"Debden Takeoff" ... a WIP thread


Airman 1st Class
Hi guys,

"Debden Takeoff" is my working title. I'm sure something will strike me as I progress.

This commissioned oil painting project will show Don Gentile and his no. 2 taking off from Debden in early April 1944. The *exact* date is to be determined. Once that's nailed down, I have the complete daily diaries for 336 Squadron so we can get the correct guy on his wing for that date.

The collector wants to show a good view of at least one of Debden's "C" hangars as well as the Watch Office (Control Tower). Those conditions, with likewise a good view of departing planes, pretty much puts the viewer's position as I have it below when it comes to Debden's layout.

Everything in the scene will be seen from a six foot-high eye standing next to the departure end of the East runway, as plotted via Descriptive Geometry (DG). This will by far be my most ambitious DG layout to date, since I not only will have a lot of ground details to work out, but I will be putting two Mustangs in a precise altitude and heading above the runway, then pitching them up slightly and banking them towards us. Not all *that* hard to do, but very time-consuming for sure.

The visual angle and azimuth (visible elements) of the scene may change slightly as I actually lay out the azimuth and elevation plots for the final DG projection (the sketch below was done with no references), but the rough sketch is what I'm shooting for. I did the sketch earlier today while on a trip to the local library with my two oldest kids. They played and read books while I sketched. I had a few minutes to kill before leaving, so I added a "frame" and linen liner using a handy children's book (sorry about the pencil line along the edge, Ms. Librarian! -oops-).

Next step is to do a detailed to-scale plan and elevation view of the visible scene to use in my DG plot of the landscape. This landscape plot will include the two "in-perspective" centerlines of the pitched-up airborne Mustangs, as well as a couple taxiing on the ground - with maybe some jeeps/fuel bowsers as well.

After the landscape background outline is finished, the two Mustangs will be plotted from the exact same viewer's position while incorporating the slight climbing and banking-towards-us attitude of the planes as hinted in the sketch below. The gear will be about halfway coming up as well. When they are finished, the aircraft projections will be sized to the already-plotted centerlines, thus they will not only *look*, but *be* correctly aligned, positioned, sized, and in correct perspective relative to the entire scene.

Further progress will be shown as I go ... I hope to record nearly every detail of this project, so stand by for news!



Just for fun, here's a shot of the hangar which will be visible in the painting. It was 334's hangar, and was the last of the three to remain standing. I took this shot in 2002 from the same area as I plan for my painting, except in this photo I'm actually standing on the departure end of the runway. There are many well-known pictures of P-47s and P-51s running up on the taxiway visible here.

This hangar was taken down later the next year (2003). I'm so lucky I got to see her standing. I have many more shots of my Debden trip on my site. See the "Debden 2002" pages.



Airman 1st Class
Just a quick update ...

I determined that the visual angle formed by the preferred viewer's distance [28.6"] from the [20" x 44"] picture plane window (the canvas surface) is going to be 75 degrees in azimuth and 39 degrees in elevation. This visual "footprint" will be used to plot the visible airfield elements by Descriptive Geometry.

As you can tell by the rough sketch above, the 334 FS "C" hangar will be at canvas left (with a 'hint" of buildings beyond to the left of the hangar), with "whatever else is visible of the airfield at 75 degrees of vision" also showing up. It will be a nice panorama. From the viewer's position I should be able to get most of 336 FS's parking area into the plot also, although far away.

The Debden hangars were 1934 C-type 9-bay sheds (misidentified in a very popular 8th AF work as 8-bay sheds). C hangars went up to 12-bays, which can still be seen at several bomber bases, Bassingbourn being one example (three are still extant there). What that meant for me was I had to draw up my own three view of the 225' x 150' 9-bay variety for the DG plot. Luckily, there are MoD documents to be found on the web giving basic structural information and drawings on wartime hangars. The drawings these contain are very helpful, but aren't really what I need for DG-plot purposes, so doing my own was the only recourse. A side benefit of doing my own plans of a 9-bay shed is that I was forced to study many photos and become very familiar with the little nuances of these unique looking structures, including the annexes, which do not show up on the MoD drawings.

That was the easy part.

Now I have to do my own plans for the watch office complex since those buildings will also be quite prominent in the final art. While I was visiting Debden and Bassingbourn in 2002, I took good pictures of C-hangars (see Debden's above), but Debden's watch office is now completely demolished and nothing's left. I do, however, have an excellent collection of 4th FG pictures, many unpublished, so I have some good shots of the tower - but no dimensions! I think I can TLAR it pretty good, though, through comparative analysis.

The rest of the 'visible' airfield should be pretty easy, considering.

