Paint Over Photo

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Continue from my last blog entry about 3D paint over, this time I will write about my workflow on turning photo into anime style background.

The Artwork “KL Sentral Station”

Paint over photo
This is the final result of the paint over, “KL Sentral Station“. I will be using this artwork as the backbone for this walkthrough.

Original Photo

original photo
And this is the original photo I took with my camera phone, Nokia808.

Masking – Seperating The Elements

As you can see, the original photo is not really eye pleasing. Too many random objects everywhere, but I like the look of the modern buildings. So, I mask away unwanted objects amd separate different elements in into different layers.


Doing this will make the painting process easier, and changes can be done easier later. You can delete the mask when everything are final.



After separating all the elements and removing unwanted stuff, the first thing I did was to add in the sky color. This is because the sky will tell you the time of the day, and set the overall color and mood (ambient color). To paint the sky, use a soft round edge or the gradient tool. Because I am doing a sunset settings, so the horizon are brighter.

Grading – Adjusting Colors via Curves or Levels

After setting the colors of the sky, you can adjust the photo to match the sky color. More over, animation usually have more saturated colors. For example shadow are more blue, sun are more red and yellow etc.

But since my photo are already quite dark and match the background quite well (I think? I am colorblind :/), so I just did a small boost on saturation (CTRL-U).

Color grading and correction

There are two ways to do color adjustments. Using the adjustment layers or directly on the layers. Adjustment layers will affect all layers below it, but you can control it with a mask. Adjusting on the image directly is permanent and lost the ability to change later.

Color grading and correction are one big topic. So as using Level and Curves. I wont go into detail on how to do this, as you can easily find it online.

NOTE: You can adjust the color of the photo before, after or while you are painting. There is nothing wrong or correct. But I usually did one time adjustment before painting, just to get the default color/mood of the artwork first.

Painting Cloud

Painting Cloud

I am still not very good in painting clouds. But I think it definitely look better than my older artwork.

With Cloud

Painting over the Photo

Painting over the photo is actually quite simple than most people would have thought. You just need to color pick (ALT in brush mode) from the photo and paint on it. Keep on doing this, until you have that painterly feel on the artwork. But in generall, you want to remove most photo compression artifact and noise.

Remove image compression artifacts

You might want to remove unwanted objects in the photo and re-adding certain missing parts as well. Now you can see why I separate the rail and building in 2 different layers in the beginning. I can now paint the rail layer without worrying about messing up the building layers.


Painting the “Green”

Another thing that we should amend are all the trees, painting it into a simple 2 to 3 shades are good enough for a 2D animation background.

Painting trees

Painting trees

NOTE: The key of painting trees are really just making your own custom brush. Take a photo, convert it into black and white, and define it as brush preset.

Adding in the highlight/brighter area


Add another layer(or more). Set it to any addictive blending mode (add/screen) and start painting on area that you think should be brighter.

NOTE: Sometime, you will want to add in the “Shadow” layer instead of the light area.

Adding in Extra Elements


The sky was still abit empty so I add in some extra objects to the artwork. You will need to paint over these objects too.

Adding in the Atmospheric Effect


Adding in atmospheric effect like haze/flog/glow is the easiest way to add value to your artwork. Paint this with a soft round edge brush.

This step is use to simulate depth as well.

Paint over photo

And there you go. It is not really that hard isn’t it? Like this article/tutorial? Follow me on my Facebook page to get more updates.

Posted in Art and Design | Tags: , ,
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14 kind souls comment on “Paint Over Photo”

  1. Tri says:

    Please make the videos tutorial.

  2. Rakuyo says:

    What’s the brush setting for painting over?

  3. Diem says:

    So great ! Thanks so much !!!!

  4. Kadal says:

    Love your tutorial 😀
    but my english is bad u.u
    Terima Kasih

  5. […] Shinkai Style Background Tutorial (Nov 2013) Paint Over Photo (Aug 2013) Paint Over 3D Render (June 2013) Anime Style Background Tutorial (Dec 2012) Makoto […]

  6. mclelun says:

    Yes, I painted them in manually. For the chain link fence, I model and render them, it is easier to do those detail in 3D, then drawing them. More over, the 3D can be reuse in other project easily,

  7. Alex says:

    I really love your tutorials and your work! Keep it up.

    I was just wondering how you finished the bottom third of the image where the building was originally covered up by the parking structure. Did you hand draw these in as well as the fence?

  8. deepBREATH says:

    your background proud to hv u as malaysian :)

  9. Sam says:

    Love your tutorial! Keep on the good works! Hope to see more.

  10. mclelun says:

    I havent watch it, but looking at the trailer. I think some of them are 3D.

  11. Ankit Sharma says:

    yeah man! killer . btw have u seen Makoto Shinkai ” Garden of words ” . any thoughts on how he does his chars and bgs esp. garden shots… is all of them 3d renders or its 2d something

  12. Paul says:

    I wish you could show what you do in motion and from scratch on.
    This is simply genius.

    Keep up the good work and please give us more tutorials of this topic in the future :)

  13. Voxxin says:


  14. Juliana says:

    This is so cool~ *___* It’d be so cool to see your backgrounds in malaysian animations one day ^__^

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