Jeff's Blog - Saturday, September 29, 2018 - How I made 'Wheels of Tuna'

There is an exploded Model-T display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, which shows the components of a Model-T Ford separated from each other, suspended by wires from the ceiling. I took the first photo below through a wheel on one side of the car to a wheel on the other side of the car. Give me an hour of your time, assuming you have Photoshop CC 2018, and I'll teach you how I went from this photo to the beast I call 'Wheel of Tuna', shown in the second photo below.

    
Model-T Wheels at the Henry Ford Museum
    
Wheels of Tuna

I started in Lightroom, converting to black and white, and adjusting the Basic panel sliders and HSL sliders to get as much contrast separation as I could between the two wheels (which were dark) and the background (which I made as light as I could). Then I cropped this wheel to a square photo, as shown below. I'll assume you can do this yourself, and that you're actually only interested in how I went from this square black-and-white contrasty photo to the final 'Wheels of Tuna'. To do this, download my square black-and-white image to your computer by right-clicking it and picking 'Save Link As' or equivalent. Then fire-up Photoshop and open that image. Make photoshop fill up the left 2/3 of your screen, and this tutorial fill up the remaining 1/3 of your screen.

    
Model-T Wheels

There are 4 steps to make the 'Wheels of Tuna' image:

  1. Duplicate the single wheel into a 6-wide by 4-tall matrix of 24 wheels.
  2. Crop this slightly so the final image is not perfectly symmetrical.
  3. Perform the Twirl distortions and set the Difference blend mode.
  4. Adjust Levels for proper exposure, and Crop the result.

To make the 6x4 matrix of 24 wheels (this is by far the most time-consuming step):

  1. Press Ctrl-A to select the entire wheel
  2. Press Ctrl-C to copy it to your clipboard
  3. Pick Image-->Canvas Size from the menu. Switch the units of measurement from Pixels to Percent, and change the Width to 200 percent. In the Anchor diagram which specifies how you want the existing photo placed within the resized photo, click the arrow pointing straight to the left. Then click OK. Now you'll see a canvas twice as wide as it used to be, with the wheel in the left half and white space in the right half. If you can't see all of this, press Ctrl-Zero to set the zoom such that the entire image shows.
  4. Press Ctrl-V to paste what you copied onto this canvas. It'll paste into the center, which is not what we want, but we'll soon fix that.
  5. We also want to flip the pasted image left-to-right, so the right side of the original image can align with the left side of our pasted image. To do so, use the menu item Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal.
  6. Now type Ctrl-T to invoke the Free Transform tool. Hold down your right arrow key and watch the pasted copy of the wheel move over to the right, rather slowly unfortunately, until there's a thin sliver of white between the original and the pasted copy. In other words, overshoot just a little. Use the right and left arrow keys to nudge it rightward or leftward until the white sliver is as small as possible, but still white.
  7. Now put your mouse over that white sliver and hold down Ctrl and Space, press and hold the left mouse button, and drag the mouse to the right to increase zoom. Zoom in until you can easily see individual pixels as squares. Let go of the mouse and keys to accept that zoom level.
  8. Now type the left arrow key to move that right-more wheel one pixel to the left, as many times as needed to exactly close-up that white space. Don't overshoot -- to make the image seam perfectly, the two edges need to just perfectly touch. If you go too far, just use the right arrow to re-expose a gap, then left arrow to remove the gap.
  9. Now you'll have a seamless match of identical images (remember, we flipped the pasted copy so it's left edge will match the right edge of the original with perfection), so press the Enter Key to accept the transformation.
  10. Press Ctrl-Zero to zoom out and verify that you have two copies of the wheels, aligned perfectly, as shown below.
  11. Notice in your layer panel that you have two laters: the left wheel and the right wheel. If we don't merge these, the copy-pasting we'll do in the next steps will only copy one of the wheels instead of both. So press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E to combine the layers into a single new layer. If you want, you can delete the original two layers, or you can just leave them alone and mass-delete all the unnecessary layers at the end.