Once I am happy with the detailed "plan" view of the airfield, I'll do a quick pre-viz comp (big squares for hangars - no detail) of the scene, including simple airplane shapes for positioning. If it looks good, the detail work will start.

I'll post my next update when I get the small pre-viz mock up done.

... and sometimes you just get lucky. The southern half of the airfield slopes down a good bit. In fact, standing on the threshold of the North runway, the entire 334 FS parking area is hidden. But how much, exactly is this elevation difference (for plot purposes)? Rewind to my 2002 trip. Before I went over, I sent the Royal Engineers (current occupants) several of my 4th FG prints (the military is universal the world over - come bearing gifts and they love you!). In return, I got some ultra-high resolution aerials of the station taken in 1994 (one is a 32" x 32" beauty). I also got a 1:10000 Ordnance Survey plans which, you guessed it, show precise elevations! Hooray! I'll be able to plot that well known slope rather precisely now. Looking at my maps, we go from a crest of 121 meters approximately at the midpoint of the N-S runway to 116 metres at the southern end (-16 feet!). Quite a dip!



Airman 1st Class
As mentioned, I have selected a preferred viewer's position relative to the canvas plane of 28.6" from the surface.

This position will be the "ground zero" single point for plotting each and every element of the painting via Perspective Projection by Descriptive Geometry, from the airborne aircraft to the hangars to a jeep or truck or other aircraft or even people(!) on the ground. After all, if my canvas were a real window in a room instead of a "canvas", you the viewer would be standing in one spot, and each and every element of the scene beyond would be viewed from that one position - right? Is this not what we are trying to replicate when viewer's gaze upon our canvases? They are standing in a room (gallery) and viewing our composed scenes "beyond" as if seen through a clear window of specific size (the canvas) ...

The 'preferred' viewer's distance is that which the artist selects as a typical viewer's position relative to a specific original canvas (or maybe even it's reproduction as a print or maybe as a double-page spread in a magazine - whichever is most important in the end -- "typical" viewing distances for each can be estimated fairly accurately). From this eye position, all elements of the painting will appear correct in 3-D perspective, location, and size relative to all the other elements in the work, including the "window" itself . . . just like in real life! What a concept!

The visual angles which result from the preferred viewer's position are set by his eye position relative to the 20 x 44 picture plane and determine the visible elements horizontally (azimuth scan) and vertically (elevation scan)- and what's not visible as well. Knowing my allowable visual azimuth angle of 75 degrees, I found my viewer's position (see below) which allowed me to see what I wanted to show in the final art (hangars on the left, 336 parking on the right - though far away - and the airplanes over the runway).

The azimuth scan is shown below using a postwar aerial of Debden. Our viewer will be located in the grass and approximately 175 feet north of the runway (I haven't scaled it out yet). The black lines represent his 75 degree visual angle. The red line A-B represents the canvas, or "picture plane" or "window", and you can see the red centerline of vision as well.

Any set of lines drawn from the VP through specific points of interest on any item and continuing on until they intersect the canvas (red line A-B) will precisely locate that object's location and size azimuth-wise on the canvas (if line A-B were scaled to 44" wide, we could measure it's location precisely in inches, mm, or whatever).

My next step is to enlarge THIS photo to a common scale I can work with and convert all measurements easily using my engineer's scale. I will then paste on my "more detailed" plans of the hangars and watch office complex for plotting purposes.

If you're ahead of me, you have already determined that based on my rough sketch above, the departing P-51s will have to be located above the section of runway just to the right of the red center of vision line and left of the black visual angle line.

An elevation scan (I have 39 degrees vertically to play with) for the entire scene will be determined later when I'm actually doing the DG plot.

I'm a better artist than writer, so if something doesn't make sense, I accept full responsibility!




Lieutenant Colonel
Apr 1, 2004
Very well researched. Looks like it's going to be awesome before it even starts.


Airman 1st Class
Another update ...

I have several aerials of Debden, some showing various airfield layout details better than others. I took the compromise "best" one and enlarged it as you can see below. I got it as large as I could to allow for detail.

My initial plan, mentioned above I think, was to enlarge the plan image to the "20" scale on my engineering scale (ruler), which gave me .75" wide runways, but once at Kinko's I decided to go further and enlarge the overall scale to the "10" scale. That put the actual Debden 150' wide runways at 1.5" wide on my 60"-wide drafting table as seen below. Big enough to plot basic details, which, of course, is what DG is designed for - to give you an accurate 3-point perspective 'frame' from which to add details freehand.

