Morphing Objects in Photoshop 5
by Richard Lynch

Morphing is creating a hybrid image from two original source images. The final image is a cross or compromise between the two originals in shape and structure. For example, when morphing a cat with a tiger, the end result will not look quite like either, but will mix the traits of both.

Though there are software packages that will create morphs, it is possible to use the power of Photoshop to create more unique and controlled morphs. Every situation where you will be creating a morph or hybrid of two images is different, however, the goal of this exercise is to show how to use a procedure in developing morphed images. In creating any morph, there are innumerable variables. The example shows a variety of the types of problems you may encounter, but is not exhaustive of the variables.

As the viewer may not have the benefit of the original images, the effect of the morph depends on it depicting both objects with relative clarity. For this example, a light meter (fig1) and a computer mouse (fig2) were chosen for their relative similarity, and to create a type of metaphor for 'computer photography'. Completing the alteration will require morphing, detailing and compositing of images. The goal of the exercise is to create an intermediate stage between These images were scanned from objects at 100% of their original size.

  

Figure 1                                    Figure 2

Keeping basic elements of the mouse, such as the general shape and button, will make that suggestion apparent. The light meterŐs face and dial are the prominent features, and these will help anchor its identity. Of course, some trade-offs will have to occur as the distortion of the objects progresses, but keeping the major elements intact can help define the objects. The rest of the image, including background and other elements, should help clarify the final intent of the morph.

The Basic Steps:

1. Select two images to morph.

2. Isolate the image elements.

3. Create a new document.

4. Place the image elements in the new document.

5. Make a visual comparison between elements using opacity

6. Make rough general adjustments.

7. Fine-tune the fit of image elements.

8. Fix, replace or add image detail.

9. Add light and shadow effects.

10. Flatten the image.

11. Save.

Steps

1. Select two objects which have desirable characteristics to be morphed. Though it is possible to choose quite dissimilar objects, objects which are closer in original form will be easiest to work with. In other words, a donut can be morphed with a cathedral, but it would be far easier to make the morphing work with the donut and a car tire.

2. Isolate the objects or image elements you will be working with from their respective backgrounds. It is probably best to feather the selections by 1 or 2 pixels depending on the resolution. The example images were easy to select, as the scans were made with easy separation in mind. Selections for other morphing projects may not prove to be so simple if you are borrowing elements from existing images.

3. Create a new document some 20% larger than the bigger of the two images you will be using. In the case of the example, this would be the light meter. This will allow you room to move and shape the objects.

4. Use the selections created in step 2 to copy the objects to the new document. With the selection active, it is probably easiest to just Copy from the original and Paste into the new. However, you may want to use the Layer Via Copy function if you prefer (LAYER>NEW>LAYER VIA COPY).

5. Use the opacity to compare the images. Check comparative size, contour and detail. The comparison may reveal image similarities that were not apparent during selection of the images.

           Figure 3

Note how the curve for the mouse button conforms somewhat to the arch of the dial and bottom of the meter window. This was not anticipated but can be used later to create a better morph.

6. Make the rough general adjustments to the image sizes and shapes and elements.

First, the elements were matched for general size. The mouse was scaled larger to about the size of the light meter For best resolution and results, it is usually best just to size down the larger item. In this case, the mouse was scaled larger as there was far more detail in the light meter -- and very little that could be lost in the mouse. Figure 4 shows a comparison between the original mouse size, the larger compromise size, and the light meter. The mouse was scaled using the Scale envelope (EDIT>TRANSFORM>SCALE).

                   Figure 4

The dial was selected out from the light meter and copied to another layer, then it was sized with the Numeric function (EDIT>TRANSFORM>NUMERIC) to 90%. The selection was made using the Magnetic and Polygonal Lassos. The Magnetic Lasso did a good job of hugging the dialŐs ridges, while the Polygonal Lasso was easier to use on the broader curve (using very short Polygonal segments). Figure 5 shows the result of the sizing overlaid on the scaled mouse.

           Figure 5

The meter face was selected out of the light meter and placed in its own layer. The top portion of the meter window was contoured to the front button edge of the mouse using the Shear filter. Figure 7 shows the result of applying the Shear pictured in figure 6.

           Figure 6

           Figure 7

7. Fine-tune the fit of the image elements.

The dial already fit well to the mouse, so there was no need to fine-tune it. The meter window, however, overlapped the button, and needed to be clipped back and reshaped. This would be done in two steps. First the window area would be redefined to fill the area between the bottom of the window and the button line, then a Path would be used to trim the window and define the button line.

First, the open area at the top of the meter window was Copied to be used to fill the area between the bottom of the window and the button line. Doing this would match the white face of the rest of the meter. The pasted portion of the window was moved into place and blended by selective erasure with a soft edged brush (0% hardness). The bottom was left rough as it would be redefined in the next step. The two layers were merged using Merge Down. This ruins the number bar and needle, which can both be rebuilt.

