Avoid the “dry lake bed” look
I’m guilty of this one as much as anyone else. We’re all tempted to stage dinosaur scenes on featureless dry lake beds. Why? Because it’s easier than dealing with foliage. But nature rarely looks like that. Usually every available piece of ground is covered with plant life. Unless you’re actually setting the scene on a flat landscape, make the terrain uneven. Toss in a fallen log or some boulders. Give the dinosaur something to step over or to squeeze underneath. By giving your dinosaur something in the scene to interact with, you can convey tremendous realism.
Grab environment photos
Whenever you travel to places with Mesozoic plant types, take photos for future reference. Florida has palmettos and cypress swamps that look a lot like what you would have seen 100 million years ago. In other locales you can find ginkgo, redwoods, low ferns, tree ferns, and Araucaria. Take a variety of angles: closeups of branches, tree bases, rotting trunks, and swampy edges.
Add dino damage
Large animals in Africa are hard on plants, and dinosaurs would be no different. Look at photos of plants in Africa, where animals break off low branches, trample small plants, rub against the bark, or nip off all but the highest leaves. If you add dino damage on the plants and trees, you’ll add a level of storytelling that will add naturalism to the whole scene.
Overlap the foreground
Overlap parts of the dinosaur’s figure with foreground detail. This almost always happens in real life. The detail might be a branch, a rock, a clump of ferns, or another dinosaur. Don’t show the whole pose in crisp detail. Throw parts of it out of focus. If the foreground element is close to the viewer, blur it a bit.
Add dappled light
If your scene is set underneath tall trees, most of the subject will be in shadow, with spots of dappled light filtering down from the canopy. You can use this effect to your artistic advantage by featuring the center of interest in strong light, and disguising the less important parts of the pose with dappled illumination. Remember that the size and blurriness of the dots of light increases as the ray of light travels farther from the source of the cast shadow.
Previous dino art workshop posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Previous GJ post on dappled light, link.
ImagineFX Magazine, link.
Cassowary image from Picasaweb, link.
Elephant damage, link.
Tomorrow: The last installment on vignetting