IV - Painting your first aircraft

Placing things

For every aircraft we are going to paint we need a reference, so we know where to place things. We will paint an Altair aircraft so we will look for an existing image or bmp from an Altair plane. To make things easier for us, here is the fuselage from the Altair Boeing B737-700 Kittyhawk model.

I have cut the image in half so we do not have to reduce it too much. Here it is, the "City of Denver":



The blue belly

I usually start painting the belly, no particular reason for that... Let's see then were to place it. Keep in mind that what you are seeing is a flat representation of a rounded object. That is, what you see in the image is not a side view, but the top and bottom parts of the aircraft as well. In the image it seems as if the blue belly is too far up but in fact in the 3D model it appears only a little bit on the side of the plane.

Every airline has certain 'rules' to paint a standard livery over many different plane models. The Altair livery is no exception and there are certain "cues" to help us position the different parts of the livery. Take a look at the blue stripe. Notice that it passes over the tip of the seam that represents the root of the wing and almost at the bottom part of the seam that defines the nose cone. Take a look below, I have marked the two areas in red:


Now we know where to draw the blue stripe. Going to our PAI model the first thing we do is create a new layer. We do not want to paint over the existing background so we will add a layer that we can paint, repaint, delete or duplicate the blue stripe as we wish without messing the original layers up.

Create the new layer and SELECT IT, making it the active layer and also MAKING SURE you are painting on this layer.

Go to the PAI model and drag a guide to the UPPER (left side) fuselage using the cues we identified for the blue stripe. We are going to paint this side of the fuselage first. It will look like this:


Now zoom in and go to the bottom of the fuselage and drag another guide to this position. We will place the guide below the last pixel that is near the emergency window. Now you have defined the width of the blue stripe. Look the image below. It may seem irrelevant to mark the bottom of the fuselage but since we will have to paint the other side of it this guide at the bottom will be a common 'marker' on both sides that will allow us to quickly copy the livery from one side to the other. But we will get to that later.


Having done that you will use the SELECT TOOL, which is called RECTANGULAR MARQUEE TOOL in Photoshop and select a rectangle using the margins of the image and the two guides we have just placed. You will see the "marching ants" around the area you have just selected.

Now using the EYEDROPPER TOOL you select from the palette we created before the official Altair blue.

And using the PAINT BUCKET TOOL you paint the selected area blue.

It will look like this:


Notice two important things; First, the layer we created, which I called "UP BELLY BLUE" is positioned above the background and below all the others that contain the details and seams. This way the seams and details will still appear over the yellow stripe.

Second thing is the name of the layer. It is a good idea to keep your workspace organized so you can quickly identify the layers. I called it UP because this side is at the top of the image (could have been LEFT as well for the left side of the fuselage) and BLUE BELLY to describe what was painted on it. You can always merge different layers later if you want. Just remember that it is always easier to merge layers than to split them.


The yellow stripe

Moving on. We will now paint the yellow stripe. Very easy. The yellow stripe is 3 pixels wide and placed touching the top of the blue stripe. This is the default placement of the yellow stripe on Altair planes (just for you to know the Altair Express planes have the same 3 pixels stripe over the blue one, except that it is gray).

Now remember another important thing. This bmp is 1024 pixels wide. The whole fuselage is displayed on it. Normally, you would see the fuselage split over three or four 1024 pixels wide images. Different planes have different texture sizes. Sometimes you will have to adapt things so that they LOOK like they are supposed to be. The rule of thumb here is to go with what LOOKS right rather than to what IS right. Let me give you an example: Sometimes you have two elements like a logo and the lettering perfectly aligned. But when you step back and zoom out to 100% or view the plane in FS they do not look like if they were perfectly aligned. Instead keeping the mathematical precision you should go back and "nudge" the elements a little bit to make them LOOK right. In the end you will be looking to the plane and not measuring it so the looks are more important here.

In our case it means that the 3 pixels wide yellow stripe may be too large for a file of this size. Let's paint this one only 2 pixels wide. But there is only one way to know if 2 pixels is right or not and it will be when loading the plane in FS after we have painted it. There is always the need to adjust things later. More than often you may spend more time adjusting things than actually painting the livery. We will check this later.

To paint it we will have to zoom in to the top of the blue stripe, count three pixels and drag a new guide line to this position.

