Wayne Haag’s guide to scale
Veteran concept artist Wayne Haag reveals some of the principles he applies to his sci-fi artwork, which enable him to generate a sense of epic scale
I really loved this workshop. Wayne’s thoughtful and honest approach really shone through.
Readers who have seen my work will be familiar with the sense of scale I depict in my environments, both digitally and traditionally. In this workshop we’ll will go over some basic principles that will help communicate the idea of large scale in your own pieces.
Conveying a sense of scale isn’t just a matter of drawing huge objects within your scene. Those objects must appear correct relative to other
Point of view
This is one of the most difficult aspects of all illustration: where do I view my scene/subject from? What point of view (POV) best communicates the concept?
Would we paint a portrait of a person from directly above or from the floor? Of course not. However, a lower angle looking up at a large object quickly conveys height. This can also be communicated from above, by inducing our own fear of falling! Which one is right for the scene will depend upon the original idea for the work.
When creating any scene, I do my best to visualise myself within the environment and wonder where would I be if I were to ‘shoot’ the scene with my camera. Where would I be standing as the action unfolds?
These two sketches show two takes on the same scenario. One is a lower view from the position of the figures travelling towards the rock formation, while the second is from atop the rock looking down. Both convey scale, so it’s now a matter of seeing which POV best fits the story. elements, through the use of value, colour, repetition, viewpoint and so on. Photographic lenses and their relationship to apparent scale is a little-understood aspect of illustration and will also be covered. As always, basic lighting design, colour choices and composition will strengthen your work.
A couple of the matte paintings I worked on for the film The Fifth Element are, to my eye now, failures of scale. Perhaps one day I’ll correct them, but for now my goal is to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made back then. This is by no means a comprehensive study of scale, but hopefully a good beginning. So let’s get started, shall we…? Wayne completed a BA in photography at RMIT Melbourne in 1994, before starting his film career in 1996 on The Fifth Element. He now works as a concept artist, teacher and oil painter. See more of his art at www.ankaris.com.
Choose the right lens
This tip requires a whole article for itself, but suffice to say that longer focal length lenses, for example a 150mm zoom, provide a visual compression of perspective, a flattening of elements within the scene and starts to show a truer indication of relative scale.
One side effect is the cropping of objects beyond the picture frame that would otherwise be visible with a wide-angle shot.
A longer lens enables you to visually edit out most of the information in front of you, yet still show an enormous portion of the landscape within the scene. Anything that breaks the frame can be left to the imagination and is usually perceived to be larger than it might actually be. I use this to effect in my painting, Desert Wreck.
In the sketch below you can see the original painting frame and the view if I had composed with an imaginary wide-angle lens.
Repetition of objects
Here, you can see how the repetition of objects work in the scene. While we don’t see the foreground ship and landing platform as complete objects, there’s enough visual information to let the viewer know that the docked ship at the platform in the background is a repeat of the first. The tiny figures seen on the foreground platform convey the size of the docking environment.
You can also see this principle applied in my painting Rendezvous (tip 10).
Anything that breaks the frame can be left to the imagination
Values and atmosphere
Value is one of the easiest ways to help convey scale of objects in the distance. Atmosphere through dust, pollution and smoke lifts the value of shadows as they recede into the distance. The amount varies depending on how thick the atmosphere is and where it’s concentrated. Light rays reflecting off objects within a shadowed area don’t have the power to overcome the intensity of the light striking the atmosphere itself, which is between you and the distant shadowed areas. Light hitting countless atmospheric particles overrides any detail that might otherwise be seen within those shadows. To see this principle in action, refer to the lighter shadowed areas of the background wreck (the circled #4 area in the painting).
Size of storytelling details
This relates to the repetition of objects within a scene. What looks like a small detail on a distant object can turn out to be a large feature when seen up close. The juxtaposition of a human figure against such ‘minor’ details will also strengthen the overall sense of scale. Take the circled #5 area: the figures on the foreground platform attached to the heavy beam gives the viewer an idea of the scale of the beams seen within the belly of the mid-ground ship.
Atmosphere through dust, pollution and smoke lifts the value of shadows
Vary your line weight
This is related to tip 4’s value and atmosphere advice, in that you want to convey distance and scale even at the smallest thumbnail stage. Varying your line thickness and weight of shading will help quickly communicate atmosphere and scale. Use a harder 4H pencil and a light touch for background objects, and go for a softer 4B for the foreground details. To give you an idea of how much visual information even a thumbnail sketch with varied line weights can convey, this image is only 12cm across.
What looks like a small detail on a distant object can turn out to be a large feature when seen up close