Water: The source of life – Tsunami

Water: The source of life.

Right, so for this first project I first thought about water phenomena in a sort of ghost ships, mermaids, giant squid, here be monsters sort of way and started collecting scans of antique maps and woodcuts that sort of thing.


I also grabbed some scans of coffee stained paper and various shots of swirling water for more textural stuff and creating some nice layer blends. Wasn’t really sure where I could go with this and was a bit worried about the whole paper texture thing being a bit cheesey but started playing around and came up with this.

Which I liked, the confusing map elements were masked over to allow the text to read properly and I chucked in the lighter bar to provide some contrast for it too. I also liked the reflection on the text,made from an inverted text layer and a displacement filter,with a gradient on top at something like 30% opacity set to…think it was multiply. Something to look at would be making more realistic displacement maps for the displace effect.

Speaking of text I also started playing around with some ideas for styles based around a sort of whirlpool theme which I thought had a nice graphic element to it. First making a sort of abstract whirlpool vector. Then using this as a clipping mask over some different typefaces.

There were a few problems with the mask making the text difficult to make out so I experimented with different sizes, placement and opacities. Later I also tried placing a second mask across the vector and feathering the edge to give a sort of gradient fall off to it and also tried duplicating the whirlpool with 50% opacity on overlay to make a sort of 3D whirl effect within the text.
There are some examples below, they are all black and white mock ups but some of these might work well over some textural/abstract stuff for some incidental graphics perhaps.

After looking at these ideas for a while I began to think they were slightly too far away from the idea of the brief and decided to go for more recognisable “Water” phenomenon and their connection to climate change, mostly looking at the the idea that there will be massive flooding in some areas while in others there will be massive drought. I thought of a documentary that was depicting all this in a sort of Hollywood disaster movie fashion and went from there.

After quite a lot of fiddling with images, looking at scale and perspective I decided to go with a sort of tsunami/flood scene and started browsing for fleeing people and disaster scenes to manipulate and montage. I found this image of the 9/11 attack in Manhattan.

It’s a pretty dynamic image and had a nice perspective I thought I could use. It was however the wrong shape, and far too small to crop directly to make a scene so I decided to extend the scene using bits and pieces found from other photos. Finding these was perhaps the most time consuming part of the project as I had to get the perspective to match and the lighting to a certain degree. I found an old photo I took from when I was working back in Montreal that sort of fit for some some of the other side of the street and various creative commons licensed shots of city streets and industrial areas to sort of patch up the rest.The road surface I blended by using a very large, very soft eraser brush set to a low opacity.

I also wanted to create a big wall of water crashing down the road. This was made up of loads of wave and spray photos sourced from the net.


The selections were sampled and dropped in to try and make it look like the water was frothing and bouncing down the road, I also wanted to show some of the wave front to give a feeling of big powerful waves behind. Also as I needed to extend the image upwards I grabbed an image of a skyscraper to extend the skyline. Put all together it looked like this.

Next I added a few photo filters to try and warm everything up and unify the tones a bit, added a levels adjustment to the skyscraper to give it some atmospheric perspective and tried to find some way of extending the left side of the street. This proved to be a royal pain as the road there on the left meant I had to find corner building, with the right lighting, from the right perspective. I tried using the free transform and perspective transform tools on some building but couldn’t get both faces to align right. Eventually I just decided to use one face from a building and transform it to make it look as if the brick building on the left just finishes there. I used some shading and selective erasing to help make the join, then used a sign sourced from another building to help mask the join.

 I also used a solid colour layer sourced from the shadow areas of the image set to overlay and erased with various levels of opacity as a shadow layer to keep the tones right in the foreground. After this I dropped in the sky giving it a levels adjustment so it sort of blended into the explosion of dust at he back of the image.

A problem I had was that the dust cloud in the original image is was cut off by the frame,so I sourced a dust cloud from an erupting volcano, resized, level adjusted and masked it off so it blended into the original cloud and the sky, kind of tying them together.The use of layer masks, edited in quick mask mode with stippled, low opacity brushes was a bit of a revelation here and I used the same technique to add further spray elements to the main wave. This allowed me to edit the images in a less destructive fashion and get some nice frothy edges to layers, also the amount of options you have for changing the transfer mode, scatter, size and angle of the brushes allowed me to make better masks and give the impression of water and dust enveloping objects in the scene.

The image so far with the sky added and a few more wave elements.

I duplicated some more of the road and shadow elements, masking them off so they’d blend well. Then decided to add some destruction to the buildings to make the scene look like a bit more of a disaster. For this I sourced some bombed out buildings and structures, used a tiny 1 pixel brush to delete a ragged hole out of the skyscraper then dropped the image behind it making sure that certain key structural elements matched up like beams and supports by resizing, then added a levels and photo filter adjustment to try and colour match the two elements. I also used a stippled brush to burn in some darker areas on the surface of the building to suggest discolouration or fire damage, then duplicated some of the rubble and repositioned it to look like falling debris.

The two skyscraper layers and the merged result.

Finally I added a second skyscraper on the left to balance out the composition a little and provide some interest. Added a black and white layer set to multiply and masked out a vignette. A cooling filter masked to only show on the shadow areas and a further warming adjustment layer masked for the highlights were also added. Then there were small details to provide a bit of scale like some dust and the car in the wave. I also added another running character, masked her out and used her mask on a low opacity solid, rotated, for her shadow. The first text idea I had was taken somewhat from the bold, chunky look of old disaster and sci-fi movies like “The day the earth stood still” or “The day the earth caught fire”.

For the text I created some large point text, converted it to a smart object, transformed the perspective and offset two layers stacked about 60 duplicate text layers. Then I linked them and selected distribute horizontal and vertical centers to get the fake extrusion effect. Merged the extruded layers and added gradient overlays to the extrusion and the top layer. I then duplicated the top layer a few times added a clipping masked water texture and masked off a gradient into the gradient underneath. I was pretty happy with the whole idea but thought that perhaps it made everything a bit cluttered so I tried an alternative, this time using one of my old map textures and a sort of rusty metal look to the gradient overlay.

Perhaps not quite so dramatic, but the text doesn’t dominate the whole thing quite so much also the text can be used a bit like a logo for the series in other headers and smaller graphics where the perspective version wouldn’t make so much sense. Of course, happy as I am with this it’s not actually 2000 x 1600 damn! Here’s the same thing cropped down.

Which I think kind of works, all the main action is there, perhaps you lose something with having less people fleeing but that corner of the image was a bit cluttered anyhow. Right on to the next one!


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