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Tricks of the trade: how Jean-Charles Debroize makes the magic happen

Photo-composition, photo-montage, photo-manipulation… whatever you want to call it Jean-Charles Debroize is the master of creating stunning photographic art that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

We commissioned Jean-Charles to create one of his incredibly detailed and highly polished photographic compositions in Affinity Photo. Using a combination of the Desktop and iPad versions this is the magical piece he came up with…

The process

In order to create the Rabbit Magician image, I first completed a few quick sketches with a pencil so as to compose the image, to place the characters, the camera viewpoint and the different elements that make up the scenery.

Then I used the iPad to prepare a more advanced sketch, where I thought more precisely about the light, facial expressions and some details that could give the scene a more sophisticated look.

I used this drawing as a reference throughout the whole creation process in order to make sure all the elements were consistent.

The next step was rather extensive research in image banks in order to assemble all the elements I needed to complement my scene. In this particular case, I was able to set up the scenery from image banks, but I couldn’t find any satisfactory photos for the characters. That’s why I decided to organise a photo-shoot for the missing elements.

To this end, I had to bring together the magician costume, the rabbit and all the different accessories that make up the image. It took a little time, but I could be confident I had a good lighting and perspective for all my objects; this is not always the case when I work solely with image banks, so it’s not a waste of time.

Concept sketch for the Rabbit Magician created in Affinity Photo.
The final image.

Once all the objects were acquired, all that was left to do was gather all the elements in Affinity, recreate the shadows, adjust colour rendering and brightness to make each object consistent with the global lighting.

Finally, I completed the image by adding smoke and halo effects in order to give the atmosphere extra volume, then I tweaked the blurs to give the whole piece more depth of field.

Taking photos

I can’t really say I’m an excellent photographer… and I don’t have the required equipment to be one. Therefore I called a professional I often work with for photo editing projects. I explained what I wanted to get from the lighting, gave him all the stylistic and scenery elements, and we spent the day together in my studio, where we shot all the elements I needed in one go.

At this point, it’s very important to have a detailed sketch of the image, as you have to make sure you don’t forget anything and every object is shot with the right light and perspective. It helps the photographer understand my intentions and we can work more quickly.

If the shooting work has been done well, bringing all the images together is quite simple. You only have to add a few distortions, recreate a couple of shadows and adjust a few lights to make sure everything works fine. On the other hand, if the elements don’t have the right lighting or perspective (which is often the case when working with image banks), it’s much more complicated and there’s no magical approach.

“The most important thing is to always keep the result you want to achieve in mind.”

Some methods are more effective than others, to achieve the same results, that’s why the software provides a wide array of tools. The most important thing is to always keep the result you want to achieve in mind.

It took me four or five days work to put all the photos together and create the final result. However I never do all the tasks in one go. Sometimes I take a one-day break to work on other projects. It prevents the eye from “getting bored” looking at the same image, meaning you can return with a fresh, more critical look.

It’s so fluffy!

Cutting out fur and hairs is something rather intricate. Many tools can help you get good results very quickly, but I prefer to add hairs on the outlines myself. This way, I can recover transparency from the background and put the emphasis on how fluffy the fur is. To achieve this, I use a very thin paintbrush and simply draw hair by hair. It is a work of patience, but I really enjoy doing it directly with the Apple Pencil on the iPad.

Tiny brushstrokes are used to make the rabbit fluffy.
Smoke and haze and clever lighting are used to pull all the elements together and blend them seamlessly.

Affinity Photo… the verdict

I was rather pleasantly surprised to see how easy and natural it was to get started. It took me a few days to acquire some new behaviours and gestures to work seamlessly, however I didn’t throw my iPad out of the window.

The software is fairly exhaustive, providing all the tools I usually need for photomontage. Some tools have a slightly different behaviour from those I’m used to, which was somewhat confusing, but I found a few new features very interesting.

I really enjoyed working on the iPad version for all the drawn parts of hairs and shadows, and for cutting out elements. On the other hand, I preferred the desktop version for all the structural part and the organisation of layers. I think the combination of both interfaces is a good solution.

About Jean-Charles

I started as a graphic designer after a three-year course in a school of applied arts. I gradually improved my software skills by myself and soon joined Agence Kerozen as an art director.

One of Jean-Charles​ role-reversal photo compositions that helped inspire the Rabbit Magician.

This small agency made up of four creative designers has always been committed to creating stunning, funny, poetic or terrifying images, for which a perfect knowledge of photomontage is essential. So I naturally found my place there—I’ve been working there for about a decade now.

A photo composition showing the team at Kerozen made to look like children.

It’s nice to work as a team, because you can have other people looking at your work. There are four art directors at Kerozen, me included, so I know who to turn to when I need advice without indulgence. Each one of us has his own different approach to creative business, with more or less his own speciality. This means we can address common problems and have a variety of creative solutions for our clients.

An example of Jean-Charles creative ​work for Agence Kerozen.

I’m inspired by advertising, cinema and mainly children’s literature. I’m astounded by the colour work and composition in books such as those by Rébecca D’Autremer and Frédéric Pillot. I also regularly have a look at other illustrators and designers portfolios on Behance. I always find very beautiful things there.

An example of Jean-Charles photo composition work for Agence Kerozen.

You can see more of Jean-Charles’ work on Behance.