Create Surreal Human Face with Flame Hair and Disintegration Effect in Photoshop

In this tutorial, I will show you the steps I took to Create Surreal Human Face with Flame Hair and Disintegration Effect in Photoshop. Along the way, there will be some basic retouch skills applied, as well as applying textures and creating your own Photoshop brush from stock image. Have a try!

This is an intermediate tutorial so some steps can be tricky – if you’re having difficulty with it, I suggest you go to the basic section of PSD Vault and practice those tutorials first, then come back and do this one.

Here is a preview of the final effect I have for this tutorial: (Click to Enlarge)

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Ok Let’s get started!

To complete this tutorial, you will need the following stock:


Plaster Texture

Fire Image

Step 1

Create a new document sized 770px * 1100px with black background, load the model image into Photoshop, cut out the face portion with Lasso Tool:

Paste the selection onto our canvas, position it to the centre and erase the edges with a soft eraser:

Now we can tidy up the image a bit – although it’s not really necessary to do those for the final effect, but it gives you a chance to have a go with a number of retouching tools in Photoshop :)

Firstly try removing the dark spots with the “Spot Healing Brush Tool”:

Then use Smudge Tool to with around 2%-5% strength to smooth out the skin:

Sharpen the eyes with the Sharpen Tool – set strength to around 30%:

and you will have the following effect:

Step 2

Add the following adjustment layers to this face layer:

Black and White


Mask on the levels adjustment layer:

and you will have the following effect: (as you can see, I left the right side of the face lighter than the left)

Add some cloud behind the face for some mysterious effect:

Duplicate this cloud layer once and compress it down – this will form the ground texture:

Use a soft black brush to paint some shadow on the ground:

and you will have the following effect:

Step 3

We can now add the plaster texture onto the image. Firstly load the selection of the face layer, drag the selection onto the plaster texture:

Copy and paste the selection onto the face, change the blending mode to “overlay”, erase the left eye and hair portion of the texture with a soft eraser:

Add the following two adjustment layers to this texture as clipping mask:

Black and White


and you will have the following effect:

Step 4

Now we can work on the flame portion of the image. Load the flame stock into Photoshop and use a 20-30px feathered Lasso Tool to selection the following portion:

Copy and paste the selection onto our image, resize it to fit the size of the head, and erase the edge with a soft brush:

Add the following Levels adjustment layer as a clipping mask to this flame layer:

Mask on this levels adjustment layer:

We can add some more flame texture to the image. Go back to the flame image and select the following portion:

Copy and paste the selection onto our document, move it below the first flame texture, then add the following Levels adjustment layer as a clipping mask:

Erase the edge with a soft eraser, and you will have the following effect:

You can render some more cloud on the flame for more effect:

Step 5

Now let’s create some flame hair strips. Go to the flame texture and select a portion as shown below:

Copy and paste the selection onto our document, bring up the liquify filter and use the following settings:

Use the forward warp tool to warp the flame to form the following shape:

Attach it to the forehead as shown below:

Duplicate this layer a number of times, resize and rotate each duplication and form a group of hair strips:

Step 6

Now we can make a break-apart brush. Go to the plaster texture and use the quick selection tool to select a small piece:

Go to “Edit > Define Brush Preset” and define a new brush:

Once you define the brush, apply the following brush dynamics to it:

Shape Dynamics


Other Dynamics

Tick the “Airbrush”, “Smoothing” and “Protect Texture” option.

Use this brush as eraser, go back to plaster texture layer and erase the edge with this brush:

Then use the brush to paint around the edge of the face – adjust the size, flow and opacity as you see fit:

Step 7

We’re almost done. For some final retouches, we can flatten the image and duplicate the background layer, then apply the following Reduce Noise Filter to the duplicated layer:

We don’t want the whole image to be sharpened, so use a layer mask to hide the outer portion, the flame and the bottom portion. The following screenshot will give you an indication:


As a result, you can see the outer edge of the edge become blurred – this creates more depth for this image and add motion:

If you’re happy with your work, you can just leave at that. Alternatively, you can add some more colour to the image to make a bit more vibrant. There are several methods you can do this:

  1. Colour balance adjustment layer with mask
  2. Paint with a soft brush on a new layer (set blending mode to “overlay”, “soft light” or “color”)
  3. Play with Channels

You can experiment with the aboves and see what result that brings you.

I have the following final effect: (click to enlarge)

That’s it for this post! Hope you enjoy this tutorial and find it useful! Till next time, have a great day!

Categories: Photo Effect

Tags: ,,

  • Raju Mishra

    Thank you
    a Very Nice Article
    Please be continue to send me like this articles.

  • ali

    Epic work, looks impressive :)

  • rajasegar

    Great tutorial and techniques well explained.
    Thanks for sharing…

  • Ulnyr

    Thank you! Good articles!

  • tirath

    Awesome tutorial with nice result
    Great trick.I learn so much
    Thanks so much
    you make Photoshop more interesting & enjoyable
    keep up good work
    God bless you :-)

  • Shruthi

    Tooo good, Very nice:-)

  • Ruslan

    Thank you! Good

  • söve

    Woow it’s very very good.

  • Lee Fuller

    an interesting effect.. thanks for sharing..

  • PsdDude

    Beautiful image, I love her eyes!

  • Nat

    I only want to know what “Mask on the levels adjustment layer.” means exactly. I got everything else but haven’t used photoshop in a while and need a recap on some of the functions. can you e-mail me what it means please? Thanks if you can and if you can’t I will wait until next week to find out and finish. Thankyou for the great idea and It looks great! :)

  • James Qu

    @Nat: I will have a new tutorial very soon about the “mask on adjustment layer” topic here, please stay tuned.

  • BDJ

    The result from this tut is amazing. Actually my teacher wanted to use my version in a showcase of student work, I told her I just followed the tutorial, but she was still amazed by it. I want to give proper credit to the author of this article. What would be the best way to do that? I don’t want to just “steal” all the notoriety.

  • James Qu

    @BDJ: thanks for letting me know. Just put a link on your artwork mentioning “tutorial on” would be fine.

  • Ollie29

    This tutorial is amazing….
    I’ve almost finished it and the results so far are incredible.

    I have reached step 6, created a new brush with all the settings as described in the tutorial.

    But when I apply the brush to paint around the edge of the face, the scattered blocks are lost in the black background.

    Can someone shed light to what I need to do?

    Many thanks

  • ian

    @James Qu
    i cannot follow to the tutorial . maybe this is for advance user, and sorry to ask this , but why all your tutorial is in written . not in video . hehehe.

  • James Qu

    @ian: some tutorials like this are just too hard to put into a video – only basic tutorial can be compiled into a video.

  • Amanda Leach

    I cant get past the adjustment layers part. Can you help me with that ?

  • Jonnymarto

    good tutorial but a bit more info needed to what layer masks are as they seem to form the basis of the effects

  • hafeez

    good tutorial and explain about masking

  • deru derfaster

    why not make a video just to make it easier

  • Blithe

    very good.