Hugh Ferriss – Adding chiaroscuro

Hugh Ferriss – Adding chiaroscuro

Hugh Ferris chiaroscuro


Like the previous illustration, this one is also inspired by the work of Hugh Ferriss. The term chiaroscuro is used to describe the use of strong contrast between light and dark on important parts of the composition. It is a technique that finds its origin in the Renaissance. Ferriss uses this effect with great success on his buildings.

Chiaroscuro works so well because of several reasons. First it makes the image simpler for the eye to dissect because the author has already made some decisions about what is important and what is not. The important parts are highlighted and the things in the periphery are darkened and often merely visible.

Secondly our old human brain experiences a strongly reduced visibility as threatening, in a similar way you would be scared when you would be walking in a dark forest with only the help of a flash light. A dangerous predator could be looming in every corner. Times have changed and our society has become much safer, but our brain is roughly still the same brain as it was 100.000 years ago.


Drawings by Hugh Ferriss

Drawings by Hugh Ferriss – “The Metropolis of Tomorrow”


Hugh Ferriss - Chiaruscuro 2

Drawing by Hugh Ferris – The use of chiaruscuro on buildings.


I created a plane with holes in it to simulate a pack of clouds that are letting only a part of the sunlight to come through. It took me some experimenting to get the sunbeams I wanted. For this purpose I set the viewport in 3ds Max in “realistic” mode. Below you can also see the top view of one building.


Hugh Ferriss chiaroscuro viewport


hugh ferriss chiaroscuro top view

Hugh Ferriss – Using a backlight

Hugh Ferriss – Using a backlight

Hugh Ferriss Backlight


I have always been a huge fan of the work of Hugh Ferriss (1889-1962). He was originaly an architect, but is best known for the “three dimensional” drawings and sketches he did for other architects. His drawings are not just clean and objective representations of the architectural plans. Instead Hugh Ferriss adds lots of drama to his drawings, mainly by manipulating the lighting in such a way that the buildings look grotesque and almost scary. This evoked such emotions with the public at the time that this style became very popular and he became an artist that was much asked for. Besides his commercial work he also did some superb drawings of imaginary future cities.


drawing by Hugh Ferriss

Drawing by Hugh Ferriss out of his book “The Metropolis of Tomorrow”


One of the techniques Ferriss uses is to place one of the main lights at the base of a building and so leaving the top of the building in the dark. It creates some kind of Dracula feel. You almost have the impression that the building comes alive to live as a sinister creature. In the drawing below Ferriss combined this technique with a strong glow that is coming from behind of the building. This way the contrast behind the dark edges of the building and the background is boosted greatly.


Hugh Ferriss Drawing

Drawing by Hugh Ferris


In an attempt to reverse-engineer the techniques Ferriss uses I drew a building and placed multiple lights a the bottom and one light at the back of the building, all facing upwards. I also created some fog in the background (with Vray Environment Fog) to make the light at the back visible. Below you can see a detail of the picture and a screenshot that shows the positions of the lights.


Hugh Ferriss backlight detail


Hugh Ferriss Backlight lights

Lighting a blubber object

Lighting a blubber object

Blubber experiment


Some more Mudbox work. Below you can see the lighting setup. I found this setup after trying lots of different setups. I think the shadow pass is interesting on itself, so I posted it too.

As for the background: I tried many different backgrounds and I learned that most of the times it is best to follow the visual directions of the central object. In this case the central object is round, so I made the shape of the grid and the dirt in the background also round. I call this the echo-principle. :-) I will do an extensive tutorial on this in the future.


Blubber lighting setep


Blubber shadow pass

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