When you see really well executed environment paintings, or concept art where things are immense and vast, there is something that everything has in common. It is something that your brain has picked up from living on earth, from seeing mountains and buildings in the distance, a large forest view, etc.
I like to call it: atmospheric haze.
It is that blueish grey haze that sort of covers everything as it gets further and further away. Take a look at some photos of landscapes with mountains in the distance – they will most likely, on a sunny or somewhat cloudy day, have a blueish grey tint on them. Or just look out the window and see buildings or forests in the far distance – they do look a bit blue or grey as they get further away, don’t they?
Here is an example of this blueish grey distance effect where the further away the mountains are, the more blue or grey they appear to be.
Note that this is different to mist or fog. Mists and fogs are exaggerated atmospheric hazes, they are kind of like clouds, while this blueish effect is more how the molecules of the air absorb and scatter certain frequencies of light. This is the same reason the sky is blue! And since huge things are so far away, they get affected by this scattering light of the air and becomes really blue – just like the sky itself.
Here is a quick video if you’re interested in why the sky is blue, and is therefore also why things get more blue the further away they are:
So to get to the quick tip on how to make things look huge – follow nature. Nature shows us that the further away a mountain is, the bluer and more hazier/greyer it looks. Let’s try to mimic that on this quick example painting. Notice how the mountains further away aren’t really blue or hazed out:
Then watch what happens when we add some blueish atmospheric haze to the mountains as they get further and further away from us:
See how it instantly makes them look much bigger, further away and more natural. Our eyes are so used to this in our daily lives, so this trick is a really simple and effective way to make our audience feel that the objects in our scenes are really big.
This can be done with buildings and other objects as well!
Note that if the sky in your image is more blue, then the distance haze will be more blue. If it’s reddish, as on Mars, then make it more red. Try to match it to how your sky looks, so everything looks coherent – have a look at real images of mountains in Mars, or how desert mountains look like, how the far buildings in a city look like during the different times of the day, and so on. This will teach you a lot. Do some quick 30 min study paintings!
Have a look at the work of the amazing painter Albert Bierstadt. See how large everything looks – this is mostly thanks to his fantastic usage of oil washes – an oil painting technique that adds layers of slightly opaque white or blueish colour on the painting, successfully creating an atmospheric haze:
Lake Lucerne, Albert Bierstadt, 1858
This technique will not work in space scenes because there is no atmosphere there, but most paintings are on earth-like planets, so that’s not a big issue.
So jump into Photoshop, and try out this great technique for making your environments and concept art paintings look bigger and more natural. You’ll probably abuse it – but that’s fine! It’s a great technique that’s hard to overuse.
Until next time!
Co-founder of Evenant, Walid is a composer, mechanical engineer, concept artist and entrepreneur from Sweden. Travelling and exploring new opportunities, always looking for new things to learn and create.