Mad Professor – a breakdown


Mad Professor

This image has not only been sitting on my drive for ages, but has also been lingering in the back of my head as well. Sitting there, waiting to be finished. It finally did, and I want to share it’s creation with you, from start to finish.

the pre-shoot 

Last year I received a mail from Coen asking me if I would be interested in working with him. I knew Coen from the work he did for House of XY and was curious what I could do with him. At the time I didn’t work much with real live models in a studio setting, so this was new to me.

We scheduled an appointment and we brainstormed a bit about what the image could be like. During the talks It got clear that we’d need props and clothing, but I didn’t know where to get it and his suggested motorcycle suit, just didn’t cut it. We finally opted for a few simple sets of clothing and work from there.

 the shoot

A few weeks later we where welcomed in Richard Terborg’s Photography studio to build the shoot.

I had some time to plan an idea, where we would need a minimal pof props, just a few good poses and facial expressions, which I’m sure he could pull off. Initially I planned only 2 clones to be clutching his legs as his evil minions, but as we shot the primary images I had the idea to grow the minion army, because you need a minion army. So more poses where necessary.


Coen brought some basic clothing with him, and we tried some on to see which would fit best. It wasn’t going to be about the clothing, so it didn’t really matter. Although a lab coat and some rubber gloves would have been awesome too.

We spent the better part of the afternoon shooting over a bit more then 1000 images, all in different poses, outfits etc. The only thing that didn’t change was the grey backdrop and the lighting setup..

the thought process

From the start I had been thinking about the composition size. The initial sketch is a portrait full body format, a size that would work perfect for a larger then life print, If I’d ever had it printed. And Coen did express the desire to have a print.

I also wanted to use this image for a project I dreamt up, and will hopefully get going next year (more on that later next year). For this project a square format would be more desirable. And so I decided to start with a square and map out a few guidelines to help me composite it for a portrait format print and still keep the square format for the other project.


Now as I stated before, I hadn’t worked with a model much before, so I was careful to keep the images as true to the model as possible. This also stressed me out because I was afraid I couldn’t complete it to his satisfaction. Next to that I had been cutting out poses and already made the initial composite but something was not right, and I couldn’t figure it out. I also decided to record the creation progress, so I would have a making off video.



 I had a few factors that where keeping me from making an awesome image, even though I could usually finish a piece in mere hours. no matter how complex it was. There was the pleasing factor for the model, the composition that didn’t feel right and the pressure to make this into a bigger project then just this image. In the meantime Coen kept asking me about the image, and the image kept lingering in my head.

So finally, more then a year later I finally decided to break with all the subconscious stress the image was giving me.

Firstly I have learnt to let go of trying to please a model and just stick with my own view on the shot. People don’t ask me to have a beautiful portrait (something I surely can make happen), but they mostly want an epic shot, because that is what I do.

Then I opted to let go of the square format. The only way this would work is if I made it wide, so I could fill it up with the full scope of the zombie clones.

And then I forgot to record the creation process because from that point on the image started taking form quite quickly.

The creation process

I had the initial mad professor image I needed, and the composition shots for the two zombie clones. I had Coen stand in place and used Richard to grab his legs for a few shots, we then switched clothing and have Richard stand in for the professor and let Coen be his first zombie clones. This way I had enough image data to composite two grasping clones to Coen’s own legs.


Clone Interaction Setup

As I had quite a few more clones to cut out, I needed a fast way to cut them out. Since there would be a lot of overlap  of the bodies, it didn’t need to be very precise. I used Topaz Remask to quickly cut out the zombie models. Topaz Remask isn’t 100% perfect but it gets the job done faster then the quick selection tool.

Topaz Remask Interface

Topaz Remask Interface

This way I was able to concentrate on the composition of the clones instead of having to spend hours on cutting out models. Since all cutouts where layers with a layer mask, if there would be something wrong I could easily erase or add information.

After an hour I had all my subjects in place and the image was taking form. In one of the earlier versions I had already established a bit of a grading look. I toned the image down by desaturating it with a hue/saturation layer. A blueish tone was added with a gradient map and I emphasized the professor by darkening everything around him with a curves layer.

