Plan a backscene
You don’t need huge amounts of space to craft an illusion of depth. Forced perspective pro PAUL BAMBRICK demonstrates how to make a little space go a long way.
forced perspective pro paul Bambrick demonstrates how to make little space go a long way.
The traditional approach to layout construction derives mainly from the domain of scale modelling and engineering, rather than landscape studies such as drawing and painting. It’s quite common to see a scenic section entirely detailed with scale models from back to front. But, unlike a real landscape, sooner or later all models run out of baseboard surface. This restriction makes it more difficult for those who want to portray a real scene because, in reality, no such boundary exists. experience the great outdoors and you’ll witness a landscape that progressively recedes into the distance in all directions - and that’s exactly what we want to replicate.
YOUR OWN EYES
depth perception not only allows us to view objects in three dimensions, it also allows us to gauge their distance; it’s generated by a sub-conscious comparison between the two slightly different images formed on each of your retinas. This ability is extremely effective at close range, but it
becomes less so at distance due to the increasing similarity of each retinal image. Therefore, the greater the distance the flatter the image will appear. And yet, this actually goes some way to helping us produce the illusion of depth. If an artist can create a convincing landscape on a flat canvas, arranging a semi-relief backscene is well within our grasp, too. But why go to the extra trouble of introducing progressively three-dimensional layers of relief, when a flat painting or photograph can suffice? A modeller might well prefer to concentrate on the railway in the foreground, but because layouts thrive on research and detail, a visual conflict can sometimes arise between the realistic detail of the railway and a two-dimensional image that has been created using a different medium.
BLEND IT LIKE BAMBRICK
The solution is to blend the backscene gradually into the landscape from two to three dimensions, concealing any obvious join between model and the two-dimensional image. The transition can be partially disguised simply by sticking to the same level of detail and colour as the layout itself. A reduction in scale and a less saturated colour will make an object appear further away than it really is, more commonly referred to as forced perspective. The most important consideration when positioning the rear panel of the backscene is to leave maximum depth between the scenic section and the start of the backscene graduation - the more area you have to work with, the more effective your backscene will be. If necessary, move the whole scenic section forward to achieve
this, and avoid track plans with rails placed right along the back edge of the layout - a landscape doesn’t have a linear rear edge and neither should your layout. If you’re still in the design phase, then now is the time to plan the required space for the backscene - it’ll certainly pay off in the long run! Let’s see how artificial perspective can be generated in principle; the first requirement is a level horizon line. To witness this in situ, surround the backscene area with sheets of thick paper - standing at the maximum practical panel height. You can now gauge the best compromise for the horizon line, one way to visualize this is to position yourself at your chosen viewing height. Make a few preliminary marks on the paper panel mock-up to allow for removal and replacement. With the mock-up removed and placed onto a flat surface, pencil in the optimum horizon line level. This will ultimately be a compromise; because the horizon line is artificially too close, it will therefore only appear correct from one fixed viewing height.
FEEL THE FORCE
We can now get to grips with forcing perspective - creating a compromised illusion of distance by remotely bringing vanishing points to our new horizon line. Viewers inevitably move around, so it often becomes necessary to make some adjustments during this stage. It’s also worth remembering that forced perspective is a compromise, so even with the most generous amount of space and model making talent, a bit of adjustment here and there is part of the job. Even the best forced perspective layouts or dioramas cannot look perfect from every available viewing angle. Semi-relief features in the near distance can be represented effectively using simple cut and fold mock-ups at this stage. Mock-ups aren’t restricted to buildings either, they can be trees, hedgerows, telegraph poles, or any prominent feature at all. Any layering of the scene adds to the overall illusion of depth, a bit like one of those pop-up greeting cards. If you need to, take some reference photographs from an on-site visit and resize them accordingly, using a computer or photocopier, if it helps. That said, because prototype reference photography is so often recorded from head height, it nearly always differs from the viewing height you have chosen for your layout. As long as we are aware of the issue, we can recognise that it’s still valuable information, it just means that we can’t use it exactly as it comes, it will need subtle adjusting to conform to your chosen perspective. I’ll be covering the implementation of buildings in a future issue of Model Rail. Until then, experiment with planning and mocking up your own semi-relief backscene. And remember, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it right first time adjustment and refinement is key.
Even when the space is limited to 100mm, like this town scene (‘Westcott’ MR232) it still pays to introduce the landscape as gradually as possible. If possible, plan the path of the rear panels with curved ends too, always tracing the largest possible...
A backscene should imply landscape depth. So that we can display some of those familiar triggers that we see when perceiving real distance, gradually reduced scale elements are implemented into the backscene. This scene (‘Bucks Hill’, featured in Model...