselect. As a last touch, with the photograph still selected, I added a slight drop shadow.

All done. No animals harmed or Kaluha imbibed in the creation of this tutorial.











Copyright(c) 2003 JP Kabala, Kabala Portfolio Design. All rights reserved.