Register Register

Author Topic: Sky-Earth Reflections Tutorial  (Read 818 times)


  • Captain
  • *
  • Posts: 1728
Sky-Earth Reflections Tutorial
« on: 04 October 2021, 00:00:17 »
Since some had asked about this, I wanted to share how I do it. For the majority of miniatures I paint, I tend to rely on a sky-earth reflection in the cockpit. I find it more satisfying than the jeweling approach that has been popular among BattleTech miniatures for the past two decades. This method is one that I came up with on my own. I think the first time I did it was on a Longbow almost two decades ago in a monochrome green. I don’t say that to talk myself up; I say it because it is actually really simple to do. I was not the first to do it, I also promise you that, but it was more of a convergent evolution. In fact, you see it everywhere, but you just haven’t done it yet. Such examples would be:

-- The Autobot and Decepticon logos
-- The title of the Turbo Kid movie -- got to love Michael Ironside
-- The BattleTech logo from the 3rd Edition box set era, which is what made it first click for me
-- Lots of things from the 80s -- in fact, this is so 80s

The limitations of this method center mostly on just how big the cockpit glass is on the miniature and how many panes it is divided into. For example, trying this on a Javelin would be impossible, but doing it on a Flashman, Zeus, Rifleman, or Timber Wolf would be good options. You need to pick battles here to not get frustrated, and so that it can be understood by the viewer.

Key elements to this can essentially be reduced to five points, which means you can get away with only four colors.

-- A sky color, which is generally a light blue unless representing dusk, dawn, or an alien sky. For example, you could do a gray to represent the sky of Arrakis. Or even go to a shade just slightly off white to maximize contrast.

-- A thin band of white at the horizon

-- The horizon itself, which should represent the “eye level” of the viewer, and thus the point of reflection. In many respects, this would be the center of the cockpit, but may not be depending on the curvature of the glass. This is where the sky and earth meet.

-- A dark band, sometimes black or black mixed with the ground color, to represent the ground at the horizon. This is ground furthest from the “eye”.

-- A ground color, which should match closely what you are planning to do with the base of the miniature. But you also want to make sure to do something with a fair amount of contrast so as not to disappear into the paint of the rest of the miniature.

This simple version is represented by the first example on the painted swatch I have. Blue, white, black, and green. I tend to do the sky first, then paint the ground color, followed by the white at the horizon, and then finally the dark horizon color. So I work my way towards the center.

A next step is a version that includes gradients. Again, everything here centers on the horizon. For the sky, it lightens towards white as it meets the horizon. The ground does the opposite, becoming lighter as it moves away from the horizon -- or towards the viewer. Ideally you want to aim for relatively smooth transitions except for a slight skip in shades at the horizon. However, it is important to remember that with such small surfaces to paint on, worrying about super creamy blends is not worth it. Do the best you can and make sure you hit the main colors and make them clean and legible.

Finally, you can do a more monochrome theme. This provides a lot of flexibility for you. It also allows you to work a contrast color to make a scheme pop without incorporating it into your main theme. This lets you avoid making your ‘mechs look as though they are on a sports team. And by increasing or reducing the saturation of the cockpit you can avoid that further. For example using a purple main color for the ‘mech, then a muted yellow-brown for the cockpit. To do the monochrome, you want to follow the same rule of the gradients, but you also want to have the sky start out lighter than the earth. Then mix in white to the colors or even a drop of black as needed. Again, the horizon is important and make sure you hit that sky part of the horizon with white. This is the third example I included.

And there you have it. How I plan and do sky-earth reflections for my cockpits. I wasn’t the first to do it. This may not even be the best method to do it in the first place. It is, however, what works for me. A lot of these ideas are also present in non-metallic metals, or NMM, but that still requires different approaches to make it be believable. A few final tips would be to make sure your paints are thinned, you wipe your brush on a paper towel or coffee filter to prevent it from being overloaded, and to consider mixing white ink with your white paint to improve flow and avoid a chalky finish.

I hope that gets the idea across and that it helps those curious to try it. This may not even be the best way to do it, but it does work for me. And don’t be afraid of pushing up the contrast or going extreme with the colors. You have to mess up a few times to understand how it works -- I know I did.