Feathering Birds (or, Fine Feathers for our Fine-Feathered Friends)
(or, Bloodsong's Unplucking Technique)
                                                                                                              by Bloodsong

   Have you ever sat down and drawn or painted a feather?  They're pretty decent for subject matter, lots of fun to try to make a tromp l'oeil feather on your paper.  But try to paint a whole bird-full?  Argh!
   I was trying to paint a new Eagle texture one day  ::goes off into a long, tangental reminiscence, you can just skip to the chase, below::.... yes, I remember like it was yesterday.  I needed a new texture for my eagle for the DAZ calendar contest.  I had one, but no permission to use it. And it was low res.  So I'm sitting there looking at the thing, and thinking: "How hard could this be? It's just a dark brown with these light golden brown curves delineating the feather edges."  So I tried making a tileable pattern of dark brown with lighter lines as the feather edges.  Well, you can imagine, it looked like somebody drawing third-grade feather scribbles.  Not to mention the whole fool bird was tiled in this godawful pattern.  So then I started painting individual feathers and stacking them in a rectangular tile pattern.  Which also sucked.
    So, painting feather groups was not happening.  And then it hit me!  I could paint the individual feathers, which I liked and was good at, and then HOSE them suckers on!!!  :)


   This tutorial is written specifically for PhotoShop 4  ('Shop) and Painter 5 (FDP), which I have.  You may have other apps that can accomplish the same things.  You need these following tools/options:

you need to paint on empty layers (FDP5 seems to refuse to do this)
Preserve Transparency
after you apply paint to a layer, this option keeps you from painting in the transparent areas
Copy Merged
this copies everything in the selection, on all visible layers. you can probably get away with not using this if you just merge the layers first, then copy.
Image Hose
this sprays images onto your canvas.  PSP calls them "Picture Tubes."  you need to know how to create new Nozzles (Tubes), and to be able to size the image elements.
Path Tool
this is a Bezier line
Stroke Path
this takes a painting tool and runs it down your path
Dissolve Painting Mode
this is rather like the old 8-bit painting app airbrushes.  it sprays on scattered dots of solid colour, the density of which is controlled by the opacity of the brush.

   Feather Orientation:  I paint my feathers with the tip down, and the end of the shaft up.  If you prefer to paint them the other way, just remember to re-orient them (or your template) so they go in the right direction.

   Painter3D for Poser 4 Note:  This is located on your Poser 4 CDs somewhere.  It has the FDP Image hose, and the added bonus that you can paint directly on your 3D models.  I only use it for clean-up, however, as it is difficult to work with (more difficult than plain FDP!)  See my Painter3D for Poser tutorial for more tips and instructions for working with this beast.


     Hopefully you have good reference photos of your intended target.  Study the various feather shapes and patterns on different parts of the body.


     Open the template of the bird you are working on, and size it up to how big you want the final texture map to be.  1200-1600 pixels is a decent size, even a tad small.  This will give you an idea of how big to make your base feathers.
     Add a new empty layer and grab the pencil tool to draw the basic feather shapes and sizes over the template.  Make one or two of each (a large feather and a small feather so you can see the range of sizes you want).  For the wing covers, I usually do the right side and then mirror the finished wing to the left, so you only need to do feathers shaped to one side. (If they tend to curve inward, instead of lie straight.)

     Once you have your feathers specced out, you can arrange them closer together, delete the template background, and crop the image down to only encompass your feathers (with extra space to make  rows of them).  You won't need the whole huge file to make the feather hoses.

     Separate each feather type onto a new layer (or into a new file, if you prefer).  Draw a handfull of variants of differing sizes and shapes.  Seven is a good number.  Just use the pencil with a flat edge, you don't need to get fancy.
     Once you have the variants, THEN you can get fancy.  A hairy/furry smear tool can draw out some down at the feather bases.  You can also smear in some transparency along the feather edge to create little notches.  Some feathers have a very, well, 'feathery' edge, you can brush that out with the furry brushes, too. Some have hard edges, so leave the pencil line.  
     When you're done, you are ready to paint the shadows.  Make a new layer under each feather group and use the airbrush and black to lightly shadow beneath the feathers.  No, don't use "Paint Behind," we're going to use the feather layer "Preserve Transparency" to paint the feather colours on.
     Make the shadows fairly light, feathers usually lie pretty flat to each other.  If you are making an exceptionally sleek bird, you may not want to add shadows.  But they are very useful in giving the feathers the proper depth and realism.  Make the shadow further from the bottom edge of the feather, and very thin or non-existant near the base.  Also make sure you darken the shadow inside any notches you have in the feather, this will help make them stand out.

     When you're done, save the base feather file(s).

A sample of base neck feathers, breast feathers, and body feathers, with shadows painted under them.
I use grey, because I can't see white feathers against a white background!


