Thursday, February 14, 2008

Windblown Cape

How do you get reference for a cape flapping in the wind? That’s something we all have to paint from time to time.

Unless you hang out a lot in hurricanes or on airport runways wearing your cape, you just don’t get to observe the effect too often.

That was my dilemma when I needed to paint a guy riding way up high on a Brachiosaurus. I took the pose in my backyard wearing a satin gown and a red velvet cape just to get into the spirit of it.

In the movies they have those giant fans to simulate wind, but all I had was a puny window fan, and that didn’t move the cape at all. So I had my wife yank the cape back and give it a little flip right before the camera took the picture.

That helped, but I needed to see how the cape might really look with the wind filling it and pushing it back. So I made a little manikin out of chunks of wood and wire and set it on a brachiosaur model that I sculpted out of polymer clay.

I cut the cape from a small piece of red fabric and then soaked it in acrylic matte medium. I arranged it the way I wanted it, and let it dry. Matte medium is like plastic. When it dries, it holds all the folds just the way you arranged them. For the photo it's held up by little wires underneath.

You could also soak a cotton cloth in plaster, but that gets heavy and fragile. The plaster method worked well for a lot of the old masters when they painted angels. Another trick would be to put a cape on a little manikin and photograph it moving it through a fish tank. But I didn't have a fish tank.

Here’s the final picture, called “Up High,” as it appears in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Tomorrow: Keyframe Animation


Robb said...

Dear Mr. Gurney -
Thank you for everything.
Very sincerely,

Erik Bongers said...

My god, will this happen to me too in a decade or two ?
Will I seriously consider standing on airport runways wearing a red cape ?
Will I embarrass myself in front of the neighbours by sitting on the driveway in 'those' clothes blowing a horn ?
Will I start to draw dinosaurs with a grin on their face, thereby making sure that National Geographic will never ever give me an assignment !?
No ! I want my old job back ! Let me back into the nuclear plant ! I'll clean everything without complaining ! No I don't care my hair will fall out !
My God, do you think being an illustrator will prevent that !???

Erik Bongers said...

Think I'm exaggerating ?
Check out Paul Lassaine's site. It's one of the links in the "Animation Art" section in the left margin of this blog.
Scroll far down to the pictures of the car crash. It's staged by the illustrator.
One must have much respect for the wife of an illustrator. She has to explain constantly.
"It's for a book..."
"It's for a movie..."
And then the neighbours will always reply in the same way. With a sad smile on their face and a soft caring tone of voice.
"But of course dear...we understand..."

Laurel Neustadter said...

Your posts are so interesting, helpful, and inspiring. Thank you!

Michael Dooney said...

fyi, for those of you that might not have acrylic medium on hand, Elmer's glue works too for stiffening cloth and setting it.

graydon said...

The thin plastic vegetable bags in the grocery store work well. Since they are thinner, they make more believable folds on small mannequins/models. You can paint on them directly in oil or acrylic to adjust the color. Coupled with other references, these can really assist.

Graydon Parrish

James Gurney said...

Yes, Erik, the outdoor acting sessions can puzzle the neighbors. Halloween happens every day.

Thanks, Laurel and Robb for your kind words, and Michael for the Elmer's tip. That would probably work better than the acrylic medium.

Graydon, great idea on the plastic bags. By the way, I spent hours looking with admiration at your New Britain Museum mural. Beautiful work!

Victor said...

Wow, Graydon Parrish! This blog is becoming quite the nexus for some big names in the realist art/illustration world.

Paolo Rivera said...

I've often thought about posting some of the ridiculous reference pics I take in the name of painting. Too embarrassing for now.

Also, I just picked up Journey to Chandara. It's beautiful! I hope to make it to your talk in Allentown to have you sign it.

Anonymous said...

I think Graydon Parrish's painting of 9/11 is terrible. Though done in the realist style, the "I don't get it" factor is as strong as any abstract painting.

James Gurney said...

Please, this is not the place for criticizing the work of anyone commenting on the blog. We all come from very different backgrounds, and we're all learning together.

Matt said...

Hello Jim,
Thanks for the post interesting stuff. I have a request. You know how much I am into building maquettes and such, could I see your dinosaur model that your wooden figure is on? Again thanks for the cool post


Katy Hargrove said...

You can also try Fabric Stiffener which is a bit more sturdy than glue.

Stephen James. said...

Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It's SUPER GURNEY!

Hehe, had to do it.

Anonymous said...

I take that back about Parrish's painting. Looking closer at the work, I think i do get it. Powerful.

Kevin Hedgpeth said...

Maquettes and models are great for visual reference. Painting and drawing accuracy derived from direct observation certainly enhances the credibility of an illustration.

An audience can almost always pick up on the inconsistencies of "faking" in visual media. They might not know exactly how a cape should flutter in the breeze, but they can tell when it doesn't quite look right.

Dan Gurney said...

When I first saw the title, I thought this would be a post about painting landscapes out on Cape Horn or some such.

In the middle of the night it occurred to me that you might get some useful reference photos for this sort of windblown cape using a by putting on a cape, and riding a bicycle past a friend with a digital camera or video camera.

Enzie Shahmiri said...

James, you rock!

I was at the Rational Painting forum, talking about creating model mock ups, when someone sent me to this post.

By the way if you are not a member there, can I sent you an invitation?

James Gurney said...

Hi, Enzie,
Thanks so much. I just recently joined on to the Rational Painting forum--amazingly talented group of artists, and lots of good ideas.