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Burton’s World tutorial

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In this tutorial you will learn in a few simple steps how to create a world that looks like it came from the mind of Tim Burton himself. The tutorial is very simple and doesn’t require much technical knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, but rather, teaches you how to use your imagination to create an atmospheric piece of art.

This tutorial was created by Vladimir Petkovic and you can contact him and see more of his great art at

1. The Idea

For starters it’s very important to have a good idea. The great thing about the Burton’s world style is that any idea, no matter how basic or complicated it is, can easily be transformed into an image if the creative method is learned well. Atmosphere is everything! The atmosphere of these images can be described as “tragicomic goth”, tragic because of a certain dose of morbidness that it has, and comic because of the fact that, even though they are on the edge of being disturbing, these pictures are quite harmless and almost cartoonish in their nature.

In eternal half-obscurity, Burton’s World typically contains such elements as: gradient skies, moon, sun, clouds, stars, mist, half-transparent illumination, a casually distorted gothic style, 2D silhouettes and, of course, as many details as you can think of .

The general rule is: the more details- the better.

2. Resolution and Brushes

Because of the purposely distorted nature of the images, you will seldom use normal dimensions for your work. On the contrary, the more unorthodox image dimension the better. That’s why the resolution I choose is 1280×200.

You can see the brushes used in this tutorial here.

3. The Sky

The first thing we create in our Burton’s world is the sky. Make a new Photoshop layer and simply call it “sky”. Then go to Layer Style>Gradient Overlay. And while working with gradients is fairly simple, the crucial thing to remember that the sky gradient is one of the most important parts of the picture because it sets the mood and atmosphere of your scene (with the quality and intensity of it’s colors), so choose your colors carefully.

As far as this tutorial is concerned, we chose a midnight scene with a full moon, so a blue-white gradient seemed most fitting.

4. The Landscape

As mentioned before- the landscape consists only of silhouettes and is entirely 2D. This layer (which you can name “the ground”), should be placed, for now, right above the sky layer. Pick some thick brush with sharp edges and start creating your world. One of the possible results might look something like the image above.

5. Adding Details to the Sky

I did emphasize earlier that it is the sky that probably has the highest impact on image’s atmosphere, and thus it is necessary to provide it with certain details:

6.The Moon and the Sun

These two are created basically the same way and if you wish you can add them both to your image (it’s your world). If you want your picture to have a full moon then create new layer, name it “The Moon” and draw a circle filled with a pale color (it’s best to make that circle peculiarly huge in order to provide some of the
fantasy atmosphere

It is always nice to add some sort of Outer Glow (Layer Style> Outer Glow) and a gradient (from top towards the bottom, from white towards pale gray, for example).

Now let’s give the moon some craters. For that you will need a new layer (unpredictably named “craters”) and a “drops” brush to use on it. The color you’re using should be some pale gray.

7. The Stars,Comets and Fog

Stars: Paint the sky using white dots of different sizes and apply the Outer Glow effect.

Comet: I added a comet as a small detail. The comet’s tail is drawn using a white brush with jagged edges and the comet head’s flash is easy achievable using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (PLT), which you will, (along with regular Lasso Too) use quite often.

The Fog: Create “The Fog” layer, set its opacity to 40%, use brushes of different sizes (white color in this case) to draw the fog, and finally, place it below “The Ground” layer.

8. Adding details to the ground

The Grass
Use “the grass” brush draw the grass which should, more or less, follow the contours of the landscape.
The Trees
When drawing trees think fractals. It’s a quite simple principle, but it requires patience and gradualism. First, pick the 8px brush and create the root and trunk. After that you need to gradually branch it out using smaller and smaller brushes and thus creating deck with branches set as densely as you want. Use sharp-edged brushes for optimum precision.

8. The Architecture

Remember, in this world everything is displaced and is seems like all of the objects are affected by some spontaneous chaos that stands totally against all the rules of physics. In spite of science- the structure exists. Burton’s gothic world is characterized by broken lines, plenty of curves, spirals and sharp edges. Everything that, in reality, would be standing straight and normal- in this dimension should be as crumpled as possible, sometimes bordering upon the ridiculous. You are supposed to try to make EVERYTHING look endlessly old and a bit spooky. Feel free to insert thousands of small cracks and crannies and that sort of stuff. The more of those kinds of details you create- the better. This is, in fact, the main area for the “architect” of the Burton’s World to express the multiplicity of his imagination. It all may turn out to be quite cute…

9. Finishing touches

Provide your picture with all the details you can think of, cause that is literally what gives it soul. After adding such details you can end up with something like this:

Click on image for full view

The End

Coming soon- Burton’s world 2 (Advanced Techniques)

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