Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Painting Guide - 'Dazzle' Camoflage

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a rather longer gap that usual since my last proper blog.  I have played very little X-Wing in the past month as I have been largely pre-occupied with the evolutionary process of multiplication and welcoming my first youngling to the world!

Although I've not had much time for playing X-Wing the few scant hours that a youngling provides you between them crying and, uh... them crying again have been put to good use de-stressing by painting some more of my ships.  I've blogged about some of my earliest repaints a long time ago and I'm sure that I'll update it all properly at some point in the future, but this time around I want to share a technique for a 'dazzle' style camoflage scheme I've developed.  


'Dazzle' camo has been used in real conflicts ever since the first world war with the intention being that high contrast shapes and angles break up the outline of your craft and make it harder for the opponent to tell exactly what is there - they can see there's something but it's not clear where it starts or ends.  To prove that it exists here are some examples, including the F-15 Eagle that most directly inspired me to give it a try myself!



I've shared these repaints of mine on Facebook/Reddit etc in the past and a few people have asked me for a guide to how to replicate the scheme themselves... so here it is!
Full disclosure: I'm far from a pro painter and I've been making a lot of this up as I've gone along.  This guide, therefore, is based on what I've learned from the times I've done a dazzle camo and it's gone right, and also from the times that it's gone wrong.  Considering I didn't pick up a brush for the 20 years between 1996 and 2016 I'm very happy with the results, though, and I think the dazzle camo can look like it took a lot more effort than it really did.  On the plus side - if I can do it then so can you! 
 
STEP 1: COLOUR SELECTION

The first ship I did: the strong
blue & white scheme stands out well
In each of my ships that I've done this on I've used a key palette of three colours in the scheme (just as in the examples from real aircraft above) and I think this is the first thing that it's easy to get wrong.  

What I've learned from the ships that I've painted so far is that taking time to get your colour selection right is EXTREMELY important.

I think having high contrast between your colours is hugely important, especially between the darkest and lighter colours because it's that contrast which will make your camo work.  

When you're standing back from the table at the sort of distance that you play at then it's very easy for your dazzle camoflage to just become an unintelligible smudge of colours.  Having some of the shapes that are high-contrast and really leap out from the rest will catch the eye and make the model work, though.

The poster child for where this went wrong was the second TIE Striker that I painted, emboldened by how well the first one had gone.  The original principle of the first TIE Striker was that it would be a 'Scarif' camo ship but the final product (Dark Blue, Light Blue, White) felt colder in tone and more like a 'Hoth' camoflage.  For my second ship I wanted another crack at 'Scarif' by trying a different colour combo (Blue, Grey, Yellow) to try and reflect the beaches and coastline a bit better.

Up close in this photo the 'Scarif' camo Striker actually looks ok, but trust me - from a distance the effect is lost.
On paper this sounded great, but in practice I just got a pretty jumbled mess where it wasn't clear from much distance that there were clear precise shapes involved.  Colour selection isn't the only thing I got wrong on the 'Scarif' camo (see Step 3: Less Is More) but it definitely had a big impact.  I've since gone back to the 'Scarif' model and tried to both darken the blues with washes and lighten the yellows with drybrushed highlights - it made look a bit less obviously like the beaches and blue seas of Scarif, but it's helped to bring the shapes of the camo pattern into sharper relief.

Overall I think the instances where the colour selection has worked best has been where there's been a really strong lighter colour, and most of the time that colour has been white, as seen in the examples below.  
'Hoth', 'Royal Guard' and 'Death Star' dazzle schemes - the white really stands out in each case.

The one ship I've done where I think I've demonstrated that it doesn't have to be white is the 'Mustafar' bomber I've just finished painting, where a strong bright orange stands out very well against dull greys and blacks.  This demonstrates to me that you can be creative with this stuff, so long as you keep that contrast in colours.

'Mustafar' TIE Bomber
On the other hand where I deliberately experimented with something that I thought wouldn't work and picked three colours that were tonally similar (Blue Pink Purple for my U-Wing) I think it quickly became very muddled and only really works at all because I stopped short and decided to only apply it  to just one corner of the model, and on the wings that then flip out wide a lot of time for a unique effect.


If you're struggling with colour selection then try painting a few overlapping shapes with it onto a piece of card or something.  This will give you the chance to see how it's going to look from a distance and tell if it all seems to turn to mush once you're a foot or two away from it.  

I'm still experimenting so please do the same.  There's plenty I've not covered here!  A Black White Red 'First Order' scheme would almost certainly work, for instance, and I'm also very interested in mixing in metallic paints as the contrast colour.  My Scum fleet is set up with a blue and gold theme, so could I carry the dazzle camo into that with a shiny gold as the lightest colour?

The truly adventurous part in me wants to find a way of graduating the dazzle camo across a large model, like the open flat expanse of a Shadow Caster.  Can I start out with Red/Orange dazzle camo at one end and finish up with Green/Yellow at the other end, passing through Purple and Blue on the way?  Maybe I'm just still trying to make up for messing up painting my Harlequin army 30 years ago.

