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Answer: when you cannot tell it's a background

I've been giving a lot of thought to backgrounds for my basement layout, and rather than paint the walls I've elected to use model structures of various sizes and elevations. I am far from finished and maybe someday I'll feel confident enough to share pictures. However, no matter how artistic a person is or no matter how beautiful a background is made, the viewer generally also can tell it's a background, no duh!

Then a light bulb went off. Could a layout be made such that the viewer wouldn't know where the background is? What if you were in a room that you didn't know where the walls were and where the train tracks led to? Does anyone relate to this somewhat abstract concept? If so, I'd love to see your layout.

Then another light bulb went off - I've seen something like this before, albeit not exactly what I envisioned, a long time ago in a Clark Dunham's layout, specifically the **** gate bridge display. TM made a video, but all I could find on the internet was the following teaser video. At about 50 seconds into this short video, you'll see a quick scene of the Hellgate bridge display.

RAILROADS ON PARADE - Dunham Studios

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Good post Paul. What comes to mind here almost immediately is the beautiful PRR themed layout of our own Neal Schorr who has blended a scene with a bridge and an overpass and also a RR crossing where the road runs up over a small hill and then continues on the backdrop up another hill if I'm remembering correctly.

Another effective technique is to blend shallow 3D structures of various depths at the rear of your scene that blends in seamlessly with the backdrops.

Last edited by c.sam
@Paul Kallus posted:

Could a layout be made such that the viewer wouldn't know where the background is? What if you were in a room that you didn't know where the walls were and where the train tracks led to? Does anyone relate to this somewhat abstract concept?

Oh, I think the concept is far from abstract. At minimum, there's lots of us who have tried to select backgrounds, foregrounds and everything in between in order to blend the 3D foreground and mid-ground objects seamlessly into the (necessarily) 2D background.

Unfortunately, optics and physics impose some pretty formidable limitations on the illusion. First and foremost are perspective and line of sight. IOW, what may be a perfectly aligned scene from one point of view may fall apart only a few feet in any direction. So IMHO, except for carefully staged photography from limited vantage points, almost any attempted illusion will quickly fall apart in RL. IOW, there almost always needs to be more than a bit of willing suspension of disbelief to pull off even a minor head-turning "double take".

I've never really tried to take pics that specifically illustrate any of the above, but there have been a few shots that IMHO allow the eye to travel relatively seamlessly from foreground to midground to background (apologies for quality -- some are cropped from larger pics):

backdrop2el stationrock wallsigns2shelves2b

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Sam, Neal's layout is outstanding, and if I recall correctly, he utilized the beautiful Pennsylvania Junita River valleys with the magical forests as backgrounds.

Steve, that's a very nice transition - seamless from the layout proper to background.

To echo Steve's point, some layout's "forced perspective" looks natural in a photograph yet when viewed in person the perspective is not so good due to seeing the wide angle of the natural eye and the overall scene that the photograph or video does not capture.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

Yes, this is a great topic that is relevant to many layouts. One aspect of creating a convincing background is replicating the way that nature shifts colors and their saturation as objects fade into the distance. To me this seems to require artistic perceptions and instincts that I don’t have. I would love to practice and learn how to do this. If anybody has a reference(s) that breaks down how to manipulate colors to make them represent foreground to midground to background distances, I would love to check it out.

@c.sam posted:

Good post Paul. What comes to mind here almost immediately is the beautiful PRR themed layout of our own Neal Schorr who has blended a scene with a bridge and an overpass and also a RR crossing where the road runs up over a small hill and then continues on the backdrop up another hill if I'm remembering correctly.

Another effective technique is to blend shallow 3D structures of various depths at the rear of your scene that blends in seamlessly with the backdrops.

You're thinking of this scene, my favorite on his model railroad.

IMG_6063[1)

Neal is an exquisite painter, one of his many talents.  Last year at the MCR Convention he gave a clinic in backdrop painting.  I watched his practice session, and the clinic, and I confess I am no closer to painting my own than I am to flying to the moon.  As Dirty Harry said "A man's got to know his limitations."

George

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Neal's layout blends into his backdrop incredibly well giving the illusion it is one and the same.  Johan (BAR GP7 #63) is another master of this illusion.  He blends his scenery into his backdrops, photos he has taken and made into backdrops, perfectly.  However Steve Tyler has hit the nail on the head.  I believe his point is illustrated clearly by the photo posted by George, G3750.  From this angle the road is clearly not  continuing to the horizon or even disappearing around a bend, but the same scene observed from a position looking straight down the road would yield the desired illusion.

When you are dealing with the transitions of linear features (such as the road in the above scene), it is simply impossible to make a convincing visual transition, except by severely limiting the viewing angle. One excellent way around this problem is to find a way to hide the actual transition point. So, in the pictured scene, if the road went over a tiny hillock just in front of the transition, the offending geometry would be hidden and the (slightly smaller) road could continue on the background, off toward infinity.

Another pretty good (but tricky) option is the use of mirrors. In this scene, the bascule bridge is nearly flat against the wall:

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That scene by Neal Schorr is amazing.  To see another master, IMG_3646IMG_3013search for Tom Johnson backdrops. 2 days ago I removed my backdrop from the Canadian section of my layout. I was unhappy with it, as the road fading into the background looked too steep. The end of the road WAS 6 inches up the wall. Plan on limiting view with a sign and a station. Changing it to 2 inches. Will post pics of the alteration. JohnA

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Norman is on to something regarding lighting effects and how that causes the eye to view dimensions that may look plain in regular white light. The master Clark Dunham utilizes a wide spectrum of lighting effects; he was a Broadway set designer for many years before going into the layout building business. Unfortunately, lighting is also very expensive, at least to do it as Clark does it, due to circuit controlling systems, etc. Though as I think about it, the price may be on the order of one Vision Line locomotive, but don't quote me on that.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

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