Learn to Create a 3D Typography Masterpiece: A Flooded Desert

I was quite impressed by Reactive’s work on Australian National Maritime Museum. I thought it had a lot of potential and the concept was really well thought out. But maybe there’s some room for improvement, so let’s give it a shot with this Making Of tutorial where we attempt to re-create this skilfully conceptualized and designed piece of typographical art.

Note that for any illustrative tutorial, I encourage to make your own settings and find your own images for a bit of a diverse result, and a deepened sense of accomplishment once you’ve created your own masterpiece. ORIGINAL AQUA, by Reactive:


Click here for full image view

Before You Start

Make sure you have a version of Photoshop which has the 3D features of extruding layers and the Edit -> Puppet Wrap function. If you don’t you can use a 3D rendering program to achieve this, and puppet wrap can be substituted with Edit -> Transform -> Wrap.

The Completed PSD File (CS6.0)

DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that this PSD file is distributed for educational purposes only and may not be redistributed or modified without the author – Leon Fresh’s permission. cclogoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Step 1: Basic Setting

New document of 2560 x 1600 @ 72 dpi. I googled Blue water wallpaper for the water and Morocco desert. Grab our two images and stack them on top of each other with the water being on top. I also just transformed them so that they fit the whole canvas. I dislike the middle part of this image, since it is sticking out. So personally I am going to cut this out from our image with the help of a little pen tool and simply deleting it from existence.

Now just grab a Magic Wand with the tolerance set to about 11 and refine the selection as so [Select -> Modify -> Refine Edge] and delete the selection once you’re done.

Step 2: Basic Typography

Great, we have our basic image, let’s add some text. We are going to use the Cubano font available from Lost Type. http://www.losttype.com/font/?name=cubano

Type one letter at a time and use the transform tools to create something like this. Note the angle of the letters matches the orientation of the water.

We need a backup of this text before we do anything to it. So first group the AQUA text together [ by selecting all of the text layers -> CTRL+G ] and make a duplicate of them [ CTRL+J on the group folder ]. Convert the duplicate to a Smart Object and apply a Colour Overlay layer style to it, with values of a dark-sea colour. I used values of #005154.

Step 3: 3D We need to make it 3D so let’s 3D -> Extrude from layer and use these values.

WAIT. Before you do anything else, it’s very important that you hit that “Render” button right below in properties and let it run through at least twice before you click away. If you don’t you will have some jagged edge nightmares on your text. Let’s hide the 3D layer for now. We have the bottom submerged text, so we are now going to create the top text. To do this, duplicate the hidden group again, and this time we are going to merge them together to form one layer [by selecting all layers within the group and pressing CTRL+E].

Now make a selection of the layer [by CTRL+Clicking on the thumbnail] and let’s contract the selection by about 30 pixels [Select -> Modify -> Contract], and then smooth it by another 30 pixels [Select -> Modify -> Smooth]. Invert the selection [CTRL+SHIFT+i] and hit backspace. And voila, we have a thinner version of the font that are are using. You guessed it, let’s repeat the same process we used on our first text layer. Except this time, use more of a sandy colour and for the extrusion use this, don’t forget the Front Inflation material colour also to avoid some jagged edges.

To create this next step, we are going to use layer masks to mask out the unwanted areas. It’s pretty simple, just make a selection of the water layer and apply it onto the text layers. One of them being an inverse of course (CTRL+I to inverse the layer mask). Finally, I lowered the Opacity of the bottom text layer to 80% and changed the Blending Mode to Multiply so that the water is now visible through it. To save ourselves some hassle later on, we are going to convert the 3D layers to Smart objects. Do this the proper way, first select the two 3D text layers, then right click and Duplicate Layer, and finally right click on each of them and Convert to Smart Object. Don’t forget to hide the original 3D layers as a backup. If it doens’t look right still, feel free to tweak this bottom layer with adjustment layers (clipped on to previous layer).

Step 4: Texture

Great! We have our basic composition and shapes. What’s left now is the fun part. Some simple texturizing, adding some objects of interest, and doing some lighting/colouration tweaks so that everything blends nicely. Google a ground cracks texture, take it into Photoshop and set it to Overlay right above the top text. Then ALT+Click right between the layers to set this texture as a Clipping Mask. Lower the opacity to about 80-90%. If the texture does not fit all of your text, just make a duplicate and move it around to a nice position. Repeat this step for the bottom part, except using the moss texture. I googled Stone Moss for this texture.

To make the water sinking the top type, we are going to duplicate the blue water layer and place this one directly below it. Now move it up a little bit and go into Edit -> Puppet Wrap. Try to play around with something that you find aesthetically pleasing, but generally, just make an organic water shape along the distance.

Once you’re done, go into Image -> Hue/Saturation [CTRL+J] and give it a hue of -160 or so, so that it appears orange.

