Create a Fringe Inspired Wallpaper

I watch TV shows every night before going to bed. It’s my way of relaxing after working all day. Fringe is one of my current favorites so I put together this tutorial to show you how to create a wallpaper inspired by its title sequence.

Final result

Here’s the wallpaper we will create:

Step 1: Analysis

Before we start the tutorial let’s check out Fringe’s title sequence:

We want to create a wallpaper similar to the first frames. Let’s take a closer look:

In order to recreate this image we need to break it down into its building elements:

  • The background has a three-tone gradient and a dark border.
  • A layer of smoky effects is placed on top of it.
  • Fingerprints and other random marks are placed around the edges.
  • Variously sized dark particles are scattered across the image.
  • A wobbly blob sits at the center of the image and reflects the environment.
  • Dynamic typography completes the composition.

Sounds easier now, doesn’t it? That’s why you analize things! We will add our spin to the wallpaper by replacing the blob with a few molecule/neuron thingies.

Step 2: The background

Start up Photoshop and create a new blank document, 1920×1200 pixels. I’ll be using a pen tablet so most of the brush settings will be shown with that in mind.
Add a Gradient Overlay style to the background layer, using three color stops ranging from green to blue, bottom to top.
02b grad 102c grad 201-gradient

Add an Inner Glow style to create the soft black border around the edges.
03a in glow04-grad+glow

Step 3: The smoke layer

Create a new layer and hit D to activate the default black and white colors. Go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Obviously enough the layer is filled with a black and white cloud pattern.
Set the layer to Overlay mode, 30% opacity.

Let’s “eat” into the smoke by painting a layer mask. Hit B to select the Brush Tool then F5 to open the Brushes window. Select a chalky brush (#33) from the Brush Presets. Adjust it using the following settings.
05a brush preset

Enter Quick Mask mode by typing Q. Paint random brush strokes around the edges, varying their opacity. If you have a tablet just vary the pressure with the stylus, if you don’t start saving to buy one and manually change the opacity from stroke to stroke. When you’re done type Q again to exit Quick Mask.

The paint strokes will be turned into a selection. Go to Select > Modify > Smooth and enter 15 pixels. Then from the same menu choose Feather (Shift+F6) and enter 30 pixels. Apply the selection as mask to the smoke layer.
05d smooth selection05e feather07e-result

Step 4: The dirt texture

Download some free old paper textures, for example this and this. I’ll use one of mine.
Drag the texture into the document and resize it to cover the entire canvas. Hit Cmd+U to activate the Hue/Saturation window and completely desaturate the texture.

Hit Cmd+I to invert it. Increase the contrast with Levels (Cmd+L) by moving both sliders towards the center.

Finally set the texture to the Overlay blending mode.

Apply an Ocean Ripple and a Pinch filter from Filter > Distort. Use the following settings.

Now the texture is slightly more dynamic. Go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur and use the following settings.

Using a big, soft brush paint a quick mask to fade the center of the texture.

In the Layers palette click on the layer’s mask to select it then use a black brush to paint out other parts of the texture until it’s visible mostly around the edges. I just showed you two ways of painting layer masks. Both come in handy.

Step 5: Color correction

Some color correction is in order at this point. Before we proceed make sure your layers look like this.

Now darken the background with Levels by dragging the left slider to the right until it reaches the graph.

Increase the saturation, too, since the colors have been muddied up by the smoke and the paper texture.

Step 6: The particles

Let’s set up a special brush to paint the particles.
Choose a small round brush. Activate Shape Dynamics and set both Size and Roundness Jitter to vary. I used the Pen Pressure setting but if you don’t have a tablet use Off. Set up Scatter and Opacity Jitter much the same way. Finally increase Spacing to 1000% so instead of solid strokes we will paint isolated dots.

Now have fun painting the particles, using a dark blue color. Notice how their size, roundness and opacity vary nicely to create a natural effect.

After a few more tweaks here are the final particles.

Step 7: The neurons

Create a dark blue circle on a new layer and Cmd-click it to select it. Add a Clouds filter.

Go to Filter > Distort > Glass and use the following settings.

Increase the contrast with Levels.

Finally set the layer to Hard Light mode.

Step 8: The dendrites

We’re gonna add some dendrites to our neuron, that is we’re gonna paint some tentacles!
Choose the Smudge Tool and hit F5 to adjust the brush settings. Set up a 9px round brush as per these images. The important setting here is Fade which will taper the brush strokes. Size Jitter will create bulges along the strokes.

Smudge the neuron outwards to create the tentacles. Do a second round with a smaller brush. When you’re done scale down the neuron and reduce its opacity a bit.

Step 9: Add a few more neurons

Have fun duplicating the base neuron to add a few more. Use logic: the farther they go, the smaller and blurrier they get. So scale them down and use varying amounts of Gaussian Blur to simulate depth. Finally use the Hue/Saturation tool with Colorize toggled on to color the neurons.

Step 10: Write some psychobabble

The final step is to add some psychobabble, i.e. big words loosely related to brain activity and, appropriately, fringe science. And we’re done!

I hope you had fun creating the wallpaper. Now go watch Fringe.

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