View Full Version : First Attempts at Lava

01-21-2010, 08:17 PM
I stumbled into a thread over on Enworld where someone was trying to figure out how to make lava. Having never attempted it myself, I decided it was something I wanted to take a swing at.

The following is a walkthrough of my first attempt. I'm planning on revising the heck out of it, but figured that input and critiques would help the process along nicely.


How Nytmare Would Go About Making a Lava-ey Map

Mostly I'm doing this cause I've never tried lava before. Beyond that, I think I'm going to need to do a lava filled map soon so I wanted to figure out my process a bit.

STEP I - Google Up Some Inspiration

I spent a lot of time looking at lava flows, and then remembered how the Balrog looked in Lord of the Rings and googled him a bunch too. With those images firmly implanted in my mind, I proceeded to open up Photoshop and leap into step 2.

STEP II - Bottoms Up

I usually do my maps starting with the floor and working my way up, so I figured I'd start with the lava.

New Layer > Fill it with black

Filter > Render > Difference Clouds > Hit Cntrl-f about a gazillion times.

Right about now you should have something that looks like this:


Large spans of twisty white will probably be important since those will end up being our highlights. Make sure you've got a fair bit of those.

Repeat the process on a new layer so that you end up with two different twisty, cloudy things.

Go to the top layer and set it to Overlay.


Futz with the contrast of that top layer till you get a nice even spread of swirly madness.


Hot hot hot! Cntrl-b brings up the Color Balance window. Play with the red and yellow levels in the shadows, mid tones, and highlights in each layer.


Now we have lava.

STEP III - When I Get Back on Solid Ground

New layer! > Fill it with black!

Filter > Render > Difference Clouds > Hit Cntrl-f about half as many a gazillion times as you did for the lava.

This is what mine looks like:


Now, go to the Channels Window, and drag one of the channels down to the new channel icon


Then, go back to Layers

Make new layer > Fill it with a nice mid-range gray

Filter > Render > Lighting Effects


Which should leave you with something that looks kinda like this:


Hey that looks like rocks!

STEP IV - Roman Numerals Are Pretentious

So. At this point, if you've been following directions, and as long as I didn't screw anything up, you should have 3 layers. One layer of rock up on top, and two layers of lava underneath. Now comes the part where we poke holes in the ground and let the lava through.

Select the top layer (the ground layer) and click on the Add Vector Mask button.


It's that little square with a circle in it button on the bottom of the Layer window.

Now, to explain what a vector mask is doing, everything in the mask that you paint black, will show what 's underneath that layer. Everything that's white, will show the layer that you're on. You can get the same effect by erasing the layer you're on, but the mask isn't destructive. You can go back and forth, painting things black and white, and you never have to worry about losing something important.

So, make sure you click on not only the ground layer, but the vector mask on that layer. Select the paint brush (I'd suggest a smaller brush, with a soft edge, and a paint opacity of about 50%) and start painting out the spots where you want to see lava.



What I want to do differently the next time, is to try and capture the bulged, layered, movement that you see in real lava flows and lava fields. Overall I like the base effect, but I took too many lazy shortcuts to get effects I already knew about instead of finding something new, that really matched what I wanted. You see a current in a lava flow, not just a roiling pool, and I want to get more of that sense of broken cooling chunks with molten rock glowing between the cracks.

01-21-2010, 09:29 PM
Ok, I got some chunks for ya, nothing too great but it's quick and easy. Take your top layer of lava and duplicate it. Set the blend mode to normal. Desaturate it. Contrast at max brightness you can play with but make sure that the resulting shapes are closed so that you can fill them with black. Once you have some filled-in black chunks you can delete the white and do whatever you want - layer styles, more lighting effects, etc.

01-21-2010, 10:08 PM
Here's a quick change where I Filter > Distort > Waved the rock layer and then selected the natural low points for the lava flow. That at least gives the rock layer the feel of being a cooled flow.

I also adjusted the color and contrast of the lava so that it "cooled off" closer to the rocks, and stayed brighter towards the middle.

01-21-2010, 10:11 PM
Very Nice! You might add a red glow to the rocks near the edge, as well?

-Rob A>

01-21-2010, 11:07 PM
This is a fun method that you have here...let's me experiment a lot. On the first image I did your steps without doing the color stuff and then duplicated the top lava layer, desaturate, brightness/contrast, fill chunks with black, delete whites, black outer glow at 100 size and then merged that down to the first lava layer and then did the color steps (but red only went to 50 on the shadow adjust on the lower lava layer) and on the top lava layer I set that to pin light and did a color select with yellow at 200 fuzziness and used that as a mask. This lets the lower lava layer show through and gets a bit of flow going without using the smudge tool. The second image I duplicated the top lava layer, desaturated it, set it to linear light, and then duplicated that again. Looks like the hell I've always been trying to create.

01-21-2010, 11:17 PM
Oh man, that little dude is in so much trouble...

I had just been playing around with using the lava level itself to dictate where the land was living. Very very nice.

01-21-2010, 11:45 PM
You can do that as well. Using the two grayscale clouds layers create a new layer on top, hit ctrl+shift+alt+e...this merges all visible layers into the new empty layer. Then take that and image-adjustments-brightness/contrast and contrast to max and play with brightness, brighter = more lava and darker = more land based upon what you have so your land placement will not be random, it will be dependent upon the clouds. Then go back and do the color adjustments on the lava layers.

01-22-2010, 08:34 AM
This reminds me of an old firey text tutorial...

Instead of playing with hue saturation, you may be able to convert the first layer to indexed color...then go to image->mode->color table and choose black body.

01-22-2010, 09:54 AM
This is a great set of steps. Will certainly have to try this. Thanks!

01-22-2010, 11:23 AM
Very nice, it makes me want to come up with an excuse to use lava now. Thanks for the inspiration.

By the way what does "Cntrl-f" do? I use Gimp and not too many hot keys at this point since I'm still learning it and it's not exactly the same as Photoshop anyway.

01-22-2010, 12:08 PM
Oops, sorry. Cntrl-f repeats the last used filter in Photoshop.