H2H 2014- My run to the finals

So, it is upon us again. . . .   The superbowl of psc.  The head to head tournament is an event that brings tons of choppers, old and new, back to the site to chop against the best in a huge photoshop tournament.  I posted a blog last year of my run to the finals.  I always enjoy this tournament and the creativity it inspires.  At the same time it can be nerve racking to get a source image and have to create something out of it.

So for those interested here is my journey in the 2014 H2H tournament.

Here is a link to the actual tournament page so you can see all the choppers and the round by round action:  http://photoshopcontest.com/tournament/12 My user name is nat_g31

You can see my portfolio here http://photoshopcontest.com/portfolio/53574/browse.html

Round 1 source image

So in round 1 I had a bye.  I also had a bye last year because my ranking in the tournament is higher than some of the play in seeds.  I was matched up against Yarilo in the 2nd round.  I really don’t know much about Yarilo, seems like a nice guy from the Philippines.    Here is the photo we had to manipulate for the round.  I was nervous because this is way outside my wheel house.  Not my kind of image but definitely suited for a chopper named Anfa who is know for creating guns or spaceships out of such photos.  I decided not to do a sci-fi entry because I felt like everyone would do it.  I have been successful at times because I think outside the box.  I cute the image out and flipped it around.  Shit, what was I going to create???  After staring I had the image that I ultimately created.  I grabbed Yasmine and made my imagination come to life with a disturbing image.  I was happy with the result and got through to round 2.  Here is a look at all of the images I used to put this chop together.

round 1 sources

Round 2 externals used to create the final work

As you can see I used a bunch of photos.  I sat Yasmine down and blew her hair with a leaf blower so it looked realistic in the photo.  I also took a picture of her feet hanging from our balance beam in our yard.


So here is the finished work from round 1.


Round 2, well actually round 3 with the bye.  I knew at some point there would be a close up of a face.  My competitor was The Shaman, in real life he is Sean from Illinois.  He has always been a nice guy, I would consider him one of my friends on the site.  I guess I would go to beer with him if we were ever in the same part of the world at the same time.  He has been chopping longer and is a great chopper with a proven track record.  Here is a link to his profile http://photoshopcontest.com/boards/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=15312 I knew he would bring his A game to our match because there may be a little rivalry there as we are pretty close in skill level.


Here is the source photo we had to manipulate.

Round 3 source photo

I stared at the source and had no idea what to do.  I knew most entries would just manipulate the face to fit into another scene.   I didn’t want to take the easy way out.  Natalie suggested I make it into a pilot.  After staring at it and flipping it around I still had nothing so I cut out the hat and the microphone and then an image popped in my head of a metallic singing microphone.  The hat could be turned into a basket perhaps?  I knew it would be kind of of hard but at least I had an idea.

I made a crucial error in this contest and I got lucky to get past it.  I created the basket and the body of the snake, changed the head around and added the sunglasses.  I added a layer to give the overall picture a soft and dreamy effect like I do to a lot of fantasy images.  I erased that effect on the main focal point of picture to only effect the background and surrounding images.  After staring at my finished work I knew it needed something else. . . .  I wanted to submit my entry before Sean did because I figured I would be in a dogfight and would have to submit first in case of the rare tie break where the winner is chosen by the earliest to submit.  I hastily made last second adjustments.  I decided to add the cowboy hat to the top of the microphone as well as make the mouth out of the existing source photo.  To do this I had to expand my canvas to fit the hat in most of the way, it was already cropped very tight.  In doing this I had to manually expand the adjustment layers to match but I did not properly expand the soft dreamy effect that I had selectively erased.  As a result I had really blurry portions on the microphone.  Instead of taking the time to fix I submitted and right when I was done uploading and looked at the final picture my heart dropped at how obvious my mistake was.  I told Natalie I was happy with my creation but the blurring could kill me in this round.

Here is the before and after.  Basket made from the hat texture.

Here is the before and after. Basket made from the hat texture.

And here is the blurry submitted photo against TheShaman’s candy skull entry (which by the way I loved!)  http://photoshopcontest.com/tournament/view/8684/display.html

Here is the microphone final version which I fixed the way it should have been in the first place.  People didn’t like the music notes and I knew it but I just wanted them because I felt it brought life to the photo.