    
Model-T Wheels

Continue making make the 6x4 matrix of 24 wheels

  1. Be sure your merged layer is selected, then press Ctrl-A to select the entire double-wheel
  2. Press Ctrl-C to copy the two wheels to your clipboard.
  3. Pick Image-->Canvas Size from the menu. Switch units of measurement to Percent, change the Width to 300 percent, leave the Anchor set to the center (the dot in the middle, which is the default) and click OK.
  4. Press Ctrl-Zero to view your entire image. It should be a short, wide strip, with the two wheels in the center and white space on each side.
  5. Press Ctrl-V to paste what you copied onto this canvas. You won't see anything change since the paste will be centered, over the already-centered source material.
  6. Press Ctrl-T to free-transform the pasted copy
  7. Hold down the right-arrow key as it slowly moves rightward, eventually exposing a thin white sliver once you overshoot slightly.
  8. Zoom in as in step 7 above, then move move leftward as in step 8 above to make the pasted wheels butt exactly against the centered wheels.
  9. Press Enter to accept that transform.
  10. Press Ctrl-Zero to zoom back out
  11. Press Ctrl-V to paste another copy of the two wheels
  12. Press Ctrl-T to free-transform the pasted copy
  13. Hold down the left-arrow key as it slowly moves leftward, eventually exposing a thin white sliver once you overshoot slightly.
  14. Zoom in as before, move rightward as before, and press Enter to accept the transformation.
  15. Press Ctrl-Zero to zoom back out to the entire image.
  16. Press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E to combine all layers into one single later so when you subsequently copy, it will copy all six wheels instead of only a layer with two wheels.
  17. Press Ctrl-A to select then entire 6-wheel strip
  18. Press Ctrl-C to copy it to your clipboard
  19. Pick Image-->Canvas Size from the menu. Switch the units of measurement (currently Pixels) to Percent, and change the Height to 200 percent. Now in the Anchor diagram which specifies how you want the existing photo placed within the resized photo, click the arrow pointing straight upward. Then click OK.
  20. Press Ctrl-V to paste 6 wheels into the center
  21. Select Edit-->Transform-->Flip Vertical from the menu to flip the pasted copy upside down so we can match it to the bottom of the original 6 wheels.
  22. Press Ctrl-T to free-transform the pasted image
  23. Hold down the down-arrow key to move the pasted copy downward, eventually exposing a thin white sliver once you overshoot slightly.
  24. Zoom in as before, move upward as before, and press Enter to accept the transformation.
  25. Press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E to combine all layers into a single later.
  26. One last time, to copy the 2 rows of 6 wheels and paste to make 4 rows of 6 wheels, this time in fast-forward mode since you already know what to do: Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, Image->Canvas Size, Units to Percent, Height to 200 percent, Anchor to the top with the straight-up arrow, click OK. Ctrl-V, No need to flip vertically -- the edges will already match, Ctrl-T, hold down arrow, zoom in, move upward, press enter, press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E to merge.

Crop to avoid a boring symmetrical result

  1. Press M to select the rectangular marquee tool
  2. Drag out a rectangular selection from the top-left corner such that 4 and 3/4 wheels are selected horizontally, and 3 and 1/4 wheels are selected vertically.
  3. Select the Image->Crop menu item to crop the photo to this size
  4. We've done this to avoid having a wheel or a gap in the exact center of the image, so that after our manipulations we don't end up with a perfectly symmetrical result.
  5. At this point it would be good to delete all except the top layer, just to reduce filesize. Before doing so, be sure everything's in the top layer by holding Alt and clicking the visibility eyeball beside the top layer. That will turn off all the other layers and let you verify that everything is in that top layer. If it is, click the layer immediately below the topmost one, then scroll the layer panel to the bottom, shift-click the bottom layer, then drag all the selected layers onto the trash can.
  6. If anything went wrong with this and you've lost your image, immediately press Alt-Ctrl-Z to undo this last step.