     Remember to turn on "Preserve Transparency" for the feather base layer(s).  Now select a base colour for the feathers you are working on and scribble across the image with a large pencil so the feather bases are filled in.  Finesse comes later. :)
     Now.... paint the feathers.  You're pretty much on your own for this one.  Here's some tricks I use.  I use the burn tool near the feather base, where it will darken from being under other feathers (in addition to the shadows from feathers hosed above it).  I used the dodge tool along the edge for lightly-edged feathers.  For barred or spotted feathers, I use the paintbrush tool at 95% opacity.  For especially soft feathers, I use a furry brush to feather out the marking.  If the feathers show vanes, I use a thin and very strong burn or dodge and draw a quick stroke up the center of the feather shape.

Sparrowhawk body feathers, all coloured.


     When the feather batch is all painted, grab the rectangle marquee selector (or lasso, if you prefer), and select each feather (get its shadow in, too, but not any bits of any other feathers/shadows), Copy Merged and Paste to new Layer.  (In 'Shop, that's Shift-Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.)  You should end up with one feather (and it's shadow) on each layer.  Toss out the original feather and shadow layers, and save the PSD file.

     Now open FDP5; make sure the Image Hose/Nozzle window is open, and the Floater palette.  Open the PSD file of your feathers.  In the Floater list, Shift-select each layer, and group them.  Under Nozzles, select "Make Nozzle from Group."
     A new window pops open with the feathers all nozzle-ized.  It may not look pretty, don't worry about it.  Save this new RIF file (use the same name as the PSD file to keep thing straight).  Now under Nozzles, select "Load Nozzle," and find the file you just saved.  Then, under Nozzle again, choose "Add Nozzle to Library."   You can keep the default name, or make a new one, if you like.  (FDP5 makes you go roundabout this way, later versions may make it easier to create a hose from a group and shove it in the library.  Check your manual.)  Close the PSD and RIF files.

     You may want to create a new library for your feather hoses.  If you have a lot of feathers, you may want to create one for each bird, the FDP5 nozzle drawer started flaking out when it had too many nozzles to be able to list in the drop-down list.


     Now comes the fun part!  (Finally!)  Take a moment to reflect back on all that painting you used to do on bird bodies, because that's all going to be a faded memory from now on. :)

     In FDP, open your bird template.  Orient the template so it matches your feather orientation.  For example: the Big Wing Eagle template has the bird lying sideways.  My feathers face downward, so I rotate the template so the body is vertical.  The legs on that template are vertical, so I rotate it back to paint those.
     I have the template in a semi-transparent layer above the background I am painting on, so I can still see it as I paint.  Be careful not to paint on the wrong layer/floater if you do this.

     Select the appropriate feather for the tail area, and start spraying them on.  I used "Medium Random Spray."  Spray the belly and breast feathers on, working upward so they overlap properly.  Make sure you get good coverage, keep spraying until there are no white spots between the feathers.  Use a marquee selection to contain your spraying, or plan to otherwise protect the non-feather areas of your image, and overlap the spray well outside the borders of the template.  Messiness Counts!  Also make sure the feathers are overlapping well.  You shouldn't see the base of any feathers that are not partly covered by other feathers above them.
     Spray the back feathers on the back, so they overlap the belly feathers where the two types of feathers meet.  The back feathers may show a lot of variation in size, so use the Nozzle scaling slider to change the size of the feathers you are spraying on.  For the Big Wing Eagle, I spray 100% sized feathers at the tail, then 110% over the hips, and then decrease down to 100, 96, and even down to 86% as I work towards the head.  (No reason for using 96/86 instead of 95/85, except that's where the Nozzle scale slider naturally falls.  This is not an exact science!)

Starting out the Peregrine body feathers.

     Get the neck feathers out and spray them onto the neck area, working upward and overlapping.  Shrink the feathers and work towards the head, overlapping into that area.  Then get the head feathers and spray those on.  These may be too small to work properly with the "Medium Random Spray," so try "Small Random Linear" for the head feathers.  This will make them march out in neat rows, but that's okay.  Follow the head contours with the feathers, working back to front.  You may also want to shrink the head feathers down very small to fill in the head area with more detail.  Use the different colours to delineate the head pattern.

     You may wish to only paint one side of the head, then mirror it, to keep the pattern symmetrical.  For the rest of the body, however, the more random the feathers are, the better.  Remember, we're trying to AVOID the "I'm a tiled feather pattern" look. :)
     Also don't worry too much about if the feathers will match up at the seams.  With all that visual activity going on, the seams are hardly noticeable.  You can fix them in Painter3D if you like.

     Also paint the legs and wingcovers, using the same techniques.  Cover up all white space (and then some) and overlap the feathers bottom to top.


     I like to finish up in 'Shop, because I find it easier to work with.  If your head and neck feathers are too.... feathery, use the hairy smear tool to brush them out a bit.  Feathers on the head are especially fine, even more like fur.  Use a light pressure (55% or so) and short strokes that follow the direction of the feathers.  Be sure not to mess up any head/neck patterns you have in place.

