The Making of the Mad Hatter Composite

Madness and Hatters

Hatters were subject to industry-related illness, known as Erethism Mercuralis, a neurological disorder caused by poisoning with mercury vapours used in the process of felting hats. The acquired neurological damage gave rise to a number of symptoms, including tremor, pathological shyness, irritability, depression, memory loss and difficulty with interacting with other individuals. Sounds like Johnny Depp’s iconic portrayal of the Hatter from Tim Burton’s Film, Alice in Wonderland?

The original photograph was taken at Manchester’s Comic Con event and I was careful to photograph the character against a plain background to help with extraction later. The side of a white van was the only plain surface available. Below is the original…apologies to the subject, but I am really going to mess with your face!

I decided to try to turn the model into a version of Depp’s hatter. The costume was brilliant and very faithful to the film and the subject was willing to pose and had a lovely smile, so definitely an image worth having a play with. If the subject sees this, again apologies for taking such liberties.

Obviously, a big problem is the size of the eyes on the original. In the Tim Burton film, the almost cartoon-like character of the Hatter has hugely exaggerated eyes, so I set about using liquefy to bloat the eyes, then moved them further apart and brightened them. Within the liquefy tool, there is now a face recognition feature, which helps to widen eyes, tilt them and to change the size of other parts of the face, much more easily than doing it manually, which is how I used to do it. Altering the shape of the face was important too…and pulling out the hair to give more conical shapes either side of the head. All this involved many returns to the liquefy tool doing tiny bits of adjustment each time.

I kept a picture of Johnny Depp, made up as the Hatter, on my second screen, as a reference. I coloured my subject’s eyes a bright green. Johnny Depp’s nose is a little straighter and slimmer than my subject’s, so that was the next part to tackle, followed by making an attempt to bring the mouth closer in shape to Depp’s, complete with cupid’s bow and diastema (gap between teeth). At this point I decided to stop before I did too much damage! The miore liquefying you do, the more you break up the original image and cause artefacts.

The extraction was made using Photoshop’s “select and mask” feature along with the new for 2018 “select subject” feature, then refining the edge within the refine mask dialogue. At this point I output to a new layer with layer mask and now I was able to place any colour or background behind it.

Tutorial here.

The extraction isn’t perfect but can be tidied up as I go along, simply by painting on the layer mask.

Layer Mask Tutorial here.

The next step is to insert a new background behind the cutout. I tried a few but nothing seemed to work, then I found this woodland scene taken on an outing to Astley Hall near Chorley. Note to self to take more background shots.

It’s really here that the “artistry” begins. Up to now it has been a technical exercise. I pre-visualised, not this bright sunny woodland, but a much more moody dark scene with a golden glow…something a bit more magic. The end result was achieved using a number of techniques, all on different layers, including adding Gaussian blur to the background (as the background was kept as a smart object, I used a smart blur filter, which is editable)…followed by vignette, dodge and burn, global colour changes and local colour changes, the latter made by painting colour directly onto a new layer and blending in “colour mode”…and a few more minor facial changes were done in liquefy.

At this point I consider the image to be finished and has the look and feel that I wanted, but I am sure that someone will point out what I have missed and, when I see it projected or printed, some further adjustments may need to be made. Because I work in layers and never flatten the image, I can re-visit and make adjustments at any time. So a good tip is  “never flatten your layers”.

Voila the Hatter! Not quite Johnny but closer than before.

Hatter
© Christine Widdall