Manipulating the qualities of a scene to create fantasy


While analyzing the works of well known fantasy artists, we can come up with a series of qualities to the scene. These qualities or parameters are often manipulated in odd ways to achieve a surreal effect. Here are a few of them:

  • Scale

  • Proportion

  • Position

  • Color

  • Texture

  • Light

  • Camera and point of view (perspective)

  • Shape and form

  • Animation, timing and rhythm

  • Physics and the laws of nature

  • Organic Attributes

  • Mechanical Attributes (hardware)



The way the artist works with each one of the qualities applied to the scene is what gives the sense of fantasy or normality. A few guaranteed ways to achieve a surreal look is to manipulate qualities of the scene in the following ways:


A simple and effective way to achieve a fantasy look is to exaggerate elements in the scene. Almost anything can be exaggerated, from the size of objects to the saturation of colors. Scale and proportion are very effective for they are easily perceived by the audience. Most people have a very good sense of what is correct and what seems slightly off.

Sharp Contrast

Elements in a scene that contrast sharply with each other or with our sense of reality tend to generates a strong reaction from the audience. For example: manipulating lighting to produce contrast between well lit areas and dark shadows usually achieves a very dramatic effect, for in our routine we rarely encounter such differences. If the contrast is not strong enough, the audience might perceive that something is slightly off, but will not be able to pin point it. This is usually a good trick if the project demands only a “touch” of fantasy feeling.

Affinity or Similarity

Similar elements in the scene usually bring the whole thing together, and give the “designer look” to the scene. The audience gets a feeling the scene was planned to be that way on purpose. For example, the use of a limited palette of colors in the scene is a well know trick to many fantasy artists. In our everyday lives we see different colors all the time. We rarely encounter a place with is entirely covered by only two hues.

Combination or grouping

The combination of elements that would not be seen in real world is a guaranteed way to achieve a fantasy look. A well know example is the cyborg character encountered in sci-fi scenes which is half human, half machine. The combination of the organic living qualities with the machinery seems completely impossible to us.


Absence is a powerful tool not very used. In the real world, we take certain things for granted, and assume they will be there. The total or partial absence of elements that should be there and are not usually produces a very effective fantasy feeling to the scene.