Move People Like Puppets
When you have a vector image that you’ve drawn from scratch, you can adjust it any way you want–a circle, for example, can become an ellipse or a square. When you have pictures of the real world, touching them up has always been a slow and painstaking process. Puppet Warp changes that by allowing you to adjust pictures of people, animals, and real objects as if they were vectors that you’ve created. Puppet Warp also requires lots of the other features that are new in CS5. For example, it needs selections to be easy and accurate and relies on content-aware background replacement, which builds on the content-aware scaling in CS4 where you could shrink or stretch a complex background to bring the interesting bits of your photo closer together without artifacts. But once you can grab objects and fix the background behind them, changing their shape by using the same content-aware repainting can look realistic. Or you can get odd effects like twisting flowers into a font. These are the tools that take Photoshop beyond image editing and into image manipulation.
Select an object and make the selection a layer and you can warp it by choosing where it should bend and how it should move. The Puppet Warp mesh that Photoshop applies lets you see which sections of the image will be expanded or compressed, but you place the warp points by eye (it would be nice, though, if the segments lit up when you hovered over an intersection). Placing points and choosing the order to move them in takes skill. It’s easy to distort a hand, not so easy to get a smooth curve, and when you move more than one point, the rest of the selected object can move too, although it moves back when you adjust the next point. These are limitations vector graphics artists have been working with for a long time. When you reselect an existing point, you have to be precise or you get an error saying you’re trying to place a new pin too close to the existing one, which is frustrating. These might all improve in the final software, of course, and distorting the rest of the object may be exactly what you want, while the Distort setting gives you more fluid effects when you’re not aiming for realism.
We left the original elephant in the image for comparison. Once you’ve copied the selection you plan to warp to a layer, content-aware fill can give you a clean background.
Use the Distort Mode when you don’t want the realistic constraints, while Pin Depth can be used to distort the photo underneath another element.