There are lots of tricks you can use to make an image feel more cinematic or photoreal, but the most important one of all is lighting. Try to develop a good understanding of how cinematographers use light to their advantage and how they lead the viewer's eye to certain parts of an image by using light and contrast.
01. Concentrate on lighting
The most important part of making an image feel cinematic is the lighting. Study how top cinematographers do it and try to emulate those set-ups in your own paintings.
In this image the light source in the background helps to push the silhouette in the foreground while providing the character with an interesting rimlight at the same time, which helps reinforce the visual impression of a solid figure. It also gives him a lot more mystery by enriching the atmosphere around him, while leaving his face in shadow.
02. Use the merge tool
I always try to get all the elements working together before adding final touches such as 3D effects. But once you're satisfied with your image, merge everything together (save a backup, though!) and switch to the Channels panel.
Choose one of the channels (different channels result in the same effect but with different colours), hit Ctrl+A to select all, and increase the size of the channel by between 10 and 20 pixels.
03. Offset one of the channels
To boost the 3D effect of your image it helps to give an offset to one of the channels. It brings more colour to edges in your image as well.
Try to keep it subtle and centred, though. The effect should boost the elements in your image and not attract attention away from them.
Now if you go back to your image in the Layers panel you'll see that the sharpest edges in your image will have a nice colourful offset around them, strengthening the cinematic effect and the three-dimensional feel of your image. Go try it out!
Words: Bram Sels
Bram is a freelance Illustrator and concept artist from Belgium who's been working in the entertainment industry for two years, mainly for the Belgian game developer Grin. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 123.
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