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.

Model Rail (UK) - - Model News -

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.


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.


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.


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.

CHRIS Nevard

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...

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