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Old 10-10-2008, 10:57 PM   #1
David
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Default Question about Special effects backdrop/matte painting

Hi all,

Just moved to Edinburgh three weeks ago and i've only just got internet up and running!

I was wondering if anyone had any knowledge they could share about painting techniques in SFX because this year I would like to get in a lot of practice at doing it.

For large backgrounds to miniature sets, is it always canvas that is used? Any other good materials?

i understand an airbrush is often used for these backdrops, is there any particular type of airbrush used?

What type of paint is best used for the airbrush when doing these large areas?

Does anyone know how Derek Meddings' large earth globe seen in "special effects superman" was built and filmed?

etc etc

If anyone has any information about this subject it would be very interesting and a great help.

Cheers!
Dave
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Old 12-10-2008, 02:45 PM   #2
Air Terrainean
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Hi David

Good to know you're back on Alpha !

As far as matte paintings are concerned, these were almost always produced on glass, probably usually with conventional brushes rather than an airbrush - depending on the effect required. The same glass painting techniques were also used to produce foreground glass shots (like the Beckton helicopter shot from For Your Eyes Only). I'd be very surprised to find anyone still producing glass shots these days - one area where CG makes things a lot easier.

Painted backgrounds are another matter altogether. Certainly in most studio situations these are still a practical way to create convincing backings - they allow you flexibility of camera movement and foreground action. Green screen can provide better results than used to be the case, but for something like a model shot a painted backing would probably be easier to work with. For any large area, canvas would probably be the most likely material to work with - but if the set or backing area was quite small, some kind of board would probably be suitable.

As to the airbrush, this would depend on the size of area. There's a good shot on page 10 of the Alan Shubrook showing one of the background painters using an industrial size airbrush to produce a backing. For fine detail or smaller areas, something more like a modelmaker's airbrush would be more appropriate.

Haven't yet picked up a copy of the Meddings book, so can't comment on the globe question.

Hope this helps !
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Old 15-10-2008, 05:25 PM   #3
Lee S
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Start here:
AmazonAmazon /ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1224091489&sr=8-3

but these days it's 99% digital.

L
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Old 16-10-2008, 09:17 PM   #4
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Thanks for your helpful advice Air Terrainean and Lee S, it's much appreciated!
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Old 17-10-2008, 07:40 PM   #5
Hectors House
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I still paint my own sky and space backgrounds even though I have just started compositing in Photoshop.

Doesn't matter what type of Airbrush you use, it's all about technique. You paint too the limits of your camera, not the limits of the human eye. One thing I would say is use Gravity feed types. Here is a company who sell cheap but good gravity feed types from china. www.everythingairbrush.com
You need to look at the AB series.

I use a combination of brush and airbrush. I would also recommend the book 'The Invisible Art' by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron, published by Chronicle books. Well worth a read and full of inspiration.

My work are currently replacing their globe lights with more traditional types. I've already blagged one as the are a foot and a half in diameter and easily paintable! You never know when something like this will come in handy?
The earth in Superman was proberbly a custom blown hemisphere on a rig draped in black and shot against a black background. As Brian Johnston once said 'You always paint planets on a 3d object, no-one can paint a perfect circle I don't care who the genius is" Ok a bit extreme and Micheal Angelo could draw a perfect circle. But he's making a point in that painting a globe is cheaper and easier that trying to turn a painted 2d image into something that will hold up on the big screen.

Also don't worry about tiny F22 F stops and the like. If the image is still F5.6 - F8 on a macro lens with a long exposure time will be absolutely fine. Giving you a realistic depth of field. You only need ridiculous amounts of light and tiny F stops when the image is moving.
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Old 18-10-2008, 10:46 AM   #6
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Cheers Hectors house! They've got "invisible art" in the college library
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Old 18-10-2008, 10:39 PM   #7
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Quote:
Also don't worry about tiny F22 F stops and the like. If the image is still F5.6 - F8 on a macro lens with a long exposure time will be absolutely fine. Giving you a realistic depth of field. You only need ridiculous amounts of light and tiny F stops when the image is moving.
Well actually I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. You can never get enough Depth of Field for model work. If the model is large and if it is a planet as we are talking about here, everything needs to be in focus as effectively the planet would (in reality) be at the infinity setting on the camera. F5.6 of any specific lens at any specific distance from the subject will give you the same depth of field regardless of amount of light of length or exposure time.

