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  • Reflecting on SENMM..

    Still Thinking about NMM....

    No, I haven't forgotten the NMM article.... totally. Other things come up, y'know, little things: painting miniatures, going to the GD's, planning for conquest of Draenor.. you know, tiny little things that add up.. :P

    So I decided to give SENMM it's own article, as it's really tricky. The NMM article is also a good read before this, but hey, read them in any order you like! For those of you who don't know, I've written several other articles you might wanna check out. I try and get you to know everything I can, but if it seems confusing, look at the pictures and you might get a better understanding..

    Now we go on to tackle that every elusive:

    Sky-Earth NMM

    For those that don't know, Sky-Earth Non Metallic Metal (or SENMM) is making the sword, armor, whatever looks like it's mirroring the things around it with opaque color. This usually happens with chrome or silver, but could also be a result of super polished areas. This effect looks amazing on things if you get it right, but as we continue, you'll find many people have made some mistakes.

    In SENMM, there are three important areas, as shown below:

    1. Sky- whatever is in the sky. Usually a light blue, but changes depending on time of day.
    2. Horizon- where the sky meets the earth. This is where the earth is darkest and the sky is the lightest.
    3. Earth- the ground. This is usually a brown color, and matches the base somewhat.

    Like I said earlier in the NMM article, the trick is dark/light/dark/light. The very top of whatever you're painting should be your darkest blue for the sky and then you keep adding white until you're about mid way on the area, then you start with the darkest color of the earth and add beige, yellow, or gray depending on your ground color.

    Now, before we move on, I must give you a phrase that must become your mantra when painting SENMM:


    That should be simple enough for some people, but they seem to forget it all the time. Nothing when doing SENMm is totally flat. Yes, there may be some things that look flat, but these are SURFACES. A sword is not flat, it has angles and smooth surfaces. You need to stop thinking about the whole and cut up what you're working on in your mind. Look here:

    On the left we see a cube in SENMM if we thought it was flat. Doesn't look like a cube, does it? Next to it we have a cube in better looking SENMM. Now it looks like something in 3D because the edges of the angles are defined, the reflection shows it's at an angle and since the top is just facing the sky, it doesn't have any of the earth color on it. I've seen dozens of entries that look like the left cube and no one says anything, not that I will name names now.. Ni! :P

    Okay, so now that we've addressed the fact what you're painting isn't flat and it has angles, let's see how this affects SENMM. It's very simple, if something is at and angle of more than Five degrees perpendicular to the horizon, it will reflect the sky or the earth, but not both. This can be seen below.

    As you can see, if something is perpendicular (that's just fancy talk for being vertical) to the horizon, it will reflect the whole scene that is around, namely the sky, earth and horizon. If something is angled down, even just a bit, it will reflect the earth. No Horizon. If something is angled up, it reflects the sky, again no horizon.

    Now, to figure out the angles a surface has, you simply look at it. Is it Cubical? Spherical? Cylindrical? Oblong? All these effect the placement of Sky/Earth/Horizon line. Look below and you'll see the directions on these surfaces in a sort of cut away view. Note that the circle has tons of angles, but no matter how you turn it, they reflect the same thing. A flat surface, however, will reflect different things when it's rotated. In all of these examples the blue arrow stand for the point where you would put the horizon line Also, I've made a sort of lop sided shape that could be the cut away view of a piece of armor. The horizon line is not in the middle like most would think, but on the bottom side.

    If we look at the objects as they might appear if we were looking at them, they'd look like this:

    See how the horizon line is in the middle of the cylinder and cube, but not the others? That's because as we saw above, they reflect the horizon line. Remember that flat surfaces will reflect what they're angled at but in cylinders the horizon is always in the middle, even if the cylinder is angled. That's because a cylinder or tube stretches the image across it's length and it is a circle, so it will reflect everything around it. A sphere has a slightly distorted horizon line because of it's shape, too. Note how it's rounded to give off the effect the surface is round. In the other armor shape, the image is also distorted because of it's shape.

