Elements: Mountains, Hills, Fields, Cliffs...
elements like mountains and reefs
As you undoubtedly noticed you find a couple of
useful elements in the Map Elements file. If not, read up on
which - aside from textures - explains where to download the
elements and what is all contained in this file. Santharian Map
Elements are constantly expanded, so make sure to check back
again later if you're interested in those.
If you've followed the Layer and Texture lessons closely, you've
already learned the most important things, so no big surprises
here. What you should do when you want to use map elements is to open the Map
Elements file alongside your main map, and look for the kind of
element you're interested in, e.g. mountains or hills. Ideally
activate the white background layer, so that the
elements clearly stick out. All you need to do now is to go to
the layer with your desired element on it, encircle an item with
the Lasso Tool (L) or the
Rectangle Selection Tool (M)
and copy (Ctrl+C) and paste
(Ctrl+V) it to your own map.
It helps if you select the layer on your map first, which will
eventually contain that element, e.g.
Mountains, Bottom. The pasted element will land on an
own layer on top of the one you selected, thus you can
merge the layers.
Before you join layers you are free to move the element around
until you've found the best spot, or in case of structures like
mountains, stretch them in the one or the other direction, make
the element you've copied smaller, wider, higher etc. or even
combine it with another element. Especially in the case of
mountains it helps to have a decent library of mountains at
hand, from which you can grab just parts and then combine the
used part with other mountain elements to eventually get some
mountains which have their own character.
Copying only parts of mountains once again is ideally done with
the Lasso Tool (L) and a
feather setting. Paste the part on your map, place it as an
element sitting alone on the map or combine it with another, but most
likely - due to copying only a part, there are hard or soft
edges, which need to be fixed.
Eliminating Unwanted Parts
If you need a hard edge (e.g. to make sure that a mountain ridge
doesn't have an unwanted texture next to it, resulting from a
bad cut of the element), use the Lasso Tool
(L) without feather and cut that part off. Remember
to zoom in (Ctrl and +,
Ctrl and -) to get
close to the problem, also keep in mind to add and substract
from your selection by using Shift
and Alt while you mark what
you intend to select. If the
edges are then too rough, grab the
Smudge Tool (R) with a small brush and smudge the
line, thus making it a bit blurrier.
Fixing Hard Edges
You might wish to select an element part the "hard way" -
instead of choosing a soft feather (which mostly works for parts
you'd like to blend in nicely with the background) you can also
do it without the feather setting of course. The result will be
a hard edge however, of which you need to get rid of. See the
example below - if you look closely you can see that the sides
of the pasted mountain part differ. The left side doesn't fit
propertly to the background.
As mentioned above,
to zoom in and use the
Smudge Tool (R) in such
cases in combination with a small brush (2-3 pixels or or so
should do) to
make the outlines blurrier.
You might also come across the
problem that a pasted element doesn't work properly once placed
in front of a certain background, because it still fades out too
roughly at the supposedly soft edges (e.g. the bottom parts of
the mountains in the example above), which just doesn't match a
specific texture. The
Smudge Tool (R) will help
here as well, using a larger brush works best in this case. Smudge the soft
edges further, so that they extend better into the background
texture, or try it the other way round and smudge from outside
into the soft edges. Another thing that might help
here of course is to make a feather selection of the problematic
parts and get rid of the problems by hitting
Making transitions work might sound like it has only to do with
small details, but they make a big difference overall, so make
sure to get the edges right! You don't want to have your map
look like a badly put together collage.
Buildings, Trees, Mines, Bridges...
Individual map elements: Ruins,
trees, stone circles
While landscape elements like mountains, hills,
reefs and cliffs have to be composed to form something unique on
your map (if you don't want to have the same mountains over and
over), other elements can be seen as symbolic representations.
Thus they have the license to be repeated and don't have to be
as individualized like whole landscapes. A few houses might
represent a village for example, or a couple of trees represent
a forest, a hole in a mountain can stand for a mine entrance.
Symbolic items like buildings are therefore much easier to
handle. Simply go to the layer on your
file, copy one after
the other by using the Lasso Tool (L)
and use Ctrl+C and
Ctrl+V to copy
and paste, join them with the
appropriate layer on the target map, and that's it. You'll soon
see nice results with whole settlements forming, especially as
the Map Elements offer already entire sets of houses put
together forming a village, so you don't need to place them one
by one. On the other hand you should try to make everything you
add as individual as you can, so feel free to add an extra house
here and there, use different kinds of houses - and so on.
Elements and Layers
Keep in mind that working on layers helps you as well to embed
your items nicely, to make it all look like it fits together.
For example placing houses below the Trees layer allows you to
have trees standing in front of a settlement (see picture to the
top right), and you could also tuck in a house behind a couple
of hills by placing it on the right layer, and have another
house in front. All these elements don't interfere, and yet this
adds to the impression of a very complex composition, which looks
To expand on the latter: Even layers of the same "type" can be
used for great effect, and if layers containing the same
elements don't exist - feel free to add them. For example: You
have three Buildings layers in your example map for buildings
alone already, Buildings, Top,
Buildings, Main and
Buildungs, Bottom. Use them!
If you put all your buildings on the same layer you lose the
ability to give the whole map the illusion of depth in places
where it's easy to accomplish. The Buildings layers are great to
place e.g. a high tower (bottom layer), add houses directly in
front of it (main layer), and two more windmills directly in
front of the other houses (top layer).
Transforming Map Elements
As has been mentioned
already at the Textures chapter, manipulating is key to get the
desired look. The same applies when using elements to make a
mountain appear different, a hill smaller, and so on. The
Free Transform tool is your
friend in this regard - just select an element or part of it,
right-click and choose Free Transform, then you can alter the
content of the selection, e.g. by pulling the displayed handles
in various directions. Do this regularly to get mountains and
hills out of existing ones, making sure that they don't look all the same.
Transforming map elements is especially necessary if you want to
place elements, which need to be adapted according to the
background on which they are used - take for example bridges. Depending on the environment you need to
have a bridge pasted in a special angle on the map. To do this,
move the bridge on the map from the Map Elements file, then
and move away from the bridge and the handles, as then Photoshop
will display a mouse cursor showing a curve with an arrows at
each end, indicating
that you can turn your selection in the desired direction.
Left-click and stay on the button while moving the mouse, and
you can adjust the angle of your bridge. Finally confirm with
ENTER to actually make the change happen.
own Map Elements
Feel free to create your own map elements and share them with
us! As long as they fit to the rest of the map's look, new
elements are always a treat - as you can use them again and
again. Just make sure to also embed them properly. Below you can
see the difference when you just place objects on the map
compared to the same objects that are properly prepared to
really fit to the background.
Proper preparation means that you
need to add transitions to the background below the element you
want to place, so that the element looks actually connected to
the ground. This is really very simple, but has a big impact
when things are done wrong. All you need to do is draw some
brush strokes with a darker colour on a layer behind the item
and use the
Smudge Tool (R) to smudge it a bit to the left, right
and front. Once you're satisfied, join the layer with the
the map element. Your map elements should look like the ones
shown to the right above.
By the way: On the Buildings layer
of the Map Elements file, at the bottom right, there are
actually some smudged backgrounds available. You can also use
these if they fit the size of the element you've drawn.