Welcome to this extensive tutorial all about creating the Avatar Na’vi effect! If you’re here looking for the mask to use on the girl’s face, you can download it right here! If you’re just ready to jump in and get started with the tutorial, simply scroll downward to see all the info.
1. Starting With The Right Photo
To really have a great effect, you want to start with a nice photo. The sharpness and detail are key, you probably don’t want a blurry image. If you have beautiful, crisp light, that’s great too. I am using an image I shot in one of the first lighting classes I ever taught. Grab an image and let’s get started!
2. Adding Skin Detail
Create a new layer and go Edit>Fill and choose to fill this new layer with “50% Gray”. Go Filter>Add Noise and add 35% noise. Next, go Filter>Emboss and set the angle to 50 degrees, a height of 3px, and an amount of 90%.
3. Blend Skin Detail
Set that skin detail layer to a blend mode of “Soft Light”. Go Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All to create a solid black mask and hide all of that detail we can see in my first screenshot below. Grab your Brush tool (B) and set the brush opacity to 10% and start painting with white as your foreground color. Gently paint in where you want texture. TIP: Be slow and careful here for the best results! Check out the screenshot of my actual mask below.
4. Slight Lighting Adjustment With Curves
I am dropping a Curves Adjustment layer into place and darkening the area all around her face. It’s just something that I’m feeling I should do with this image. I painted black over her face in the mask to darken the entire in the image but not affect her face.
5. Dodging and Burning
Create a new layer and name it “Dodge/Burn”. Go Edit>Fill and fill this layer with 50% gray. Grab your Dodge tool (U), set the range to “Midtones” and the exposure to 10%. Set the gray filled layer to a blend mode of “Soft Light”, this will make this layer look like it has disappeared. Now anywhere you paint with the Dodge tool will brighten up. TIP: To burn instead of dodge, simply hold the Alt/Opt key while painting with this tool to quickly switch to the Burn tool.
6. Duplicate 2x
Go ahead and hit Cmd/Ctrl + J two times to duplicate our “Dodge/Burn” layer twice. Our effect will be beautifully intensified now. Feel free to reduce some opacity if your image looks a little too intense.
7. Starting The Eyes
The Avatar characters have incredible, greenish crisp colored eyes. We’re going to begin the process of creating them. Merge all of your layers to one new layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E. Create generous selections around both eyes using the Lasso tool (L). Go Select>Modify>Feather and feather these selections 40px. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to copy these to a new layer.
8. Enlarging The Eyes
One at a time, use the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) to drag a selection around one eye and go Edit>Transform and hold down your Shift + Alt/Opt key and scale each eye larger. TIP: Before you start to scale, drag the little registration point to the very center of the pupil. This will prevent the eye from being moved around while we scale.
9. Clean Up
Apply a layer mask to this layer and paint away any areas that might be spreading skin color over the hair/ear areas.
10. Enlarge Iris’
Grab your Elliptical Marquee tool (M) and hold down your Shift key and drag a perfect little selection around the Iris’ each one, one at a time. We want to enlarge these bad boys and make them so big that they don’t fit in the eye anymore. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to pop the Iris up onto its own layer and then go Edit>Transform and scale these Iris’ up. Check out my screenshots to see my selection and how big I ended up making them.
11. Mask The Iris’ To The Eyeball
Drop a layer mask on both of our new Iris layers and paint with black to get these eyes fitting right where they belong.
12. Editing The Nose
Merge all of your layers to a new layer by using the hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E. Go Filter>Liquify and grab the Bloat Tool (B) and use the tool to pump up the nose like I have. Use the Forward Warp Tool in the Liquify dialog box and push the nose downward as well. Spend a little time playing with the nose to get it looking exactly as you like.
13. Depth And Detail In The Eyes
Create a new Curves Adjustment layer, set the Blend Mode to “Screen”, and also fill the mask with black to hide the brightness that the Curves Adjustment have pulled in. Grab your Brush tool (B) and set the tool to 100% opacity and grab the 2 pixel brush. Carefully paint over all the brighter ridges you can find in the iris.
14. Continued Depth And Detail In The Eyes
Create another Curves Adjustment layer and set the Blend Mode to “Multiply” and fill this layer with black. Go ahead and paint in the shadow areas of the iris here as well. NOTE: We’ll adjust the hardness and opacity of these effects in just a moment, let’s just get the painting finished for now.
15. Blend The Light And Color
Select each of these layer masks and apply a nice, subtle Gaussian blur (I used 1.5px of blur.) I like the way the eyes look and I don’t think I’ll adjust the opacity of these colors.
16. Add Some Color To The Eyes
Add a Hue/Saturation layer and set the Hue slider to “+30” and then set the Saturation to “+35” and also drop about “+5” into the brightness slider. Once you see the green color as I do, mask the color to only the iris areas of the eye.