    This is a good time to mention that the horizon line also depends on the surface, and the horizon. If you live in a flat area, then the horizon will be flat, but mostly likely you'll have mountains or buildings or whatever in the distance. Thus, the horizon can be slightly rugged. But the surface itself will still bend this image. If the horizon line is on a round surface, it will be rounded, but the angle will be down because that's what it would look like from eye level. If it were rounded up, then you?d be looking from below. Any dents would also effect the horizon, and if you're doing it on a surface like that, feel free to add it in.

    It should also be noted that the way we get most SENMM affects the horizon line a bit. In modern chrome plating techniques, the material that needs to be plated goes into a sort of "bath" where through various electrical and chemical reactions, the chrome sticks to the part. This means they need to be cleaned and smoothed down, as any minor scratches will be plated and come out looking really ugly. In the fantasy world, we can assume that SENMM comes from polished silver or magic metal, but it would still be smooth.

    Thus, the horizon line is never extremely straight, except if there was a straight angle where you were painting. So when you are making your horizon line and sky and earth areas keep them fluid likes and try not to add harsh angles. If the area you're painting on has areas like these, you can round them off by using black to blackline it to make it smoother. But once again, if there are abrupt angles in the metal, you may use abrupt and angular areas to make it look straighter. Below you see two plates:

    The one on the left is very angular and the definition between areas is very stark. The one on the right, however shows more fluid and curvy highlights and looks like it was dunked in a chrome bath. Also note that on both of them, the angle is very light, in fact, in any SENMM you should use white or a very light blue or gray as the color for the edges. These, too should be fluid or angular depending on the surface.

    Colors are important to the reflection. Most people would just use a blue color, but the sky is not truly blue, it is an off blue with a slight purple to it. Look below and you'll see the difference:

    Now the blue on the left (Cyan) looks brighter and in comparison the one on the right looks purple (Azure), but look what happens when we add white:

    The Azure reminds you more of the sky, correct? In comparison, Cyan looks like the sea more than the sky. Thus, the correct color in Vallejo is Vallejo Azure. Pastel Blue can be used to darken it, but the other blues, the "Ice" blues should not be used.. Unfortunately, Vallejo does not make a lighter Azure, so you will have to add White yourself.

    Now, the question of the Earth color is a bit more trickier.. Usually it is brown.. You might say that it should be green for the grass, but unless man planted it, grass will not be on every square inch of earth for miles, so it blends in with brown. Or you could be on a demon planet full of volcanoes and lava, so the earth would be black. Or you might be in a a city, so the earth color is a dark gray... Or you could be on an ice planet and the earth would be a light gray, and so on and so on.. But normally, I like to use Vallejo Chocolate Brown as the Earth color. Now some people will blend it to a lighter brown or a yellower brown, but I like gray. This is so you can see the image is being reflected off something that has a bit of color itself. Below we see these two different methods:

    Now doesn't the left one seem like it would be on a gold piece of metal? It would be good for that, but not for silverish metal with pure colored SENMM comes from. The right one looks a lot better by contrast. Also, since white is vital in any NMM, it's a good way to put in the reflected light on the bottom, rather than having to put in a lighter yellow.

    Speaking of Gold SENMM, I did a successful experiment recently and found I could make Gold NMM without any yellow colors! They all said I was mad! What? ME! MAD?!?! Mua hah ha ha ha ha!!
    (Ehem) Scuse me.. Well, I DID make Gold NMM without Yellow and I found that it looked lighter than my Gold NMM is.. Almost like if you add a bit of silver to normal metallic gold.. The trick lies in the inability of companies to make a good flesh color. GW looks to orange, Reaper looks too pink, and Vallejo Flesh colors are too Yellowish! Since I usually use a brown/white base to my skin colors anyways, I tried out using gold NMM with a few colors and came up with these scarabs on my Nightbringer's base:

    The darker color is Mahogany Brown. I also used Cork Brown, Dark Flesh, Flat Flesh and Light Flesh. These are kinda SENMM in a way, they have all the elements: dark underside, lighter top side and they seem to "gleam" a bit.. But more on Colored Metals later...

