'Fast Metal' by William Li
By William Li
© 1998-2005 William Li, except where stated otherwise.
The first method discussed here is making contrasting streaks on the surface, while hoping you have the right balance of light and dark.
This rendering is a wild imagination of reflections on metal and there is no real system in it. Very effective for flat surfaces and often used on windows. Not very suitable for round objects.
The image below shows an application of this technique:
Figure 0.— a metallic block and a reflective window
General guidelines for this 'streaking' technique:
- Use straight streaks (washes) for flat surfaces. Make the streaks diagonal to the surface.
- Use different angles for streaks on different surfaces (see the block on the left) to separate the surfaces.
- If the surfaces are parallel, use parallel streaks.
- If the surfaces are on the same plane, use streaks that run across all these surfaces (see the window on the right).
- For rounded surfaces use round or bended streaks. Do not use straight streaks.
- Try to use matching colours for the streaks: colours that have the same hue.
This is a good method to quickly get a reasonable effect, especially useful for sketches to get an impression. But it has serious limitations and any trained observer would instantly see through this trick.
Do some practise with this method. It will (at least) enhance your feeling for surface direction, because it immediately shows when you're applying this technique wrongly!
The second method is to use some logic to fake reality in a deceptively credible way. This is the better method of the two, because it allows you to deal with many surfaces from flat to round. It will take some more effort, but pays off faster than you think. Meet the sky-earth effect.
The Sky-Earth Effect
With this method we will not draw the actual reflections of the surroundings on the metal object. We will only suggest the surroundings. How? First a little explanation.
Since we all grew up on earth and walked on this planet for most of our lives, we are used to see the sky above us and the ground beneath us. So we are also used to see sky and ground reflected on outdoor metal objects. And this is the suggestion we will use on metal. It is also called the sky-earth effect. This trick works perfectly well for indoor reflections as well: our walls are lighter than our floors! It is a method that has been done to death by airbrushers and metallic logo designers.
Now this is very important:
We are suggesting the sky and ground as a reflection on our drawing. To do this we must either reconstruct or estimate where the horizon will be reflected on our object. See the following sketches.
Figure 1.— estimated reflections
The ground is coloured rose and the real horizon is where the ground ends. The reflected ground is the red you see on the objects.
You must have a grasp for this perspective-thinking to make good reflections. If you don't, don't worry too much, you can get away with a lot! But do work on it.
For more information about constructing reflections you need an understanding of perspective. Please see the index of the F.A.R.P. on this subject.
Using Chrome outdoors is perhaps the easiest way to understand metal.
For using the sky-earth effect, take a look at this outdoor picture below. The sky is blue and the ground is brown. Every kid knows that, right?
Figure 2.— the real outdoors
Chrome reflects everything. The above picture shows you sharp areas, high contrasts and different colours. So our chrome would reflect all this! Remember: hard edges and high contrast, not soft gradients allover.
But we were talking about a fast method here, so the first thing to do is view our outdoor photo in a very simple way. The next picture shows the super-simple version of the photo: blue sky and brown ground.
Figure 3.— abstract landscape 1
We will use two floating balls as our drawing objects and simulate a reflection of abstract landscape 1 on its surface.
That will look like this:
Figure 4.— floating balls 1
Notice the horizon borders on the balls. The black line in the background represents the real horizon. One ball floats higher than the other and so their reflection of the horizon differs.
But this metal doesn't look very convincing, does it?
Now we'll go one step further. We need a more realistic landscape.
Figure 5.— abstract landscape 2 (© Newtek)
The horizon is rougher and you see a gradient in the sky and in the ground.
Apply this to the object and we get something like this:
Figure 6.— floating balls 2
This is much more realistic.
Notice how the reflections follow the curvature of the surface. If the surface were flat, the reflection would be flat like a regular mirror.
You can make the reflections look even better by adding some streaks as in this picture.
Figure 7.— floating balls 3
Basically these streaks suggest hills on the ground or clouds in the sky. In general this isn't necessary and if you're not careful you can mess up your rendering!
This is a point for you to decide how real you want it to be.
The following takes us to a step closer to realism.
The next picture shows the original setting of our floating balls, considering the reflection we used.
Figure 8.— floating balls outdoors
Now we change the scenery and the result is this picture:
Figure 9.— floating balls virtually on Mars
To some people this looks okay, but really: these balls look totally out of place!
Because we have a red environment around the balls, the suggested reflection on them should also be red.
Imagine the balls on Mars with its red sky and landscape: these would be reflected on the ball, not our own Earth's blue sky and brown/green ground.
So what do we do? Simple: use the same trick, but with other colours. Here are some examples:
Figure 10.— other environments, other colours
That's better, isn't it? Now the floating balls fit in their surroundings.
Of course you decide how much it reflects or how dark the sky is.
The colouring method in the above applies for chrome and other colourless metals only.
It applies less to coloured metals. Look at a red car: only with extreme shiny surfaces you will see a really blue reflection of the sky. Take a look at the picture below.
Figure 11.— red metal
This is supposed to be red metal. You can freely vary the contrast or brightness. The sharper you paint the horizon, the shinier your metal surface.
