Saturday, May 31, 2014

Aesthetic point of view and historical accuracy



It’s been a while since I posted on this blog and it’s time to put this right.

I received comments and questions on my Instagram about the colors I use to paint my Flames of War minis. Questions like what color do I use or why I’m not using this or that color. Instead of doing a long comment on my Instagram I prefer to answer all those questions in one good post here.

After my research on soviet uniforms I wanted to write a post on the subject but you know, we always postpone and I think it’s time to expose my ideas and choices. So, sorry, it will be a long post but I think it can be useful for a lot of people, even those who don’t paint soviets as soon as those advices work for whatever model you paint.
The start of my thought on this subject began when I wanted to paint my first infantry and looked in the Red Bear book to find what Battlefront advices to use as a basecoat for uniforms. I had in my collection of paint two jars of Russian Uniform color: Vallejo 924 and Andrea NAC-08 which are pretty much the same. I love this color; it's a faded dark green, very interesting. So I was very disappointed when I saw that it’s totally not that color adviced in the book (Khaki Grey 880 or Khaki 988). Damn, I wanted to use that color for my army and I really prefer the green than the khaki. I was then divided between the feelings of wanting a quite historically accurate color and wanting an army with a color I love. I decided then to do some research on the internet and books. I learned a lot and I want to share it.

First thing I did was to check several modeler’s forums and blogs on the subject. There is a lot about that on the internet because, like everything about historical equipment and uniforms, this is a matter of debate and interpretations. I didn’t look for the perfectly accurate thing but I didn’t want something completely wrong and the good thing with modelers is that a lot of them are total nerds, making tons of research and they can be a great source of information. Just remember that those people can also make mistakes.
Here are two short pdf guides very usefull and you will see that there is something very important written: there are a lot of variants for the uniform color. And you will even discover that on the same website, by the same author, the guy gives different colors for the same items. I found those on a very interesting website with a lot of information for modelers.

To summarize these documents, Michael Farnworth gives the following advices to choose the color of the soviet uniforms:
Russian Uniform (924), US Field Drab (973), English Uniform (921), Flat Earth (983), Tan Earth (874), German Camo beige (821),  Dark Sand (847)…

That was a great start for me and I really thank Michael Farnworth for his guides but I needed to cross the information in order to be sure that this was not the wild imaginings of one guy.

The second website I would like to talk about is actually a blog: the blog of the very well known Troy from Ritter-krieg. His work on Flames of War minis is amazing and he painted soviets so it was perfect for me. Especially when I realized that he posted an article about a book on the soviet soldier of World War 2: http://ritterkrieg.blogspot.fr/2012/03/soviet-ghq-and-new-book.html

First thing, I bought the book right after reading the post. Great book, I love it. A lot of pictures, sorted by date.



Second thing, Troy said which color he finally chose for his own army. He chose Yellow Green (881) but he also said that there are a lot of other colors that would match: Brown Violet (887), Russian Uniform WWII (924), Middlestone (882), Khaki (988), etc.

Third thing, it learned me what Troy thought on the subject of choosing the color and why we should be careful of the pictures and references we use.

While I was waiting my book on soviet soldiers I received a box of 1:35 soviet jeep crew as a gift for an order I made on the internet. Nothing special about this box except it has a color grid for the uniforms and gives advices. It’s a box from the MiniArt company and I thought that would be good to have the idea of a professional brand on the subject. The colors proposed are: Middlestone (882) for the main uniform color and Russian Uniform WWII (924) for one jacket only and a skirt.




I finally received my precious book and I went through the pages over and over looking at the pictures of all those uniforms and equipment. I started to type a complete file on which color I would use for each piece of equipment on my minis etc.
I’m not allowed to show you pictures of this book so I took the sample pictures from a selling website. You can see on this page the different colors between the uniform of the guys on the right.


And the same occurs all over the pages: there is one, especially, showing five breeches with completely different colors from olive green to brown.
You can see on the second picture below the differences in colors between the caps. Likewise, on the two helmets on the left (top left corner and bottom left corner), one is dark green whereas the other looks far more brighter and yet they are both from the same period of war.


All this reminded me my own old uniforms from French army. They were all official uniforms which looked almost the same when I got them but after a while under the sun, after few washes, they all faded in different ways. This is totally normal; the uniforms are made in different factories which use different dyes and also different fabrics. Those uniforms react to the hard life of field in different ways. If it happens for a modern army what could it be for an army on war 70 years ago? (Especially a wide country as Russia with a mass production system.)

