3D, Design, Photomanipulation, Techniques

Create a Stunning 3D Liquid Explosion Artwork

3D renders are often combined with vector elements and photostock elements to create stunning visual effects.  While some artworks can be created merely in Photoshop, most designers are forced to call upon other programs in order to achieve truly brilliant effects.  In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create a Poser figure, create a shatter effect and render it in 3DStudio Max, then use Photoshop and some simple stock images to create a brilliant and visually stunning water explosion effect.  Even if you don’t have Poser or 3DSMax, we’ve included the render in a PNG format for you to play with, and you’ll still learn valuable techniques.

This tutorial covers many advanced techniques, but not to fear, as Joe will walk you through step-by-step how to create it.  You’ll learn rendering, depth of field, dispersion, photomanipulation, and how to add the tiny details that all combine for a brilliant artwork.  So, let’s get started!

Tools Used:

  • Poser
  • 3DS Max
  • Photoshop

Download the render.png.

Final Image Preview:

15 Finished

Step 1: Setup and Creation of the Render

We will start off by opening Poser, it will have a template figure placed in your viewport. We need to delete that figure and place our own. To do so, with the figure selected select the drop down titled “Figure” and choose “Delete Figure”.


After you have deleted your template figure create a new one, to do this select “Figures” on the right side bar. You can choose any you want, for mine I chose the folder titled: “Poser 6” and the figure called “Jessie”.

Step 2: Setting a Distinctive Pose

Now we have our figure, but we need a pose. We do this by backing out of the figure menu (click the folder with an arrow on it) and choose poses. Poser has separated out all your actions and poses for you, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Find a pose you like and double click it to apply it to your figure. I choose a running pose which is in the running folder.


Step 3: Exporting and Importing

Once you have your pose you’re done with poser, now we need to export it to 3ds so we can continue editing it. To do that we will click the “File” tab and go down to “Export” -> “3D Studio”. This will bring up a screen displaying each part of the body along with the ground and any other objects you have put into your scene.



Mine looks like the screen shown above. I have chosen a “single frame”, deselected the ground and checked yes when it asks to export object groups for different parts of the body. Now just save it and open up 3ds.
In 3ds we will import our new figure almost exactly the same way we exported it. Select the tab titled “File” -> “Import” and just choose your figure. A dialog box will appear and you should select “Replace current scene”. This will drop our figure into a completely new scene so we can continue editing him or her.

Step 4: Lights and Materials

Now that we have our figure imported we will select the light icon which is on the right hand side and looks like a spot light. Choose Omni and place it where it looks good to you.


I placed mine as the screenshot above shows. You want it to show highlights on the figure but you don’t want your figure to have extremely highlighted segments either.
Now that it has some light go ahead and press “M” on your keyboard to open the “Material Editor”. This will load a set of duplicate standard materials, so you can choose any of them you want to edit. I choose the first one and set it up as follows:


  • Ambient and Diffuse where linked and increased slightly.
  • Specular was set to a light grey.
  • Specular level was set to 102.
  • Glossiness was set to 31.
  • Soften was set at 0.1.

Your material should look similar to the way mine does in the screenshot. Now you want to select your entire figure and apply the material. To do this your simply click the circle with a square icon in your material editor. But note, if you haven’t selected your figure it will remain grayed out. So be sure you have each object group highlighted when doing this, you don’t want to apply it to everything but the feet.

Step 5: Bombs

Now we need to blow our figure up some. 3DS has a “Space warp” tab right by the light tab on the right hand side; it looks similar to a wave in the ocean. Once you have clicked the “Space warp” tab choose the drop down and select “Geometric/Deformable”. This will bring up all of the deformer warps that 3DS offers, we will select bomb and place it by our figure.


I have chosen to place about four bombs around my figure as seen in the above screenshot but you should play with just one bomb first.

Now that we have our bombs out we need to make them blow up the figure. To blow the figure up select the “Bind to space warp” icon, this should be up in the top left.  The icon looks like a window, a wave and a red magnet.  Once you have selected this we need to click our bomb and drag to a part of the body. Since we exported the body into groups, where you drag the dashed line to will drastically change your figure.


I always start with the head and then make additional bombs for additional body parts such as the back/torso and arms.  But on occasion I do use more than one bomb on a object, for instance in my scene the same bomb attached to the back also affects the head object. Just remember to play around with were you place them and how many you use.

