NOTE: This post was originally posted on July 5th 2010. However, it still has some great techniques that many of our readers may not have seen before. This tutorial has helped a lot of people since it was first pubilshed, so we hope that whether this is your first time reading it, or you’re using it as a refresher, it’s helpful for you.
LeChuck’s Revenge: a very Monkey Island inspired cel shading tutorial

Ye be warned: This tutorial is NOT FOR BEGINNERS, it’s for people who know their way around Photoshop and are looking to further their design knowledge/skills. If you aren’t comfortable with radial gradients, overlay layers and clipping mask layers and have a good foundation level of artistic skill this tutorial probably isn’t for you. Oh, and you should definitely have a graphics tablet; it would be grog induced folly to try this with a mouse!
Also, this tutorial does refer to some of the new features in Photoshop CS5 in a couple places, but the effects can still be achieved with older versions, just with a little more work.

Final Image:

Here’s the final image that we will be creating:

Ahoy mateys!
Right, now that’s out of my system I promise I’ll try not to stray into pirate speak too much because it can get a little confusing after a while (as anyone who has changed their Facebook language settings to “Pirate” can attest to).
This tutorial will take you through how I made this illustration of everybody’s favourite, won’t stay dead, Zombie Pirate LeChuck who is one of the main characters in the newly released Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition, one of my favourite games of all time created by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. Hopefully this will help all of you reading this to learn some of my techniques and will help me get some free Monkey Island stuff booty sent to me! (Hey it’s worth a shot right?).
Fun fact: for some reason every time I’ve tried to type monkey I’ve added an ‘l’ and written ‘monkley’ instead…. I’m blaming the hayfever (or pollen allergies to those of you in the states).
Step 1: Roughs

Let’s get started, create a new A4 PSD at 300 dpi. Draw a rough layout using my custom ‘dc rough pencil’ brush
(this brush can be found as part of the members-area download back for this tutorial)
with a light blue colour. It’s always worth getting some reference material, especially when you’re drawing a character that people have a lot of affection for. For inspiration I looked towards the “special edition” version of LeChuck as well as the legendary Steve Purcell’s various interpretations of the character. I was inspired to draw a homage to the original cover of Monkey Island 2 where LeChuck is attacking the always lovable and hapless hero Guybrush Threepwood by using a voodoo doll.
Fun Fact: I really wanted to include my favourite Monkey Island character: Murray the Demonic talking skull in this but he didn’t surface until Monkey Island 3: The Curse of Monkey Island. To avoid people nitpicking, Murray makes a ‘cameo’ here in place of the skull & cross-bones motif that normally adorns LeChuck’s hat.
Step 2: Lines

Once you’ve got your roughs to a point you’re happy with, lower the layer’s opacity to 65% and create a new layer above it called “Lines”. Use the ‘DC Drawing Pencil’ brush (or ‘DC Inking CS5’ if you have CS5) to draw in your Lines. To keep this stage interesting, feel free to add embellishments to your roughs and have fun making new details. Don’t be a slave to your roughs as that sucks the fun right out of this stage.

Step 3: Flat colours (or “Oh god no! Not the flat colours!”)

Fill the background layer with a neutral colour (hit ‘Shift’ + ‘backspace’ the select ‘use foreground colour’) because picking colours against white will throw your perceptions a bit. Here I picked purple because I was originally going to use a purple background but decided against it during the process. Set the “Lines” layer blending mode to ‘Overlay’. Next create a new layer called “Flats” and then brace yourselves for the horror that is the flat colouring stage.

