How much fun can you have with a Zombie conversion using Photoshop
A lot - that's how much!
Normally we take a portrait and try to glamorize it by smoothing the
skin, removing any blemishes and enhancing the eyes. This is
antithesis of glamorizing - we're going to distress and mangle the
photo to produce something quite different.
Imagine - working with a great shot of your favorite buddy or
significant other and showing them how they would look as one of the
living dead, a mobile corpse, a reanimated cadaver.
In researching the tutorial I found as many different methods and
procedures as there are zombie looks.
This is not a simple, straight forward or quick technique with
Elements and it will make use of many different techniques and
dialogues - more on that in the next section.
The first thing to remember is to save your work regularly.
your work as a Photoshop File (.psd) and make sure that the following
items on the Save As
are checked ...
Each time you save this way the previously saved file won't be over
written and all of the layers will remain intact - a new file will be
created so you can go back to any step if
you don't like where the project is going.
Version Set With Original
If you make half as many mistakes as I do you will be glad you have the
full document with layers as a backup!
As mentioned previously, this zombie conversion will make use of a lot
of different Photoshop
Elements techniques, including ...
If any of these techniques cause you shudder in fear just hang in
there. Every step will be thoroughly explained - in great
- Layer Masks
- Adjustment Layers
- Clipping Layers
- Merging Layers
- Displace Filter
- Blend Modes
- Dodging and Burning
- New File For ...
- Painting with your Wacom pen
The transformation will take place in this order ...
This is the picture we are going to zombify ...
all is said and done
these two gals have been converted to the living dead, they won't have
nice rosy cheeks
- their skin will be pasty and lacking anything approaching life.
To achieve the look we need to
select the skin and put it
on a new layer and then do some adjustments.
The best method to select the skin on the face is with a Wacom pen and
the Selection Brush Tool.
If you prefer another selection tool
then use that one.
The tool isn't important - creating the selection is what matters.
If your image has hands or arms make sure to select them as well.
If there are stray strands of hair over the face don't worry too much
When the selection is complete with the Selection Brush tool click on
of the other selection tools and the marching ants will appear.
The selection has to be reversed (Select
> Inverse) and then the
selection has to be promoted to a new layer with Ctrl-J (Windows) or Cmd-J (Mac).
This will give you the skin on its own layer ...
Save Your Work!
Now we can do some adjustments to remove the healthy skin glow and
start to create that unhealthy zombie look.
Activate the skin layer and add a new Hue
and Saturation Adjustment Layer.
Decrease the Saturation to remove the color. Here's how
look now ...
What the Hue and Saturation adjustment did is desaturate the entire
image - but we only
want the skin portion desaturated - this calls for one of the really
useful Photoshop Elements techniques - it's called Create Clipping Mask.
What a Clipping Mask does is apply the adjustment to the layer immediately
adjustment layer only - how fabulous is that?
To create a Clipping Mask either select Layers > Create Clipping
put your cursor on the line separating the adjustment layer and the
layer below it, press the ALT key and tap with you pen or left click.
The Adjustment Layer (Hue and Saturation in this case) will indent
itself to the right and the adjustment will only be visible on the skin.
Isn't that great?
As you can see the desaturation has only been applied to the skin of
the two young gals while the rest of the image still has its color.
There's one more thing to do before we move onto the next step and that
is to merge the Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer and the Skin layer.
Activate the Hue and Saturation layer and then go to Layers > Merge Down
(Ctrl-E or Cmd-E).
Give the merged layer
a name so you can find it quickly
It may seem counter intuitive but this is where we'll add a bit of
color to the skin.
Activate the Merged Skin layer and then add a new layer, change
its blend mode to Color and clip (Clipping Mask) it to the Skin layer
just like you did
in the previous step.
Now select a really light blue or really light green (or any color you
want) and paint over the skin on the layer with your Wacom pen and the
In my example I used a light blue for the big Zombie gal on one layer
in front and a light green for the little Zombie on another layer at
This is a really subtle change over the simple desaturation but it is
When you are finished painting then Merge Down the painting layer onto
the Skin Layer.
Here's how things are looking now ...
Things are coming along nicely but we still have some work to do.
Our zombie conversion to this point is fine, however if you look at the
last screen shot you may think we're doing a zombie glamor
Not so, even though our main zombie gal still has perfect bone
structure - let's do something about that.
This filter let's you apply one image into another. You don't
actually see the second image - just the result.
For our purposes a nice broken pattern of some sort will work perfectly.
Here are two examples ...
