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Create a gritty post-apocalyptic scene

This tutorial will demonstrate how you can piece together an impressive scene using entirely free-to-use stock photography found on the net.
DeviantArt is not only a hugely popular art community where members can showcase their art, but also a great place to find free, high quality stock photo’s.
For this scene both the horse and the horse skeleton where found on DA, and to make things easier the horse came pre-cut thanks to DA member ‘et-hem’. It can be found here, and the skeleton here, courtesy of member ‘lasrinastock’.
The desert background image can be found here at the free stock photo’s website stock.xchng.
Place the horse on then background, and the skeleton on top, scaling it so that it matches the size of the horse.
Roughly cut out the skull, spine, and the back and front legs as shown.
To clean up the skeleton use the Reduce Noise filter set to maximum strength.
Now cut out the skeleton more precisely, I like to use a small soft eraser for this, but alternatively you may use the pen tool to cut it out.
Now place the skeleton layer behind the horse layer.
Create a layer mask for the horse layer, and in the layer mask use a black brush to erase the areas of the horse where you want the skeleton to show through.
To give the skeleton a shiny, metalic appearance we will use the Plastic Wrap effect in the filters menu. Set the highlight strength to 20, the detail to 8, and the smoothness to 10.
To add a scorthched look to the areas of the horse where the skin has burnt away we will use a leather texture found here at
Place this texture on top of the horse layer and take its contrast up a little.
Use the clone tool with a small brush with it’s opacity set to 50%. Press Alt to select an area of the texture, then paint this onto the areas that you want to appear burnt.
For the red eye you can use this photo also from Just crop it and increase the contrast a little.
To create a shadow for the horse copy the horse layer and go Image>Adjustments>Threshold and bring the slider all the way to the right. Now you have a silhouette of the horse.
Flip the silhouette vertically then adjust the perspective (assume the sun is shining from the top right of the scene) so that it lies flat on the ground and makes contact with both the feet that are touching the ground. Now change its blending mode to Soft Light, and give it a Gaussian Blur set to 1.5.
We will now add some smoke to the scene. Create a new layer and fill it with black then go Filters>Render>Difference Clouds.
Change its blending mode to Multiply, and it’s opacity to 50%. In it’s layer mask create a black gradient coming down from the top of the image as shown below.
The fire for the background can be found here.
Use a soft eraser to take off the hard edges, then change the blending mode to Screen. Then Gaussian Blur it to 1.5.
Use the same process for the flames on the horses leg and back, but don’t blur them this time.
These flames can be found here.
For the sun use the shapes tool to create a white circle. Rasterize it, then gaussian blur it to 3.5. Now duplicate this layer and gaussian blur the duplicate layer to 15.0 to give some added glow.
To create a horizontal flare for the eye, first copy it then bring its contrast up to +90.
Now use the Motion Blur filter with the angle set to 0 and the distance set to maximum. You will need to duplicate this layer a couple of times to strengthen its visibility, merge the layers once you are done.
The flames for the foreground can be found here.
Do the same as before, take away some of the black with a soft eraser, then change its blending mide to Screen. Duplicate this layer and Gaussian Blur one of the layers to 5.0, and the other to 2.5. This will increase the brightness and give an extra glow.
To light up the area on the leg where it has caught fire, create a Gradient adjustment layer. Set the style to Radial, and the colour to a bright orange.
Now rasterize this layer, change its blending mode to Soft Light, it’s opacity to 90%. Make sure this layer is directly above your horse layer and create a clipping mask by right clicking on the layer.
Where the skin on the back of the horse is burning away we will add a glowing edge.
Create a new layer above the horse and use a small orange brush to paint around the edge of the skin. Change its blending mode to Color.
The main structuring of he scene is now complete. Now we will add some adjustment layers to give the overall image a darker look.
Create a Hue/Saturation layer and take the saturation down to 50%.
Create a Black and White layer and choose the ‘high contrast blue’ preset, change its blending mode to Overlay, and bring its opacity down to 50%.
Create a Photo Fliter layer and choose ‘warming (85)’ at 25% density.
To add some more colour to the image create 2 gradient layers, one blue, one orange. The blue should come from the top right of the image and the orange from the bottom left. Both Soft Light, the orange gradient’s opacity at 60% and the blue’s at 60%.
Finally create another Hue/Saturation layer, and take the saturation up +35.
Fill the layer mask with black, then erase over the area where each of the flames are to bring back their bright orange colour.