Music is my life

And here is a progression GIF

Round 4 source photo

So I got past that round and next awaiting me is OneChiefRocker.  I don’t really know this chopper.  Seems like he used to chop quite a bit but recently returned and beat some notable choppers to make it this far.  http://photoshopcontest.com/boards/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=14028

Above is the entry that we have to manipulate for this round.  Its easy to look at and decide it should be an alien or frog of some sort.  I was going to make and alien looking down sadly holding a doll or teddy bear.  If you look at the algae source it sort of looks that way.  I can see its head and hands.  I pictured it in a sewer with the light shining in from a street vent above.  But I knew aliens would be a common theme, had to think different.  I had a couple of other ideas that didn’t come to fruition.  One of them was turning it into a mossy skull with water flowing from beneath it.  I actually tried to chop that but it never felt or looked right.  I decided to go with excalibur, you know the sword stuck in the rock until the rightful and worthy person pulled it from the rock.  I pictured a sword that had been stuck for a long time and an old gross rock in a stream secluded in the woods.  It had to have sunrays, yes sunrays for sure!


So here is the progression work of what I did.  For me it was a lot of work to get the rock to fit into the scene.  I had to do a lot of color adjustments to make the green mossy rocks more green to fit.  As an added hidden effect I actually put a picture of the young disney version of king Arthur into the photo if you look closely at the reflected bubble in front.


So I got past that round.  Here is a link to our matchup http://photoshopcontest.com/tournament/view/8690/display.html I felt good about my entry but I am always nervous because you never know what the voters will pick.

This next round photo was released. I am in the final 4, WOOHOOO!!!!  But this makes me nervous.  I am going against a chopper named Thantin, seems to me it could be an alias because they chop really good to be new.

Round 5 source photo

Round 5 source photo

This source sparks a lot of creative thought, but reality is that it is a bitch to photoshop.  I hate statues with a passion.  It is my weakness for sure.   Recall last year’s final when I lost with a statue manipulation of an elephant.  So my first idea was to have them all looking up at the boogie man thing from the movie sinister.  After playing with the idea I decided on a creepy clown and circus scene.  This is such a complex photo to change and harder than anyone can imagine unless you have sat down and tried to painstakingly cut out each kid, or paint each kid, or blend into a background.  Ridiculous. . .  I tried my best and here is what I came up with.

Very hard source.

Very hard source.

It was funny because a lot of members on the site were raving on about what a great source it was.  It sucked!  There is much work to do in this photo.  Think about the hard shadows, the multiple items that need to be extracted, the difficulty in replacing the ground around the feet.

At first I cut out a number of the kids to put onto a new ground but it didn’t look right.  I ultimately wanted a more desolate and cruel landscape, which is why I chose the desert in the background.  I decided to blend the foreground into the back.  I added the clown so it seemed like the kids were hypnotized by its balloon.  The balloon went through numerous stages.  It was black and then it was a sketched skull balloon, then it was a red balloon, and finally it was a red balloon with the skull on it to hopefully make it look ominous.  I decided to add a carnival to the way back in the fog which involved incorporating 3 images.  My wife and I ran across the bus by accident but knew immediately it needed to have a place in the background.  As a homage to my kids and the years they have spent riding bus #53 to school, I added that number to the bus.  I got rid of the knife in the clown’s right hand because I wanted more implied terror and added alien like skin to the skin to make it not human.  (I would like to officially credit kirilee on the photo of the clown I used in this image and here a link to their profile http://kirilee.deviantart.com/ ) If you need stock images I highly recommend her, she has some great and beautiful images.  Just make sure you read the rules she post on her profile, because I didn’t read.  I just assumed it was like most stock images and they wanted to see your work but you have to get permission before using.  Due to time, I probably would have gone with another clown if I had known that because I had no time to wait for reply due to time crunch for this image.  Regardless Kirilee was understanding and kind in letting me use this stock photo.

Here is a link to the page of my matchup against Thantin http://photoshopcontest.com/tournament/view/8693/display.html

So, round complete and I managed to pull it off.  I am elated to have made it to the finals a second year in a row.  A few years ago I would have never imagined making it to back to back finals.  My final match is against Anfa, he is a regular chopper at psc and a great artist.  He is known for his sci fi work.  I know this will be a tough matchup.  But what do they say?  You gotta beat the best to be the best!

So the source photo was released for the finals.  It is a close up picture of a hawk(I think it is a hawk).

H2H finals source photo

H2H finals source photo

It really is a nice looking photo.  Clear detail and a lot to work with.  But once again the creative process begins, and with that comes a great deal of panic on my part.  I want to make something cool and memorable but also stay in the range of my abilities.  I have been gifted with the ability to create strange and often eye opening art with my ideas.  My photoshop skill level has gotten better and I am capable of more, but still not to a professional level.  But I do care a lot and will painstakingly look over my photos and try and correct anything I can see.

Yasmine in the mad chicken doctor.  Created in the head to head tourney in 2011

Yasmine in the mad chicken doctor. Created in the head to head tourney in 2011

In 2011 during the H2H, we had to create something from a similar photo.  Only it was a chicken.  I remember having the hardest time creating something from this.  Finally I shot a photo of Yasmine in her dress up Doctor shirt and made the above photo.  I love chopping my kids, and Yasmine is so good at posing and helping me to create the perfect image.  She really is a good sport, lots of times we shoot and shoot, I upload to computer and work on it and then decide I hate it.  Then we repeat again the next day.   Wash, rinse, repeat…….  Wash, rinse, repeat…….  Wash, rinse, repeat…….  Wash, rinse, repeat…….

