View Full Version : A new mini-tut on sat-style mountains

12-27-2009, 12:49 AM
I spent the day working on experiments for a commission job (even though this isn't the style that he wants I like to play around) and stumbled upon a new variation on my usual technique for mountains. I'll post up the steps tomorrow 'cuz it's kind of late and I'm going to relax before going to bed but I wanted to put up a teaser pic to see if it's worth doing or if I should dump the thread. I thought it was pretty cool but I'm a mad scientist like that sometimes :) The edges come out pretty good but big chunks in the middle are still dicey.


12-27-2009, 03:25 AM
nice work i love the colors of the mountains, the randomness of the mountain range is sweet to

repped mate , i would love to see the Tut too

p.s will rep soon it seems i have to spread the love

12-27-2009, 10:31 AM
Well let's get started. First, you need to have your continent set up. Here is mine in screen 1.

1. Create a new layer then grab the 100 pixel soft round airbrush and make white the foreground color.

2. Draw in where you want your mountains. Try to put your lines next to one another to represent the "folding of the land" phenomenon. screen 2.

3. On the layer stack hold down the ctrl key and click on the little icon at the bottom for "create a new layer". This will create a new layer but with the ctrl key being held down the new layer will go below the current layer instead of the default above. Fill this layer with black.

4. Click back on the layer with the white lines. Duplicate this layer and hide the original lines layer below this new layer.

5. Filter - Blur - Gaussian Blur = 5 pixels. On the layer stack, ctrl + click on this current layer then Select - Inverse (in CS4 ctrl + click on the little thumbnail). Hit the delete key two times then deselect. What this does is to make this set of white lines a little bit thinner. You can go lower on the blur but you will end up with a lot of layers and that will mess up the clouds that we do later as there will be far too many of them. You can go higher on the blur but then you'll end up with too few layers and therefore too few clouds. No blur at all and by the end you'll end up with white dots that won't go away.

6. Duplicate this layer and hide the layer beneath it like last time and repeat the steps. Keep repeating these steps until you run out of white lines and are left with nothing. You should end up with six or seven layers of white lines.

7. Click back on the black layer and Filter - Render - Clouds.

8. Filter - Render - Difference Clouds.

9. Repeat step eight.

10. Click on the lowest layer of white lines then set the opacity of the layer to 75%. Hit ctrl + E to merge down. Do two more difference clouds by hitting ctrl + F two times. The important thing here is how the difference clouds interact with the edges of the white lines...you should immediately notice a line running around the edge.

11. Repeat step ten until all of your white lines layers have been merged into the difference clouds. This is pretty easy because all you're doing is hitting ctrl + E, then ctrl + F two times and repeating. You should have something similar to screen 3.

12. Now the tricky part, Filter - Render - Lighting Effects. Use the settings in screen 4.

13. What you get is something like screen 5.

12-27-2009, 10:50 AM
14. Select - Color Range = black with a fuzziness of 200. Hit the delete key two times then deselect.

15. If your mountains didn't come out where you wanted them (because of too many layers of white lines requiring more and more difference clouds) then there's an easy fix. Click on the Lasso Tool and at the top of the screen set the feather to 50 px. Drag a loop around a chunk of mountain and drag it to where you want it then deselect.

16. If you have your document set up with a base layer (basically the land shape), like in my previous tuts, then you can get rid of mountains over the ocean quite easily. For a quick refresher here's how: on the layer stack ctrl + click on the base layer, Select - Inverse, hit the delete key then deselect.

17. Now grab the Eraser Tool and set it as the 100 pixel soft round airbrush tip. Erase any unwanted mountains. Here's what I have in screen 6.

18. Let's bring the mountains to life with some layer styles. First is an Inner Glow of a dark brown (hex code 402707 - rgb 64, 39, 7) set to multiply at 100% and a size of 10. Next is a Color Overlay of a medium brown (hex code 5A461E - rgb 90, 70, 30) set to soft light at 100% opacity. Finally is a Bevel and Emboss of Inner Bevel - leave the defaults as is but change the technique to Chisel Soft and set the size at 10. Lastly, duplicate this layer to magnify the effects. Here's what I have in screen 7.