Create again a new layer. I like to call it UP STRIPE YELLOW

We will than use the RECTANGULAR MARQUEE TOOL to select this narrow stripe.

After that we use the EYDROPPER TOOL again to select the official Altair yellow from the palette we created.

And now we will use the PAINT BUCKET TOOL again to paint this selected area yellow.

And you will have this, a zoomed image with the three pixels height showing on the ruler:


Let's move on to the Altair lettering now.


Painting the "Altair" name

First thing we have to do now is look our reference (the B737-700 Kittyhawk model) to see exactly where to place the "Altair".

Notice that the tip of the yellow wedge and the tip of the "R" are at the beginning of the second window from the left and the right respectively. I have dragged a few guide lines to helps us see that better.


Usually, depending on the aircraft model, the "Altair" will be centered between the first two doors before the wing, if the plane has them like the Airbus A340 and the Boeing B747. If not, like the B737, we place them in the first third of the aircraft, at a distance from the front door. The B737-700 has a first group of windows that are perfect to align our "Altair" with.

The "Altair" is placed aproximately 3 to 5 pixels above the top of the window line. I have also dragged a guide at the top of the windows and at the bottom of the "Altair" for you to see. Also notice that the "www.altairva.com" is at the same 3 to 5 pixels over the windows so when placing the "Altair" into the correct position we will also have defined the correct position for the "www.altairva.com".

The top of the "Altair" is a little bit above the 1L door. Notice I have written 1L because the 1L and the 1R doors are different in the 737. The top of the 1L door is aproximately at the top of the "T" in "Altair".

Remember when I said this image is a flat representation of a rounded surface and that we are also seeing the top and bottom parts of the plane? If you paint things too far up and/or too far down on the fuselage it will be distorted when the plane is drawn in FS. This is a limitation we have in FS. There is of course a way to overcome this. You could simply distort the object you are painting in a way that when FS draws the plane the distorted object is stretched and displayed correctly. Giving an example: suppose our "Altair" is being distorted when displayed in FS. We would have to reduce it's width on the top part without altering the lenght so that when stretched in FS to give the rounded fuselage effect it would have it's width extended and thus displayed correctly.

We do not see this happening in the belly of the plane because we have simply painted it a solid blue. It is being distorted but since there is no pattern on the blue belly you do not notice it.

But it will not be the case here as our Altair is at the upper limit where no distortion occurs. A little bit up and we would have to correct it. Now that we know where to place it let's get the correct font for the "Altair". The official font is called:

          - IMPACT ITALIC


But for now let's use an already made image with the blue Altair lettering and the yellow wedge correctly positioned.

Below is the image. Click over it to download the zip file with the .psd file.

DO NOT COPY this jpg image, click over it to download the zip with the PSD file.


Clcik me to download the zip file


After you have downloaded it, unzip and open the small psd file. Drag this layer called "ALTAIR FULL UP" over our PAI aircraft. You should now see the layer over the "UP YELLOW STRIPE" layer and somewhere on the image, like this:


Now we will place it in the right place and resize it. Here is how we do it.

In your PAI file drag guides to the same aproximate places we have identified in the reference picture two images above and make your file look like this:


Since it is a small file, the 3 to 5 pixels space above the windows I mentioned are down to only one or two pixels (look the ruler to the left). As you may see, I dragged the layer with the "Altair" closer to the place where it will be. It is obvious that we will have to resize it. That will be our next step.

In Photoshop you use the TRANSFORM function found in the menu under EDIT. One important thing here we will have to do is to resize it KEEPING THE SAME PROPORTIONS. That is, you will have to reduce the lenght and height at the same time otherwise you will have a distorted logo. In Photoshop you do this by holding the SHIFT key while dragging one of the edges to the size you want.

After resizing we see that it got a little shorter and it is touching the third window and not the second one. That is caused by the difference in file size. This is nice to exemplify the "compromises" you will have to make when painting. In this case we could have the option to stretch the "Altair" to the second window but as a result distorting it. We could also make it bigger to touch the second window but making it too high as well. We could finally make it the correct height and align it by the middle window like in the image below and not making it touch the second window but the third. From the three options I think this is the best one as it at least preserves the "Altair" without distorting it. Compromise is one thing we will do a lot while painting. Deciding what is more important to preserve when you have a situation where you cannot reproduce something exactly as should be.


Now that we have painted the most important elements we will go to module V to paint the other final details from the Altair livery.


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