Choose yer poison:
Let’s face it, flat colouring can be coma-inducingly dull. There are numerous ways of completing this step, and I’d suggest you do whichever you find less painful. I quickly laid down a little colour guide for myself to show what colours needed to go where and then used the lasso tool to select each area and then filled each selection with the Shift + Backspace method for speed’s sake, but you may find you prefer to paint them in with a brush. Any method of flatting is fine as long as you remember to put all of the colours on this one layer as it will make selecting specific areas very easy in later stages.
Quick Tip: To make life a little easier here, ‘Ctrl’ + ‘Left Mouse click’ the Lines layer thumbnail in the layers palette to select the lines then Press ‘Ctrl’ + ‘H’ to hide the marching ants and paint the lines on the flat colour layer. Use the same colour as the area the respective lines surrounds (eg, colour the shirt lines with the same colour as the shirt).
Step 4: Background painting (or “The-slightly-vague-because-not-many-people-will-have-Photoshop-CS5-yet” step)

I toyed with a few different backgrounds before settling on this quite abstract, painted version which I call “big mess-o-colors™” which was made using Photoshop’s new CS5 mixer brushes Select a ‘Flat Angle’ brush with the following settings: Bristles 7%, Length 186%, Thickness 1%, Stiffness 39%, Spacing 1%. Also set Wetness to 1%, Load 100% Mix 1% and Flow 100% making sure the “use all layers” box is un-ticked because you don’t want to start dragging foreground colours into the mix. Once you’ve got these settings sorted get even more scientific, take your brush, choose your colour and swoosh the brush around the canvas then pick another colour and move your brush stroke over it to mix the paint just as you would do with traditional paint. It’s basically like painting when you’re 3 years old. Told you it was scientific!
Now a lot of you won’t be working with CS5 yet and may be thinking 2 things, 1. that’s a scary amount of settings, the mixer brush is strange and different to me and 2. how do I achieve that without CS5?
Well to point 1) yes the mixer brush does have a lot of settings, but once you play with it for a while it does start to make sense. And point 2) You won’t be able to copy this exactly but seeing as I pretty much just swooshed my brush around on the screen whilst picking different colours you could end up with a similar result if you placed a lot of colours picked from the final image and use the smudge tool on them.
Fun fact: Despite the fact it should be, “Swooshed” is not a word. “Swoosh” is though. The world seems a little stranger to me upon knowing this…
To finish up the background I’ve used a paper texture set to ‘Overlay’ at 100% and I’ve used a pixel font called “kongtext” to add a retro reference to the image. All of the words there are taken from the original game’s SCUMM interface that all of the old LucasArt’s graphic adventures used.
Step 5: Shading with Gradients (or, ‘Finally, we’re getting to the good stuff!’)

Create a new layer called “detail and colour gradients” (make sure you have ticked the use previous layer as a clipping mask) and set it the layer blending mode to Color Burn, opacity 65%. Now press ‘g’ to select the gradient tool. Set the gradient tool to 25% and use ‘foreground to transparent’ ‘radial’ gradients. Apply shading by selecting the magic wand (press ‘w’) and use it to select an individual area of flat colour on the ‘flats’ layer, then on the ‘detail and gradients’ layer, press ‘g’ again and use the radial gradient tool to apply a colour of R:32 G:115 B:128 to your selection.
Quick tip: You don’t have to use blue as the shadow colour, pick your shading colour to match your local background colour. For example, if the person is standing in a sunset use a red colour to add your gradients. People are always affected by the colours of the environment around them so it will help to unify your image.
Step 6: Hard shading (aka cel shading)

Create a new layer called “hard shading”, tick the “use previous layer to create clipping mask” option and set the layer to Linear burn at 50% opacity. Use the freeform lasso tool and draw your selections manually, then fill the areas with the same blue colour you used in the last step using ‘Shift’ + ‘Backspace’ , ‘use foreground colour’ method. The reason we’re using the lasso instead of using the brush tool is that you get a very clean hard edge with the lasso that you just don’t get with painting.
Quick tip: You’ll notice that a lot of these layers use the “use previous layer to create clipping mask” option, this is because this acts as a timesaver; because the layer will only let you paint on top of pixels that exist on the layer below you don’t have to worry about painting over the edges which means you can be much less precise with your selections.
Step 7: Add Subtle details for texture

