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(Tutorial) Photo-sourcing a face skin: Start to finish

Asuka Martin
Registered User
Join date: 22 Sep 2005
Posts: 78
03-11-2008 09:52
Hey there! Just transfered over from the teen grid (yesterday). I posted this tutorial on the teen forums a long while ago, but I though people here might benefit from it too. There's a lot of different ways to photo-source a skin. This is just one way that works for me.

Edit: I just opened up my store here. Drop by if you like. C: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Dernier%20Cri/109/139/28

Note: This is an extreme beginners tutorial (simplified) that outlines the very basics. There's a lot more that goes into skin making than what I outlined here.

Here's the original post:
From: Asuka Martin
I had this random inspiration to make a skinning tutorial the other day, and since a lot of people ask about skin making I decided to make one specifically for SL. :)

For this skin I used the 3d.sk (pay site for human photo references) model "Mike", since his face is perfectly suited for a SL skin.
3d.sk is an extremely extremely useful site for anyone making skins, or clothing textures, but sadly it costs money, and if you're a beginner you probably don’t want to pony up the 25 usd for some pictures. If you have a digital camera you can take photos of your friends with some good lighting. That'll probably work just as well.

Anyways I used this same model for my mens skins, so it'll look familiar. I actually think I did a better job on this tutorial skin than the one I made a year ago in my store.
I took tons of snapshots since pictures explain a lot more than words, and wrote comments about each of the pictures.

1. Front view photo: Select a section of the photograph and drag it onto the template. Make sure the ‘face guide’ layer is above the picture. Then transform (edit-transform-free transform) the picture the best you can, so that it’s somewhat aligned with the guide.

2. Use the liquify filter (filter-liquify…) to further align the photograph to the template. The best way to do this is to set the face guide layer as the backdrop, in front, at a low opacity such as 38 (bottom right in picture). Another good thing to do is mask (red part in pic) the areas you are finished working so that you don’t accidentally ruin them as you work on another section. (ex: covered the finished eye when working on the eye brows) Be really careful on this part otherwise your face will end up a little demented. After completing this stage upload your picture in game (best in the beta grid) and make sure there are no problems. If there are keep liquifying until you’re satisfied with how it turns out. (I also only do one of the eyes because I like to duplicate it later and make them perfectly symmetrical.)

3. Another thing I like to do with the eyes is color them in black. (old Sims 2 habit :P) Anyways, it cleans up some of the mess in the eye area and gives your avatar a small dark rim around the eye that looks natural.

4. Side view photo: (same as step 1) Grab a section of this photo and drag/transform/line it up on the template.

5. Use a soft eraser (eraser with zero hardness, 100% opacity and large size) to erase away some of the hard lines.

6. Do the same to your front view photo.

7. Duplicate one of your face layers and open up the pattern maker filter (filter-pattern maker…). Then select a small evenly textured section of the photo.

8. Click ‘Generate’. This will be used in the background of the skin. I think it’s a nicer option than just using the grain filter. Note: sometimes your pattern will look really messed up and lumpy. Just keep picking other sections of the picture and try generating them. If you can’t get it right or don’t like this method, you can make a tan layer and use the grain filter on it.

9. You might have to edit the hue/saturation a little so that it matches with the rest of your image. (image- adjustments -hue/saturation) Sorry for the ugly tutorial text everywhere. There are too many bums that will take the textures out this tutorial and try to sell them, instead of actually reading and learning how to make things themselves. (Not fool proof but it will ward off the laziest ones.)

10. Erase more of the harsh outlines/any un-needed garbage from the photograph with a soft brush.

11. Use the warp tool (edit-transform-warp) to curve the jaw line correctly on the template. Warp as many times as you need to.

12. Use the eraser tool to remove any harsh lines (like step 5) or pieces that are too close to the edge matching guide.

13. Merge all of your photo layers, and then duplicate the resulting layer. (We’re going to make the texture somewhat symmetrical) We’ll need to crop the entire layer to remove any unseen pieces outside the border. First select the entire image. (ctrl-a) Then go to image-crop. After that flip the image horizontally. (edit-transform-flip horizontally) (without cropping, your image would not have flipped over the center)

14. Now erase away the unfinished sections, leaving holes where the texture underneath is finished. After that you can merge the two layers back together.

