The Dollhouse effect

If you’d like to reproduce the fake model effect you see in the Dollhouse intro in photographs, Christopher Phin* tells you how to do it.

It’s best to start with a photograph of a scene that’s viewed from a distance, above the subjects. Bright lighting (like the artificial light that illuminates models) is best.

I used this photograph of Columbus Circle, taken from the rooftop of a friend’s very nice apartment:


I followed the first part of Christopher’s directions:

Open up your chosen image, press Q to switch to Quick Mask mode, then click on the Gradient tool. Set the colours to the default black and white by pressing D, then switch them around by clicking on the double-headed arrow next to the colour chips. Next, set up the gradient as shown above. Make sure you select the repeating gradient type – fourth icon along, looks like a cylinder.

Choose where you want the focal point of the photo to be – usually about halfway between top and bottom – and click and hold at that point. Drag the line of the gradient tool upwards, then release it towards the top of the frame; it doesn’t hurt to be a little off the pure vertical. You should get something like what’s shown above. Press Q again to switch back from Quick Mask mode.

Chose Filter ▸ Blur ▸ Lens Blur to bring up the Lens Blur filter pane. It can take a little tinkering to get the settings just right, but try the above values as a starting place. The Iris section controls the shape of the virtual iris in the lens; a hexagonal iris is most normal, and you could try rounding out the sharp corners of the geometric shape using Blade Curvature. Rotation controls the angle of the hexagon. The Specular Highlights section adds little glints to bright areas, but it’s usually not a good idea to drop the value of the Threshold much below 250. Click OK to apply the effect, then clear your selection.

I tried following the second part of his directions, using the Curves palette (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Curves) RGB curve to pump up the colors in the image, but the effect didn’t work, probably because the photo was slightly overexposed. Also, it was taken on a cloudy day.

Instead, I adjusted the contrast using Levels (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Levels), and increased the contrast with the Brightness/Contrast tool (Image ▸ Adjustments ▸ Brightness/Contrast) to get the same effect:


* Link thanks to Photojojo


About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
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