Step 5: Fine touches & extras

We want to make the top text blend into the orange water to give off the illusion that it is actually submerged in it. To do this, just use a medium sized [150 ish] brush set around 80% opacity and hardness 0% and colour black to paint onto the Layer Mask of the text.

The sky needs to be yellow for consistency & artistic sake, so for this the best way to avoid any tearing is to use a Selective Colour adjustment on the desert image. Use these values for both Cyans and Blue, but for the blue leave the Magenta as it is, and make sure to tick Absolute.

You won’t get a vibrant orange and the sky is a bit pixelated so let’s use a gradient instead. Create a new layer and use a Orange to transparent gradient and drag down from the sky.

That’s better. Let’s now continue adding interest to our image.

For some clouds, search google for a cloud panorama image, place it on top of the desert layer, make the blending mode Linear Burn and turn the opacity down to about 60%. Then CTRL+U and play with the colourization options until it’s orange (tick the colour box). And finally start brushing onto a layer mask of it to hide some unwanted parts.

There’s a nice stock pack here for trees to save you time for cutting them out manually. Just remember to File-> Place jpg files so they retain their transparency settings. http://www.deviantart.com/art/stock-dead-pack-1-179330311 http://www.deviantart.com/art/dead-tree-jpg-211271091

This next part was actually how to make seaweed but I did such a bad job at it that I am going to not show this part. I will explain how to do this later on in the tutorial. Now google for water bubbles wallpaper and let’s add some more bubble fun to our water. For this I found a nice bubble image, and positioned it nicely in the image. Make sure that some bubbles overlap the edges of the text, we are going to liquify this later to create more realism. Then I made the blending mode Linear Light and took the opacity to 50% while desaturating it -60. Also I added a gradient layer mask with Black to white gradient transitions to help blend it into the image.

With the help of Media Militia’s Lens Flare pack I added a sun and set it to overlay, its the #44 image. http://mediamilitia.com/custom-lens-flares-pack-50-free-high-resolution-transparent-images/

Step 6: Final Touches

At the very top, I added three layers to blend everything together. A channel mixer, a gradient map and levels. Just play with the Channel mixer on all RGB colours to get something you like, and with the gradient map / levels use these values: Gradient map is set to 15% opacity on multiply. Levels are squished to create a more dynamic contrast.

I added a raven and some ravens in flight since I felt the image could use an additional focal point. I also used a topaz clean filter on the raven. This is a premium filter and it has a nice algorithm of sharpening images. This is how I have the layers set, Raven with a gradient mask, then the sun image, then raven again with a lower opacity. This is so that the sun will leak onto the raven as well.

By the way I felt that the bottom of the image was too light, thus distracting the eye from the focal so I darkened it with a gradient.

What’s left are some final touches – blurring, sharpening, shadows and lighting. For this step, make sure that you’re done with the image and then get a merged layer of the whole thing [CTRL+A -> SHIFT+CTRL+C] and paste it as the very top layer. Create depth by blurring some of the stuff in the background, just use the blur tool at a high strength and soft brush for this. You’re going to need to blur a lot since a lot of the stuff in this image has a lot of detail and we want to soften that out & give it some depth. Don’t go too overboard though… below is an example of blurred distant areas.


As for the seaweed, this can span a whole tutorial alone as I am not kidding you I have spent around 30 minutes doing this part alone. So I am just going to tell you the gist of it. Basically, it is a combination of smudging, cloning, dodging, burning, blurring, sharpening and using the liquify filter. Use the smudge tools at 1 pixel brush to create the strands, or alternatively use a brush with several dots in them such as this one:


I used this sort of brush to smudge.

For most of the burning, dodging, cloning it was done with a really small brush around 1 or 2 pixels radius. Just go crazy with the tools and create hair-like strands coming from the moss of your text. If it starts to look too fake, don’t forget to clone more details of the moss onto the hair before you do some more smudging.


Once you have something you like, use the liquify filter and a reasonably sized brush to Twist some of the seaweeds so they look more organic. I know this explanation is pretty vague, but once again this would require a completely new tutorial to go over in detail and perhaps I will make one should there be enough requests. When you are liquifying, don’t forget to Bloat some of the parts where there are bubbles for a more realistic touch. Lastly I added some blurred shadows to the raven and trees by duplicating their layer, flipping it vertically, transforming it with Skew and then filtering them with Guassian blur.

Extra Step


Just when I thought I was done, I looked at it and my eyes were hurting because it was too sharp. So first I got some Cinema4D water splashes, added them in as Colour Dodge. Then I softened it up by creating a new merged layer of everything, giving it a generous Guassian Blur and making this blending mode to Lighten. This softens everything up, but it’s probably going to be a lot, so I deleted areas that I needed sharp, mostly the focal areas.



Well that’s it folks. I spent about 20 hours creating this whole thing, but it was sure worth it. Be sure to leave some feedback or share your results no matter how bad they are, I’d always love to see what you’ve come up with ^_^


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