Halloween Photoshop Tutorial: Creating Zombie

This Photoshop CS2 tutorial will show you how to rot people’s face, expose their skull and turn them into zombie.

Video tutorial is also available here

What you need:
+ A portrait of the victim. AKA, the zombie and a picture of a human skull. Ideally in the roughly the same pose as your portrait which can be found on Google images.
+ Download The “Pretty” free brush collection found here. Ideally you will need to grab “Pretty Cuts`n`cracks” & “Pretty Sore”
+ Download The “Veins” brushes here.
+ It would also be nice if you had the `tonemapping` plug-in by Photomatix. Not essential but handy.

Let’s get started!

OK, First off, install the downloaded brushes into your Photoshop brushes folder, we’ll need them a bit later.


Now, we need to prepare your portrait. These next steps are not obligatory, and you can skip to Stage 2 and start to zombify your image.

how to create a zombie

I would recommend resizing the image to roughly 1300 pixels at its longest edge. The reason for this is that some of the brushes we downloaded earlier look a bit crappy if we try to enlarge them to accommodate a bigger image, I found that working on a medium sized image allows us to retain the clarity of the brushes later on. You may crop it to the desired format at this point as well as I have below.

how to create a zombie

Next, and this part is optional, we tonemap the image. So first off you will need to convert the image to 16-bit, the run the tonemapping filter. Play with the sliders until you get an effect you like. I use tonemapping as it gives the image a nice dirty look.

how to create a zombie

Next I duplicate that bottom layer,s o now we have two layers the same. Selecting the top layer You need to Desaturate it (CTRL+SHIFT+U) then set the blending mode of the newest layer to OVERLAY. Set the opacity of the new layer to roughly 70%. You should end up with something akin to this.

how to create a zombie

We need to bring the eye detail back into the image, so we are going to add a layer mask to the top layer. To do this, select the layer and click the little black rectangle with the white circle at the bottom of the layers palette. You should now get a white rectangle alongside the thumbnail of the top layer. Next select the brush tool and select black as your colour. Now click on the white rectangle next to the top layer thumbnail to select it. Now you should be able to `paint` over the eye and you will see the bottom layer appear. Close up view below.

how to create a zombie

OK, now that’s all done, we will flatten these two layers into a new single layer, press CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+N then CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E. this will consolidate all the work we have done so far into a new, single layer. This will now act as our base image. You may hide the previous 2 layers.

STAGE 2 – Adding the skull

Right, now we need to add the skull to the image and fit it to our face. The image of the skull I use in this tutorial was a skull I borrowed from the Oral Surgery department at the hospital where I work. Anyway, I opened the image in Photoshop, cropped the skull to size, then copied it into my base document.­­

I reduced the opacity of the skull to 50%, then hit CTRL+T to enter into transform mode. Move and resize the skull to fit your face. The best way to line this up so it is more realistic is to pay attention to key feature. The most important being the upper ridge of the eye-socket lines up with the same ridge on your face, the jawbone needs to roughly line up as well, and also make sure the teeth and nose are in roughly the right place. This may mean you need to distort the skull image quite a lot from how it originally looked, but since we wont be seeing too much of the skull it doesn’t matter if the rest of it isn’t perfect.. basically the ridges of the eyes/eyebrows, the teeth and the nose are the most important here. See below for example.

how to create a zombie

Once you are happy with the skull placement, hit enter and then set the opacity of the layer back upto 100%. Add a layer mask to the skull layer and mask out the edges around the skull. I also had to mask around the fingers as they would, in real-life(?) be obstructing the face/skull. This is what I have so far, hopefully yours will be looking something like this now.

how to create a zombie

OK, next we need to go back to our base layer, that is the composite of the first two layers, and duplicate it and drag it to the top of the layer stack. Create a layer mask on that layer and get ready to scrape away some of your skin!!

Selecting the newest layer mask, select the brush tool, medium hardness, and select black from the colour palette (remember you can switch between Black and White by pressing the “X” key). Now, when you start to paint on the face, you will see the skull layer beginning to appear, freaky huh? I find its best to completely paint out the nose and one of the eyes and of course the teeth! Another great tip to remember is to use the square brackets “[ & ]” to alter your brush size on-the-fly.

Take you time on this stage and have fun, pay particular attention to the area around the teeth and try to make the skin/teeth blend in nicely together. Hopefully your image will look something similar to this now.

how to create a zombie

Even at this stage the picture looks super gruesome already, but what kind of self-respecting zombie doesn’t have a bit of flesh-rot to really stink up the place!! This is where things get very nasty indeed.

STAGE 3 – Rips and Scars and Veins, oh my!!

OK, next you need to create another layer, name this one VEINS.