15. At this point you can start touching up the texture how you like. I added some shine to the lips, darkened the eyes/ changed the shape a little, and did other small touch ups. Girl skins tend to take forever at this stage. (Removing blemishes, re-shading, adding highlights/shadows, changing skin rosy-ness, etc.) Thankfully this model doesn’t require too much re-working, and looks fine as is.

16. Front view photo: Go back to this photo and pull over/resize a forehead section with the hair line in it. We’ll be working on the hair

17. Just like in step 10, use the warp tool to fit the hairline to the template.

18. If you like how one side is turning out better, use the horizontal flip method (as in step 13) to make both sides the same.

19. Side view photo: Select the hairline and drag it over to the template/resize.

20. Use the warp tool again to fit the photo.

21. Erase any unnecessary parts of the picture, including the section where the ear will be.

22. You might have to warp again if you find that some parts need fine tuning. Once you get that right you can duplicate the results on the other side of the texture.

23. Next we’re going to clean up the seams a little. Find a solid patch of hair, select it, then right click and copy it.

24. Use a soft eraser to remove the harsh square edges of the patch. Then duplicate the section (alt drag) over any parts that look faded or missing. Once you’re done merge all the hair patches back together.

25. Side view photo: Select the ear and drag it over to the template. Resize as necessary.

26. Erase all un-needed parts of the photo. Edit the hue/saturation if the color doesn’t seem right.

27. Duplicate the ear to the other side of the texture, and make any other fine tuning adjustments. I did a small amount of re-shading with the burn and dodge tools and changed the hue. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have no perfectly symmetrical skin imperfections such as moles/scars/etc.

28. Here’s what it looks like in game. I have a couple of easily fixable seem issues, and some weird shading around the mouth area (line down chin, sucked in looking cheeks, dark smudges). After this you basically keep uploading and changing things around until you’ve got it right.
Chosen Few
Alpha Channel Slave
Join date: 16 Jan 2004
Posts: 7,496
03-11-2008 13:59
Excellent tutorial, Asuka. Welcome to the main grid. :)

If I might add a couple of tips:

1. I wouldn't recommend making the face symmetrical. Real faces aren't. Perfectly symmetrical faces tend to look spooky. Preservation of imperfections is what makes a face look real.

2. I'm not a fan of blackening the eye area on the template. It makes the eyelids black when the av blinks.

3. There were a few places where I would have chosen different tools. For example, layer masks instead of the eraser, moving the pivot point instead of cropping, grouping layers instead of flattening, etc. But that's not a real big deal. Clearly your end result is good, and as you said, there are lots of ways to achieve any given result in Photoshop.

Anyway, once again, welcome, and thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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Stephanie Misfit
Registered User
Join date: 25 May 2006
Posts: 155
03-11-2008 17:34
Welcome Asuka! Very generous of you to share this here. I look forward to seeing your store.
Asuka Martin
Registered User
Join date: 22 Sep 2005
Posts: 78
03-11-2008 18:37
Thanks for the feedback Chosen! Yes perfectly symmetrical faces do look funny in some cases (especially with moles and things if your face has a lot of imperfections, eep). I usually do the horizontal flip to make sure the face isn't lop-sided (which can also look pretty funny if its too noticeable). (Blackening the eye template actually has no effect on the eye lids.)

This tutorial is very basic (haha not for veteran photoshop users) but I hope it helps out some beginners.
Namssor Daguerre
Imitates life
Join date: 18 Feb 2004
Posts: 1,423
03-11-2008 20:55
Nice results Asuka! Considering you are working with only two image reference angles, you have pulled out quite amazing coverage around the head! Good luck with your endeavors on the main grid!

I've always wanted to make one of these tutorials too, but I quickly shy away from it because it inevitably ends up being a novel of length that is inappropriate for these forums. Perhaps some day I will figure out how I can edit the details down to something manageable. My methods are quite different from yours.
Thunderclap Morgridge
The sound heard by all
Join date: 30 Sep 2006
Posts: 517
03-13-2008 09:41
That has to be one of the best skinning tutorials I have seen in a long time. Thanks.
Chosen, You are going to have to give a basic photoshop class one of these days. I still haven't made decent layer masks. (it is still easier for me to erase)
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Chip Midnight
ate my baby!
Join date: 1 May 2003
Posts: 10,231
03-25-2008 07:11
Excellent tutorial, Asuka. This will be a huge help to people looking to get started with making skin from photos, and a huge help to those of us who get asked to explain it often. Thank you for sharing this, and welcome to the main grid!