One of the most exciting things of writing up this guide is that I'm hoping a truly great painter will pick it up and give it a try, because I'd love to see what new spins they can add



STEP 2: HAPPY LITTLE TRIANGLES

Once you've chosen your colour combination you're going with the next step it to actually throw it onto the model.  There's a very simple rule to creating my dazzle camo:

Wherever two colours meet you look to overlap with a triangle of the third (missing) colour.

That's really all there is to it.  So in this example I mocked up on powerpoint we start by blocking in some colours, like so...


Then we add a couple of large triangle to cut into the clean lines of those colour blocks.


And then it's just repeating the process, adding layers of triangles until we feel the effect is complete (see Step 3: Less Is More).


That's the powerpoint theory and here it is being put into practice on my TIE Striker and a TIE Defender.



I don't plan it all in advance - when I start out blocking in colours I really don't have much of an idea of what the finished camoflage is going to look like, instead it kind of takes on an organic life of it's own as I overlay the various shapes.  In general I'm trying not to have areas of the model seem dominated by any two colours without the third appearing, but beyond that I let the shapes and the brush lead the way.  It's an overused meme but I think that the words of the great man really ring true here


MANY times while painting my ships I put a brush not quite where I planned on putting it... and then went on to incorporate that into the design.  Shapes might be a bit larger or smaller than I planned, or the angle of a point of the triangle might change... that's fine.  If you 'screw up' like this then don't worry, you can either correct it later or just incorporate it into the scheme.



CRISP LINES

These sharp shapes, pre-wash
are what make the paintjob work
In terms of execution of this paint scheme the most vital thing is being able to make the lines between the shapes straight and crisp.  That precision in the finish is what's going to make your paintjob look like it took a lot more effort than it really did, and it's why so many people who see my dazzle ships assume I used templates and an airbrush.

Getting those crisp edges might take a bit of practice and a steady hand, but it's also nowhere near as hard as looks.  

Why?  Because I cheat.

Painting a sharp corner at the precise angle of your triangle is really hard.  I always give it a try but I definitely don't always get it right.  Quite often the point of my triangle will be a bit rounded, or not quite the right angle.  You know what's much easier?  Painting over the excess of that rounded corner with a nice straight line of the 'background' colour.



Hey presto - an instantly much pointier point, and this wasn't even done with a fine brush!

Unless you're layering the paint on super-thick you've got at least a few of tries at getting the lines nice and straight.  Paint a wobbly orange triangle?  Straighten it up with blue.  Got the blue a bit wrong in the middle?  Get out the orange and try again.  You'll get it right sooner rather than later.


STEP 3: LESS IS MORE

I've mentioned a couple of times that the 'Scarif' camo TIE Striker went wrong with the colours I chose, but I think it wasn't just the colour selection that screwed it up.  I also think I got a bit too adventurous with the number of shapes I was adding onto the model and the number of layers I used, adding smaller and smaller triangles wherever two colours left a border I could fit one into.

Even though I've since gone back and adjusted the colours of the TIE Striker to add more contrast it still looks much worse than the 'Hoth' camo Striker, which I think is down to the fact that the shapes are smaller to the overall effect is more jumbled.  It doesn't immediately catch the eye, so you don't see anything at all.


When I've since gone on to paint other ships in the dazzle camo I've been very mindful of this and played it much more conservatively with the amount I'm adding onto the model, and I think it's worked much better.


Click the images to zoom!

Coming around full circle to where we started: 'dazzle' style camouflage in the real world isn't as about trying to make your ship blend in with a background as much as it is trying to make it hard to work out where the edges are.  Dazzle camo relies on strong shapes that will draw and trick the regulation issue Human MkI Eyeball.  
When it starts looking like this it's just camo, not a 'dazzle' effect
Big and bold is where it's at.


STEP 4: FINAL TOUCHES

Once your shapes are painted down and blocked in nice and crisp and strong on the model then you're almost done, it's just the time-honoured step of washing and highlighting to give it some depth.  These techniques are universal to miniature painting and you'll find plenty of guides so I won't give you a step-by-step, just a note on what I've done a bit differently in the dazzle camo ships.

After washing & highlights, and with the
extra wash around the inside of the panels
This first thing I did was I thinned my wash down quite a bit.  After working so hard on creating crisp shapes with high contrast I didn't want to immediately lose that sharpness with a wash that would obscure edges and dull colours.  I wanted to add some sense of depth and shadow but preserve the strong colours as much as I could.

The second thing that I did was I then applied a second wash, thinned down again, this time specifically around the inner edges of the TIE panels.  What I found was that the dazzle camo was so effective at blurring borders and making shapes hard to work out that some of the depth and details of the sculpt of the model were lost.  

Just running a brush of watered down ink around the inside of the panels recreated the illusion of shadow and restored a bit of depth to the model.




I LIKE FILTERS TOO MUCH






So there you have it!  I think my dazzle camo ships look great but they're also nowhere near as hard to do as people seem to think (if they were I wouldn't have been able to do them!).  If you're feeling a bit adventurous then give it a try, and I'd love to see what you come up with...

2 comments:

  1. Great write up! Easy to follow instructions and pictures too! I will have to try this on my Punisher.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi David, long time reader (since satellite uplink started) first time comment. Congratulations! Writing this comment with my youngest sleeping in my arm enjoying the time between two cry sessions ;)

    ReplyDelete