Impossibly Realistic Aviation Art

Check out some of the most photorealistic aviation art.

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As aviation has evolved over the decades, so too have the ways artists depict the myriad aircraft we fly. Thanks to advances in 3-D modeling and digital imaging software, today's illustrators have more tools than ever at their disposal when taking a blank slate and turning it into an image of a lifelike aircraft, with all of its glorious curves and edges shown in incredibly realistic detail. (Illustration by Ronnie Olsthoorn)
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Adam Tooby relies on general assembly drawings to create scenes like this one, which shows a flock of Aleutian Tigers. (Illustration by Adam Tooby)
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See the steps that Adam Tooby, CGI artist, uses to make digital models, such as these Phantom F-4s (Sundowners) on the next slides.
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Step 1. The beginning of a realistic, digital aircraft model benefits from general assembly drawings. "These are key to getting the construction right," says CGI artist Adam tooby. "Cross sections are also very helpful but not always available." (Illustrations by Adam Tooby)
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2. With the engineering drawings providing the necessary guidelines, artists begin to craft the airplane using an ever-growing network of polygons, which are shapes that serve as a "3-d image defined in space," Ronnie Olsthoorn says.
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3. When the aircraft is near completion, the artist adds the final smoothing detail to ensure that every part, whether it be the slight curve of the nose or the refined intricacies of the wing, is as close to perfect as possible.
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4. Once the airplane has fully taken shape, the next step is to split the mesh into different sections so that elements such as color and depth can be added throughout. Each section will be unwrapped and flattened into a 2-D image, making it easier for artists to add fine details such as panel lines and rivets.
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5. Once all of the textures have been added, the multiple flat, 2-D sections are rewrapped, resulting in a single 3-D model of an airplane that can be placed in any particular angle amid an endless number of environments and backgrounds.
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It can take weeks and even months in certain cases to build complex scenarios like this one, which features Allied Warbirds on D-Day. (Illustration by Adam Tooby)
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This Messerschmitt Bf-109 features the "black tulip" nose paint made famous by German Fighter Ace Erich Hartmann. (Illustration by Adam Tooby)
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This Lufthansa Boeing 747, reconstructed by talented CGI artist David Finlay, weighs in at approximately 15,000 polygons. (Illustration by David Finlay)
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P-51 Mustang Old Crow (Illustration by Adam Tooby)
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A-12 (Operation Black Shield) (Illustration by Adam Tooby)
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Japanese Secret Projects (Illustartion by Ronnie Olsthoorn)
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Zero at sunset (Illustration by Ronnie Olsthoorn)
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P-51 Mustang Daddy's Girl (Illustration by Ronnie Olsthoorn)
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BAC TSR-2 To read more about these, check out Bethany Whitfield's feature "Pixel Perfect: Impossibly Realistic Aviation Art." (Illustration by Ronnie Olsthoorn)