The Futurists






The Futurists

Futurism emerged in Italy just before the First World War. It was an abstract style that sought to convey the impression of machines in motion. Cubism was a major influence, as were Eadweard Muybridge's photographs of moving creatures and the emerging artform of cinema. The Cubists showed the subject from many angles, and Futurist artists such as Umberti Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, and Gino Severini took this a step further by depicting various stages of a machine's movement on the same canvas. Futurism had echoes in revolutionary Russia, in the British Vorticists, and also influenced later Art Deco design and the American Precisionist painting style.

Futurist images are frequently so tightly cropped and abstract that you can't easily recognise the subjects. But with the outbreak of the war, many important Futurist works depicted military subjects such as machine guns and armored trains.

Your subject should be mechanical and able to give an impression of speed, movement, and noise. This detail of a steam train is ideal.

An alternative "Futurist" method is to mount the camera on a tripod and shoot a series of images. In Photoshop, hold down the Shift key and drag each shot into a single window, then add masks to each and paint around the moving object to isolate it from the background.


  1. In the Layers palette, duplicate your image layer Ctrl/Cmd + J) and change the new layer's blending mode to Screen. This immediately brightens the imageit's like projecting two copies of a slide onto the same screen.

  2. Now you have to decide how you want to illustrate the motion. First, we could try duplicate images out of register. Select the Move tool (V), hold down the Shift key, and use the arrow keys to move the Screen layer along the horizontal or vertical planes.

  3. With this picture, moving the Screen layer produced an interesting patterning but failed to convey the wheel's movement. It may have worked better if my picture had shown a complete steam train, so it would have appeared to move. A circular movement would suit this image better, so Undo the last step and make a selection of the wheel. Use the Elliptical Marquee tool (M) and hold down both the Alt/Opt key to work from the center, and the Shift key to ensure the selection is circular. Click the wheel's center, and then drag outward.

  4. For circular motion, a good choice is Filter > Distort > Twirl. Enter a rotation angle by dragging the slider or typing in a value. Photoshop makes the selected area swirl. The greatest distortion occurs at the center of the selection; areas on the selection's edges are less distorted. I felt the circular direction of movement suited the subjectthe wheel's drive bar punches upward like a right hook, and the spokes create a criss-crossed pattern.

  5. When you are satisfied with a selection, it's a good idea to go to the Channels palette and click the "Save selection as channel" icon. This means that later you will be able to Ctrl/Cmd + click the channel and reactivate the selection.

  6. To enhance the impression of movement, copy the original image layer by dragging it to the "Create a new layer" icon. Set the layer's blending mode to Screen and twirl or move it again. Here I applied double the twirl that I had used before. If you are moving the layer, using the keyboard makes it easier to move the image preciselyjust count the number of times you use the arrow keys.

  7. Add as many copy layers (Ctrl/Cmd + J) as you need. I added one more layer and twirled it by -150 degrees.

  8. A few Screen layers will greatly brighten the picture, but Photoshop gives you many ways to fix this. Try changing the copy layers' blending modes to Lightenthis immediately restores the darker image areas and shows the lighter swirls. Experiment with other blending modes or add a Curves adjustment layer at the top of the layer stack. Pull the curve down to darken the picture.

  9. To add a painterly effect, consolidate the copies onto a single layer. Hold down the Alt/Opt key and select Marge Visiblein Photoshop CS2, this creates a new layer. Then apply an Artistic filter such as Paint Daubs.

Futurist images show multiple, overlapping views of machines in motion. The subject becomes barely recognizable, but there's a palpable impression of speed.




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