Another source of inspiration for your minis could be the pictures of people participating in WWII reenactment. You can find pictures of these events on the internet:





As you can see on these pictures, there are a lot of shades of colors for the same items (uniform, helmet, etc). But the reliability of this source is not perfect because some of those people wear real old uniforms, faded with the time, and others wear complete reproductions.
Another thing to consider is: pictures change your perception of colors depending on the weather, the time of the day... You surely already have seen how colors could appear slightly different on your picture compared to reality.
If you want to see historical picture with funny colors, look at this:

So, as Troy, I made a list of the colors that matched the real ones (according to me, again).  As Troy, my first choice was Yellow Green (881). But because I wanted to show the disparity in colors I explained above on my minis (I know, I’m crazy) I chose also three other colors: Middlestone (882), Khaki (988) and UA240 4BG from Lifecolor brand. I chose also several colors as punctual variation for few vests and trousers: Russian Uniform (924), UA 206 Olivgrün, UA 222 Olive Drab and UA 221 Khaki Olive Drab from Lifecolor brand. Here is a sample of the few colors I used:


I applied these colors randomly on trousers and vests as you can see on my first infantry platoon:
or on my mortar platoon:
In the book, Russian Uniform (924) doesn’t appear so much on field uniforms but more on service uniforms. It appears also as an early war color and because it’s quite dark I didn’t want to use it so much at last.
This last point raises two other questions: the scale effect and the aesthetic point of view.

The scale effect is something very simple: it’s a theory that states the perception of the color depends on the distance between the observer and the subject. I will not make a big paragraph on that, it’s very well explained on this site: http://www.cybermodeler.com/color/scale_effect.shtml and this thread is also very interesting: http://www.j-aircraft.com/faq/scale_effect_of_paint.htm

The point for us is that we paint minis that represent a man at a distance of … well, let’s do the math.
There is a simple formula to determine the distance when you know the size of the subject and the angle at which you perceive it.
The size (meters) equal to the angle (I don’t know the name of this unit of measurement in English sorry, thousandth?) time the distance (km).
size = angle x distance
So angle = size / distance

We know that a FoW mini is about 15mm (0.015m)
Imagine that you are looking your mini at a distance of 30cm (0.0003km)
So the angle is equal to 0.015/0.0003 = 50

Let’s say we are looking at a man of 1.75m high (of medium height). Then if that man is our mini we can say we are seeing him at a distance of:
1.75/50 = 0.035km = 35m

Now, imagine that you’re looking at your minis on the table, so about 90cm of distance. Then:
0.015/0.0009 = 16.6
Then 1.75/16.6 = 0.105km = 105m

So now, look at people at 100m of distance, then look at them closer and you will see that your perception of the color will change. This can be taken into consideration when you paint your minis making your color lighter than it should be in order to perceive it right. It’s not an obligation, it’s a choice and I just say that if you want to, you can take it into account.

The second point raised by the fact that we are here painting models, especially playing minis, is that they need to pop on the table. At least for me, if they are to dark they will be boring and not “readable”. All the details will be lost and that would be a shame that we miss the work you did on your army with so much care. This point is not embellished with math or whatever because it’s purely subjective. This is the main issue for me: the aesthetical prevail.

I saw one day a thread on German paratroopers and people were almost arguing about the color of the trousers: I think it’s too bluish, no you’re wrong it should be more grey, depends on the period, can we really consider that those guys will still have trousers from the start of the war, I’m right and you don’t know what you’re talking about etc. I have no problem on discussing the color of whatever items but those guys were finally just arguing and not sharing.
The problem I saw in that thread was that people were fighting about a color on 15mm minis which were really awesomely painted and the only thing they saw was a problem of perception of color.

Yeah, perception, because there is one last thing people always forget: we don’t all see the colors the same way. Our eyes are all different and for a lot of reasons we don’t see exactly the same way as our neighbours, the same way as when you take a picture with two different cameras you won't have exactly the same result.

Here is my conclusion. As you saw, there are many parameters that make that research fascinating or boring: official and non official uniforms, different fabrics from different factories, color changed by the picture, fading due to years and weather conditions, period considered, scale effect, impressive look on the game table, perception. Many parameters which allow you to choose the color(s) you prefer in a wide range of shades. Just remember that your minis are yours and only yours. Some people will be total nerd about the historical accuracy of details, some will want an army fast to paint, some will spend hours painting just 20 infantry men (I’m one of those) and nobody is right or wrong. They are just minis.
To those who spend hours in research, trying to have something the most realistic, I will tell them that they are painting 1/100 plastic, resin or metal made stuff; it’s not realistic at all anyway.
To those who want an army fast painted I will answer: great but your army looks boring and not interesting in a modeler point of view.
And to those who will spend hours painting just few guys (as I do) I answer that the result is awesome but, hey man, you don’t have an army finished and you never played a game and that was the first purpose of those minis.
So as you can see, for me, there is no one right way to do it. There are as many ways as there are modelers. You just need to enjoy it, enjoy what you do and have fun!!

For those who are not painting soviets but Germans or Japanese you can of course apply the same process of reflection. There are books comparable to the one on soviet soldiers and many threads on the internet.


4 comments:

  1. Great article. I wholeheartedly agree with this. When I started with Flames of War I was frustrated a bit by the people pointing out my historical inaccuracies. Now, I do research and try to paint things as accurately as possible. For colours, I definitely take some liberties to create an interesting looking model that is aesthetically pleasing.

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    1. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate your comment and I love your work. :)

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks a lot!! and thanks for the book :)

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