Second, the Pen tool was used to create a Path which defined the button crease. This Path would be used to re-define the meter window and the mouse button. With the Path in place, the Brush for the Airbrush was defined as hard-edged (90%). With the layer containing the meter window selected, the Eraser tool was set to Airbrush, and the Eraser was used to stroke the Path. This erased the bottom of the Meter window to match the contour of the button line. Using a new layer, the Path was then stroked again using the Paintbrush with a small, hard brush (80%). The layer was stroked with black, and set to the Multiply mode, then the Opacity was used to achieve the desired darkness for the button crease. Figure 8 shows the result of the first and second steps.

          Figure 8

8. Fix, replace or add image detail.

In the example image, the dial shadow fell with the wrong perspective by 180ˇ. The meter numbers had to be replaced along with the number bar and the meter needle.

As the dial was on its own Layer, it was easy to rotate it 180ˇ, but this would have changed the orientation of the dial to the meter (figure 9). The center of the meter was selected with a slight feathering, then Copied and Pasted to its own Layer. Next the dial was rotated in a lower layer, the center part of the meter retained its orientation. A slight adjustment using the Movement tool was all that was necessary to realign the center of the dial and the ring (figure 10).

    

          Figure 9                         Figure 10

To replace the number bar, a path was created to approximate the curve, and then it was stroked using the Airbrush. Effects were added to create a very slight Embossed Inner edge and Drop Shadow (figure 11).

Numbers were added to the bar using a similar type face to the original, which was Kerned and scaled to fit. The arch was created using the Shear tool with a similar curve as that used to reshape the meter window in step 6 (figure 12).

The meter needle was replaced by matching the size of the needle width with an appropriate brush, then sampling the needle color and re-drawing the needle in its own layer. Once the needle was in place, the old needle was removed along with its drop shadow.

     

         Figure 11                         Figure 12                       Figure 13

 

9. Add shadowing and Effects as appropriate to the lighting of the final image. It is best to save these for last as adjustments which you wish to make that do not use the global angle may be difficult to weed out and correct (such as the dial problem in step 8). If you use the Global Angle for all Effects, the Effects can be collectively adjusted using the Global Angle dialogue (LAYER>EFFECTS>GLOBAL ANGLE), or they can be changed in the Effects dialogue which appears when you have selected any effect from the Effects sub-menu.

If you change the angle of an Effect with the Use Global Angle box checked, it will change the angle for all other Effects currently using the Global Angle. To use an Effect at a different angle, be sure the Use Global Angle box is not checked. Saving before going on to step 10 will allow you the advantage of having the layered image. With the layers intact, you will be able to change the lighting effects more easily should you need to use the image for other purposes.

10. Flatten the image to complete the morph. If opacities of your layers vary (and often they will when creating morphing effects), you may need to put a mat behind the morphed object to keep it opaque if transferring it to another image.

To create a mat for the morph, view only what you want in the final image, then Duplicate the image. You can do this using New Document from the Histories pallet, or Duplicate from the Image menu (IMAGE>DUPLICATE). If using the Duplicate function, checking the Merged Layers Only box will make a flattened document using only the visible Layers.

When the document is duplicated, Merge Visible with the background visibility off. Then use the Magic Wand to select the area outside the image. You may need to Smooth the selection (SELECT>MODIFY>SMOOTH) or use Expand (SELECT>MODIFY>EXPAND) other techniques to make the selection fit tightly to the morphed image. It is best if the selection is slightly tight rather than too loose. Feather the selection one or two pixels to slightly soften and blend the edge pixels.

Create a new Layer just above the Background, invert the selection, and fill with white. This will fill the selection below the image. You can use other colors, but this may effect the image unexpectedly. When you Merge Visible again with the background visibility off. The image will now paste opaquely over other backgrounds.

11. Save the original file with all the Layers and the file created in step 10 using different names. A variation to this is to save the layer created in step 10 back to the original file. To do this, use the Duplicate Layer function (LAYER>DUPLICATE LAYER). The dialogue will allow you to save the Layer to the original document. Be careful to save the Original again after copying the Layer, or you will lose the composite for the morph.

How it works

By following a set of steps in examining and comparing the objects you wish to morph, you will increase your chances of getting good morphing results. Starting with the big changes and working toward the smaller, as outlined, will assure you get the best 'big-picture' results. Saving shadows and Effects for later steps helps assure uniformity. Though some image choices will be obvious when you morph two objects, other choices will be more creative. You may need to try more than one avenue in your alterations to achieve the most satisfactory end.

Comments

Though there is morphing software which will help you define intermediate stages between images, manual control with Photoshop may give you far better options. As morphing software is more or less redefining an image by mathematics, non-linear developments (such as the extraction of the dial and meter window) are not likely to be possible. Though the process may be painstaking at times, the effort will yield the best results.

      Figure 14

Richard Lynch is author of Adobe Photoshop 5 How-To (SAMS/Macmillan, Oct.'98). You can order it by clicking here.

Contact Richard Lynch via e-mail at: digarticle@newwriting.com