CARDINAL FINAL IMAGE
This is a tutorial based on my recent Cardinals image. I've recently had a few people express interest into how the rendering was done, so I assembled the various steps involved. This version was a much larger version than the one I posted earlier as this one had to be print resolution.
My computer is a Macbook Pro with only 1.5 GB of RAM while running Windows, so memory was limited. Rather than creating the whole scene as one model with a lot of subtools, I pieced it together on the canvas.
I started with the branches. A long cylinder shape was sculpted as a branch which I duplicated and rotated on the canvas with Shift-S for quick copying and the gyro to rotate another into position. Also I had to make sure that the branch the Cardinals were sitting on went back into the canvas space so that the female could sit behind the male.
Next, I transposed the two Cardinal models and positioned them while making sure the talons were wrapping around the branches right.
(Cardinal sculpting and coloring)
I created the redbuds from a single bud model which I duplicated several times and appended as additional subtools to make a clump of about 6 buds. Then I added the redbud clumps using the same gyro and Shift-S technique and trying not to overpopulate the scene with them. The ones that were to be further away in the scene I made just a little smaller in scale than the closer ones.
With all the elements in place, I started working on the lights. I wanted the scene well lit so I created 7 total lights and rendered them individually as separate passes which I then composited together in Photoshop. I used "Screen" mode mainly for each layer and adjusted the intensity for each layer with the layer transparency slider. Also, doing it this way you can selectively erase the lighting from one of those layers if you like it on one part of the scene, but not the other. Once all the lighting layers were added and adjusted to my liking, it looked like the image labeled "Layers Composited". After the layers were flattened, I adjusted the levels for color intensity and saturation.
It really needed some "feathering up" at this point, so I took the smudge tool at 95% strength with a small brush size and smudged all along the edges of the Cardinals to create a more layered feather look. Then created another layer and with a small brush I painted some white feathering on the breasts of the Cardinals and on the back edges. I also added a bit of lighter strokes around the black areas of their faces.
Lastly, I duplicated the whole image and pasted a new layer in case I screwed this next step up. . This new layer was blurred a small amount. Then using the history brush, I began bringing selected areas back into focus. Then I blurred the layer again, this time with about twice the blur. Again, I used the history brush to bring certain parts back into focus. This way, I get a controlled way to create a simple DOF effect and only effect the parts I want.
I hope you find this tutorial informative!