17. Coloring The Eyes More
Go Layer>New Fill Layer and fill you layer with the color #d1b645 then set that layer to “Soft Light” and mask it to the iris’.
18. Dodge And Burn Eyes
Create a new layer and go Edit>Fill and choose to fill this layer with “50% Gray”. Set this layer to “Soft Light” and grab your Dodge tool (O). I’ve set my Dodge tool to “Midtones” and an exposure of 10%. Use the Dodge tool to brighten the bottom right corner of the eyes and then grab the Burn tool and heavily burn in the top left corner of the eyes. If you feel the need to have a stronger effect, simply hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate this layer.
19. Blue Skin
Set your foreground to the color #abc0d3 and create a new layer and paint over each area of the skin, but avoid both the lips and the eyes.
20. Adjust Color And Light
Add a Curves Adjustment layer and drag down a bunch on the blacks area of the curve as I have in my first screenshot below. Then pull down on the “Red” curve to add some cyan as I have in my second screenshot. Also create an “S” curve on the “Blue” curve to add blue to the highlights. Mask all of this to the skin taking extra care to avoid the lips and the eyes/eyebrows.
21. Adjust Tone And Brightness
Add a Black and White Adjustment layer and set it to “Multiply”, reduce the layer opacity to 80%. Mask this layer to the skin areas also taking care to avoid the eyebrows, eyes, and lips here as well.
22. Coloring The Lips
Set your foreground color to #9bc2e4 and create a new layer. Paint this color over the lips. Set this layer to the Blend Mode of “Multiply.”
23. Face Paint, Face Tattoos
I drew my own “ink mask” type of object with the Pen Tool, filled it with a dark gray, and then just dragged it into my Photoshop document. Download the PNG file right here! Set the blend mode to “Soft Light”. Apply a layer mask and paint with black to paint away the areas of this tattoo/faint pace/mask that we don’t want to see.
24. Sparkles Pt. 1
To add glowing sparkles to the face we first need to edit a brush. Grab your Brush tool (B) and go Window>Brush. Set your brush size to 15px and the hardness to 100%. Boost the “Spacing” to 630%.
25. Sparkles Pt. 2
Check on the “Shape Dynamics” and set the Size Jitter to 100%. Also check on “Scattering” and set the Scatter to 1000%.
26. Sparkles Pt. 3
Ensure that your brush opacity is set to 100% by checking the opacity in the tool options bar across the top of the Photoshop window. Set your foreground color to white. Paint dots of white onto her face using short, quick clicks with your mouse or your tablet stylus.
27. Blending The Sparkles
Duplicate our sparkles layer three times using the hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + J. Note that I’ve named each layer, starting at the bottom, with “Sparkles-Blur-1”, “Sparkles-Blur-2”, “Sparkles-01”, “Sparkles-Small-01”. We should have four sparkle layers total at this point.
28. Blur The Sparkles
Blur each of the “Sparkles-Blur-1” and “Sparkles-Blur-2” layers by going Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and using a Gaussian Blur of 3.5px. Set both of these layers to the blend mode “Overlay”.
29. Adding Light
Now set the “Sparkles-1” layer to the blend mode of “Screen” and reduce the opacity to 30%.
30. Add Sparkle To The Sparkle
Cmd/Ctrl + Click the layer thumbnail for the “Sparkle-Small-01” layer to load all of these dots of light as a selection. Go Select>Modify>Contract and contract the selection by 2px. Go Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection. This will only preserve a small dots of light in the center of each of our larger dots of light. Set this layer to “Overlay”.
31. Masking The Sparkles And Final Touches
Select all four sparkle layers and go Layer>Group Layers. Go Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All and grab your Brush tool (B). Right click anywhere and choose the large 500px, soft-edged brush. Paint with black and paint away the edge areas of sparkles to fade the sparkles wherever you see fit.
32. Final Dodging And Burning
Create a new layer and go Edit>Fill and choose to fill this layer with 50% Gray. Grab your Dodge tool (O) and set this layer to the blend mode “Soft Light”. Begin painting with the Dodge tool to brighten areas that need brightening (I generally follow where highlights already are in the image) and then switch to the Burn tool (O) and paint areas that need to be darkened.
33. Duplicate And Duplicate
Duplicate our new Dodge/Burn layer a few times to intensify our dodge and burn effect.
Create a new Fill Layer by going Layer>New Fill Layer>Solid Color and set the blend mode to “Soft Light and set the color to #3f6991. Mask away some of the color that falls into her face and we’re finished!
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I make videos about being creative with photography, design, and filmmaking. I'm a commercial photographer, a logo designer, a camera nerd, an artist, a wannabe thinker, and I like to read books. I arrived on planet earth in the year 1989.