Create a new layer just above the “flats” layer called “extra detail”, and ensure the “use previous layer as clipping mask” option is ticked. Use the following brushes to add texture; “duster”, “clouder” and “pore brush speckle 3”. Use a light beige colour to add dirt and dust to LeChuck’s boots, and his jacket, and a mixture of browns to add mottling on his face and hands. LeChuck is a rotting zombie here so feel free to add lots of messy texture.
Fun fact: In every Monkey Island game LeChuck appears as a different version of himself. In Monkey Island 1 he was a ghost, in MI2 he’s a zombie, in Curse of Monkey Island he’s a demon-pirate with a flaming beard!
Step 8: Shading the shading

Create yet another new layer, and name it “shading colour tints”, set to 50% layer opacity. Hold ‘Ctrl’ and ‘left click’ the “hard shading” layer to select its contents and then use the radial gradient tool and apply small gradients (with lighter and darker shades of the flat colours) on the “shading colour tints” layer to add variation to the shading. Use a variety of local colours, to show the light bouncing around the image, for example pick a blue from the background and drag the gradient tool over the edge of LeChuck’s coat.

Step 9: A darker, smaller layer of shading

Create a layer named “smaller shading”, place it above the Lines layer and set it to ‘Linear Burn’ and 50% layer opacity. Much like the hard shading layer, use the lasso tool to select areas within the existing shading that should be even darker, eg. The inside of LeChuck’s flowing sash, and near the roots of the voodoo doll’s hair. Fill them with the same colour used on the “hard shading” layer.
Fun Fact: The Cool Surface office plant is named “LeChuck” because much like it’s namesake, no matter what it goes through it never dies! It’s been over-watered, under-watered, knocked over and it’s still thriving!
Step 10: Edits

Create a layer called “edits”. This is typically the layer I make where I add details or edit small things that I’ve noticed haven’t quite worked so far. Add glow and detail to LeChuck’s eyes on this layer. Use a red radial gradient to create the glow, then use a small white gradient at the centre where his pupils would be. Use a speckled texture brush to add some “energy” coming from his eyes. Also add in some maggots in LeChuck’s beard and spittle coming from LeChuck’s mouth on this layer.
Fun Fact: Other characters with red eyes include Cyclops from the X-Men, Gambit from the X-Men and me when my allergies are flaring up. Unlike the previous two entries on this list I have never worn spandex, despite how much my wife has tried to convince me it’s a good idea because I’d look “hilarious”.
Step 11: Solid Highlights

Add another new layer, called “solid highlight” set to ‘Overlay’ at 50% layer opacity. Use the lasso tool to make small selections of areas that need highlights (refer to the image below to see which areas I selected) and fill them with pure white. Use a light yellow gradient on this layer over LeChuck’s eyes to make the colour richer.

Step 12: Colour boost

Create a new layer and name it “colour boost”. Set it to Overlay and leave at 100% layer opacity. Use a light yellow colour with the radial gradient tool to add some more variation to the colours and make it appear richer. Apply it on the voodoo doll’s skin, the front of LeChuck’s shirt and anywhere you feel could do with a little brightening up!
Fun fact: To promote the releasing of Monkey Island 2: Special edition, LucasArts made a Guybrush Threepwood voodoo doll to give to E3 attendees this year and I really badly want one! If anyone has one and doesn’t want it please feel free to send it my way!
Step 13: Rim Lighting

Yet another new layer (you’d think I was being paid by the layer)! Place it above the “smaller shading” layer and name it “rim light”. Rim lighting is where a secondary light source hits the character which is great for adding depth (if you look around you you’ll see that everything is hit by more than one light source). Imagine there’s a light source coming from the left and use the lasso tool to select areas where we will add rim lighting (eg. The left edge of LeChuck’s main hand, the left hand side of his right hand sleeve, the left edge of the voodoo doll’s head, arms, etc.). Fill these areas with a very light cream.