You can see that the technique is the same. However, here we do not colour the sky blue and the ground brown. We use colours that are lighter or darker versions of the colour of the metal. In real life you would see the effect of your environment-colours on the coloured surface. But in art it will usually confuse your viewer, so it is wiser not to use environment colours in your reflections here.
This way you can draw other metals, such as brass and copper or painted metal with a high finish (usually cars, airplanes, boats, etc.). You just need to find the 'correct' colours. Do experiments and see what happens. You'll learn a lot from that.
Another prime effect of reflective objects are highlights.
What is a highlight really? A highlight is the reflection of a light source that is shining on your object. The light source can be a sun, a fire or a lamp. Usually there's just one light source, so keep your number of highlights limited to one per surface.
And what is a surface?
A surface is a continuous and fluid area of an object. So a cube has 6 surfaces, a piramid has 5, an egg has one (fluid and continuous in all directions).
Figure 12.— the number of highlights
As you can see, the image on the right just looks stupid (unless there are 6 lights floating around it).
The place of the highlight depends on the position of your light source. Keep this in mind.
Creating a highlight is easy: place it in the direction of your light source.
Or better said: imagine where the light is and put a white dot wherever you think the light is mirrored on the metal surface.
When you're doing a large reflection the position of your highlight is important:
- If it's the sun, then it's in the sky reflection.
- If it's a campfire, it should be on the ground reflection.
Figure 13.— reflected sun on the left, reflected campfire on the right
When your metal objects are just tiny elements on your drawing, you don't need to exactly position their highlights. No one will notice if they're a bit off.
Vertical surfaces require more creative thinking and experimentation.
Figure 14.— 3 types of reflections
Each vertical cilinder is coloured differently. And all are acceptable.
- Cilinder 1 uses the normal sky-earth effect. Somehow it doesn't look metallic enough, mainly because we're not used to this type of reflection. Use this only if your object is standing on or very close to the ground.
- Cilinder 2 uses the a sky-earth effect that runs parallel to the cilinder's axis. It doesn't really matter on which side the sky or earth is. Use this method only when there's no ground is near or visible.
- Cilinder 3 demonstrates that it is wiser not to use earth-colours for the ground reflection. Use darker tints of the surrounding colour as you would in coloured metals. Shown here are the reflected colours of its environment.
Figure 15.— tilted cilinders
Now we have tilted cilinders. Again there are two main methods for colouring them and both are good.
But here's a guideline:
- Use the left one for close ground proximity.
- Use the right one when the ground is not near, not visible or just not important.
Notice that surfaces aimed upwards only reflect the sky!
Likewise, if a surface was aimed downwards it would reflect only the ground. I've also used a heavier gradient on the flat faces to make them stand out from the background.
Lastly an image using this technique on a different form:
Figure 16.— some hammer
First, notice the reflected horizon on the object. As I said earlier, it is important to have a grasp at this, because when you do it right, your object not only looks more real, but the viewer understands the form of it. You can also see that the flat surface facing down (at the head) doesn't reflect the sky at all, which of course makes sense. The flat face facing up only reflects the sky and not the ground. Reflections are all very logical! Chapter 2 will explain some more on reflections.
Secondly, notice the elongated highlight. This is also a hint to the viewer that the object is long and round. And remember to be sparse with highlights. They could easily ruin the image.
As a contrast, I'm showing the next image: it is completely wrong. If you didn't saw the correct image first, you wouldn't know the form of the object.
Figure 17.— some thing
Another small example
Figure 18.— demo
Here's an example showing differently coloured metals together.
The metal is a little dull (satin polish) and engraved with lots of lines. The important thing to see here is the horizon you see reflected on the different pieces.
As you can see here, (slightly) different sky and earth colours are used, not the standard blue and brown.
You have reached the end of Chapter 1. The accuracy of reflections depends greatly on the type of image you're making. On average, the sky-earth reflection is quite effective on most renderings.
Here's a summary of important points:
- Estimate the reflection of the horizon on your object.
- For 'colourless' metals use a sky-earth effect that is consistent with its environment.
- For coloured metals use the sky-earth effect with one hue. Use variations is saturation and lightness.
- Keep high contrasts and sharp borders for highly reflective surfaces.
- If you want a duller surface, blur the horizon line or any other reflection. Note: a highlight is also a reflection!
- Use only 1 highlight per surface and place it in the direction of your light source.
- Do lots of experiments !
|20 Feb 2009|| Mick Clark|
This is fantastic, I not only refer to it myself but send other here too
|16 Apr 2009|| Anon.|
thank you for your generosity now a days its hard to find someone who takes the time to give with such abundance
|21 Oct 2009|| Bersi|
Респект! Классный урок
|7 Nov 2009|| Anon.|
this is great!it makes you think metalworkings simple
|29 Jun 2010|| Tasha26|
|13 Feb 2011|| Anon.|
I was hoping for reflections on water and distance to be explained
|5 Jun 2011|| Mick Clark|
What’s happened to the Transparency chapter?
|23 Jul 2011|| Ugg Austalia|
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|24 Nov 2011|| Anon.|
Hi!this tutorial of yours was very useful to me and my class in both english and science.
|24 Nov 2011|| Gayatri dua|
hi!!!! this site of yours was very informative and it helped me and my classmates in both english and science.
THANKYOU FOR SUCH A WONDERFUL SITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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