Create an Animated Collage

Pixelmator helps artists like Elise Swopes conjure the surreal.


Photo & Video


Full disclosure: In reality, there is no waterfall at the edge of the Chicago River, nor is there one in Lake Michigan.

Those waterfalls exist only in Chicago artist Elise Swopes’ surrealistic photos, which she created on her iPad using the powerful image editor Pixelmator and pics she shot on her iPhone.

For nearly a decade, Swopes, a full-time artist and downtown resident, has stuck with the tools that captured her in the first place. “I could have gotten a DSLR camera or edited on a laptop,” she says, “but I was adamant about staying on my phone and iPad. I wanted to push the envelope.”

Chicago-based artist Elise Swopes creates surrealistic images using Pixelmator and her iPhone and iPad.

She did so by weaving surrealism into her work, initially dropping giraffes, elephants, and polar bears into shots of downtown Chicago. “Eventually the giraffe caught on,” she says. “I felt like it compositionally fit better—these tall buildings and this majestic, calm, pretty creature within this cement-based industrial town.”

Swopes’ creation merges three separate images seamlessly into one.

In the image above, Swopes turned to something even more dramatic than a mid-city animal. Here she walks through the process of creating the image using Pixelmator and Plotaverse Pro on her iPad.

1. Capture the Chicago skyline

“I went to North Avenue Beach to get the shot of the city. It was very windy and waves were crashing everywhere. The moment I was shooting, I saw a wave out of the corner of my eye, and I knew it was a big one. I leaped away just as it splashed up, and if I hadn’t seen it I’d have been soaked. But this I’ll gladly accept for the shot.”

Swopes shot the image of the Chicago skyline at North Avenue Beach.

2. Add by erasing

“I like to post all my images in a 4-by-5 aspect ratio—it captures the eye and fills the screen better. First, I created a layer in Pixelmator and imported the image of the skyline. Then I resized it and moved it, picturing where the waterfall would lie on the lake.

“I created an additional layer with a stock image of a waterfall, and erased around the waterfall, mostly around the top to blend it into the lake. I made the Eraser tool a little lighter and decreased the opacity and strength, so what I erased is a little more blended.”

3. Match the colors

“At first the waterfall looked a little too blue. So I went into the color settings and brought down the saturation to match the lake. I just played around with it until they matched.”

Pixelmator’s color-matching tool in action.

4. Put a bird on it

“Last, I added another layer just for the bird. Because the bird had a white background, I use Pixelmator’s selection tool to select the white part and erase all that.”

Pixelmator’s Eraser helped Swopes erase the white background behind the bird.

5. Lose focus

“I like to make my iPhone edits seem like they could be real images. Pixelmator has a really cool effect to help with this: Blur, which blurs something in the foreground or background to give it a different focal length.”

A little blur goes a long way.

6. Just add water(fall)

“To animate the waterfall, I used the Plotaverse app. Within their platform they have Plotagraph Pro, an in-app program that allows you to create cinemagraphs through masking and plotting arrows.”

Using the Plotaverse Pro app, Swopes put a waterfall where there is definitely not a waterfall.

“I import my composited image from Pixelmator, mask anything that I don’t want to be in motion, and plot arrows in the direction that I want the waterfall to flow. The same goes for clouds and other types of motion opportunities.”


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