Photorealistic Billboards
February 14, 2005 2:07 PM   Subscribe

I often walk past artists painting/airbrushing photorealistic billboards on the sides of buildings. Talent aside, how do they do this? I would imagine that an original image would be projected onto the building, and then traced, but how do they avoid image distortion if the environment doesn't allow for a perfect straight-on projection? Do they project an already-distorted original onto the wall?
posted by Robot Johnny to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
graphs. they divide the image on paper into a grid; then divide the surface to be painted into the same grid (10x10 or 10x20, whatever, in proportion to the size of the surface); then copy the picture square by square. rather than paint the whole image at once, they paint it piecemeal.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:10 PM on February 14, 2005

I had thought of that as a solution, too... maybe I'm just too amazed at just how good the results are to think that it's anything but a projection.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2005

If it's on the side of a building, it's not technically a "billboard", it's a "wall" (or painted wall, or mural, etc.)

Most billboards are created by using a giant piece of vinyl on top of the structure. In the past, they used paper, and before that they used to hand-paint them. In the painting days, they had some artists who could do it without a grid, but for the most part the grid is the standard way to do large-scale images on walls or on (in the past, and once in a while now) billboards.
posted by chaz at 2:39 PM on February 14, 2005

odinsdream, it's commerical advertising. I don't know why it isn't pre-printed, but it's quite something to witness the progession of day by day as a bunch of roughly painted outlines gradually turns into something photorealistic.

And they're usually paintings of ads I've seen printed elsewhere. The one that sparked this question was an oh-so familiar iPod ad.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:46 PM on February 14, 2005


you'd be surprised how distance affects the quality of a painting.

get up real close -- it's not going to look that great. When you're far away, it's easy to achieve photo-realistic results.

Gridding out a photo is a common exercise in any beginning painting class. I have terrible draftsmanship skills, but when i attempted this assignment in art school, the results were fantastic, even when done on a small scale. When you've got the added benefit that any potential viewers are FAR FAR away, it's fairly easy to get good results.

now that you know this, look closely at all your favorite paintings next time you're in a museum -- it'll give you a new appreciation of line that some artists are able to achieve freehand with paint.
posted by fishfucker at 3:14 PM on February 14, 2005

The other thing is that it doesn't have to be an exact copy, it just has to look good. So the details can be fudged as necessary.
posted by smackfu at 5:31 PM on February 14, 2005

We should find photos of such billboards.
posted by NickDouglas at 5:53 PM on February 14, 2005

Wyland is one of the more famous -- he paints huge marine scenes on the sides of buildings across the world. They're often called "Whaling Walls." Here's an Example. Here's another. Here are some google results.
posted by Hankins at 9:09 PM on February 14, 2005

I'm aware of how distance affects quality -- I am mostly referring to the proportions of the image. I've transferred artwork via a grid before, and damned if it doesn't always turn out a little warped.
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:03 PM on February 14, 2005

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