So the first idea that came in my head was a cartoonish image of a bird standing sinister, almost a caricature of a bird.  I was going to use the eye of the hawk to create a dark background with tons of onlooking eyes in the dark or a forest.  I realized I didn’t like it.  So I was going to turn Yasmine into a bird girl like before.  I put the image into photoshop and put the beak on her and also changed her eyes to the bird eye.  I had her pose on a table.  I got some good inspiration from a photo I ran across online.  Here is the photo that sparked my inspiration.  The author is Annmei on Deviantart.  http://www.deviantart.com/art/The-bird-189028895

I spent a great deal of time recreating the table and Yasmine posed very similar, only in a way that showed her face so I could incorporate hawk beak.  It could have been a good chop but not really what I was feeling.  Natalie suggested a bird head dress that Yasmine was wearing.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.  It was not coming together.  She said I had to make a cloak out of the bird’s wings.  I thought there is no way.  I had Yasmine come back out to the kitchen where I had my photography studio set up.  We decided to have her sit and hold her knees with her hand out.

I found more inspiration from a beautiful drawing here http://www.deviantart.com/#/art/Bird-Soul-169531495?hf=1  I love this photo and decided to take it to life in my own work.  It would be a fantasy picture of a girl prisoner locked in a dungeon, bearing the hawk head dress.  She would be releasing the spirit of the dead bird, which also happens to be a baby hawk.  So the photoshop process began. . .

A few of the multiple photos I had to use to get to the end result.

A few of the multiple photos I had to use to get to the end result.

So I chopped and chopped.  And finally it came to this. . .   Here is the progression of my work, followed by the final picture that I submitted.

Progression work in photoshop.

Progression work in photoshop.


The finished entry.

The finished entry.

The progression really doesn’t show all the time that went into it.  Hours were spent on google finding good externals.  The ground must have changed 10 times, the background numerous times, even something as small as the chain was redone 3 times until I finally decided to get a brush and make my own with textures.  Perhaps the hardest part was making the spirit of the bird in the top right.  This part alone took a couple of hours until I was happy with it’s look.  As added detail I painted on face make up and running mascara, also I wanted to conceal the fact that the little girl was Yasmine, my daughter, and I did not want the voters to know which was mine.  Do you notice the Divergent bird tattoo on the collar?

So here is a view of the finals http://photoshopcontest.com/tournament/view/8695/display.html

As I said, Anfa is a great chopper and created a beautiful entry.  I really like the image he made and have no idea at this moment while I type who is the winner.  Even though I love my image, you can never know how the voters will receive your chop.  Next time I update this post I will know the result of the contest.  Win or lose I am really happy with my 2014 finals run, and even more happy with my final image of Yasmine.  This will end up on her wall in a frame regardless what the voters think.

So as usual I awoke this morning at 5 am.  OK, I actually woke up at 3 am and couldn’t sleep for about an hour.  The H2H finale score was on my mind right when I woke up.  It was almost time to find out the results and I was driving myself crazy waiting.  To say I didn’t care if I lost would be a lie, I wanted this win really bad(I might even say I needed it).  I fell asleep for a short while and got up at 5 to get ready for work.  I clicked on the contest and could see that 4 more votes were cast overnight.  What if it was really close?  I purposely submitted earlier than usual so I could ensure the tie-break went my way.

So work was hell this morning.  My district manager was in on a day I was short staffed(not to mention after my day off) and was picking us apart.  I looked at the time and realized it was 715 am.  The results were posted at 7 am.  I was too chicken shit to look so I called my wife to see if she had checked.  She had not yet.  She said she was going to but I had to get off the phone.  I checked and when the page opened I saw the winner and my name next to it “nat_g31”, my heart dropped and I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders.  I did it!  Natalie called me a minute after shrieking that I had won, and not only that, I had won by a large margin.

My inbox notification on top was red.  I had a message.  When I opened it I saw it was from my opponent Anfa and he was congratulating me.  In the past I had thought he was an asshole but this h2h showed me another side of him.  He is a good sport and a great competitor, he is sarcastic as shit, but still a good guy.  It meant a lot that he took the time to write that to me immediately at the close of the contest.

So there it is, my 2014 road to the finals and my H2H championship run.  I had a great time and may return next year to go for back to back, who knows!






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1 Response to H2H 2014- My run to the finals

  1. Pingback: Sore Loser | Nathan Grant's Blog

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