Keith
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Old 19-10-2008, 09:24 AM   #8
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What Keith said. Use f16 or smaller and a tripod if your shutter speed gets too slow. In the case of shooting moving FX sequences, the movie cameras shutter speed would be fixed by the chosen frames per second speed, typically 50% of the FPS i.e. 24 FPS, shutter speed = 1/48th second (most have variable shutter apertures too but they're rarely used because they give the image the look of being animated frame by frame Harryhausen style). In model FX work, the smallest lens aperture available is desirable for the greatest depth of field so the only other thing you can control to give the right exposure is the amount of light you throw at the scene to suit the shutter speed and aperture combination. That all applies to film movie cameras of course, however a lot of digital compact stills camera now have amazing macro modes due to the tiny size of their CCD and their lenses ultra wide focal length optics (too complicated to explain why briefly) but the principles remain the same.
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Old 19-10-2008, 11:52 AM   #9
Hectors House
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Yeah you both have some good points there and obviously a whole lot more experience of this sort of stuff than I do.

However; If you are only shooting a miniature set that 6ft max in dimensions either way, you can always trick the camera to give better depth of field by using painted backgrounds or gradually less detailed miniatures. As you said as long as the main subject and foreground is in focus!
With Photoshop it's even easier as you can composite your different layers to give you a terrific illusion of DOF.
But a whole lot of sfx looks fake due to the fact that there is an almost infinity to the DOF and gauging what looks 'Real' and what is too sharp to be natural to the naked eye is a difficult thing to gauge and only really comes with experience (I'm certainly no expert and am still learning with every shot I do! But despite this I feel I have a fairly good eye?)

As always there are no right or wrong ways with miniature photography it's all down to personal preference and experimentation. Everyone has there own way of doing things. I always go with the Derek Meddings way - The easiest option to give the effect looking for!

I always us the old tried and tested 'Squint Test'; as a rule of thumb if it passes this it's Ok!
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Old 19-10-2008, 12:26 PM   #10
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Quote:
But a whole lot of sfx looks fake due to the fact that there is an almost infinity to the DOF and gauging what looks 'Real' and what is too sharp to be natural to the naked eye is a difficult thing to gauge and only really comes with experience
It depends whether you are attempting to recreate something in an atmosphere or in space. Anything beyond about a 100 ft or so is usually infinity as far as the camera is concerned, so if you are at a scale distance of 100ft it should all be in focus, but in real life atmospheric effects come into play which softens distant objects. They are not actually beyond the Depth of Field.

However if, as the case we were talking about a globe simulating a planet, there would be no atmosphere between the camera and the subject so yes indeed everything (other planets, stars, spacecraft) should all be in perfect focus.

By the way, Depth of Field extends further out the back of the image than the front, so to maximise your DoF, you should focus about one third into the subject.

Keith
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Old 19-10-2008, 01:06 PM   #11
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This depth of field stuff sounds like a challenge!

Does anyone know what type of paint is normally used to paint the large backdrops?
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Old 19-10-2008, 01:12 PM   #12
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David

Here's quite a good explanation.

http://www.ephotozine.com/article/De...ield-explained

Keith
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Old 19-10-2008, 08:19 PM   #13
Hectors House
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David,

Most large scale backdrops are painted with common or garden Emulsion paint.
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Old 19-10-2008, 09:08 PM   #14
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Most of the Anderson FX shot made use of forced perspective. The actual depth of the set was much smaller than it looked to overcome the depth of field problems. There are hundreds of examples but for a clear view of it, check out the "Making Of Thunderbirds" documentary on one of the DVD's when they're wiring up the model ship to explode in front of the suspension bridge. Built in a much smaller scale to give the illusion of being further away, the bridge was only a couple of feet behind the ship in reality. All the objects in the shot would therefore fall within the lens range of sharp focus.

