Of Accuracy and Realism

Lance Mindheim’s piece last week about prototype modelling strikes a chord for me. You should read it yourself, but to précis, it is an argument for flexibility in prototype modelling to augment appearance.

Embedded in the essay, Lance says,

Its taken me decades to realize this but the two, appearance and accuracy are, in fact, often mutually exclusive.

This realization echoes a theory I’ve been harbouring for about a year: realism and accuracy are not so much mutually exclusive, but orthogonal. That is, you can have both together, but increasing one has no affect on the other. This is why you can have such successful freelance layouts as Lance names in his post. It is also why you can’t simply drop Rapido’s latest offering on the tracks and feel it is alive.

Accuracy and realism are orthogonal because realism lies in the colours and textures of spaces between details while accuracy lies in the details themselves.

It’s interesting to think about space and detail at different levels of proximity. Close to an individual model, details are the grab irons, rivets and so on. Having the right number of either doesn’t make the model more realistic, but it does make it more accurate. The treatment of individual panels and the texture of surfaces makes the model believable and satisfying.

At the next level out, a scene is made realistic by the colour and texture of surfaces between the models, as well as the realism of the models themselves. Having the right buildings in the right locations only serves to make the scene prototypically accurate. At the layout level, realism lies in having enough space between towns so that it feels as if trains are going somewhere; having the towns in the right order serves to make a more accurate rendition of the prototype.

I haven’t used it in this way yet, but I think you should be able to use this theory to decide where to focus your talents and resources.  Can you, for example, elide some details in favour of a great weathering job, and still have a believable model?



8 thoughts on “Of Accuracy and Realism

    1. Thanks!
      The reason I hadn’t written about this theory before is I have been struggling to understand how it relates to operation. This is an area where we are seeing increasing detail – from sound to paperwork. What are the spaces between? I think silky-smooth performance maybe a space between at one level of proximity for operation. Certainly, the effect of realism is broken by models that jerk or stutter. What is the next layer out?

  1. If we were to contemplate a third axis in this orthogonality (and for the mathematically imaginative, perhaps more) what might that be? Satisfyingness? Effectiveness? Resonance? I’m thinking about scenes that are high in accuracy and high in realism, but low in some more personal, visceral content. I wonder if many if not most modelers dwell along that axis first, whatever it is.

    1. You are right, you could have a scene so real you think you’ve been there, but it might still fall flat and fail to make a connection. Perhaps the third dimension is Emotion or Sensitivity. I have no idea how to achieve it, though!

  2. What an interesting read. Some thoughts springing off the discussion:

    I think the concept of mood or how one feels looking at a model is a really interesting part of it.

    I think this assumes some basics – like good workmanship. No ugly gaps or glue or solder joints; no finger prints etc – nothing to disturb the suspension of disbelief. Mechanical parts that are robust and function as intended. Using proportion and line well. Making good choices about what can be scaled accurately and what – because it can’t be scaled accurately – needs to be omitted, hinted at or handled differently.

    I’m not sure what to do about some other challenges: the mass and breadth of actual geography, actual structures, etc are difficult to handle. I find selective compression hard to be content with – because I see those compromises very hard to compensate for.

    More obvious tools: backdrop, ground-cover & structure colours and even choices about rolling stock colours are obvious tools. Lighting, valances, viewing angles too. Sound, scale speed, proto-like operating moves . . . .

    From lighting and viewing angles my thoughts turn to concepts like composition, hard and soft lines, proportion and perspective, darks, lights and mid tones . . . .

    And yet these combined may not be enough to create that desired impact? If you are not building multiple layouts and don’t have as much chance to try things out, will you know you are on a satisfying trajectory until its done? I find that a bit scary. Good thing its just a hobby. Good thing its possible to re-do as you go.

    But I wish I knew more about how all the elements can be used to bring it all together.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful addition, Rob. I wish I could say something more than, “yeah, I don’t know either.” It seems there are a number of us thinking about how to elevate model to art. Here we stumble into an age-old debate in the art world, itself. Look up the discussion about illustration vs art, for example, and you will find such unhelpful sentiments as “art is an idea, whereas illustration is the depiction of an idea.”
      When it comes to composition, which is a tool that artists use, I agree there is much we can learn (and to Lance’s point, slavish replication of the prototype restricts our ability to benefit from this tool). There seems to be much more written on the subject in terms of two dimensional visual arts. Model railroads are, however, kinetic sculptures. Perhaps there is inspiration in stage design or choreography. A trip to the library is warranted!

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