Step 14: Leather texture

Sometimes adding subtle textures will make your image more convincing. Download the following leather texture from Stock Xchng: stock.xchng - leather (stock photo by andreyutzu) Open it and press Ctrl+A then Ctrl+C to copy it, then use the magic wand tool to select LeChuck’s belt on the “flats” layer. Go to Edit>Paste Into. Press Ctrl+T to Free Transform the leather and hold Shift to constrain proportions and shrink the leather texture down until it is an appropriate size to make the texture realistic for his belt. Set the layer to “soft light” and 21% layer opacity. Press Ctrl+U and slide saturation left to -100 to desaturate it, as the texture is too bright and affecting the colour of his belt.

Step 15: Luminosity

Now we want to select all areas of luminosity in the image. First hide the background layers (click the eyeball icon of each unwanted layer in the layers palette) as we don’t want to include the background in this. This process varies for different Photoshop versions. For CS4 and CS5, use “Alt+Ctrl+2” (or “Opt+Cmd+2 on the Mac), for CS3 and earlier, use “Shift+Alt+Ctrl+~” (or the key equivalents if you’re using a mac). Press Shift+Ctrl+C to copy from every layer, and go to Edit>Paste in Place (or Edit>Paste Into for older Photoshop versions) and you’ll have a copy of all the brighter parts of the image. Set this layer to Linear Dodge and 49% layer opacity which will make everything more vibrant, then apply a Gaussian blur of 6.6px to simulate the way light scatters.

Step 16: Apply blurs for realism

The human eye can only focus on one thing at a time, if you apply this to your images they will seem more convincing. Use the lasso tool to select LeChuck’s lower half, including his sash. Press Shift+Ctrl+C then Crtrl+C and place the new layer at the top of the layer stack. Apply a very light Gaussian blur to make it appear slightly out of focus.

Repeat this process on LeChuck’s left (furthest away) arm, but instead apply a motion blur with an angle of 30 degrees and distance of 12px to make it appear as if LeChuck’s arm is in motion. Even something stylised and cartoony like this will benefit from such ‘real world’ rules. When you’re done, make the background layers visible again.
Quick Tip: Layer groups are extremely useful not only for keeping your layers organised, but also for moving elements around or editing things as a group. Try using groups for your characters and backgrounds in every image you make, just select all of the relevant layers in the layer palette by ‘Shift’ + ‘left clicking’ them then press ‘Ctrl’ + ‘g’.
Step 17: Digital Grain

Adding a digital grain is a neat little tip I picked up from Dan Luvisi (Dan Luvisi Art : Digital Artist and Concept Artist, who also made some of the texture custom brushes used in this tutorial) It adds a little texture to your image removing that very ‘digital’ look that traditional artists often sneer at without overpowering your artwork. Create a new layer at the top of the layer stack and name it “grain”. Fill the layer with a colour of R:125 G:125 B:125, then go to Filter> Noise> Add Noise, with amount set to 400%, distribution to Gaussian and tick the monochromatic box, and click ok.

Go to Filter> Brush Strokes> Spatter, with a spray radius of 10 and smoothness 5, then click ok. Then press Ctrl+F to repeat the application of the brush stroke filter.

Go to Filter> Blur> Blur (NOT Gaussian Blur). Set the layer to Overlay and 7% opacity.
Quick Tip: To get the most out of the grain effect, you will have to vary the opacity to suit each individual image. The opacity should be somewhere between 5% and 20%.
Step 18: Exclusive, fancy CS5 tip; add a glaze layer!!

In traditional painting artists often paint a layer of glaze over their finished painting to give it a little extra warmth and texture, and if you have CS5 you can now do this digitally. Create a new layer and name it “glaze”, set to Soft Light and 50% opacity. Select the mixer brush and set the mixing mode to “moist” from the dropdown menu and paint over the image with a mid-brown colour. Paint over the whole image, using brush strokes that fit the form of the image. Check the close up image of LeChuck’s hat to see the effect you’re going for.

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome:

I hope this guide has been helpful to you and that you can apply many of these principles to your future work. You can keep up to date with my artwork at my art blog Cool Surface Lite and website
You should follow me on Twitter too: David Cousens (DavidCousens) sur Twitter
Have fun,