     When that is done, I load up P3D to do the mirroring of the head feathers.  That way, there is no guesswork as to whether I've got the two sides lined up.
     Also check under the wings, to see if any back feathers got on the belly area -- and look on the back to see if any belly feathers are up too high.  You can fix this up pretty quickly in P3D if you copy an area of feathers and paste them, and move them into position on the model.  You can erase edges of the new Floater/Layer to blend it with the rest of the texture.  If you can figure out how to make the P3D clone tool work, you can use that as well.  (I'm not Painter proficient, I can't seem to get the clone tool to clone from one area to another. Have to read up in the manual!)

     As noted above, the Hose works in P3D, but if you turn your template, you can't see where the feathers are spraying onto the model, until you turn it back.  Also, while it is turned, you can't spray directly ON the model.  Yes, that works.  Keep in mind P3D's propensity to zip lines across your template as you cross seam areas.  It will do this with the hose images, too.


     Okay, the party's over.  For flight feathers, you have to do actual work again.  :/   Flight feathers are the tail and wing feathers, and hopefully they are clearly delineated on your texture template.

     The first thing you want to do is to create the bump map, especially if you want the feather vanes to stick out, and have their colour maps match their locations!  If there is already a bump map (in greyscale, not a bum), you can use that one.

     To make the vanes, fill your feathers with black.  Now we'll use the Path tool to make smooth, sweeping vanes.

A row of feathers with vanes, and the path used to make them.

     First, go to the first feather you want to paint, and draw the path with two endpoints along it.  Adjust the curve so it is nice and smooth and natural looking.  Now you can stroke the path with several tools and keep them all lined up.  First select the paintbrush tool, and set it's Fade Out rate so it tapers to the end of the stroke.  The number of steps depends on the length of your path and all, so just guess and try it out until it seems right.  The paintbrush should not draw all the way to the end of the path.  You may need to stroke the path 2 or 3 times with the paintbrush to be sure you get a strong white at the base, at least.  Then switch to the smear tool, with a low percentage (try the 50-60% range), and Stroke the Path with that a few times, until a the vane tapers out near the end of the feather in a thin, faint line.   (It may be possible to get the right effect with one carefully calculated fading out Paintbrush stroke, but I don't have that kind of patience.)
     When the first vane is done, move the path ends to the next feather and adjust the curve to match it.  Repeat the Stroking sequence. Yes, do this for every feather.  But don't worry, you can copy this set over for the wing underside (if there's one on your template) and mirror it for the other wing.

     Do the wing flight feathers, and the tail feathers.  If you want to make other bumps elsewhere, go ahead, that's not covered in this tutorial.  Save the bump map, and then copy it to two new layers over the colour image where your wings are.  (Or make a new one if you haven't started painting anything yet.)

     I found it best to work it this way:  Set one copy of the bump map to "Lighten" mode, and use that on the underside of the wings and tail.  Invert the other copy and set it to multiply, and use it over the top sides of the wings and tail.  Erase out any sections of the layer that you're not using.

     Now to put on the colour of the flight feathers.  Make a new empty layer, and grab the pencil tool again.  Select a colour that matches the mid-tone of the feathers' main colour.  If you're doing white feathers, use a light grey.  Draw over the template so the feather areas are covered properly.  Turn on "Preserve Transparency."

     You can just go in with the paintbrush/airbrush, burn and dodge tools to paint on the feather patterns and colours..... but if you want to be insane like me, you can make the texture with the little featherette barbel striations.  Here's how:

     Select a colour that is a few shades lighter than your base colour, and set your airbrush to "Dissolve" mode.  I use about 12% opacity with the airbrush, and this works well with this technique.  Spray dots down the vane of the feathers (you should be able to see them if you have the converted bump map layers turned on), closer to one side -- I use the outside of the feathers for the light side.  Then change to a colour a few shades darker than your base colour, and spray on dark dots up and down the feather shafts.
     When your feathers are all dotty, use a furry smear tool at about 53% to brush out the dots into light/dark striations along the feather.  Start at the vane and brush outward at an angle to it, and do one side of the feather.  Overlapping at the vane, brush out the other side.  Make sure you don't leave any dots lying around.  Also be careful not to brush any transparency/white into your feather from outside it.

Grey feathers in the process of  being striated.  The feather layer is set to 97% opacity so I can see the template beneath it, to make sure I get the striations out to the edges, but not onto the edges of the neighboring feather.

   Okay, one you torment yourself with that (or skip it, if you've a mind to -- remember you only need to do one side, then paste and mirror the rest), then you can paint the feather patterns and colour variants on with the regular airbrush, and the burn and dodge tools.
     Turn the feather layer slightly transparent if you need guidelines to keep stripes straight, etc.  Other than these tips, you're on your own  with your painting skills for these guys.  Remember Brightness/Contrast and Hue/Saturation are helpful if you're trying to make washed out undersides of feathers.  ;)