Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dino Art Tips 4: Environment

To paint a convincing scene of dinosaur life, you need to think about the setting as much as the dinosaur itself. In this fourth installment of my paleoart workshop, here are five tips to help you paint realistic environments for your creatures. To see the full dino art workshop, check out the current issue of ImagineFX magazine, which should still be on the newsstands in the U.S.A.

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


Dan said...

I've got images of Araucaria trees on my blog "Exploring the World of Trees".

Erik Bongers said...

I don't usually buy magazines of any kind, but there's an international magazine shop in Antwerp. If the have a copy of this, I'll buy it.

James Gurney said...

Erik, yeah, it's a great magazine. At first I thought it was only a digital art magazine (it's filed in the computer section and it comes with a DVD). But it also has a lot on traditional painting. The emphasis is how-to in the category of fantasy and imagination. I'll bet you can get back issues, too.

Dan, thanks for the link to your blog. Your beautiful photos of tree silhouettes and details will be a great help to artists.

Doug said...

I was wondering where to look for the magazine. I have looked before but it is not setting next to the New Yorker. :0) I will have to try again and look in the computer section. I enjoy your blog every day! I don't see how you keep it up... but I am glad you do!

The New Gray Mare said...


I found my copy at Barns & Noble. If a branch near you doesn't have one in stock, they can order it for you.

colin said...

No sooner had I read this post than I went outside and noticed how the shadows of the trees went from sharp at one end to much fuzzier at the other, because of their angle with the sun. I wouldn't have even noticed if you hadn't mentioned it. Every time I visit this blog I learn stuff. Every time!

The Warrior said...

Did I mention how amazing an artist you are?