This one was created on a new document using Filter > Render >
black and white as the foreground and background colors.
> New > Default
> Render >
- Save As
and use Photoshop (.PSD)
file type - this is important.
Now we can displace our photograph using the file clouds.psd.
To do that ...
- Close the Clouds document and make sure the image you
converting is in the workspace and the skin layer is selected.
- Select Filter
Distort > Displace ... and this dialogue will come
OK and navigate to the file that contains your clouds
document (if you can't see it then perhaps you saved it as something
other than .psd - this filter cannot see .jpg files).
Incidentally - Elements includes a number of displacement
When you click OK in the Displace dialogue you will have to navigate to
Displacement Maps in the Elements Plug-Ins folder.
- When you find the file click OK and watch what
Now that's probably more like the living dead would look, don't you
You can use any image as the Displacement Map and it's probably a good
idea to play around with the settings to find something that's
The next thing to do is distort the skin a bit more and there are lots
of yucky and disgusting modifications you can make here.
In researching the tutorial I came across this pattern (and an
invitation to download it as well).
The pattern was in color so I changed it to black and white because I
didn't want any healthy looking colors on my zombies!
After converting the pattern to black and white the working image was
selected, the skin layer activated and then the pattern (outlined in
red below) was dragged from the Project bin onto the working image.
The pattern had to be re-sized with the Move Tool - it was necessary to
make sure that the pattern covered the skin layer of the bigger zombie
Once it covered all of the face on the left the Blend
Mode of the pattern layer was changed to Overlay, the layer
was clipped to
the skin layer (remember how to do that?) and the Opacity of the layer
The crack pattern was once again dragged above the skin layer and it
was reduced in size so that it just covered the skin of the little
zombie on the right - the skin cracks could not be the same size on
both faces - that's why it was done twice.
Clip this layer to the sin layer and Merge Down
This is how our zombie looks now ...
Before starting on the eyes it was necessary to take a good look at the
overall result so far. For instance, the Displace Filter did
should do - it displaced the skin layer and this allowed some of the
Background Copy layer color to show through.
To eliminate the unwanted color add a Hue and Saturation layer above
the Background Copy and move the Saturation slider to the left until
the color is gone.
This will desaturate all of the
Background Copy and there
parts that need to retain their original color - like the sweater and
maybe the lips.
The Hue and Saturation layer comes with its own Layer Mask so that can
be used to bring back the color where it is needed.
Select Black as the foreground color, make sure the Layer Mask is
selected and paint in the color where it is needed.
No self respecting mobile cadaver is going to have nice blue
or brown or green eyes. It just won't happen.
There are many things that can be done to create some nice creepy
zombie eyes but perhaps the easiest is to modify them with the Dodge
and Burn tools.
starting point is to select the eyes the same way the skin was selected
- with the Selection Brush Tool on the Background Copy layer.
selection is much easier to complete and more accurate with a Wacom
tablet and pen.
Both the eyes of the front gal were painted with the Selection Brush
When the selection is complete then promote the selection to it's own
layer. If you're working with more than one person you can
all of the eyes on one layer or create a
different layer for each eye - whichever is more convenient.
In this conversion each pair of eyes had their own layer
I turned off all of the layers except the Background Copy to make the
The new eyes for the gal on the left is the top layer here.
All of the adjustments done on the skin layer have been merged down so
things are not all cluttered with multiple layers.
With the eyes layer activated (as shown in the layers palette) zoom in
tight on the eyes and grab the dodge tool.
The Setting for the Dodge Tool is ...
The Setting for the Burn Tool is ...
- Range: Mid-Tones
- Exposure: 56%
This is one of the times when having a new Window for the image is
really useful (Window
> New Window
For ... your file name). This is a screen shot
- Range: Mid-Tones
- Exposure: 50%
The areas that were dodged (lightened) are the whites of the eyes and
the iris of each eye.
The areas that were burned (darkened) are outside of the eyes - kind of
like someone went crazy with eye liner.
As you work on the zoomed in portion the result can be seen on the
large version in real time - really cool.
As you work with the Dodge and Burn tools remember that less is
more. The first few times I did this the results were
ridiculous - jet black around the eyes and pure white in the
eyes. They looked silly.
Working with a second window opened made a huge difference.
Just for the curious - here's a close up of the eyes after dodging and
The same procedure was used for the zombie in the background and here
are how things look now ...
With our zombies it will be difficult to pry open their mouths so
something else needs to be done.
