Marie_Antoinette_by_L._L._Périn-SalbreuxEarly in my design training, I came to realize that deep beneath Photoshop’s layer groups, smart objects, and blending modes lay the secrets to an unlimited costume budget. A treasure trove of diamonds, furs, rare animals and exotic locations were at my fingertips, ready to be dropped into any scenario I fancied.

One night, while watching Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, a lightening bolt of inspiration hit me — I had been frantically trying to nail down a concept for my final project that semester at the Academy of Art, so the timing was truly divine. I immediately paused the DVD, grabbed the nearest paper-like object, and started sketching.

The required theme (assigned by my instructor) was RGB, the additive color model that digital screens display. Being a very character-driven artist, my mind wandered to the emotions of each color. Red is fiery and passionate. Blue is melancholy, and green can represent envy. Now all I needed was a Marie Antoinette look-a-like and I was off to the races…

The next morning I stopped by my local Goodwill and spent around $15 on some old bedsheets, a worn-out tutu, one yard of flesh-colored spandex and a hideous padded blue bra—Enough to create the basic shape and folds of a ball gown. I called up my friend Francheska Jasmine Rodriguez (Filipina beauty pageant winner, ex-Vegas showgirl and ruler of the universe) and she agreed to model.

As I ran around the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco gathering last-minute photo shoot necessities (duct tape, a burrito and 99¢ Wet ‘n’ Wild eyeliner), I snapped some quick photos of the facades of the city’s most opulent mansions.

These deep, richly carved textures would eventually become the corset fabric for Francheska’s multicolored ball gowns. We did a quick, scrappy photo shoot at my school’s studio and the rest, as they say, is Photoshop history.

Here is the final portrait series with before and after shots:

This project earned an honorable mention in the 2010 International Photo Awards and won first place in the Academy of Art Spring Show.

If you want to learn more about how to add these effects to your own work, Photoshop Week is a great start!