We were asked by advertising agency Antidote to work on some image retouching of beautifully hand crafted paper layouts, made by paper engineer Helen Friel.  The project was a year long campaign for the Royal Ascot races, held annually in the UK.

Here are some of our completed layouts:

Challenge: 2D versus 3D!

Paper craft and engineering are a really refined, delicate art form and it requires a lot of patience.  It requires a sense of 3D vision, while working on a 2D material.  So it’s a challenge for everyone to try making an entire environment of paper art, when the base medium is flat.  Helen Friel built some beautifully constructed images with very meticulous attention to cutting out each object, gluing it together and piecing it all to make one harmonious layout.

Original image, supplied with about 14-20 layers, focus stacked, then merged together again using Helicon Focus.

Completed image, with deeper shadows, stronger highlights around paper edges, colour adjustments on the horses and riders, and digtially drawn elements that were made to look like paper stuck on the layout.

Shooting Paper Layouts:

The next challenge is photographing paper. How do we make something flat look so 3-dimensional?  It’s a big challenge indeed because our standard method of creating hard shadows will be too tricky on a layout like this.  If one hard light is inserted in the layout, the rest of the paper will be blown out to very bright or white, completely ruining the soft layers of artwork.

The solution is balanced, delicate photography + photo retouching.  That’s where we come in.

Cleaning up Paper Craft

First, the image is photographed with the correct angle of shadow intended for the layout. All the elements are shot sharp and we do a focus stacking of the images to create one new very sharp layout.

Then, Paper Boat steps in to work on all the very tiny detail.  We clean up all the paper edges and rid of it of any dust, scratches, glue marks, incorrect cutouts and so on.  The clean up alone can take several hours.  We leave no stone unturned!

BEFORE: If you zoom in 100-200% there are a lot of things that need fixing:

  • dust and scratches
  • slight patches of paper that need to be removed, or extended
  • paper tones that need colour blaancing
  • Added shadow, added highlight
  • Added paper elements

Recolouring totally of some paper elements

Once the clean up is one, we do a fine selection of every layer, from the blades of grass to the flowers, trees, horses, riders and any other object.  It’s a manual selection of every single layer. Again, a very tedious job, but needed to get the correct end result.

Finally, when that’s done we can draw in shadows, do refined colour adjustments and even add on new elements that look like paper, so that it looks believable.

In the end, the result should look like it was never photoshopped in the first place. Another successful run of editorial paper art images, and we’re glad to have been part of the team to help out.

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