19. Now it looks a bit fake and plastic so remove the bevel and the inner glow. Duplicate this layer and ctrl + click on it in the layer stack to load a selection. Select - Inverse. Hit the delete key ten times then deselect...this leaves white peaks as in screen 8.

20. Going through my usual satellite style here's the finished product in screen 9, which I messed around with for about an hour and a half.

12-27-2009, 02:49 PM
Those look great - I'm gonna have to remember this tut for after I finish my current map ;)

12-27-2009, 02:52 PM
Those are the best mountains I've ever seen. And they actually fit a continental scale!

EDIT: The snow line needs to move downwards as mountains move northward. Where the flatlands are covered in snow, mountains should be as well.

12-27-2009, 08:45 PM
That's a color tweak that you can paint on later...I did not for my final pic. On a new layer just paint some low-opacity white on the whole northern cold climate. Or if you're in the southern hemisphere then it would be reversed. If you then set the blend to Hue or Color then it turns the area into a grayscale.

12-28-2009, 09:03 AM
Its a great tut & good technique and color but I dont think the mountain texture looks like mountains. I was wondering what it would look like if you grabbed the texture for mountains from some real ones like in Pakistan or another big range. A USGS heightmap or shaded relief or something.

12-28-2009, 12:29 PM
Its a great tut & good technique and color but I dont think the mountain texture looks like mountains. I was wondering what it would look like if you grabbed the texture for mountains from some real ones like in Pakistan or another big range. A USGS heightmap or shaded relief or something.

The issue is that mountain ranges tend to have a texture that's related to their direction. It's because most mountains are folded or uplifted in such a way that cracks form along the length of the block. This technique uses an isotropic noise and modulating it by the mountain chain locations doesn't affect that. Using overlays from real mountains would have a similar issue, perhaps worse unless they were carefully chosen and manipulated for direction and scale. (Note that some familiar mountain blocks such as the Sierra Nevada in California and the Himalayas along the India front are more uplifted block of uniform rock than and show a fairly simple dendritic pattern etched on the block. Most of the really long chains do show the type of features I'm talking about, however.)

For an artistic interpretation of continental-scale mountains (that is, for a map) this is an excellent process. For a geologically-oriented one it's not quite there. I would not expect it to be geologically accurate as that is not its purpose.

Steel General
12-28-2009, 12:33 PM
I like it - I think it gives your 'satellite style' maps, a little extra "oomph".

This gives me some ideas to try with some things I've been playing around with.

12-28-2009, 01:47 PM
I've gotten most of the first post with equivs in gimp.

I get stuck with your

14. Select - Color Range = black with a fuzziness of 200. Hit the delete key two times then deselect.

Even using the provided sample, I can't get select by colour to get the area to align with the original mountain. I have some success by going back to a feathered version of the original lines, then selecting by colour from there...


-Rob A>

12-28-2009, 04:51 PM
Select-color range basically just selects the darker colors, from just under 128 medium gray and down to 0 black. I don't even use the starting painted lines as they get obliterated by merging with the difference clouds. The fuzziness lets you "almost" select higher colors...it sort of says to itself, "we were asked to pick this range but we'll leave room for error". So when you hit the delete once it does what it is told and by hitting delete a second time it says to itself "good thing we were leaving room for error so we'll delete a bit more this time".

But I think the main gist of what you're asking is if the original painted white lines retain their importance for later steps...the answer is no. Could they? Sure, but I didn't think that far ahead. :) I was just deleting the darker colors and not worrying about original placement. I could go back and give that a test drive...it will keep the blacks in place but delete everything outside of the painted lines and the darker colors might be interesting to see how they interact with the layer styles of color overlay.

12-28-2009, 05:41 PM
Ok here are some quick variations...no pretty-ing it up just test-driving different techniques.

Screen1 is my tut style.

Screen2 uses the original painted white lines as a mask. It leaves the blacks and messes up the beveling and color overlay and inner glow layer styles but creates far bulkier mountains.

Screen3 uses the original painted white lines set to a blend mode of overlay before selecting the color range. It leaves a bit more of the blacks but still retains the folding I want.

Screen4 is the original painted white lines.

12-29-2009, 12:50 PM

The difference is how the select by colour works.

I think I have an idea....

Try this. Use this greyscale image:

Then do a select by colour with 200% fuziness, hit delete (once) and post the result.


