Painting Basic Energy Effects in GIMP

This tutorials designed to give you the basics of making postwork energy effects using GIMP. Some of the techniques can be applied to other programs as well. GIMP is a free image editing program you can download here

Let's get started with our Poser scene and out lighting.

The Basics

We're making a hero with laser eye beams, which is going to be one of our light sources. As such, I've set up two small spotlights to "point at" each eye. Remember, if whatever you're doing gives off light, try to light it as much of it as possible in your Poser file before taking it to post-production.

When you render, RENDER LARGE. If it's for web, render it at least two times the size you need. If it's for print, render it at least 10-20% larger than you need. Reason: working large is easier for getting details right and sometimes sizing down can fix a few sins you may have missed. It's always better to shrink your work down than it is to make it bigger.

I saved my image as a TIF file. Not only goes it give us a good quality base image with no artifacting and compression weirdness (like you get with JPGs sometimes), this gives up a transparency channel or "alpha channel" to work with.

We're going to be working with layers a LOT in this tutorial. If you're already familiar with layers, skip to the next paragraph. If not, I'll try to explain. Imagine you have a picture and you put a piece of glass over it and draw on the glass. Add another piece of glass on top of that and draw on it. That is basically how layers work in a way. You can move the layer around independently of the rest of the content, even make it go away, all without affecting the rest of your existing image. This is why they're so useful and once you get used to them, you'll wonder how you functioned without them before.

Here's a quick tour of GIMP's Layer Palette:

If you lose your layer palette, you can reopen it by hitting Ctrl-L.

Once you've opened your render in GIMP, SAVE IT as an ".XCF" file. This is GIMP's default format and it saves your layers as layers instead of merged into one image. This is good, especially if you need to go back later and fix something.

Let's move on...

We're going click the "new Layer" button and make a new layer and move it behind our main character. We're also going to throw a quick background back there. I'm lazy so it's just a simple gradient for now.

Now for the eye beams. Select the Paintbrush from your tools palette and a small brush size. Select white as your color. Why white? Well, have you ever really looked at a Christmas light? Even though the light is colored, the source of the light is so intense it's appears white. The hotter and more powerful the source, the more it will appear white. The aura is where the illusion of color comes in. We'll deal with the aura later, for now, we need our basic shape.

Now make a new layer, call it "Eyebeam" or something. Make a dot in the center of one eye. Hold down Shift to activate the line tool: it gives you a preview of the line you're about to make when you make the second click so your beams will be nice and straight.

With a few extra lines, I made the laser going offscreen slightly wider than the endpoint in the eye just to give a sense of depth. Repeat the process with the other eye. When you're done, it should look something like this.

We're going to add a touch of color variance into the beams. Go to your layer palette and lock the eye beam layer's transparency (it's that checkbox, see the roadmap above if you're not sure). Pick a soft airbrush and a very pale pink (I used #FFE0E0) and paint over the eye beams a bit towards the end. It's hard to see here, but this will make a subtle pulse effect in the final version.

Time to start work on our aura. Click the "Duplicate Layer" button and make a copy of your Eyebeam layer. Move it under the original and hide the original Eyebeam layer. Make sure the transparency is locked on the copy layer that's still visible, and paint the whole thing bright red.

Unlock the transparency on this layer. Go into your Filters menu and select "Gausian Blur" Set it to about 15 or 20 to soften it up a whole lot.

Once you've done that, set this layers Blend Mode (the dropdown near the top of the layer palette) to "screen" There are other settings that will work depending on the situation ("hard light" for example), but for now, we're going to keep it simple. Just remember, Multiply darkens, Screen lightens, and Overlay pumps up the midrange (this is an oversimplified explanation but it's really hard to explain blend modes without you trying them out yourself. I encourage you to experiment with these when you have time) Now, unhide your original Eyebeam layer.

To increase the intensity of the glow, duplicate the red glow layer a few times. You can merge all the copies once you get the intensity you like, or you can just leave 'em.

The laser's looking good, but something's not right about the eyes themselves. They need to glow. Hide all your eye laser layers before you move on. Now, make a new layer. Get yourself a brush and paint in the eyes with some of that pink we used earlier. Repeat the process above: copy layer, hide original, lock copy's transparency, paint in color, unlock transparency, blur, unhide. You should get this.

Now turn back on the original eye lasers, and voila!

But wait, we're not done yet. The next section are some ways you can use these techniques (and a few others) for more effects. Click Here to continue