Deconstructing Hansel and Gretel in 9 Steps

Recently, the design team of AgencyNet took on an interesting challenge; “to explore a unique perspective on the Brothers’ Grimm tale and bring it to life”.

The only requirement was that the composition needed to feature the two main characters. The results of our free-form creative challenge were as varied as the personalities of our design team.  If you haven’t seen them yet, I encourage you to check them out.

We’ve heard a lot of great feedback on the initiative and I, personally, have been flattered by the response to my effort.  For this post, I wanted to deconstruct how the image was made in a kind of rough tutorial for any fellow artists who are interested.

For my interpretation of the assignment, I tapped the eerie-side of the story, playing on the common fear of things that go bump in the night. For those of you who are familiar with the tale, it is quite spooky with malicious intent a-plenty. Abandonment, desperation, slavery, childhood obesity, cannibalism… you get the picture.

I wanted to capture that spookiness in my take on the story. [view larger]


Click for larger view

As you can see in the image, Hansel and Gretel are making their way through the forest, at night. Ahead of them, a mysterious glow is leading them further into the unknown.  In the distance a “welcoming” cottage awaits.  But behind them, in the shadows, something menacing lurks.  Add in some surreal coloring and you’ve got the making of a spine-tingling movie poster or book cover.

A Friendly Disclaimer.

Making this image was a lot of fun. Most of the heavy lifting was achieved through photo manipulation and use of color.

Because of the nature of the project (personal expression) and the speed at which it was created (under 4 hours), I relied on a number of sources to create this image, most of them free.  As a designer, I take much pride in the work that I create. I also respect the work created by others, I have taken the opportunity to list the origins of the photos/images I “borrowed” for the creation of this piece.  Had this been a commissioned project, all of the visual elements would have been sourced properly and any and all permissions and recognitions to the creators would have been paid.  But since this was a fun expression, I did my best.

The Raw Elements

The images below make up all the visuals I employed during the creation of my Hansel and Gretel wallpaper.

Images used to create my Hansel and Gretel scene.

Images used to create my Hansel and Gretel scene.

Now all of  the elements were collected and ready for importing into Photoshop, I began the process of manipulating the elements to bring my scene to life – so to speak.


Everything began with a base image (below) which would serve as the setting for the scene. The only problem was…it just wasn’t right for the story I was trying to tell.

iStock Photo

iStock Photo


I brought the image into Photoshop and started adjusting color layers, adding blurs and various filters until I achieved a more desired image.

The forest image editing process

The forest image editing process

Here is the final forest before addition of characters and general spookiness.

The Finished Forest

The finished forest


The next step was to add the light in the forest and add an additional path for Hansel and Gretel to follow.  The result is below.

The scene with the mysterious light and additional path.

The scene with the mysterious light and additional path.

Creepy indeed. But time for our heroes.


An image of an illustration of Hansel and Gretel by Bill Burgard, which I found on the University of Michigan Opera website would serve as the heroes of my piece though the end result was quite different. You may also notice that the image as a whole inspired much of my original direction for the piece.


Hansel and Gretel by Bill Burgard


Now for the details.  On the ground behind Hansel and Gretel, I used elements from a picture of Chappaqua Crunch Granola to create my breadcrumbs.


Chappaqua Crunch Granola


I also added a Raven (from a bird watching site) to the image to be the Minion of Evil who would later consume all the breadcrumbs making it impossible for Hansel and Gretel to find their way home.

from a bird watching site

From a bird watching site


I added a cottage (I found on a stock 3d site) in the distance of the shot with a window alight and a smoking chimney (which was a photograph of a smoke effect from a video tutorial site.)

cottage and smoke effect

Cottage and smoke effect

Here is the scene after the addition of these elements.

Here we are with new elements - I circled them so its easy to see.

With the new elements - I circled them so they're easy to see.


Probably my greatest find and resulting wonderfulness for the image was that of the hands of the witch following closely behind Hansel and Gretel.  During my search for “Witch Hands”, I came across this great picture on Flickr from PhantoMato of a hand with Bugles chips on the fingers.

Witch hands

Witch hands

With a little help of Photoshop and the Reptile skin below…

Lizard Skin

Reptile Skin

I was able to create this…

Here are the images added together with some shadowing.

Here are the images added together with some shadowing.


After adding all the elements together, tweaking the colors and adding some more love to the shadows and little touch-ups here and there…I ended up with the following image. Total time to create 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Here is the finished piece.  I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.

Here is the finished piece. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.

Thanks to everyone for all the kind words regarding the piece.  If you are interested..I also created a final piece that could be used as an iPhone wallpaper.  Enjoy.

For your iPhone.

For your iPhone.

All the best, Garett