    Light Source

    Another flaw people forget about is to add their Light Source to the SENMM, which is usually the sun. Usually, you don't have to go through the whole highlighting the exact are, you just have to blend in a spot of white to be the sun. And contrary to what you learned in preschool, the Sun is not Yellow!!

    Also, any SENMM in it's direction will be lighter in color on the side facing the Light Source than the other side. Here is a scimitar, notice how the right side is lighter than the left side, since the sun is that direction on this one. Also note how the earth is not seen, except for the curves facing downwards:


    Filigree SENMM

    Once again, people forget that an area is not flat, and they end up doing the mirror thing with their filigree like my Thundercat-like lion below:

    Even if this was flat, the edges would be rounded and they would have different highlights. Instead, filigree is 3D and has angles, just like bigger things, so we get this correct view:

    Notice how it looks like there are bends in the design, and it looks more metallic. This is because it does the whole horizon line thin on each individual crease and bend. Now, I know this seems impossible on such small areas, but I did it on my Necron Lord! (pay no attention to the green areas, I was doing on-miniature light sourcing)

    The easiest way to do this is to not worry about blending and keep the areas of paint small. To do this, you simply prime or go over the area you want in white. Then you take your Azure and make a thin line, being careful not to cover up the white on top so you can use it as the highlight. Then, you do the same for the Brown, being careful not to cover the white on the bottom so it looks like the reflected light.

    Colored SENMM

    Well, basically Colored SENMM has all the things talked about before, but it's a different color. Now a little word of color: when we see a perfectly mirrored SENMM with blue sky and earth color, what we are seeing is a white or mirrory metal. If the metal was colored, it would look totally different, there would be no blue sky or brown earth, and those colors would just be different shades of the metal color. See below for pic.

    Notice how the SENMM is identical on both, but one looks silverish and the other looks gold? That's because the gold is not mirroring the environment colors, just the reflection. So instead of mixing blue with your gold color, you just use different shades. A thin black line is a good way for you to increase contrast, as if you don't get the colors SENMM right, it could look like that was a design in the metal, and not the reflection we're going for! Note that you could do this with any color and you're not limited to metal-like colors. Please also see my treatise on Car SENMM below.

    Experiment: Car SENMM

    A while ago I noticed car paint jobs. They reflected the Sky-Earth just like SENMM, but they were colored! The answer to this was simple: they were painted and the reflective sheen is the clear coat put over it and not the paint itself. But when you're doing, say a Gold SENMM, the earth and sky takes on the color of the metal. This is because when something is reflected off a colored surface, it will only show up as the color of the metal. Since gold and copper have their colors in them, they'd look like this:

    But if there is a clear, reflective coat on a paintjob, it does not necessarily mean that it has to be that color! Look at the car below:

    See how it's hood looks a bit blue and near the door it?s darker, almost a brown? That's SENMM! But we all know the car is red, so we think it is shiny! I'm currently working on this to make glossy paint a bit more realistic and I hope to get some good results..

    Step by Step Shield

    I've made up a small step by step guide with an Elven Shield for SENMM, but I hope to get a better figure I can show SENMM on more varied surfaces. But this should appease you appetite for NMM! :P

    1. I primed white and used Chocolate Brown to define the Horizon Line. Notice how it's curved to give the impression of the curved surface of the shield.

    2. Next I blended down to gray at the bottom to give the effect that the SENMM was on the shield and not a painted design on the shield.

    3. Then went over the area nearest the horizon line with white and made several bumps in the horizon by painting in little white dots on it.

    4. Painted the sky next, using Vallejo's Azure and blending down to the white.

    5. Most people stop at #4 but where's your Light source?! I used a bit of watered down Vallejo Sombre Grey to define the area that would get the highlight, notice it's distorted because of the shape of the shield.

    6. Using Vallejo Wolf Grey I highlighted the area more, and then added in a spot of white to finish the light source!

    Well, that's it for now, but be sure that once I get something worthy of SENMM I'll be showing you step by step. Until then, swords are not flat! :P
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