Actions are one of the best ways to perform really complicated tasks in Photoshop. If you’re just started out and want to create some really incredible work, they can give you a huge leg up.
In this tutorial I’m going to use an action from Graphic River to add a futuristic, animated heads-up display (or HUD) to a photo. You'll need a copy of it downloaded on your computer to follow along. This is the image I’m starting with.
And this is where we’re going to end up.
1. Install the Actions
The first thing to do is load the actions into Photoshop. Go to the Actions Panel in Photoshop. If it’s not visible, select Window > Actions to display it.
Click the Menu icon in the top right corner and select Load Actions…
Use the File Browser to navigate to where you have the HUD action downloaded, select the .ATN file, and click Open.
And that’s the actions installed and ready for use. The HUD action we’re using is actually made up of two separate actions: Face Prepare Action and Add Animated HUD Elements.
2. Set Up the Photograph
Next, we’re going to prepare the base photograph. Open the image you want to use in Photoshop. For the action to work, the photograph you’re using needs to be the Background layer. If you’ve already done some edits in Photoshop I suggest you save a version as a JPG and open that copy to work on instead.
The image needs to be in 8 Bit RGB. If you’ve just opened a JPG it almost certainly will be, but here’s how to check. Go to Image > Mode and make sure RGB Color and 8 Bits/Channel are selected. If they aren’t, select them now.
For the action to work best, your image needs to be at least 2000 pixels wide. If you’re not sure what resolution your image is, go to Image > Image Size and you’ll get this dialog box.
As you can see, my image is 2000px by 1333px, which is fine. While the action will work with any size image, if it’s too small you’ll end up with a low quality final product. If your image is much smaller than 2000px wide, consider using a different one.
3. Prepare the Face
Now that the file is ready to go, let’s look at running the first part of the action. The Prepare Face Action adds a lot of shading and color to the image. It’s designed to make it look like the HUD elements are casting a glow on the face in the image. For it to work properly, we need to tell it what parts of the image are important so they remain visible.
Create a new layer with the keyboard shortcut Command-Shift-N or Control-Shift-N and call it Brush. The action is case-sensitive so make sure you use the capital B.
Select the Brush tool with the keyboard shortcut B and from the Brush Options select the Soft Round Brush. You can use any color you want.
Next, use the brush to paint over any areas of the image you want to remain visible. For me, this really means the face and eyes.
You can always start over if you’re unhappy, so once you’ve got something you think looks good, select the Face Prepare Action and run it.
And here’s what my image looks like afterwards.
I’m pretty happy with this, so let’s keep going .
4. Add the HUD Elements
Now that we’ve got the base photo prepared, it’s time to start adding the HUD elements. There are 38 different ones (22 Simple and 16 Compound elements) to choose from, and it's likely you won’t use them all. The simple elements are a little, well, simpler than the compound ones. The compound ones have a lot going on.
To add an element, run the Add Animated Element action and use the File Browser to navigate to where you have the action elements downloaded.
Select an element from either the Compound or Simple folders. I’m going with Compound 8.
Select the first element in the sequence—it’s got _00000.png at the end—and then click Open. The action will finish running and add the element to your image.
Use the Move tool (V) and the Transform tool (Command-T or Control-T) to position and resize the element. I’ve placed it over my eye like some sort of targeting array.
And that’s it, you’ve placed your first element. Repeat the process for as many elements as you want, though it’s probably best not to go overboard. Too many will just make things look cluttered. Here’s what mine looks like after a few more elements.
5. Change the Colors
By default, everything is this pretty futuristic ice-blue. It looks great, but you can mix things up a bit if you want.
To change the color of any HUD element, double click where it says Outer Glow beneath it in the Layers panel. This will bring up the Layer Styles dialog box.
Next, click on the color swatch and change it to whatever you want. I’ve gone with this dramatic green that makes it look like I’ve acquired a target. It’s best to limit the number of colors you use. Two or three is fine, but any more and it will just look garish.
You can also change the color of the overlay that’s affecting the photo background. There is a color layer and a gradient layer in the HUD Face group in the Layers panel that are responsible for it.
To change the overlay colors, double-click on the color swatch of each layer and play around with the settings. For the effect to look good, it should roughly match the color of the HUD elements. They’re what’s meant to be casting the glow.
I quite like the blues so I’m going to leave them as is for my image.
6. Render Out the Image
Once you’ve got all the elements you want added and set to the color you want, it’s time to save the image. There are two good options: you can save it as a JPG image or an animated GIF. The JPG will be static but higher quality while the GIF will have animated HUD elements but be lower quality.
Saving the JPG
Go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). Select JPEG High from the Preset dropdown in the top right corner. Click Save and then save it wherever you want.
Saving the GIF
Go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). Select GIF 128 Dithered from the Preset dropdown. It will take a few moments for Photoshop to render everything. At the bottom, under Animation change the Looping Options from Once to Forever.
A 2000px wide GIF is going to be huge. In the screenshot above you can see that it will be about 20MBs. If this is too big, lower the size of the image to 1000px or so. Photoshop will have to re-render it but then you should have a much more usable file. After lowering the image resolution to 1000px, my GIF was just 6MB.
Click Save and then save the GIF wherever you want.
And that’s it, you’re done. With so many different elements to choose from, you can create pretty much any futuristic HUD you want. I’m really happy with how the finished image looks.