Friday, December 25, 2015

Illustration Technique: The 3D Look

Personal Workstation Concept, colored pencil, marker, 1985
The "3D Look" is just about any style that evokes a sense of depth and perspective - a feeling of being next to an object, or being able to reach out and touch it.

The purpose of an illustration is to communicate. Being realistic may often take a back seat to the communication of the idea or concept. I have found that it is frequently possible to create illustrations that have a certain sense of realism but also communicate the desired idea and do not necessarily need to be the most difficult to execute. This usually involves combining a number of techniques and resources to arrive at the desired effect.

It generally takes more time to create a 3D-style illustration using computer software, than traditional tools like pen, ink, marker, and airbrush. With 3D graphics software, the subject is placed on a virtual stage. The lighting, background, environment and other "real-world" issues are accurately simulated.

CGI Rendring, 3D Modeling Software, 1990

Several methods are used to obtain a 3D-look.

The most common, is the use of 3D modeling and rendering software. The big advantage of 3D graphics software is that all you have to do to create a different angle is just move a virtual camera and re-render the scene. Doing that with pen and ink would be extremely time consumptive, and not repeatable. This method produces a specific look. It is more difficult to draw attention to a particular area or object in the scene and it is next to impossible to repeat specific colors from one image to the next.

This method offers the least amount of control over specific elements in the scene, lacks a certain level of detail and it's harder to control consistency between different views, but it is a great method if multiple views or angles of an object are needed.
Carrying Case Line Drawing, Adobe Illustrator
Another method is the use of a photograph or other image of an actual object as a guide and drawing over it, enhancing, coloring, adjusting line widths, etc. according to the requirements. This technique works best for existing objects and products when the specific style is needed. It's fairly quick and produces a very distinctive look.
Telescope Cutaway, Adobe Illustrator
Other 3D-style drawings can be created by just "eyeballing it."  This requires a keen sense of spacial relationships, perspective and proportion.

The vast majority of the illustrations I've created are scalable vector-based graphics. This means that the illustration can be used at any size, reproduced on any printer or screen without losing detail and clarity.

The vector graphics format is the most versatile and generally offers the best clarity for either web or print.

Other methods for creating 3D-style illustrations abound. There are even ways of combining photographs, 3D renderings and line work in the same illustration.

Just about anything created using these methods can be purposed for the web, print or other media. Knowing what the goals and requirements are at the beginning through careful discovery and analysis is essential in determining the best approach in order to achieve the best result.