OK, here you need to load up the “Pretty Cracks & Sores” brush set we downloaded earlier. These are pretty big brushes, however we really need them to cover the whole face (we will mask out the surplus veins in a minute). Select a brush you like the look of, choose a nice dark, deep red from the colour picker (and RGB value of 74,0,0 works well) and stamp it over your face (on the new layer). Don’t worry if it looks a bit strange at the moment. Add a layer mask to this layer and use the black brush tool to delete the veins’n’stuff from areas that don’t need them (eyes, bits of skull, fingers, teeth etc). Set the layer mode to `Multiply”. Again, spend a bit of time on this to make it look badass. Once finished, right click on the layer. Select “Blending Options” and put a tick in the “Bevel & Emboss” check box, here I used the defaults but adjusted the depth a tiny bit to increase the bumpiness of the veins.

Now, you can add more layers and use more of the brushes we download earlier to add more scarring, tearing and veinage, experiment and have fun, it really is great defacing yourself or a loved one!! Remember to use separate layers for the hands, body etc.

how to create a zombie

So next is just a few more overall cosmetic changes to the image to make it darker & grittier. Basically I just add a gradient map layer (black to white), contrast/brightness layer and adjust to taste!! Now, hopefully you should be zombified up to the max. George Romero would be proud of you! R.I.P.

how to create a zombie

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Creating Zombie Tutorial by Mark Simms [ e-mail | Flickr | DPChalange ]

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140 Responses to “Halloween Photoshop Tutorial: Creating Zombie”

  1. Mark Simms, says:

    No probs, I wuld love to see other images people create using this tutorial.

  2. Josh says:

    Great tutorial! Thank you for sharing this..

  3. Daniella says:

    Mark, thank you for the tutorial. Is the `tonemapping plugin available for free? Where can I download it? Thank you.

  4. James says:

    Sweet Effects. This tutorial is really well explained. keep it up. good show.

  5. Steve says:

    this is cool.. Gotta to try it soon!

  6. Rawk says:

    That’s great technique! The only thing I would change is that skull. Atm it looks too clean, maybe another color filter would do the trick 🙂

  7. Fox says:

    Very nice tut 😀 I learned alot!

    Here’s my result:

    I changed the skull layer to Hard Light cause it didn’t blend in very well with the face, and it turned out to be a really good idea 😀

    Btw: that guy isn’t me 😛 just ftr

    It’s my first Photoshop Zombie ever and my god am i proud of it ^.^ Thanks for the tut

  8. Jane says:

    good job on the tutorial. fox: nice work man.

  9. Mark Simms says:

    Thanks for all the comments guys.. I am putting another together for a similar yet altogether cooler effect, I will contact Paul to see if he is interested in posting it on this blog..

    Great image FOX!! Very disturbing, which is perfect!!

  10. Mark Simms says:

    Daniella, sadly its a payware plugin.. dont fret thoughy because it isnt essential to this tutorial.

  11. Nick says:

    Awesome tutorial! I’m surprised at how well mine came out, considering it was one of my first serious photoshop endeavors. Check it out and let me know what you think!


  12. Jake says:

    Great tutorial, one of my favourites.
    I’ll definately check into finding more of yours.
    I attached my pic to the comment, it’s okay, i’m 95% happy with it, I just wished the skull was a little darker.

  13. Marksimms says:

    To convert from 8bit to 16bit, in Photoshop goto Image->mode->16bit

    thats it!!

  14. thebern says:

    how can i convert my image to 16/32 bit?? I’d tried everything, but i still can’t use the tonemapping function…
    can somebody help me?
    please reply if you can! thank you

  15. lukasz(lewy) says:


  16. Jimmy says:

    That is scarry!

  17. John says:

    Thank you! I was wondering about this too..

  18. Mark.. Just shoot me an email when your next tutorial is ready.. 😉

  19. alien1280 says:

    hey as i said on your flickr profile, these are great, I love the tutorial ^__^


    those are my first two real attempts =) I did one or two others butthey went kind of crap *eyeroll* =P

    once again, your pics are ace and thanks for the tut =)

  20. Mark Simms says:

    Thanks for all the great comments and sharing your creations, some outstanding work there by everyone..

    Still putting together my next tut, should be ready soon..

  21. SkrilaX says:

    Woot ! man that’s f****n awesome !
    Keep Up The Good Work.
    I’ll add myself zombifief soon

  22. Greg says:

    Yep nice job blah blah, only criticism is the misnomer of being labled as a zombie instead of any other evil/dark creature you appear to be

    watch more zombie movies with oozing blood

    u need the ooze

  23. Mark Simms says:

    Actually I must disagree, a zombie, by generally received definition, is a reanimated corpse, basically a dead person that has kind of been bought back to life. Thus the person would of been in the grave for a while and a certain amount of decomposition would of occured, the chances of ANY oozing blood would be highly unlikely since it would of coagulated only hours after the original death of the person.
    So I am of the thinking that my image showing rotten skin, scabbed up blood and parts of the skull showing through is closer to how a zombie would look than ones seen in films.. ANy oozing blood seen on these creatures would more likely be blood from one of their freshly killed and eaten victims, and not their own blood.

