How to Use Adobe Fuse to Create a Superhero Reference

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

When you have an awesome idea for a character, you can feel how great it would be to see it on paper. But what if you don’t have “talent”? Or maybe you can draw, but humans are simply not your area of expertise? Are you supposed to spend hours learning just to draw this one character for fun?

The solution is to use a reference, one as close to your idea as possible. However, there’s a risk you’ll need to compromise your idea, because there’s no close reference you can use. Here, Fuse, a new addition to the Adobe family, comes to the rescue! It lets you create a human character from scratch using an advanced editor straight from RPG video games. Then you can edit it in Photoshop CC to finish the process to create a perfect reference for a drawing or digital painting.

Disclaimer: At this time, Adobe Fuse is still in an early development stage. Minor bugs and inconveniences may occur.

1. Build the Body

Step 1

Download Adobe Fuse from the official site. For the time being, it’s free for every member of Creative Cloud, even if you don’t have a subscription.

how to download adobe fuse

Step 2

There are four stages of creating every character. Let’s start with Assemble.

fuse character creation

Pick the head that is the closest to your idea. It doesn’t need to be perfect—we will adjust it in a moment!

adobe fuse pick the head

You can see a preview of the head on the left. We could assemble all the other parts now, but because we have the head in such a nice close-up, let’s customize it already.

adobe fuse how to customize face

Step 3

Click Face to reveal the list. I want to create the evil incarnation of Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix, so my goal is to make her look powerful and angry. This emotion is easy to picture, but keep in mind that more complex emotions may require playing with more sliders.

adobe fuse emotions

You should see the effects of your changes on the left. If you don’t see them right away, you may need to hover the cursor over the image to update it.

adobe fuse i dont see chlive changes bug

Step 4

Open the Head list. Experiment with the sliders to get the look you want. You don’t need to copy everything I did!

adobe fuse head customize
adobe fuse head customize effects

Step 5

Go back to the Assemble tab and add the other parts of the body. You don’t need to use the same elements, but mixing them may lead to some problems when it comes to adjusting skin color.

adobe fuse attach torso
adobe fuse attach legs
adobe fuse attach arms
adobe fuse full body

Step 6

Switch to the Customize tab and adjust the sliders for every part of the body. Remember that it’s a 3D model, so you can rotate it to get a better view!

adobe fuse customize full body
Tip: the farther you drag the sliders, the more unrealistic body you get. This may be useful for cartoon, manga, and comics characters

2. Add and Adjust the Clothing

Step 1

Go to the Clothing tab and pick something for every part of the body. Again, it doesn’t need to be perfect—it’s just a reference, and we can change everything later. Just pick something close enough.

I want to create a superhero costume, so I’ve picked the tightest clothes I could find.

adobe fuse how to add clothes
adobe fuse how to add pants trousers
adobe fuse how to add shoes boots
adobe fuse how to add hair
adobe fuse how to add gloves

Close enough!

adobe fuse how to add clothes full

Step 2

Go to the Texture tab. Click the part of the clothing you’d like to customize. In the lower right corner you’ll find a list of materials the clothing can be made of. Select one of them.

adobe fuse how to change materials

Step 3

On the left, under the model, you’ll find a list of materials you can use instead. Try them on!

adobe fuse how to make latex material
adobe fuse how to change part of clothes

Step 4

Adjust the materials for every part of the clothes.

adobe fuse how to customize clothes
adobe fuse clothes customized

Step 5

To make the material shinier, play with the Plastic Roughness slider.

adobe fuse how to make shiny material
adobe fuse material gloss

Step 6

Adjust the materials for all the clothes. Now, it looks more like a superhero costume!

adobe fuse how to make superhero costume

Step 7

Select hair to adjust its properties, too.

adobe fuse how to change hair color
adobe fuse hair changed

Step 8

If you select the skin of the model, you’ll be able to adjust a lot of other properties. In my case I just decided to add some makeup.

adobe fuse how to add make up
adobe fuse make up example

3. Import the Model to Photoshop CC

Step 1

Once the model is ready, you can save it either to Mixamo or to a CC Library. I’m going to show you the second option, because it allows more advanced editing, but if you don’t have a CC subscription (and you can’t use a trial of Photoshop anymore), Mixamo is the way to go.

Disclaimer: for now, neither Fuse nor Photoshop allows full control over the poses. If you need something really unusual, try Mixamo instead to create a model ready to be edited in a 3D program.

adobe fuse how to save edit 3d

Step 2

Save the model to your chosen Library.

adobe fuse how to save to library

Wait for it to get uploaded.

adobe fuse how to export model

Step 3

When you get information that the file has been synced, open Photoshop and Create a New File. If you want to create a drawing, 2000 x 2000 px should be enough. For a digital painting or a photo-manipulation you may need more, but keep in mind that the bigger it is, the slower your computer will process it.

photoshop cc new file

Step 4

You should find your model in the Libraries panel. (If you don’t have it, open it with Window > Libraries). Drag it to the canvas to load it.

adobe fuse photoshop how to import

Here it is, ready to be edited!

adobe fuse photoshop model imported

4. Adjust the Textures and Materials

Note: If you want to use it as a reference for a sketch, you can skip this part, as we will be working on colors mainly.