Now I had my clones but they weren’t zombies yet. I needed a fast way to reshape there faces to have them look more deadly. The best way I could think of was using an layer set to overlay and the paint with a white or black brush to highlight or darken areas of the faces. Setting the opacity and flow at around 50% will allow for gradual build up of the effect. By highlighting the cheekbones and eyebrows, and darkening around the eyes, cheeks and nostrils you create a more skull like appearance. I continued working my way around each clones’ face.

Once that was finished, I did the same effect on a new layer but now I concentrated on the rest of the body. Emphasizing already available highlighted parts, like muscles and veins. This is a great technique to reshape a person without really losing available details.

using an overlay layer to reshape the face

using an overlay layer to reshape the face

To add a bit more zombie detail, I loaded up some grungy textures (usually some cracked concrete works really well) and randomly cut out parts. Then I copy them over a zombie clone, desaturate the layer and set it to overlay. I then position it over the zombie clone until some part looks awesome over it, like a part of cracked skin around the eyes, or grungy structure on the arms. Once I find the right texture placement, I add a layer mask and set it to black. I then paint in the structure back in with a white brush. Set it’s flow to 50% to gradually build up the texture. I continued doing this for every clone. I used about 32 individual layers for this.

I also added a green glow to the eyes, and some green blowy stuff in the beaker the mad professor was holding, to give the idea of the power he holds over them.

I wasn’t really satisfied with the amount of clones at this point, I wanted some more in the background, but have them a bit more faded, so I hand drew some shapes in the background, from dark to lighter, to give the idea of depth.  Add some more green blowy eyes and presto, instant distant army 😉




As I wrote, I already had an initial grading setup where I used a curve layer to emphasize the center of the image. A gradient map to pull all colors together and below that a little desaturation of the colors.

Some more curves adjustment layers where added to change some colors or brighten up parts.

I also added a gradient going from a bright yellow to fully opaque running from top to bottom. This was to add a bit of light haze to the image. Set the layer to screen and lower it’s opacity to about 19%. This way its as if there is some haze and some off-camera light coming through.

Once this was ready I merged all the layers in a new layer and used liquify to resize the professors head a bit.

I then used Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4’s “Detail Extractor” to get more detail and contrast into the image. This is a great way to sharpen up images, without making it look all too fake. Depending on your personal preference of course.

Finally I used Nik Software’s Analog Efex Pro to add a vignette to it. I love how Analog Efex can add a vignette and make it’s blacks fade down. I’ve been using the new plugin for a few months now and I love that you can really adjust almost every setting from bokeh, film types, textures, vignettes etc.

All of these effects can be done within photoshop alone, but since I have the plugin I might just as well use it to its full potential and it saves me a lot of time. The trick to not have it look like a plugin is to mix things up. Which the plugin lets me do really well.

Final Thoughts

I usually pride myself by being a quick photoshop user, without compromising detail and image quality, something my multiple 365 self projects have learnt me. So finishing this image in more then a year was quite difficult for me. The main reasons for not finishing it was probably because of my inexperience with working with other models then myself. And for making the image bigger in my head then it should be. I was holding back because in my head it had already grown out to be larger then life, making me feel overwhelmed by it.

To overcome this I had to reach back to the core of my creativity, which is to have fun and just go. The rest will flow from it.

Here’s a layer breakdown video for you to enjoy:

if you like this post and would like to learn more about me, my work or workshops visit my agency :

I have some awesome photoshop workshops planned for next year so stay tuned

2 responses

  1. Insunza Photography

    Congrats!!! This picture is amazing… really love the theme, the style and the execution!!! how heavy the image was? with more than 4 gigas my computer stars to slow down… Thanks for sharing all that information!! Cheers!

    December 23, 2013 at 10:48

    • thank you for your comment, the file was 1,96 GB in the end, But I did use smart objects to group parts together, reducing the file size

      December 23, 2013 at 10:51

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