Prehistoric Airbrushing . . . 70 lifesize dinosaurs in six weeks: An interview with Paula Kingham.

Airbrushing these dinosaurs up close was a strange experience at first Paula Kingham says.

It is amazing what airbrush artists get asked to paint. After 30+ years of doing this, nothing surprises me any more. So when I got a phone call from a company saying “we need 50 life sized dinosaurs airbrushed in 4 weeks time”, my reply was “I am sure that we can get a team of artists together to do that for you.”

In the end 70 dinosaurs were airbrushed in a little over a month by eight artists. Just to emphasise that point, that is 70 life size dinosaurs. A truly huge endeavour.

The final results look great. Lots of texture, lots of different colours showing through the textures. Very believable.

Two teams of 4 artists were assembled (8 artists in all). Paula Kingham assembled a team including Patrick Corcoran, Brad Payne, and Rob Lock. Luke Day assembled a team including Steve Portelli, Jamie Cortorillo, and Tracey Leeson. An East Melbourne team and a West Melbourne team. The friendly rivalry motivated everyone to push the standard of their work and their speed. Everyone did an amazing job.

Paula Kingham says . . .
When I first walked in, it was like walking into a movie set for the making of Jurassic World. The sheer size of these creatures is amazing.

This photo of Luke and his team, shows the enormous scale of some of the dinosaurs.

Most of them were made in China and then shipped out. Unfortunately, the paintwork on them was flaking off, and the colours that had been used made them look like 3D cartoons. The painting of them did not look realistic at all.

Before we could start repainting them, we had to prime them with something that would stabilise the old paint. This meant that before we could even prime them, we had to try and scuff as much of the old paint off. When you think of the surface area of 70 dinosaurs, this was not a fun job.

This photo of four Styracosaurus’s shows the progression from primer through the various layers of texture and colour. These were some of the smaller dinosaurs, but you can see the large scale of them by the artist crouched beside the second one.

There were two construction types: Firbreglass construction and Latex construction. For the fibreglass dinosaurs, we used industrial enamels.

The latex dinosaurs were the ones with the most paint flaking. We used a range of paints. Some worked well and others did not work well at all. The Flex (latex based airbrush paint from Airbrush Supply Network) worked very well. Some brands stuck so poorly that the paint peeled away in sheets.

Here you see Paula and Rob finishing off the largest of the Triceratops. Note the hi-tech kitchen sponge that Paula is using for the textures.

This Triceratops is HUGE!! I could stand under the horns. We needed to use scaffolding to do the top half of it. Rob’s height really helped out here.

We virtually used no masking techniques. When we did it was just mask off the eyes. Using any sort of adhesive stencils such as masking tape was out, for fear of it peeling away any of the old paint under the primer and taking everything we had done on top of it.

The front dinosaur is a “teenage” Triceratops. Behind it is the full sized adult triceratops. This one was smaller than the big one in the previous photo. At the back are two Alosaurus’s.

In the above photo you can see the posters that were provided to us. Each poster showed close-ups of the textures and colours that the company wanted for each dinosaur. These were very helpful. It is great when the client is clear about what they want.

This is a adult Stegasaurus. This is meant to be the mother of the child beside.
This is a baby Stegasaurus.

Being an Airbrush Venturi teacher really helped. Teaching how to mix colours and create texture with an airbrush every week; it means that it all comes naturally once I was standing in front of these dinosaurs. We had to work very fast. There wasn’t time to trial ideas. We needed to get each one done right the first time.

The 0.75mm Large fluid nozzles on the Paasche Venturi airbrushes really came into their own with the large scale of these dinosaurs and the viscous paints being used. Most airbrush brands, the large fluid nozzle only goes to 0.5mm.

There were two main layer strategies. The first was to start with a light base and work darker and darker. The second was the opposite, to start dark and work lighter and lighter. The two strategies are very different to paint. Darker colours are more transparent and the lighter colours are much more opaque. So each colour behaved quite differently.

The decision on which strategy to use was made depending on what colour the deep cracks in the texture needed to be. In the below photo of the Velociraptor, the deep crevices needed to be dark. But most started out with a light base.

All of the Veliciraptors were called “Blue” in the movie Jurassic World.
These were latex construction, and started using a combination of latex based, waterbased and enamel based paints . . . a bit of everything.

The Velociraptors are feature of the movie Jurassic World movies. We had to do 9 of them. By the end we had these down to a fine art. It is amazing how long it took to do the first compared to how fast the 9th one took; a quarter of the time.

Everyone on the internet talks about using Gravity fed airbrushes, but using these would have doubled how long it would have taken to do them. Siphon fed airbrushes enable you to change colours in less than 10 seconds.

Thank you Paula for giving us your time to write this article. Thank you to all eight of the artists for working so hard on this huge project and making the airbrush community look amazing.

I would like to end this article with another comment about this project being . . . yet another major commercial airbrush project that could not have been digitally printed. Anyone that thinks that computers have completely replaced commercial airbrushing are wrong. There are numerous types of projects that can only be completed using traditional hand applied brush and airbrush techniques. When the surface is not flat, such as these dinosaurs, traditional techniques are the only option.

Paula Kingham teaches the Airbrush Venturi courses in Doncaster, Victoria. If you would like to learn to airbrush with Paula please contact her via the below links.

If you would like to learn to paint dinosaurs or portraits, or anything else please contact Airbrush Venturi on 1300-247-278 or click HERE for the website, or click HERE to send an email enquiry.

Written by Tony Vowles