You don't see them often now on modern lenses but it always used to be the case that the markings on a camera lens showed you what distances would fall within a len's zone of sharpness at a given aperture and focussed distance. It's still industry practice to measure the distance from the subject and the film plane then focus the lens by using the same distance markings, rather than looking through the viewfinder.

Last edited by DX-SFX; 19-10-2008 at 10:48 PM.
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Old 21-10-2008, 11:18 PM   #15
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Cheers for the link Keith.


Quote:
Most large scale backdrops are painted with common or garden Emulsion paint.
Even complex cloud formations? (opening shot of Burton Batman, eg)
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Old 22-10-2008, 02:44 AM   #16
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Quote:
You don't see them often now on modern lenses but it always used to be the case that the markings on a camera lens showed you what distances would fall within a len's zone of sharpness at a given aperture and focussed distance. It's still industry practice to measure the distance from the subject and the film plane then focus the lens by using the same distance markings, rather than looking through the viewfinder.
That fair takes me back. All my old film lenses had these, but with SLR's I rarely used it as you could see the Depth of Field through the lens and of course you still have the DoF preview button. When I first started this hobby about 40 years ago my friend and I didn't have an SLR so everything had to be calculated using tables and measurements to and from the model. And of course without an SLR we had to take into acount parallex, so we hardly ever looked through the viewfinder to compose anything. Far simpler (and quicker) nowadays :-)!

Keith
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Old 22-10-2008, 06:52 AM   #17
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Default Airbrush Techniques

Just going back to airbrushing a moment - and with the understanding that this is probably too fine a detail level for what is required for this thread - there is a DVD I bought recently at a model show here in England.

Called "Micro airbrushing with Robert Benedict", presented by Airbrush Action magazine, it is a wealth of information on airbrush techniques for the model-maker. Although only 90 minutes long, he shows how to paint 2 great looking skulls in a circle the size of a quarter, 23 in the size of a dime, and goes on to show the freehand painting of a micro murqal of a dragon on the hood of a model car, and finishes by masking some flames for the side, but then freehanding the detail within the mask.

Amazing DVD, amazing guy. Pity I found out about him after he died in 2007.
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Old 26-10-2008, 11:46 AM   #18
Hectors House
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David- Ignore modelling airbrush manuals. You need to look at artists techniques. painting clouds is quite easy...

Start with a suitibly blue background (dark or light depending on time of day you require) while this 1st coat is still slightly wet blend in the rough cloud formations with white or grey using a large 3 or 4" brush. Go sparingly, you can always add more as a you go.
Once this is done it's out with the airbrush or minispraygun. Use white and grey alternatively to build up a nice fluffy look to your clouds. Every now and again step back from your work (6ft min) and squint. This will give you a good idea of how real everything is looking. Work your airbrush/gun in gentle 'C' movements to give that bubbly look.
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Old 26-10-2008, 07:26 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David View Post
This depth of field stuff sounds like a challenge!

Does anyone know what type of paint is normally used to paint the large backdrops?
I Don't know if this is any help, but here's a pic of a model set-up I did back in the early '80s when I was at college (note 'college' trousers).
I wanted to take shots of my scratch built Apollo CSM and ended up just using an old bed sheet streched over a tent pole frame in the corner of my bedroom as a background.
The sheet was painted in blue emulsion, with the clouds airbrushed in acrylics. It was a blue bedsheet to begin with, and I'd tried spraying the clouds directly onto that, but the paint kept 'sinking in' and I couldn't get the clouds white enough, so I ended up re-painting it all with blue emulsion to give a more solid base.

As it turns out the finished photos weren't that successful, as the model had a very slight rotation on it's wires which I hadn't noticed, and on the long exposure it's got motion blur. Unfortunately I'd already broken down the set-up before I got the photos processed, and never got around to doing them again...

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Old 26-10-2008, 08:56 PM   #20
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That's still pretty good Astro. Blimey, some of NASA's photos are softer than that. Sharp may be ideal but slightly soft still works. The shadow of the clouds on the sea below sell the background as real and gives it depth. The model's not too shabby either (understatement).
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