The best solution is to find a portrait of
someone with their mouth
open and use that.
Here's the one I chose. It was originally attached to a
look prowling the strip in Las Vegas. She was hanging with an
Elvis look alike and you can get your picture taken with them for a
financial consideration - but that's all beside the point, isn't it?
OK - so this is what to do. Load your mouth (he he) above the
skin layer. It will likely be either too small or way to big
will require some modification.
Select the Move Tool and resize the mouth so that it covers the
original and make sure it's where it should be.
Now it's time to make it look zombie-ish ...
The replacement mouth is now in place and looks really dumb because it
has the original skin from the Marilyn picture. That was
eliminated by using the Eraser Tool to get rid of the original
skin. Zoom in close and carefully erase everything outside
Now that's better but it doesn't fit the existing look of the zombie so
that's the next thing that needs to be addressed.
Teeth and Tongue
The teeth and the tongue are just not nasty enough. Make sure
mouth layer is activated, grab your Wacom pen, the Quick
Selection Brush and carefully paint in the tongue and teeth.
The spaces between the teeth were
painted in and the perfect shape of the teeth was modified as
well. This will give them a better zombie look in the next
After you finish painting in the area to be modified, click on another
selection tool to get the marching ants and then Select > Inverse.
selection can be modified.
Add a Hue and Saturation Layer above the mouth layer and then ...
This is how things look after this adjustment ...
- move the Saturation slider to the left,
- and move the Lightness slider to the left
That looks better but the lips are wrong so that's the next step ...
The lips are a bit too red, don't you think?
Just like the skin and the eyes, the lips were selected with the Quick
Selection Brush and promoted to a new layer.
A Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer was added above the lips layer
and the Saturation Slider was moved to the left, which slightly
desaturated the lips. When it looked OK, the Hue and
layer was clipped to the lips layer.
After all of these adjustments were made I noticed the skin of our two
zombies were much whiter than I wanted - it seems the painting of the
skin layer way back at the beginning had disappeared.
Other than starting all over again, the best solution seemed to be to
find the skin layer and add a new blank layer set to Color blend mode
directly above it and paint in the light blue and light green one more
The new layer was clipped to the skin layer and here is the result ...
There are many thing that can be added to personalize the zombie
How about a bit of blood using blood brushes that were downloaded?
Just do a search for Blood Brushes and you will find a lot of them.
There are two different sets used here and the blood was added on blank
layers at the top of the layers palette.
It was necessary to mess around with the layer blend modes to find the
one that worked the best.
The big blood spot under the front zombie's mouth was on its own layer
set to Multiply.
The rest were on another layer set to Color Blend Mode.
Now this looks OK but one more thing will make a big difference and
that is to add some Lighting Effects.
Adding some lighting effects to the zombie conversion will provide some
The Lighting Effects are found in Filter
> Render > Lighting Effects and this is the
will appear ...
The Style drop-down box contains 17 different lighting effects and
after trying most of them the one that seems to be the most suitable to
properly display our zombie gals is Flashlight.
Once it is chosen open the Light
dialogue and choose one of the three types available. This
The sliders on the bottom portion of the dialogue provide a lot of
different adjustments and even allow you to change the color of the
Here are two different lighting effects with different exposure
Setting at 0
Setting at -26
Just imagine - you hear a strange noise outside and the neighborhood
dogs are howling and barking. Puzzled by the cacophony of
you grab your flashlight and venture into the dark night to find out
just the heck what is going on out there.
It's very dark out there as you swing your flashlight back and
forth. Suddenly you sense motion and a scuttling sound off to
As you swing your flashlight toward the noise the light pans
across something so you swing the light back and there they are closing
in on you ...
OK - so my story is kind of lame.
Like all parts of the instructions for the zombie conversion, this step
is also optional.
You can use different fonts and layer styles to spruce up the font and
maybe a frame with a bevel added ...
This is a long tutorial and it will take some time to complete - I've
been working on this off and on for a few weeks now.
Make sure to save your work as a .psd (Photoshop) file to keep all of
your layers intact and have some fun with it ...!
If you enjoyed this conversion please take a few moments to share your
What would you do differently?
This tutorial demonstrates some techniques to convert a normal picture into a rather nasty looking zombie. I'm no artist so it's very likely your zombie will be exceptional where mine is OK!
If you use any different techniques, have suggestions or comments then please share them - I would love to see them and so would other zombie enthusiasts.
If you followed the tutorial as it was written how about sharing your finished product with other zombie enthusiasts? We would love to see what you have created!
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