Thursday, February 24, 2011

Making silhouettes for PhyloPic

So with the launch of PhyloPic, the free online database of silhouette figures of organisms for use by anyone, there is now a big demand for silhouettes of any and all things that are or WERE alive (that's right they want extinct species too!)

As a few people have asked, here is my relatively hassle free way of converting any picture of a critter into a silhouette. While I'm using a photograph in this tutorial example, you can use this on basically any digital format picture there is. (Just keep in mind that the idea of the PhyloPic site is all silhouettes appearing on it are copyright free. So you can't go bashing together silhouettes off other people's work. Just your own.)

For my tutorial you're going to need graphic editing software. Sadly it'll have to be something a little more advanced than Paint, but not by much. (I just tried to use Paint, but couldn't find a brightness/contrast control... otherwise Paint does everything I'm about to talk about).

Step 0

Open your picture in your graphics program. Easy enough, eh ;)

Note: Yeah okay so I'm not doing a prehistoric critter for this tutorial. I just really wanted to be the first to get in a Laughing Kookaburra. So pretend I'm showing you on my previous Tylosaur/Taniwhasaur.

Step 1
Next using whatever means you have start cutting your critter out of the picture. This is the "hardest" part of the process, and to be honest, it is more just tedious than difficult.
Use of either of a magic wand or lasso selection tool should do the trick. I recommending zooming in a bit to make sure your cutting out the precise outline of your critter.
I also suggest using layers if you're program supports them. Convert your picture to a Raster layer to make your life easier at the least, but an extra layer or two in the background can come in handy too.
I've made my "erased" space red so you can see what I've been doing. With layers you can make a nice contrasting background like I have and than easily change it to white later. In the end you'll want your background white.
So after a "hard" 5-15 minutes of cutting your critter out ta-da! One ready to be silhouetted critter.

Step 2

Next we come to the key step, and it is about as easy as breathing (in an oxygen sufficient environment mind you :P).

Using your graphic program Brightness/Contrast controls (or at least something that controls the brightness, depending on your specific software) crank the value into the negative hundred(s) level, and you will be done!

So after these two steps you're done!

What, I told you they were easy.

So have fun creating silhouettes, and let's try to populate PhyloPic's with all the weird and wonderful life of the world (past and present).


Glendon Mellow said...

For Step 1, you could also select the organism by using the Selection Brush on a hard brush setting, then invert the selection, and delete the background.

David Tana said...

Both methods are a lot easier than what I did for my first two. Thanks, guys!

Mo Hassan said...

In Paint, it's a little more long-winded, but somehow I feel a bit more involved, like it's taken more work than a Photoshop edit... in brief, you draw the outline of the beast in one colour (I use red), fill it in using the polygon tool, then trace the outer outline in a contrasting colour (I use green)and polygon fill the background. Finally change red to black and green to white... I can do a more detailed tutorial if anyone wants? (this is much the same process as I use to create the pop art style, except with more detailed colours... one day I will do a tutorial on that, I promise!)

Mike Keesey said...

This is a great tutorial. I've used several different techniques when preparing mine. Although the techniques presented here are good, there are some alternatives:

1) Quick mask is a great tool for selecting areas. (It basically allows you to paint selections.)

2) In a few cases, Select > Color Range may work better than the Magic Wand or the Lasso Tool. (Generally not, though.)

3) Using Curves instead of Brightness/Contrast gives you more control (not that you always need it).

4) Another route entirely is to use a vector program, such as Illustrator or Flash. (And Photoshop also does vectors, actually.) This is much more time-consuming but usually creates cleaner outlines. It's also a good idea because I intend to support vector formats (e.g., SVG) down the road, and vector files are scalable to any size.

Pat Bowne said...

I've done this in photofiltre by viewing the image in black and white and adjusting the picture settings. Made my Xmas cards that way year before last -- I'll have fun dusting off my skills for this project!

By the way, is there anything similar that could use (mostly pencil) sketches of animal skeletons/skulls etc? I enjoy doing them and would be glad to make them available, but they don't seem to fit on either of my websites.