My other hobby:
Madhu Maruti
aka Carter Denja
Join date: 6 Dec 2007
Posts: 749
03-25-2008 07:26
Asuka, I am not a skinmaker and I know next to nothing about photoshop, but I really want to thank you and commend you for this tutorial. It was fascinating to read and I am sure will be a great start for lots of people who want to learn how to make skins. Welcome to the main grid and thank you so much for taking the time to write up and share all that you've figured out about skinmaking. :D

Visit Madhu's Cafe - relax with your friends in our lush gardens, dance with someone special, enjoy the sounds of classic Bollywood and Monday Night World Music parties - http://slurl.com/secondlife/Milyang/39/16/701/
FD Spark
Prim & Texture Doodler
Join date: 30 Oct 2006
Posts: 4,697
03-26-2008 13:39
Thank you for sharing this.
I have been wondering how to do this with drawings and public domain images I have found.
I don't have digitial camera but I do draw. I wonder if this technique could be used similarly?
Also to match different in world skin tones to body is it possible to do this without the underlying skin tone?
Look for my alt Dagon Xanith on Youtube.com

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Dedric Mauriac
Registered User
Join date: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 17
03-29-2008 20:32
This has been a good help for me. I learned a few techniques that I hadn't known about before. I may attempt to skin my face once more.
Ireland Smythe
Registered User
Join date: 29 Feb 2008
Posts: 1
how do i do all the skin making in GIMP2?
04-14-2008 19:25
I have GIMP 2, only because photoshop isn't on this pc..obviously. so I need to know if anyone can help me with skins on GIMP..and how do i make the skins "wet" not oiled .. i like the wet look better. thank you for all help given, in advance.
Ivy Contepomi
Registered User
Join date: 12 Aug 2007
Posts: 19
04-15-2008 08:22
This is fantastic, and comes at a great time for me, as my younger brother (a teen gridder) was just asking how to do this. Thanks, Asuka! And welcome to the main grid.
Sky Everett
I lick textures
Join date: 28 May 2004
Posts: 64
Welcome Asuka!
04-15-2008 09:22
Welcome to the main grid Asuka... and don't worry, we only want your soul.

Excellent tut for those of us who're curious about skins and still in the toddler stage.

And a great big thank you to Chip Midnight, the grand daddy of the template you're using. I think Chip has launched many budding clothing/skin creators with his knowledge and willingness to share his exceptional knowledge.
If you have nothing productive to say, please sit on your hands and wiggle your fingers.
Elinah Iredell
Registered User
Join date: 14 Aug 2006
Posts: 269
04-16-2008 07:49
Thank you Asuka ! Its a wonderful tutorial and nobody else has ever offered one on skins that I know of. And Welcome to the main grid.

Anthea Biedermann
Registered User
Join date: 1 May 2007
Posts: 1
05-14-2008 07:29
Wow... excellent tutorial! I tried creating a skin from my husband's pic and wound up with a *very* scary looking face. /me wonders if that's because husband is a scary looking guy to begin with....?

I'll have to try it again... the correct way ;-)
FD Spark
Prim & Texture Doodler
Join date: 30 Oct 2006
Posts: 4,697
05-18-2008 14:22
I recently did face/skin and I realized now I have same neck black line issues and it was pain in removing them but it was hard trying to draw the nose, ears, and lips right without needing to photosourcing.
Look for my alt Dagon Xanith on Youtube.com

Newest video is

Loneliness by Duo Zikr DX's Alts & SL Art Death of Avatar
Tibette Rozenbaum
Registered User
Join date: 3 Jun 2008
Posts: 1
Thank you thank you!
06-18-2008 08:23
I really appreciate you taking the time to post this in-depth tut on photo-sourcing an avi. I have a question: My photo-source is Jennifer Beals/Bette Porter (hence my avi's name - big L Word fan) and because of her build, she has a longer, slender face. Any tips/pointers on lining up a longer face with Chip Midnight's templates (thanks, Chip, the templates!)?

In any event, thanks again for posting your most helpful tut!


PS: My comment should have two icons: the (?) and a thumbs up but only one is allowed.