-Rob A>

12-29-2009, 08:05 PM
OK here's what I got. In the first I had black as the selected color, in the second I had white as the selected color. Clearly the Select - Color Range in PS doesn't go up 200 levels nor even 128 levels. It looks, to me, that it starts with the selected color and goes up and down 100 levels which would mean that it selects up 100, 100, 100 a dark gray, if starting with black and goes down to 155,155,155 if starting with white. The third and fourth images are hitting delete twice.

01-15-2010, 02:46 PM
First post to this site :)

I'm a bit curious why you chose spotlight for the Lighting Effects instead of Directional?

I've been doing photorealistic mapmaking using data from the USGS Seamless Survey website. I've been looking to do this procedurally instead, and your technique gives a very convincing look and feel.

I'd also be interested in seeing how you setup your map (Screen 1) originally.

I checked the forums but didn't see this tutorial in PDF format. Is it possible you could work something up? I'm a slave to PDFs, unfortunately :)

01-16-2010, 02:52 AM
It's been so long since I started using this lighting effects (5 years now) that I don't even really remember the reason now but I know there was a reason way back when :) To the best of my recollection here's why: I don't use directional because it's hard to get the light coverage to work right...it has this tendency to darken stuff at the opposite end of where the light is coming from and a tendency to brighten stuff closest to the light. Of course, I may just not have found the right settings there, shrug. Spotlight gives a more subdued "soft focus" photography feel with broader coverage.

Setting up the map is covered in my various tutorials like Continent and Atlas...those are in the tuts section.

01-16-2010, 03:30 AM
Much obliged. I'll check them out this weekend.

I found that the directional lighting gave me more beneficial results. But that was under very specific circumstances. I went through this tutorial three or four times, and can kind of see what your lighting system does over the long haul. I still want a PDF tutorial, but have settled with this thread (will probably cobble my own together eventually hehe). I'm contemplating working out a CS3 action script to automate most of the process. :)

I have to admit ... out of all the cartography tutorials I've seen, yours has been so far the best I've found -- the results are astounding. I've been working with Photoshop for the last 10 years, but it never occurred to me the level of detail you can come up with using your techniques.

My way of creating similar topography was using USGS images (which are under a General Use licence) to "paint" the topography. But there are certain instances in which the topography just doesn't gel with with you desire. Congrats on coming up with such an interesting technique.

Steel General
01-16-2010, 08:56 AM
I'm contemplating working out a CS3 action script to automate most of the process. :).

I think you'll find that would be most welcomed...

01-16-2010, 09:30 AM
lol. I'll cobble something together this afternoon :)

01-16-2010, 01:08 PM
Oh yeah actions work fine for this...I've made one for each version of my style as it evolves but I've never posted them. When turning the continent tut or atlas tut into an action you will have to put in some stops for some handwork to be done. And thank you very much for the nice compliment :) I've been developing this style for about 5 years now, starting at Christmas '04, and it's not perfect for generating terrain but it's good enough for me. My goal is to get it to generate something more closely resembling USGS dems without actually having to use dems. I figure that I'm about halfway there, getting realistic hills is the part I'm working on.

01-18-2010, 03:54 PM
I never actually used the dems. I did a short tutorial for another community of artists/writers a few weeks back. http://www.cshawnsmith.com/pstutorials/

The gist of the tutorial was using the color map at the Seamless Survey website to create the photorealistic maps using a clone stamp tool (mainly), and improving upon it with color correction, etc.

Sample image at http://www.cshawnsmith.com/pstutorials/maps/fullrez.jpg. If you gander at it, ignore the names on the map :P. Just wanted to throw something together for the tutorial.

The results have been satisfactory enough for some of my own personal fantasy stories, But I've been really wanting to improve upon it and come up with things similar to your techniques. Just never had the patience to experiment enough with it. Been using Photoshop for around 10 years now, and consider myself an expert, but the program is a LOT more complex than even an expert can fully comprehend. There's a lot of power here with just a few simple steps, and things that I knew about but didn't consider until your tutorials really floored me.

Very well done :)

01-18-2010, 03:57 PM
I really like this mountain technique Ascension.. and while they might not look exactly exactly like earth mts. i think they give a believable feel for ranges of perhaps a younger more rugged terrain? Nice!