Backdrop stylization

I have a good friend, Tara, who is a talented digital illustrator who works exclusively in Photoshop. She graciously offered to digitally paint my 42-foot long backdrop. What a nice friend!

She just completed five different sections to complete the digital work. Every artist has a particular technique and look that they prefer, and Tara’s brushwork is bolder and tends to look a little too digital for my taste. I want the backdrop to have a painterly look that is more representational of the Rock Island and Milan environments rather than a hyper-realistic view.

This goes against the predominant approach that most prototype modelers use, but I’ve always admired more painterly, impressionistic art and wanted to incorporate that same look into the backdrop. Plus, I believe most modelers view backdrops as secondary to the modeled portion of the layout, so taking liberties with the visual style seems perfectly appropriate.

Below are two images showing a detailed portion of the Rock Island section. The first is a straight-up view of Tara’s original artwork while the second image shows how I altered the art to look more fluid or impressionistic. When viewed from even a short distance the overall backdrop looks very realistic, but up close one can see the painterly effect. This is exactly what I’m trying to achieve.

Original digital artwork.

Impressionistic filter applied to the same scene.

I’ll be sending the artwork off to be output and hopefully within the month will have a full backdrop to share.

Below is the full backdrop in five sections.
Move the cursor over each section to see details.

Categories: Scenery


  1. Very cool! These look great! I do some digital illustration for a living and one thing I’d suggest is to print off a short section of the backdrop on the same paper with the same printers that the full backdrop will utilize. Colors often shift a bit when printed and you’ll want to be sure that the green in the background trees match the modeled trees on your layout.

    • Thanks, Matt!

      I did run an earlier test and the colors are good. I’ll be sending that test to the printer so they have a reference just in case the output color shifts.

      BTW: I’m a freelance graphic designer, so I do pay attention to these sort of things. 🙂 Although, sometimes my perfectionistic tendencies cause problems and I have to beat them back with a stick!

  2. Interesting! I thought it looked a little less detailed than the original test sections, now I know why!

  3. This is a neat approach to doing backdrops, and I think it’s cool that you’re working contrary to the conventional trends toward photo realism. Both have their merits, but In my experience, photo backdrops look better in photos of the layout than they do in person. Likewise, it seems to me that less-detailed or painterly backdrops like yours make a better impression in the layout room because they’re not so detailed that they distract the viewer. Also, the consistent colour palette and continuity around the whole room serves the layout well.

    • That’s it, exactly, Hunter! I also believe photo-realistic backdrops look best in photos, but a more painterly and impressionistic approach fits my aesthetic better. I’m eager to see how the trees and other scenery details will blend with the backdrop for, hopefully, a seamless transition. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to work well.

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