5 September 2010

Pendulum's Immersion album cover art step-by-step

Recent Number 1 album Immersion by drum n’ rockers Pendulum features a photo-illustrative cover by Polish artist Maciej Hajnrich (aka Valp), which was also used across the Collector’s Box Set, including double vinyl, postcards and a bunch of merchandise.

Here, Hajnrich shows off the techniques for photo manipulation, retouching and editing he brought to bear on the cover. It was created in collaboration with album cover guru Storm Thorgerson, best known for covers including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

The real creative challenge for Immersion was to achieve an original and natural-looking scenario merged with some hyper-real techniques. The more you look at the cover, the more you can see. It’s designed to hypnotize and immerse the viewer.

Step 1 The album’s title Immersion brought a sinister, deep ocean to mind, with strange creatures, corals and suchlike. The original sketch was created in Photoshop at only 1400 x 1400 pixels.

One thing to remember here – and throughout the composition – is that while album covers are great to experiment with, the art needs to be viewable both as a 30cm sleeve for the vinyl and as a thumbnail at an online store.

Step 2 I was supplied with a composited photograph as a starting point. It was impossible to take a shot with so many swimmers, so many were taken and then combined. Bridge CS5 was very handy here for organizing all your resources. The nude figures in the middle are crucial to the artwork, so much time was taken selecting the right pose.

Step 3 I began working with the shot of the two nude swimmers and added lighting coming down from the surface. I sketched light rays down and used the Screen blending mode to light the image.

I took an abstract shape, and converted it to a Smart Object (Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object). I used the Warp tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to pull it into an arch shape with the ‘rays’ coming down. The layer’s Blending Mode was set to Overlay.

Step 4 Next-up, colour correction. I prefer to work with several Hue and Saturation and Curves adjustment layers with different blending modes. Here, I desaturated and darkened the original image by moving the sliders to the left.

Step 5 For the jellyfish, I chose a basic brush with soft edges and created a new layer with an Outer Glow effect (Layer > Layer Style > Outer Glow). Using a bright colour (#ffffbe), I set the Opacity to 64% screen and painted them with quite a large-sized brush.

I used the same tool for adding some water bubbles all around the place.

Step 6 I added more water bubbles here, using a brush with hardness set to 100%. I tapped here and there using different opacities and various angles and roundness, all of which can be changed in the Brush panel.

I also added some more light in the centre, both behind and in front of the two main figures.

Step 7 To bring the ghostly collective to life, I placed all elements on either side of the main image and performed a group merge (Layer > Merge Group) of these layers. I made a new layer and copied the outer glow effects.

To do this, I right-clicked on a layer and chose Copy Layer Style, then right-clicked on a newly added layer and chose Paste Layer Style. I used a small sized brush to paint ghosting on the edges – so it looks like the figures are crackling with electricity.

Step 8 To focus on the coral walls and the bottom of the ocean, I turned off all of the glowing layers. This section was very time consuming but it was important to blend all the photos well. I used a very soft brush for careful masking and the Curves adjustment layers to darken images. The goal is to keep original underwater colours, so I focussed on blues and greens.

Step 9 For the background details, I worked from a stock shot of some coral reefs. I masked the coral gently and set the Blending mode to Luminosity, so it would match the colour from layers below. These images needed to be rather dark silhouettes, so everything in front will stand out in contrast.

Step 10 To really bring it to life, the underwater world needed some creatures. I placed them in various positions and at different sizes and dimensions for a sense of variety – like the whale in the foreground or the shark in the background as shown (right). Some of them can be really tiny, like the small fish below the couple, as they will add real depth to the vinyl artwork without detracting when the piece is viewed as a thumbnail in iTunes.

Step 11 Additional elements, such as the dead fish and extra jellyfish, were created with black backgrounds and comped in. Using the Screen blending mode means no masking was necessary. For some more subtle details, I added some abstract shapes as well, placing them on a layer with the an Outer Glow Layer Style applied as before.

Step 12 The end result was in sight. I just had to make sure that all the layers are treated similarly so that the whole artwork is coherent. I paid particular attention to make the edges glow in the same way as the ghosts and creatures.

Step 13 The final step is typography. I created and placed the type as flat, single colour text. I created a path around it to paint within by selecting (Layer > Create Clipping Mask) and used a soft brush to paint above it. I created a selection from the text, create a mask on a new layer and copy the Outer Glow Layer Style to it. Now paint on that layer for a shining effect on the top edge of the title.


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