What tech­niques will help me paint a con­vinc­ing desert mi­rage?

Ad­nan Nord­ström, Swe­den

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - ImagineNation Artist Q&a -

An­swer Tony replies

Not un­til get­ting this question did it ever oc­cur to me how strange paint­ing a mi­rage is. Tech­ni­cally, a mi­rage is an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion that oc­curs when light rays bend while tak­ing the path of least re­sis­tance around a pocket of hot air. To us, it cre­ates a re­flec­tion just above ground that looks al­most ex­actly like a body of wa­ter.

First point in cap­tur­ing the il­lu­sion is mak­ing sure you’re paint­ing the mi­rage over a flat stretch of land. It gen­er­ally doesn’t travel up or down hills, so draw­ing it that way can un­der­cut the fi­delity. Next, make sure that the mi­rage re­flects the things lo­cated just above it. You can ac­tu­ally paint the hori­zon on a sep­a­rate layer, du­pli­cate it and flip the whole thing ver­ti­cally to save a lit­tle time.

Since you want to dif­fer­en­ti­ate this from a lake, though, I sug­gest soft­en­ing the edges lo­cated around and di­rectly above the mi­rage, to im­ply the heat dis­tor­tion. Some­times they have pretty sharp edges, but the more clean your bor­ders are the less ob­vi­ous it is that it’s not just still wa­ter.

That be­ing said, there’s one thing I’ve found that I think re­in­forces the fact that it’s a mi­rage. Some­times, if the mi­rage is right on the hori­zon line it can ob­fus­cate big chunks of it. Be­cause the heat is bend­ing the light from the hori­zon, it makes ev­ery­thing sit­ting above it ap­pear to be free float­ing. Since this phe­nom­ena rarely oc­curs oth­er­wise, it helps sell the nar­ra­tive.

The tough part is try­ing to paint a mi­rage in a way that isn’t ex­actly the same as paint­ing a lake in the same spot That mir­ror-like feel­ing is im­por­tant, so make sure you play it up.

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