Cameo Planning: Using Color To Set A Mood

by Nov 7, 2018OST Believes, The Art of The Craft, The Modeling Conversation, The P48 Experience6 comments

For the cameo, I want the feeling of a cold winter day; one that causes you to wrap your jacket tight and turn the collar up against the chill of a biting wind. Where the papery rustle of dried grasses and the groaning tree trunks are counterpoints to the relentless sound of wind.

Creating such an atmosphere doesn’t happen by chance. It takes observation and understanding of the landscape, color and light.

Like many I would take scenery materials out of the bag, scatter them around, dribble on the diluted white glue and call it done. It’s what we were all taught to do. I relied on the manufacturer for the colors and seldom if ever thought about using color deliberately with scenery modeling. That changed as I began to study what other modelers are doing, especially with small dioramas. With these works, the model and surrounding scene present a seamless image where the colors of the two are skillfully blended. I find these examples very compelling, as there is often more atmosphere and storytelling in ten square inches than many layouts manage in 100 square feet.

As mentioned in a previous post, color is the least understood tool we have at our disposal. Used with skill it’s a powerful way to create distance, reinforce a mood and establish a time and place. To set the mood I described in the opening, it begins with the light.

Even though I’m not including snow, this image conveys the type of raw day and mood I want the scene to have. Here the objects look flat due to the absence of cast shadows and strong highlights. While there is a distinct color contrast between the field stubble and distant trees, the tonal range of both is not that great.

The cameo’s LED strip lights have a color temperature of 4000K which is just below the daylight rating of 5000K. With 1600 lumens each, they have a CRI (color rendering index) of 80, which isn’t bad.The CRI rating defines how accurate color looks under the light. I wanted something that was close to daylight because cooler temperature lights never look right to my eyes. The strips produce a nearly white light that leans toward the warm end of the scale. Under this light, warm colors tend to pop a bit to my eyes, which isn’t ideal for the effect I’m after. However, as more of the finished scenery layers come together, it doesn’t look that bad, since I’m learning how to compensate for the color of the light.

Plenty of flat diffused light.

On an overcast day the light is very diffused and even. The harsh contrasts and directional shadows are absent. With diffused light, the colors of the landscape are muted and closer together in tone. It’s something you have to get out and study first hand and learn to see.

To get away from the patchwork quilt appearance of commercial products I use natural materials where practical and repeat them in mass. The sisal twine I use for tall grasses has the proper color but I enhance it further with washes of muted and grayed yellow tones. For this I lean heavily on Tamiya’s line of military colors. The range of buffs, yellows, browns and other camouflage colors are all designed to mimic natural surroundings. To compensate for the warmth of the LEDs, I push the color of these washes toward the cool side of the spectrum and work to keep the tonal shifts subtle.

Painting finished scenery is new to me. I experimented with it on the old layout and liked the results. I learned from diorama modelers that it’s a good way to enhance the mood of a scene. I apply the color principles to everything: the landscape, the right-of-way, buildings and roadways. For a truly cohesive effect, it’s critically important to pay attention to the rolling stock. The atmospheric light exerts a strong influence over the entire scene and as seen in the image below, the colors of the two boxcars aren’t as vivid as they would be under strong sunlight. Too often we treat everything separately and as a result one or more items stand out from the rest, screaming look at me. Or worse, everything screams for attention. This creates a discord that ruins the realism we seek.

The atmospheric light impacts the colors of rolling stock too. Here the colors of the boxcars and warning labels on the locomotive are less intense than they would be in bright sunshine. Notice how everything comes together in this image and the lead photo. No one element pops outs or screams “look at me!”

I’ve said many times that I believe we’ve barely scratched the surface of scenery modeling. Other disciplines like landscape painting and photography have much to teach those of us willing to learn. From these visual arts, you learn to see color and light rather than individual objects. You also learn to see the relationships between elements and to consider the composition as a whole rather than a collection of pieces. Bringing these skills to my modeling is one of the true joys of the craft that I cherish.