April 1 of 2013 we at AirshowStuff produced one of our most successful posts to our Facebook page with a clever trick in honor of April Fool's Day. It began with our editor-in-chief Ryan Sundheimer proposing the story just the night before and me being daring enough to attempt this in one night. Here's how it unfolded:
I used only two images to make the composite. I additionally used one of my Seafair Blue Angels shots for sampling colors for the later steps.

The first image is one I snapped with my 70D out the window of the Alaska Airlines 737 I took down to Las Vegas recently. The second is an image of the X-47 provided by Northrop Grumman for an earlier article we did apart of the Centennial of Naval Aviation special magazine edition.
The transformation process was the most time-consuming part:

1. I first had to cut out the X-47 from the original image without jeopardizing the fine edges. This was surprisingly easy to do compared to other projects I've had in the past. The edits I made at this stage were just removing Navy markings and insignia from airframe to prepare it for "painting."

2. Then came the colors. As you can see, the yellow on the wingtips is off from the normal Blue Angels coloring, where as the more-golden color for the center striping is fairly accurate. It took a lot of layer style experimenting to get it to mask over the X-47 properly (as seen in fig. 3), but I eventually settled with setting it to Overlay, duplicating the layer, and then setting the dupe to Color and adjusting the opacity from there.

The center striping is a custom vector design I had to whip up after attempting to manipulate a set of decals I scanned in from a model kit of the Blue's F-18s and getting nowhere with it. I opted to then design it within Illustrator and import it into Photoshop where I could then warp it to the curvature of the fuselage.

You'll also notice some white spaces where I masked out certain details of the X-47 to allow a more native look to it rather than just blue and gold over EVERYTHING like a wild man. I think it popped the realism.

3. After getting everything set for the color and design aligned, I then placed it over the X-47 and masked out additional details and refined it along the edges for additional realism. I had to mask off the refueling markings, antennas, and lights to make it a bit more convincing of an illustration. The yellow tips still weren't tuned just right, but I progressed to the next stage: markings and final details.

4. Here I imported the scanned copy of the Blue Angels text and a downloaded PNG of their emblem to complete the look. The numbers were also imported from the decal sheet and then warped to simulate the curvature of the fuselage on either side. I then took the Burn tool and alternating between Mildtones and Highlights, I was able to cast a fairly accurate shadow over them to blend with that of the X-47s lighting.

It was here that I also placed in any shadows from the other aircraft in the formation by duplicating the first X-47 layer (fig. 1) and taking its brightness and contrast all the way down, adding a 15px Gaussian blur, and then setting their style to Overlay and masking each one to their appropriate aircraft below. By unlinking the mask from the layer after I created it, I was able to position the shadow exactly where I wanted it to be without having to re-mask each time.

I also added in an HSL Adjustment Layer above each BLUCAV, isolated the yellow tips, and adjusted the hue and saturation until they were a closer match to the correct Blue Angels colors.
I was able to finally place them all above the image and adjust their positions and any final edits before sending it off to AirshowStuff for posting.

I adjusted the background image with a slight blur to simulate DoF as if it were an image taken by a photographer. A layer of noise grain was added to the BLUCAVs for the same reason.

I also took this time to experiment with adding in smoke, and eventually settled with so. I achieved this by sampling and cutting out the smoke from one of my other Seafair shots of the Blues and then scaling and re-positioning the trails to their corresponding BLUCAV. From there I duplicated the layer and added a Fast Blur to simulate motion and heighten the realism before masking it into position above the original trails.

This image should allow you to see finer details missed from the original post.
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