Deke’s Techniques 136: Building a Sci-Fi Temple from Scratch in Photoshop CS6 Extended 3D

As you might imagine, I don’t actually record each and every Deke’s Techniques the same day it goes live. Frankly, I wish I had the next 27 in the can, but that isn’t the case. At any given moment, I’m a just few ahead. Which is to say, this thing combines shear craziness with a small degree of relevance.

I only mention this because, today, I recorded some junk and stuff for next month. With any luck, you’re going to love ‘em. (Not to give too much away, but my summary of the next few weeks is superheros, cars, dancing girls, and spirals. Honestly, revisit this page in August and you’ll be like, “Dude, you totally spilled the beans—and I didn’t even know!”)

Anyway, I’m distracting you from today’s technique, which is magical and rad. Because today, I show you how to create an alien 3D temple, from utter and complete nothingness, using a depth map in Photoshop Extended. Here’s the official description from

This week’s Deke’s Techniques uses Photoshop CS6 Extended to create an other-worldly structure from nothing but pixels. In other words, Deke pays appropriate 3D homage to his alien overlords by building them a temple out of plain old earthly linear gradients. The keys to building this sci fi-inspired structure is to work in the 16-bit/channel mode with a black-to-white gradient image. You’ll then use that gradient to create a 3D depth map in Photoshop CS6 Extended. Remember, the white areas will go ‘up’ and the black areas will go ‘down.’

During this free video, Deke explains how to set Photoshop CS6 Extended’s 3D tools to work at rendering this alien temple, turning and repositioning the building, adjusting the ground plane, and adding a textured surface. Deke will show you how to load his preset lighting and bring in his textured “alien-crafted brick” surface to use as your materials option. After a few fine-tuning operations (like incorporating the temple into the sandy environment and adding an appropriate acolyte), you’ll have turned this barren dessert landscape on the left, decorated with the basic gradient image in the middle, into the fully rendered alien-acceptable temple on the right.

An alien structure built completely from scratch using 3D depths maps in Photoshop

If you’re a member of, Deke has an exclusive movie in the library this week in which he uses a Curves adjustment layer to define the contours of a 3D object. In other words, he uses Curves to draw in 3D space.

Just so you have a sense for what’s going down here, this is the final sci-fi structure, alien temple, or whatever you want to call it, rendered in glorious 3D from Photoshop CS6 Extended:

The final sci-fi- structure rendered in glorious 3D from Photoshop CS6 Extended

Okay, that movie is awesome, but this next one is mind-bending. Start with a radial gradient, convert it to a 3D depth map, and then add a Curves adjustment layer to define the actual shape of the 3D object, as illustrated below:

Designing a 3D object using a Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop

I know, I know. Everyone keeps telling me the final result looks vaguely sexual. Or just plain overtly sexual. But it’s a sub woofer, for God’s sake. A sub woofer.

And there ain’t nothing that says sex like a sub woofer, baby. On so many different Levels. By which I mean, Curves. Watch this movie and anything else you care to consume during your first free week of membership at

Next entry:How I Accidentally Pre-evacuated a Week Ago

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 134: Adding a Border to an Image in Illustrator

  • Exercise files

    Hi Deke… Does one have to join to download the exercise files for the free techniques? Cheers!

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