• John Matthews

The RF-4C Phantom: Time for Another Project.

Hello everyone!

Hope this finds you all in good health and spirits as we march into another week. We had a lazy weekend around these parts. Didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything in particular, just keep up with the house chores, cook, and enjoy the time off. Hope you all had a nice weekend, too.

McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantoms

As you can see, I started working on a new project with a familiar subject, the McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom. I decided to paint it in the Southeast Asia “gray bottom” camouflage scheme for now. I can change that to the SEA wraparound scheme fairly quickly though if I decide to use that instead.

RF-4C Phantom

One thing I’m beginning to learn about is using high dynamic range (HDR) lighting and environment mapping. Basically, HDR gives me the ability to set lighting and reflection values inside a scene using high-resolution 360 degree panoramic image, like this one:

360 degree panoramic HDR image
360 degree panoramic HDR image

The end result will hopefully be simpler, more natural appearing light and reflection values within the scene (not to mention easier setup of lighting, since that’s pulled directly from the image itself). The image above is a reflection map. In the final scene rendering, I can force the renderer to use this image to project a reflection on any object within the scene and, no matter how the object is positioned, the reflection will be consistent with the image. To make this work better, all of the atmosphere values have to be created differently than I would if I were using a standard lighting setup. For instance, values for the sky “dome” and the terrain need to be lighter so more illumination is produced from the HDR image. That’s a matter of adjusting not only the color values for the sky, but also the density of the “air” at different altitudes within the scene. Then adjustments have to be made to the lighting setup to produce a more natural-looking light balance.

McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom
RF-4C Phantom

This image was rendered using HDR lighting, environment, and reflection maps. My “mistake” was using the same image for all three. The environment map shouldn’t have the clouds in the image because they look pretty “blown out” by the illumination, which is now coming to all objects from all directions, not just from one source.

McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom reconnaissance fighters.

Here’s the scene using a single light and no reflection mapping. The terrain is a “dummy” object, and is going to go through a lot of change before the final image is rendered. Lots of changes ahead for the “paint” on the Phantoms, too. I need to create some highlight map images so there’s some variation in the gloss levels on the aircraft. Those will hopefully play nicely with areas of faded paint or “grunge”, which should be less glossy and reflective. The highlight/gloss maps are grayscale images. Very dark values produce less gloss, while lighter values produce more. So, there’s a lot of experimentation that’ll happen before it’s finished. I’ll also have to figure out what squadron these planes will belong to, and change their markings to show the right serial numbers and tail codes.

I really should be shuffling along, but wanted to update everyone about my new project and also give a small peek behind the curtain about how it’s done. I’ll post again this weekend after a bit more work on the scene. Until then...

Safe skies,


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