Step 1

Our model created a special kind of layer: a 3D layer. Because of this, it has special properties you can edit. Two of them will be especially useful for us:

  • Diffuse: base color
  • Specular Color: color of the gloss

Every element of the model has its own properties. Let’s start with Top. Double click it to open it.

photoshop cc how to edit materials

Step 2

You should see a 2D mesh of the top part of the body. Whatever you paint here will be visible in its 3D view. Test it! Create a New Layer (to make the change reversible) and paint it with the main color for the top.

photoshop cc fill material with color

Save it (Control-S) and come back to the model to see the change.

photoshop cc how to save material changes

Give all the materials your preferred colors.

photoshop cc how to color 3d model

Step 3

If you want to create a more advanced pattern, first draw a few marker strokes to see what the mesh looks like in its 3D version. You should be able to imagine the 3D result when painting in 2D.

photoshop cc how to paint mesh

I’ve used this method to paint the characteristic phoenix symbol.

photoshop cc mesh painted

As long as you paint on a separate layer, everything can be adjusted after saving:

photoshop cc mesh painted fix
photoshop cc mesh painted edit

Step 4

If you want to edit the material on the legs or arms, it’s often necessary to make it symmetrical. Paint the first leg…

photoshop cc symmetrical mesh painting

… and then Duplicate it (Control-J) and Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

photoshop cc symmetrical mesh done

It’s starting to look more like my idea!

photoshop cc how to paint materials from fuse

Step 5

For now the costume looks like cheap plastic, so let’s work on it. That plastic feel comes from the white shine, so if we color it, it should change drastically. First, go to the Diffuse mesh of the part you want to color and Copy it all (Control-Alt-Shift-C). Then go to its Specular counterpart and paste it.

photoshop cc model looks plastic
photoshop cc how to fix plastic shine

Works like a charm!

photoshop cc metal shine

Use this trick for every other part:

photoshop cc metal shine applied

Step 6

Let’s go back to the Diffuse meshes to adjust the eyes…

photoshop cc how to paint eyes mesh
photoshop cc mesh face
photoshop cc mesh face eyes painted

… and hair:

photoshop cc how to paint mesh hair

The character is done!

photoshop cc how to paint character from fuse

5. Pose the Character

Step 1

Open Window > 3D panel to see even more options for our model. Select anything with Skeleton in the name.

photoshop cc how to rig character

Open the Window > Properties panel to find a pose for our character. As I mentioned before, we can’t (yet) create a pose from scratch, but the library of poses is so huge it shouldn’t really limit you.

photoshop cc how to choose pose library

After you have chosen the pose, if it’s animated, you can pick a certain frame of that animation using Window > Timeline. In my case it wasn’t necessary.

photoshop cc pose flying how to adjust

Step 2

What is necessary, though, is that I should change the perspective to something clearer. Use the Move Tool (V) to rotate the character and/or its ground.

photoshop cc pose flying customized

Step 3

With the Skeleton still selected, go to the other tab in the Properties panel. Pick any expression you wish…

photoshop cc 3d head properties

… or if you don’t want it, pick any and then lower its Strength to 0%.

photoshop cc no strength face property

Now you can edit the head’s coordinates to create a more fitting pose.

photoshop cc how to adjust head position
photoshop cc fuse how to adjust pose

6. Add the Lighting

Step 1

In the 3D panel you’ll find something named Infinite Light 1. This is a default light—you can remove it or change its Properties to fit your needs.

photoshop cc how to edit light

You can also change its location with the Move Tool (V).

photoshop cc how to move light source

Step 2

To make even more interesting lighting, you can add more light sources:

photoshop cc how to add new light source

This is how it may look in the end. I’ve removed the shadows, because they would look unnatural in the light situation I’ve planned. I’ve also fixed the silhouette with Filter > Liquify (works only if the layer has been rendered).

To render the layer and improve shading this way, right click the 3D layer and select Render 3D Layer. The bigger the resolution of your picture and the textures, the longer it may take.

Your Reference Is Done!

You can now use it to create a drawing (to trace it or use as a reference—it’s your choice), or as a base for digital painting. This way you’ll be able to show your idea to others without trying to obtain a skill you don’t really need. And even if you’re a skilled digital artist, this method lets you create an accurate lighting reference, which is especially useful for specular highlights—they’re very hard to calculate.

As a side note, a 3D layer from Photoshop can be exported to popular 3D formats, so that you can edit it in a more advanced manner. If you want, you can learn the basics from our tutorials covering various programs:

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