Photoshop tutorial: Master the Liquify filter for surreal photo illustrations

Dive down the rabbit hole to create Alice in Wonderland poster art.

Intro


Alice in Wonderland is full of dreamlike, grotesquely distorted characters. In this tutorial, Fabio Sasso shows you how to hone your use of the Liquify filter to make an image of the Cheshire Cat that's more like Tim Burton's vision of Alice than Sir John Tenniel's. 

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

The Liquify filter offers all sorts of ways to distort an image: you can twist and pull specific sections through the Warp tool, expand them so that they look like they’ve been inflated using the Bloat tool, or squish up sections using Pucker.

As with all Photoshop filters, the Liquify tools are usually best used sparingly. However, for this tutorial Sasso whacks all the settings up high and gets stuck in with creating disturbing and distorted Liquify filter effects.

Software

Photoshop

Time to complete

2-3 hours

Step 1

STEP 1

Create a new A4 document in Photoshop, then import a suitable photo of a cat – it’s quite important that it’s in a similar pose to this one and that the face is clear – and extract its background. The image I used was bought from Shutterstock; you can download it from here.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Step 2

STEP 2

Now let’s deform the cat to make it more cartoonish. To do that go to Filter > Liquify.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

In this dialog, use the Bloat tool (B) to bloat the eyes, then the Forward tool (W) to move things around: push the ears down and stretch the mouth in preparation for the big teeth we’ll put there later. Play with the brush sizes, density and pressure with these tools to get the best results.

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 3

STEP 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue and Saturation. Place the new layer above the cat’s in the Layers panel. Select Layer > Create Clipping Mask.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

When you create a clipping mask the layer is visible only over the area of the layer below, in this case the cat. So select Colorize then increase the Hue to 235, reduce the Saturation to 23 and the Lightness to -15.


Step 4

STEP 4

Again select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue and Saturation, then go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask. Place this adjustment layer on top of the previous one. Change the Hue to 85, the Saturation to 60 and the Lightness to -35. This gives the piece a green colour.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Step 5

STEP 5

Using the Paint Bucket (G), select the mask of the Hue and Saturation layer over the Layers panel. It will be white, so fill it with black to hide the green. With the Brush tool (B), select a soft white brush and white, then paint over the eyes and also create green areas on the cat.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 6

STEP 6

Now go to Layer > New Adjustment Layers > Gradient Map. This layer is on top of the other adjustment layers, and once again create a clipping mask. Change the blending mode to Soft Light. Set the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light too.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Step 7

STEP 7

Now let’s add some teeth. To get a suitably menacing set I used a crocodile image, again from Shutterstock. Then with the Lasso tool (L) select a part of its mouth and copy it.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Step 8

STEP 8

Paste the teeth onto the cat image and place them. To adjust the form of the teeth to follow the cat’s mouth, once again use the Liquify filter with the Forward tool (W). After that duplicate and flip the teeth horizontally to create the mouth.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 9

STEP 9

Add a layer on top of the teeth layers and with the Brush tool (B), using a soft black brush, paint on the edges of the mouth to create a shadow and give the impression of depth. Use Multiply for the blending mode.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Step 10

STEP 10

Now add the branch the cat is lying on. The image I used was from Shutterstock. Rotate and try to find the best angle for the branches. Also use the Liquify filter with the Twirl Clockwise tool (C) to distort the tree’s branches and create some swirls.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials


Step 11

STEP 11

Add more branches in the background and apply a Gaussian Blur with a radius of 15 pixels, then import a photo of a sky. The one I used was from Shutterstock.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below

Step 12

STEP 12

Select the sky image and move it below the others in the Layers panel. Still with the layer selected, go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness and Contrast.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Reduce the Brightness to -135 and increase the Contrast to 100. After that go to Image > Adjustment > Hue and Saturation. Select Colorize, then increase the Hue to 262, change the Saturation to 43 and the Lightness to -15. This will give you a very purple background.


Step 13

STEP 13

Select all layers and duplicate them, with the duplicated copies go to Layer > Merge Layers (Cmd/Ctrl + Alt/Opt + Shift + E). Select the merged layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to 20 pixels and change the blending mode to Screen. The whole image will get shinier.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Then with the Eraser tool (E) delete pretty much the whole layer leaving only the face of the cat very well lit.


Step 14

STEP 14

Add another layer and with the Brush tool (B) add a vignette to the design and you’ve practically finished. You can make the eyes brighter by duplicating the blurry layer and changing the blending mode to Screen.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

Advertisement. Article continues below