Perform the Twirl distortions and set the Difference blend mode:

  1. Now try to use the Filter->Distort->Twirl menu command but notice it's greyed-out. That's because the image we've made is too large for the Twirl filter to operate upon. We need to reduce the size of the layer. Pick the Image->Image Size menu command. To the left of the Width and Height labels is a link icon. If lines are coming out of the link icon and going over to the Width and Height labels, all is good -- photoshop is set to maintain the aspect ratio of our image when it resizes. If the lines are not there, click the link icon to make them appear. Then type a width of 11500 and click OK to resize the image. Press Ctrl-Zero to zoom back in to the size-reduced image.
  2. Verify that Filter->Distort->Twirl is now available, but don't use it yet.
  3. Instead, press Ctrl-J twice to create two copies of the layer. We'll leave one of them (the bottom one) untouched, so we can come back to this if disaster strikes.
  4. Turn off the visibility of the top layer by clicking its eyeball in the layers panel to hide it.
  5. Click the second layer's thumbnail in the layers panel to select it
  6. Pick Filter->Convert for Smart Filters so you can come back later and modify the number typed into the next step. (If a confirmation dialog appears, click OK)
  7. Pick the Filter->Distort->Twirl menu item. Type in an angle of 60, then click OK.
  8. Make the top layer visible by clicking the eyeball in the layers panel to expose it.
  9. Click the top layer's thumbnail in the layers panel to select it
  10. Pick Filter->Convert for Smart Filters so you can come back later and modify the number typed into the next step. (If a confirmation dialog appears, click OK)
  11. Pick the Filter->Distort->Twirl menu item. Type in an angle of 65, then click OK.
  12. Change the blend mode of the top layer from Normal to Difference.

Crop the result and adjust levels:

  1. Create a Levels adjustment layer (Layer->New Adjustment Later->Levels, and click OK).
  2. In the Properties pane of the levels adjustment layer (be sure Windows->Properties is checked if this is not visible), you'll find 3 pointers below a histogram. Drag the right-most pointer to the left until the central part of the image is brightened-up sufficiently (I find 70 to be about right).
  3. Crop the image to a rectangle, throwing away the oval edges, by typing C, picking your aspect ratio, dragging your crop, and pressing Enter.
  4. Voila! You've recreated my 'Wheels of Tuna' from the original file.

OK, I lied, so shoot me. There's a fifth step, called Experimentation:

  1. Maybe save the image at this point, so you can easily get back to here if you lose your way.
  2. There are 3 things that are super-easy to experiment with: the blend mode of the top layer and the two twirl angles.
  3. Select the top image layer (not the Levels layer) and change the blend mode to Normal. Then press the down arrow key over and over again to cycle through Photoshop's blend modes to see what you like for this particular image, in black-and-white, with it's twirl effects. I kind of like Darker Color, Soft Light, Pin Light, and Subtract, but some of those require adjustment in the Levels layer to look good.
  4. Switch the blend mode back to Difference.
  5. Doubleclick a Twirl filter in the layers panel and change the angle to 120, click OK. Doubleclick the other twirl filter and change the angle to 125, click OK. Doubleclick the Levels layer and change the 70 to 40. What do you think?
  6. Change the other twirl filter from 125 to 121, click OK, change the level from 40 to 20. Better? Worse?
  7. Change the other twirl filter from 121 to -120, click OK, change the level from 20 to 150. Is this a broken-glass texture you can use somewhere? To crack Anna's face? Made from wheels on a Model-T? How cool is that?
  8. Change the blend mode of the top image layer (not the Levels layer) to Darken, Multiply, Darker Color, Pin Light, Hue, or Luminosity. Ain't Photoshop Awesome, even when you're just noodling around without a clue what you're doing, like me?

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