How to explode a digital face using Photoshop

How to explode a digital face using Photoshop

Create a futuristic image by making sections of face shatter outwards


  • Intro 1
  • Create a document 2
  • Make a pattern 3
  • Save pattern 4
  • Add the pattern 5
  • Warp for 3D 6
  • Add a mask 7
  • Layer style effect 8
  • Make the holes 9
  • Pull out the blocks 10
  • Add a style 11
  • Repeat for bottom 12
  • Bottom right corner 13
  • Two height panels 14
  • Second height 15
  • Final touches 16
  • Other ideas to use 17
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Step 1 of 17: Intro

The aim of this tutorial is to create a curved box pattern over the face and then make selections from it. These are then copied and positioned so that they look like they have flown out from the face itself.

It’s important to get the chunks to go in the right directions, so those on the top half of the face go out and up and those on the bottom half go out and downwards. As they are moving towards the imaginary camera then they need to get bigger. The larger they are, the close they appear to the viewer. To start you’ll need a close up face show with a decent amount of sharp detail. The tricky part is making the Path selections to encompass the curved parts of the chunks.

If you create bigger sections, it’s generally less effort, while smaller section mean more pieces and more work but it gives a more intense and blown-up image at the end.

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Step 2 of 17: Create a document

Load a photo of a face and create a new document with a transparent background. The size of this depends on the size of the face image and how large you want the blocks to be.

A rule of thumb is to come out with 20 blocks, so a height of 3,500px divided by 20 gives a size of 175px.

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Step 3 of 17: Make a pattern

Select the new document and zoom in. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) and change the Style to Fixed Size. Enter Width: 3px and Height 175px.

Click anywhere on the document to create the selection then move it to the left side. Click on the Paint Bucket tool, with pure black as the foreground colour and fill it.

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Step 4 of 17: Save pattern

Select the Rectangular Marquee tool again and click on the swap button to exchange width and height. Click to create and position along the top. Fill this as before then deselect.

Go to Edit > Define Pattern and call it Grid shape. Then close this document without saving and click on the face document. Create a new blank layer called 'Grid'.

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Step 5 of 17: Add the pattern

Select the Paint Bucket tool again and this time change from Foreground mode to Pattern. In the list of patterns that appear next to it, click on the down arrow and the one you just created should be there. Select this then click to use it on the 'Grid' layer. The entire screen should now have a grid over it.  

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Step 6 of 17: Warp for 3D

With the 'Grid' layer selected go to Edit > Transform > Warp. Move the top and bottom corner control points towards the middle.

Then use the handles to bend the rest of the grid inwards. The idea is to get it so that the grid looks like it follows the three dimensional aspect of the face. Click on the tick to apply.

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Step 7 of 17: Add a mask

Zoom in and add a layer mask to the 'Grid' layer. Use the Paintbrush with black and a 50% Hardness brush to paint on the mask and remove the grid from everywhere except the face. Then add an Outer Glow layer style to the 'Grid' layer.

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Step 8 of 17: Layer style effect

Set the layer styles's blending mode to Linear Add (Dodge), change the Opacity to 100% and use the sampler to pick a colour from the skin tones. Under the Elements heading make the Spread 5% and the Size 5%.

A higher-resolution image will need a larger size, a lower resolution one will need a smaller size. Click on OK to apply.

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Step 9 of 17: Make the holes

Set the blending mode to Linear Add (Dodge), change the Opacity to 100% and use the sampler to pick a colour from the skin tones. Under the Elements heading make the Spread 5% and the Size 5%. A higher-resolution image will need a larger size, a lower resolution one will need a smaller size. Click on OK to apply.

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Step 10 of 17: Pull out the blocks

Create a new layer called 'Blocks top left'. With this layer selected press Cmd + V.

Click on the Move tool and then move the selected blocks up and to the left. Use the corner handle to resize to make them slightly bigger. Then add a layer style to this with Bevel and Emboss.

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Step 11 of 17: Add a style

Set the structure to be Inner Bevel with Size 6px and the Technique to Smooth. On the Shading set the light angle to top left, change the Highlight Mode to Soft Light at around 50% Opacity.

Click on the Gloss Contour and select the Cove-Shallow contour. Preview it to make sure it looks fine then click on OK.

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Step 12 of 17: Repeat for bottom

Repeat the exact same process for the bottom left side with two new layers for it. When adding the Layer Style move the blocks out a little further than before, but do it down and to the left.

Use an Opacity of 75% for the Soft Light Shading to get a brighter surface for those blocks. Remember to turn Use Global Light to off.

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Step 13 of 17: Bottom right corner

So do the entire thing again for the bottom right corner. This time though, make sure Global Light is off and move the angle of the light to the other side, so that the light is on the right and the shadow is on the left.

Apply as before and create a new layer called 'Holes top right'.

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Step 14 of 17: Two height panels

This time only mark out half of the panels to move. Select the Background and press Cmd + C. Click back on the 'Holes top right' layer and fill them with the Paint Bucket.

Create a new layer called 'Holes top 1'. Press Cmd + V to paste in the new blocks. Only move them up a little this time.

Add the layers style to this, paying attention to the light direct as before. Reduce the Soft Light Opacity to 35% for this.

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Step 15 of 17: Second height

Click back on the background and mark out three more panels to move. Press Cmd + C to copy them. Click on the 'Holes top right' layer and fill them in with the Paint Bucket.

Create a new layer at the top of the stack called 'Holes top 2'. Press Cmd + V to paste them in. Resize so they are bigger than any others. Add a layer style with Soft Light 75% Opacity.

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Step 16 of 17: Final touches

There are a number of things you can do to add a final touch, but the easiest is to make the blocks cast a shadow. So, go to the Layer Style for each set and add a Drop Shadow.

Make sure it goes in the same direction that the light source for the bevel edge went. To finish, crop in closer and add any filters you like to enhance the image.

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Step 17 of 17: Other ideas to use

As could be seen from creating blocks at different heights within the same area, there’s plenty of variety you can create from this. The entire surface could be remapped with tiles that are moving out. You can add motion blur to the blocks for example. Another idea is to make the entire thing more Matrix-orientated and tone it green and add number streams into the background or on the top of the blocks.

One other consideration is the angle of the surface blocks and how you cut them out. Here the Polygonal Lasso tool has been used because it’s much quicker than using the Pen tool and there’s less chance of making mistakes. However, the lines don’t curve and if you have areas that are dramatically curved around the surface you may want to use the Pen tool to mark a path and use the handles to bend the lines. Then right-click and make a selection from it.

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