Step 6: Bomb Setup and Frame changing

Now we need to click our bomb and choose the arc shaped tab on the right hand side entitled “Modify” this will allow us to change the settings for our bombs. I setup all of my bombs differently depending on the scene, and which body part it is, for the head I did:


  • Strength: -1.5
  • Spin: 0
  • Falloff: ON
  • Falloff at: 16.0
  • Fragment Min size: 1
  • Fragment Max size: 60
  • Gravity: 0
  • Chaos: 2.5
  • Detonation: 5
  • Seed: 0

The parameters that need explaining here are the “Falloff”, “Seed” and “Detonation”. The “Falloff” when enabled sets a radius for our explosion. The “Seed” parameter is a random seed for the way the fragments will travel and which sections of your objects will move. The “Detonation” Parameter is basically the timer for our bomb; it allows you to set which frame the bomb will detonate on.

You can see examples of other bomb setups in the above screenshot, please note I often set 2 or more bombs onto one part of the body, such as the face, so experiment and add bombs or take them away until you’re satisfied.

Now we will select the toolbar at the bottom that looks like a ruler and slide it forward. I kept mine on 7 as you can see in the above screenshot, but you can stop at 5 or take it to 100 if you like.


Once you have slid it past 5 you should see what each bomb does. Now is the time to go back and edit your bomb to get the look your after. Try moving the bombs around as well, if your falloff is set as mine above and it’s far away from the linked object you won’t see much of a change at all, moving it closer should fix this.


Step 7: Render!


Now that you have your exploding figure the way you like with the material you like, press F10 or chose the drop down titled “Render” and select “Render” you can see my settings in the screenshot above, I only changed the size and selected render. Your size will depend based on your system and what size canvas you will be using later in Photoshop. Once it’s finished select the save icon in the top left and save it as a .PNG or if you would rather a .TIFF. This will allow us to edit the rendered figure without the black backdrop, unlike a jpg which would have kept the backdrop.

Step 8: Background Setup and Render Placement

To start the post work for this we need to create a new document, your size will depend upon your figure and what you are to trying to create. I went with a canvas size of 1500*2100. Now make a new layer and create a gradient of black and white, this will be our background.


It’s important to experiment, try setting two or three different gradient layers with different blending styles and see what you come up with. Next we will place our render above the gradient layer and then duplicate it once.The duplicated layer should be set to “Overlay” with an opacity ranging from 30-40, this will make your reflections and shadows more dynamic on the figure, however you can play with this number to suit your liking as well. But stay away from anything above 60, otherwise your highlights will lose all your shading, the bright’ sections will be pure white and the dark sections pure black causing it to look flat and just bad.


Once your figure is placed and highlighted we need a shadow, you can do this with a drop shadow, or by creating another duplicated layer then skewing it and applying a Gaussian blur filter. I created the shadow for my figure by painting where I thought it should fall with my tablet. If you will skew it or paint it, keep the layer set to “Multiply” around 30-40% opacity.


The same goes for a drop shadow, we are looking for something fairly transparent, so keep your opacities low. A completely black shadow will cause the shadow to look to uniform and just look bad, so try and keep the shadow looking organic, if you’re using the drop shadow play with the angle and size to help and prevent this from happening.


Step 9: Lighting and a Color Overlay

Once you have the shadow for the figure the way you like go ahead and make another gradient layer, set it to “Soft light” at 56% opacity. Remember to keep this layer as with the first layer black and white.


This additional layer will create an even more dynamic light for our finished piece. You can of course play with this number depending on how bright or dark you want the final outcome to be. Now create another layer and fill it with a color you like and set it to “Soft light” 26%.


This part is entirely optional; I however thought the blue fit the whole under water theme and added some needed color. You could of course try something else like a green to blue gradient or something off the wall like a purple layer. The important part is to keep the opacity low; you don’t want it looking oversaturated and under quality.


Step 10: Stocks!

Stocks are what bring this piece to life; all the splashes and drips that were not painted are nothing more than stock layers. So go to your favorite stock site, www.deviantart.com , www.sxc.hu or even www.google.com and find some stocks of water. I choose dynamic shots with a semi dark or a black background. Splashes and pouring water are some great examples.


Once you have a few start putting them into your Photoshop document. I always adjust the levels of water images, increasing the black and white. Since I choose images with a dark background and adjust the level of black I can set my water images down as blending mode “Screen”. You could also set them as “Lighten” or some of the other choices if the “Screen” choice looked too bright.


It’s always a good idea to grayscale the images as well, “CTRL+SHIFT+U” or “Image” > “Adjustments” > “Grayscale”, some of the water photos have strange tints that you are not going to want floating around in there. I used some of the same stocks a few times so don’t despair if you don’t have a lot, just play with the clone stamp and arrangement of the stocks to make them look as different as possible. Also be sure to clean the edges of the stocks with a soft brush, some have strange particles or shimmers on the edges that we are not going to like in the final image. A good soft eraser would be the standard size 100 soft brush with the opacity set around 50%.