    Hope this clears up this matter.

  24. Lenox Cruthers says:

    hey i think it was a little hard to understand but thanks for the free brushes!!! they are really nice maybe you should make a video of you doing the steps so people like me who are novice can better follow.

  25. Mark Simms says:

    Currently working on a video tut, once its done I will stick it up on youtube and ask the site admin here to post a link.

  26. Sue-Lyn says:

    I’m so confused without the tonemapping thing I need help
    I have the skull and my picture..
    and I don’t get.. it.. how it says
    CTRL+T ..
    I tried that.. and it didn’t do anything O.o
    I need help..

    These intructions are very confusing, they need to zoom in the whole.. deal..


  27. Mark Simms says:

    Not at all, hopefully you will revisit this site shortly when I post the video tutorial, hopefully that will make things a lot clearer.

    However, CTRL-T activates the transform mode, make sure you have the skull layer selected. WHen you enter transform mode you will see a scalable box highlight the edge of the current layer. slecting any of the boxes on the edge will allow you to resize the skull to fit the shape of the face layer.

    I should of mentioned that this tutorial is aimed at “above-beginner” level, it should be accessible to anyone comfortable working with layers & masks.

  28. Tara says:

    I went to your DeviantArt page to download the brushes and apparently everything downloaded okay. I saved the files on my computer, tried to open them and then Photoshop opened and I can`t find the brushes. I clicked on the brushes tab on the top next to the file browser and they aren`t there.

    Is there anywhere else they would be or anything else I have to do to get them? I’m new to this and I couldn’t even get passed the tonemapping section in here. Help please?

  29. Rocio says:

    awesome tutorial
    i made one
    it’s not as good as yours but yeah
    my zombified self

  30. kenshin says:

    hi guys, all of you did a very good job, (awesome) i want to do my own, can anyone link me some crack image, can;t find good crack image,.. thnkx guys,..

  31. Mark Simms says:

    The links to the `crack` brushes are all in the tutorial.

  32. Caleb says:

    the link to the pretty brushes works. then I go to the person’s page who made them. once there I clicked on the link for their site to download and the site doesn’t work.. Help?

  33. Matt says:

    I can switch to 16-bit mode and have the tonemapping plugin installed but I got no clue how to use it.

    I looked through all the filters and it’s not listed there – any ideas?

  34. Michael says:

    Brilliant mate, thank you for a great tutorial. I was able to download a trial version of tonemapping but they put ugly text over your image. I thought I could outsmart them by working with a massive image, but they’ve accounted for that by placing the text in multiple places. Tricky bastards 😉

    Instead I played with hue, brightness and contrast and a bunch of burn to try and get the dirty look.

    As the others have said before me, it’s not as good as yours but I had fun and want to thank you for the knowledge!

    It is a photo of me and I am striking the same pose as you. There can be only a master and an apprentice…


  35. Paige says:

    This is so good, I learned a lot. 😀
    Heres what I came up with: http://i19.tinypic.com/4lgq3ap.jpg

  36. ankje says:

    I made of my 8 year ols son a zombie. Great tutorial, and it was real fun to create this!
    Greetings from Belgium

  37. Mark Simms says:

    Nice work everyone. Thanks for all the nice comments and emails!

  38. Jacob says:

    my firts extreme makeover ever 😉 gr8 tutorial!!


  39. Kelsea (: says:

    that’s what i got.

  40. Ekr says:

    here is mine, im pretty happy with results


    great tut. thnx a lot.,

  41. mustafa sazak says:

    for the beginners, it is hard to perform. You didn’t give any detail about how to open, how to draw, how to change.
    I couldn’t understand the second page.

  42. Mark Simms says:

    Sorry you found the tutorial difficult, all the feedback I have received so far has been very positive.

    I am sorry to say, but if you are not comfortable with `opening` files in photoshop then maybe you should really go back to basics before attempting a tutorial such as this, especially one that deals with alpha channels and masking.

  43. Cameron says:

    hey just some criticism, but I think it would look better if you got rid of the cuts and blood and whatnot on the skull since its sort of impossible for a skull to bleed lol

  44. raoska says:

    Can someone help me with the gradient map, its the last step, either its something really simple, or something I couldn’t find… Thanks.

  45. Thomas says:

    how can i save my picture as a jpg?

  46. Mark Simms says:

    Hi all,

    just to let you know I have put together a 4 minute video of how this was done, its not meant to be a tutorial, merely an addition to my tutorial above, the actual time taken to create the zombie was 13 minutes, but I have sped the video up to fit inside 4 minutes.


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