Once I got home from Kinko's, I had to add wartime details such as the PSP hardstands (pretty much invisible here). I had to refine (for plot purposes) exactly where the 336 FS blast pens were located as well as their shapes. You may be able to notice the white areas at image left where I "pasted" my 'accurate' hangar outlines as well as the control tower complex across the peri-track from the two lowest hangars as you see it here. To avoid going crazy, I saved some of the details for inclusion as I get to them while plotting. The farm buildings just across the road from the runway at the top is an example of this type of detail I'm saving for later.

The image below shows the enlarged image almost ready for plotting. The plan view here will serve as the azimuth part of the plot, and the T-Square at right shows where the ground line will be for the elevation plot. Due to the immense size of this plot due to the enormous details I'm trying to include, I'll be drawing all elevation details directly on my drafting tables cutting mat in pencil. The actual "projection" result will be transferred to a separate piece of paper.

The goal now is to get a good, accurate and BASIC outline of the final scene. If I like what I see, I'll commence with adding planes and trucks, etc on the ground - and I'll plot all those as well. But for now, I'll just do a "skeleton" plot to give me an idea what the final scene will look like to our future viewer of the painting.




Airman 1st Class
Another update:

This image shows the Perspective Projection of the airfield and overall scene. The viewer is 20 feet above the surface (my calculated height of a person on the tower's outside observation deck), and the panorama is 75 degrees wide.

The two visible hangars are at left, and the control tower (here sans the observation tower, to be added later). The runways are shaded in for this illustration. The horizon is the red line - of course, the final horizon will be rolling hills.

I have located the blast pens and other details in azimuth only at far right. There will be trees there as well. Looks like a lot of empty space, but it will be filled up.

Once I get the airfield outline completely finished, I'll decide where to place various jeeps, fuel trucks, taxiing planes, etc.

Like a sculptor adds clay to a wire framework or "armature", I will add much (very much!) detail to the "frame" you see here. Descriptive Geometry has located each point of interest I've chosen to help build this "frame" in azimuth and elevation relative to the horizon within the planned 75 degree visual angle. The rest is up to the artist's hand ...

The two aircraft just taking off are models I shot for positioning to show to the client. I first decided how "large" on the canvas I wanted the lead ship, then I located that visual angle on my master airfield plot above. Turns out that the pilot's head is 65 linear (not slant range) feet from the viewer's position. The effect I am trying to achieve is that you are on a 20' stand, and they just took off and are making an early turn out and about to zoom over your left shoulder.

Contrary to my initial sketch at the top of this thread, the aircraft aren't directly over the runway - it just didn't work out that way. In fact, the lead Mustang is ~250' to the left (in the direction of takeoff) of the 150'-wide runway's centerline. The "rush", or zoom effect is more prominent this way, and besides, from this viewer's position on the airfield, if I were to show the aircraft directly over the runway (do the math), the lead plane would be approximately 315' from the viewer's eye, and thus quite small in this panorama's context. So, I chose to have the two planes turning out early just after takeoff to join up with the orbiting formation, and also to allow clearance for the next element closely following.

Adding to the dynamic aspect of the piece, the landing gear of the main Mustang will be ~halfway up. The wingman's will be slightly behind in the GEAR UP cycle. As with the airfield, much work is left to do on the planes as well.

Next update will probably be the final outline complete and ready for the pencil study. My goal at present is to finish the airfield portion in outline form, then put this project aside and finish up Twin-Tailed Dragons, my in-progress P-38 piece.




Airman 1st Class
Another update ...

Here's the two visible C-type hangars finished in outline form. Compare this view to the hangar "boxes" seen in another post. Notice that 334's hangar (the closest to us) has three of it's six massive doors pushed all the way open revealing some interior details - I plan on adding a Mustang here being towed into the hangar. These hangars were camouflaged - that's the wavy line just right of center.

The one on our right, belonging to the 336th Fighter Squadron, has a small opening near the middle. The third one, 335's, is not visible from this angle.

Starting with the hangar-shaped "boxes" I created via Descriptive Geometry and seen in a separate post, all details were added using eyeball engineering and perspective lines while referring to numerous photographs.

As mentioned, I'll be taking the image below to Kinko's to resize it to match the size of the hangar-shaped "boxes" in the full-scale mockup sitting on my drafting table (and visible in a separate post). Like the control tower and airplanes I'll be doing later on separate sheets of paper, once properly sized to match the mockup, I'll literally tape the resized images into position; then once the entire painting outline is finished with all details, including cloud outlines, I'll run the entire thing through the blueprint maker at Kinko's to get a one-layered image to use when transferring the image to canvas. At that time I'll also do a smaller copy to use for my pencil and oil studies.



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