Step 11: Placement of Stocks and Depth of Field

Once you have a handful of good water stocks and have them the way you want them, go ahead and start placing them around your figure, it’s good to try and place them underneath the original figure layer to start with, try and make your figure look like he or she is “Filling Up”.


Now that we have some of the water down it’s a good point to start working the “Depth of Field”. If your stocks are like mine, some of them already have a depth of field and it would look terrible if the water had blurred segments and the fragments did not. We can do this by selecting our figure layer and the blur tool set to 19%, set your tool up with the following:


  • Size: 65
  • Hardness: 0
  • Spacing: 25%

And if you’re using a tablet, select shape dynamics and choose “Size Jitter” at 0% based off pen pressure. Now with that brush selected start to blur the polygons that are blowing off your figure, try and follow the water, if the water is in perspective make the particles out of perspective. Keep it random though, have some larger chunks in perspective along with the water and the same with the small, you don’t want it to look to uniform! If your document is smaller than mine or this brush is just to big don’t hesitate to size it down.  Keep in mind to make it look as natural as possible, if you need to you could go on a site such as Google and look at images with depth of field and see how the progression from in perspective to out of perspective looks.


Step 12: Splashes and Depth of Field, Part 2.

Now we can start varying the stocks, I have used the clone stamp to select some small water particles and copy them on top the figure. It’s important to make it look like the water is coming out of our holes in the figure.


I kept doing this and adding more stocks behind and in front of the figure for a while, you don’t want to completely fill your figure yet but just try adding in small details such as water splashing out of the torso and face. This is especially easy with splashing stocks, try and create the effect that the figure is filling up and pouring out.


Now that we have added more stocks we need to blur more polygons to create more depth. If you have chosen stocks without any depth try blurring parts of those as well, it will add a sense of motion to the water. Use the same brush as before but this time bump the blur % up to about 40%. We can use this brush to blur down some of the small water particles along with some of our smaller polygons. It’s a good idea to take some of the tiny particles and blur them the most, making it look as if they were as far away as possible. Doing this rather than keeping them all in perspective helps to make our figure look much more three dimensional, flat is not your friend in an image such as this. But keep in mind that not all of the tiny particles have to be far away, the same goes for your larger ones being close. Vary it up to create the best depth possible, I have blurred about 70% of the tiny particles and kept the rest in focus. The opposite was done for the larger pieces, leaving around 75% in focus and blurring out around 25%.


Step 13: Finish Filling and Add Small Details

Now we need to fill our friend up, I used duplicated stocks from the face and body to do this along with a few new stocks. Try to manipulate the replicated stocks so it’s harder to tell if it has been replicated or not. Just remember this is going to be the biggest focal point in the image aside from the figure. Now is also when you need to add the final splashes atop the render, and coming out of the sides. You can achieve this by getting dripping or pouring water stocks and sizing them down tremendously and piecing them over the holes to make it appear as if it’s spilling out. It’s also a good idea to get more of the particles of water and place them atop the figure once again. It’s best to choose areas where you have added splashes and drips atop the render already, that way it appears as if the splash is creating the particles.


This is an optional step, but I chose to create a few drips with the brush tool. You do this by creating a new layer and grabbing the brush tool with these settings:


  • Diameter: 3px
  • Hardness: 35%
  • Spacing: 25%
  • Shape Dynamics: On at 0% based off of “Pen Pressure”
  • Opacity: 80%
  • Flow: 60%

Now just paint what you think rain or drips look like, for the sake of the example I bumped my brush size up to 25px so you can see where I’m drawing. You can also use this brush to add “Drips” or moving water running from the cracks and down the bubbles or even add in more particles.


Once you are satisfied with your figures water grab the blur tool once again and work with the polygons again, this time however also blur the water splashes. Don’t blur everything and keep the blur % somewhere around 22%. You want to blur the splashes to add a sense of motion as well as adding perspective to the flatter looking splashes. It’s very important the water and particles look as if they aren’t atop each other so to speak, as if the some of the particles are way out in front of the water and vice versa.


Step 14: Coloring and Adding In Typography

To start the finishing details create a new layer above the figure but beneath the figures “Overlay” layer. Select the polygon lasso to create bands around the ankles and hands of your figure, and fill this layer with red or a color that suits your color layer from Step: 9.


