Surreal Effect Question

I'm trying to achieve a distinct look and feel for a photomanip I'm working on. There's this trend of giving photographs an almost illustrated appearance; what I would describe as a 'surreal' look, as seen in this Avengers movie poster:


One of the premiere book cover designers in the publishing industry, Gene Mollica, achieves a similar result with his images. They're absolutely beautiful - google-image 'Gene Mollica Covers' for examples. It's not just the way he uses color, but that same look the characters on his covers have of being sort of halfway between photograph and illustration. I was hoping someone with a trained eye could point me in the direction of a technique or tutorial explaining how to achieve this. I'm proficient in Photoshop, but by no means a master. Is this done through HDR, or is there something else specific going on?

Much thanks in advance!
Thanks gedstar and bbq_bob! LucisArt looks like just the thing I'm looking for. The example images look great, just like what I'm after. Thanks so much!
Thanks for the heads-up, gedstar. Just looked into it and apparently the company who made LucisArt is no longer in business. redirects to, whose landing page reads:

Image Content Technology LLC is no longer in business. Thank you for 20 years of creativity.

So if there's such a thing as a legitimate version of this software around these days, I'm not sure who I'd get it from.


Active Member

Sorry. I wasn't promoting using a crack. I just googled and it pointed to that page. I didn't even read the page. I just saw that the picture shown of the man with the car looked to me what the OP wanted. I also didn't know LucisArt went out of business.
So, I went back to the pages that I pointed to and actually read them instead of just looking at the pictures. There is a comment from "Bob Carter" that reads

"Google which purchased NIK software has now made their software free. ... The Color Efex Pro 4 "detail Extractor" filter is excellent for sharper more gritty images but like Lucis it comes with grain which can be somewhat reduced with a a noise reduction filter. The NIK "Tonal Contrast" filter provides excellent contrast control without the grain problem. I lean towards this filter.
Topas Adjust is an excellent program for producing the HDR look. Use their "Psychedelic" filter found under the "Stylized" group. I run it, and then adjust the opacity of the filtered layes to apply just the right amount of the gritty HDR look I am after. You can also tame this filter by going to "Edit" "fade" and reduce the amount of the effect by a given percentage."

I don't have the Topaz tools, so I can't speak to how well it works here. The Nik collection is free and powerful, so you might want to try that first.
Thanks guys, I've downloaded the free NIK Collection from Google and started playing around with it. Looks awesome, though there's tons of stuff it can do and it'll take me a while to get it all figured out. I appreciate the tip!