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Displacement Maps - Adobe Photoshop Tutorial


Vikki Olds
 
1 Displacement mapping, for me, can be confusing and enlightening at the same time. It's like when we first start to learn about masking...black and white. The important thing to remember is black and white. With displacement mapping black and white are important colors but gray also has it's uses. There are many unique and interesting effects that can be created using displacement mapping.

One of the first things you need to understand about black and white when it comes to displacement mapping is how they work but first lets take a look at what displacement is. The Photoshop Displace filter allows you to move pixels in a image making it possible to distort and/or add texture to an image. You can decide on how you want pixels moved and how much you want to move them. Until you play a little with displacement mapping you won't know exactly what you need to do in order to create the effect you want. So play in the beginning of learning displacement mapping is a must.

Now lets discuss how the pixels are moved. Pixels are moved using a displacement map. The displacement map contains basically 1 or more colors of white, black and gray. Black moves pixels to the right and/or down. White moved pixels left and/or up. Gray (mid-gray...half way between white and black) leaves pixels unmoved. Gray values between black and mid-gray move colors a shorter distance right and/or down while gray values between mid-gray and white move pixels a shorter distance left and/or up. Now I know that all sound like gibberish right now and this is where play comes in.

Open an image to play with. (Mine is below)

2 Create a new image the same size as the image you opened and with a white background. (The one I opened was 472 x 472 so I created my new image the same size)

Use the rectangle tool to draw a black rectangle in the upper left quadrant of the new image, a white rectangle in the bottom right quadrant of the new image and two mid-gray rectangles in the upper right and lower left of the new image. Just for fun add some noise (Filter>Noise>Add Noise) and then a motion blur (Filter>Blur>Motion Blur) with a little bit of an angle. Save this as displacementmap.psd. Mine is below.

3 With your first image selected go to Filter>Distort>Displace. I've used extreme settings here to make the point about what happens when you apply a displacement map. Use the settings below to start with. Once you click ok you'll be prompted for a displacement map. Browse to the one you just saved and click on it to select it.

4 The displacement map will be applied to your image. Ooooh that's ugly but you can see what has happened. Where the black and the white rectangles were a lot of moving has occurred. Where the gray rectangles were there is not much movement except from the noise and blur we added.

5 Let's try a totally different type of displacement map. Create a new image, again the same size as the image you want to use displacement on with a black background. Add noise again and the apply a motion blur. Try to end up with something similar to below. Save this as displacementmap1.psd.

6 Apply that displacement map to your image. That's interesting effect. This could have been softened by simply setting the horizontal and vertical displacement at lesser values than 50%. Try it and see what you come up with.

7 Lets try one more. Create a new image the same size as the image you want to apply displacement to. With the paint bucket tool apply a gradient fill as shown below. Save this as displacementmap2.psd.

8 Apply this map to your image.  As you can see, along with rotating the image a little it also gives the appearance of a zoom. The black to mid-gray pixels in the map moved the image pixels to the right and the mid-gray to white moved the image pixels to the left. The vertical and horizontal displacement moved along the same axis to create the rotation of the image. Both vertical and horizontal were set to 50%.

9 The most important thing to remember when planning a displacement map is the direction and amount the pixels will be moved by the colors in the displacement map. As I mentioned at the beginning of this tutorial, the very best way to learn about displacement mapping is to play around with it for a while and pay close attention to what happens while you're playing. It is an extremely fun and rewarding filter to know about and will help to create some very unique images. Try it out and have fun!

Study the displacement maps and image that go with them below to see if you can work out how the colors have moved or not moved the pixels in the displaced image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2003, Vikki Olds, All Rights Reserved




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