Once you have filled the bands make sure they are only on the render, do this by holding CTRL and clicking the figure layer, then press CTRL SHIFT and I this will select the inverse of what you already had selected, with the inverse selected simply click delete to remove any of the band that is not on the figure. Then set this layer to “Soft light” at 48% and then duplicate it and bring the duplicated layer above our figures “Overlay” layer, set it to “Color” at 23%.


The next few steps are optional; they show how I created the typography used in this image and how you can achieve a similar effect. Start by selecting the type tool and creating a plus filled with your color band color (mine was red) set the pluses opacity extremely low, around 35% and place it around the eye.


Next create some colons and semicolons set to white and your band colors and place them around the border.


Next, go to http://paulw.deviantart.com/art/55-Abstract-Tech-Brushes-86285028 and download Paul’s great brush pack. I used the pack to create the 81 with micro text and the triangle. Keep your colors white and the band color you chose when doing this. After the 81 was completed go ahead and just have fun, I added in a few red plus symbols going up the sides as well as some more white colons and more micro text.


But keep in mind this part is extremely up to you as to how you do it, and if you do it or not.  This is also a good time to add a title to the piece, that way you can center some typography around the title.  I chose not to put the title on the final image because I did not want it looking bulky, but its up to you how and if you want to add that to your image.

Step 15: Finished!

15 Finished

To finish the image merge the entire thing by pressing Ctrl+Shift+E and sharpen it by going to “Filter” > “Sharpen” > “Sharpen”. Now if you want you can size your image down to something more reasonable, I chose to take my down to about 850*1200. Once it’s been sized down go ahead and choose the sharpen tool and create the same brush as we used to blur, being sure to have the sharpness % set to around 10. You don’t want to go crazy all over the image but it’s a good idea to sharpen some of the small details as well as some of the large water particles and polygons that are in perspective. You may need to re blur some aspects of the water and polygons if you did not blur them enough in previous steps. Also if you want you can add a border as I did, you do this by going to “Image” -> “Canvas size” and adding about a inch or less to the height, fill the newly created gaps with a color to finish the border. You can also add a border by creating a new layer and using the marquee tool to select out where you want the border to be, either way is fine and it’s completely optional. Now just save it and enjoy it!


  1. So I changed the linking method between bombs and mesh to ‘bind to space warp’ instead of “select and link”, and now it works…
    What have I done wrong?

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  6. …. I was just curious about your subscriber #’s…. seems low on “Feedburner” I’ve had my rss feed since the day you “launched” CreativeFan…. now that “Twitter” thing seems to be dominant…. I now have Twitter… wonder if I should follow there too…. or would that just be a “duplication”…. but if it helps you Brukhar I will !! You have a great new site here at CreativeFan…. my best wishes for you !!

    1. Hey Darrell,

      This site basically just launched and I haven’t been promoting it as much as the main site. Also, this site isn’t syndicated through my friendfeed account, so it doesn’t get the subscriber boost there. You don’t have to follow me on Twitter, SU sends most of it anyways. :)

  7. Elektric,

    Your exactly right, that was my mistake. I have sent an email to Eric and i hope he can change this for me. It was a huge mistake on my part :S


    If you dont have poser you can use the png which is located above.

    1. “Greetings everyone! I’m very proud to announce the launch of Design.CreativeFan, a tutorial website aimed at inspiring, educating and helping aspiring and established designers.

      We’ll publish frequent tutorials on subjects such as design, branding, photomanipulation, illustration, and other subjects. These tutorials will feature a variety of software, so as to get everyone involved, and will vary in difficulty, so everyone will be able to learn something new.”

      “3D renders are often combined with vector elements and photostock elements to create stunning visual effects. While some artworks can be created merely in Photoshop, most designers are forced to call upon other programs in order to achieve truly brilliant effects. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create a Poser figure, create a shatter effect and render it in 3DStudio Max, then use Photoshop and some simple stock images to create a brilliant and visually stunning water explosion effect.”

      No where on this site have a seen anything labeling it as a photoshop tutorial site, nor does it declare this to be a photoshop tutorial. My apologies though, maybe you will like the next one.

      1. I believe he is referring to the category that this tutorial is listed under on various tutorial directories. Unfortunately, we can’t control what category this tutorial gets listed under, and since this tutorial involves the majority of work in Photoshop (particularly with the render provided as a download in event of not having 3DSMax or Poser), the Photoshop category is the most applicable.

  8. Hi, this is awesome. im using photoshop but i will never ever in my whole life will be able to do something like this. i can edit pictures and i tried my luck with painting on photoshop or using a 3d programm but im just too stupid for those things. but again this is just awsome!!! x

  9. The link to download the Render.png image is not working. Can you repost the link to send it to me vial email? Thank you.

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