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Image Techniques

 
At Vanishing Point, we strive to have the best possible images which show off our items. The following information is provided to help you refine your artistic skills. Most of the content on this page contain excerpts from the PDF book, Art Techniques for the 3D Artist (for sale here).

Almost anyone can open a graphics program, add an item to the scene, and hit the "Render" command. But, what makes an image stand out from the rest... either for good or bad?
 
First, let's look at some technical topics:
 
Camera location and angle
As you design your image, think about the placement of the camera. Although many people recommend placing the camera directly in front of the subject, a straight-on shot can sometimes be boring. This kind of shot may work well for a picture of your family in front of the Washington Monument, but it may not work as well for a piece of artwork.
 
Moving the camera above the subject (or below it) could add emotional depth to your scene that a straight-on shot would not.
 
As you work on your image, think about where the "photographer" has to be to take the picture. Would this shot be possible in the real world? Would the photographer have to be in a helicopter to shoot the scene? Or would he be in the middle of the ocean?
 
Changing the camera angle can hide or show items in your scene... for good and bad. For example, by turning the camera, you could barely reveal a villain lurking behind the trees. But if you turned the camera too much, the villain becomes exposed and your image could lose some of the scariness.
 
Camera Setting/ Focal Length
A lower focal length will cause objects in the scene to lengthen and may create a "fisheye" effect. Higher focal lengths will reduce the fisheye effect.
 
Many people ask the question, "What is the best camera setting?" The usual response they receive from the online community is, "Set the camera's focal length to 100 or above." This is actually incorrect. The better answer would be, "Tell me what you're trying to achieve with your image and then I'll recommend a camera setting."
 
For example, if I was making a scene with a long hallway, a lower focal length would exaggerate the length of the hallway. But if I was making a scene with people standing next to a door at the end of the hallway, I may want to use a higher focal setting. In other words, there is no "best" camera setting for every image: The best camera setting for your image is the camera setting that best suits your image.
 
Lighting
One of the most important parts to a rendered image is the lighting. We recommend that you be a little more creative and use something besides the default light set. There are many light sets available for Poser, and it's a fairly simple matter to change the sun (or "atmosphere") in Bryce and Vue.
 
Or, stretch your skills and try Image-Based Lighting (IBL) or High-Dynamic Range Image (HDRI) lighting. (HDRI is supported in Lightwave, Vue, and Poser 7.)
 
Don't forget the use of colored lighting: although many people use white lights, try experimenting with different colors. What would your image look like with a red tint? How about blue or green?
 
Shadows
As you decide on a light set, don't forget the importance of shadows. A lack of shadows may cause your image to look flat or fake.
Do you want sharp shadows, such as those cast by the sun? Or do you want soft shadows, like those seen in "global illuminated" scenes?
 
Image Size
This topic can not be stressed enough: always remember that your image will be viewed on a website. This means that people will be seeing your image on their monitor... and if your image is too big, they will only see sections of it. Do you really want audiences seeing portions of your image at a time... or would you rather they see your entire image?
 
Even though many graphic designers use screen sizes of 1280 x 1024 pixels, there are still a large number of people who use a screen size of 800 x 600 pixels (though many people now use a screen size of 1024x768). If you design an image that's 1000 pixels wide, it may fit perfectly fine on your screen, but it may not fit fine on other people's screens. How much of your image will they see? If they view it online, both their web browser and the website will take up screen space. So, even though they may be using a screen that's 800 pixels wide, they may only be able to see 700 pixels of your image. That means they won't see 30% of your image!
 
Some people may argue that viewers can just save the image from their web browser to their hard drive and view it later, full screen. There are two issues here: One, even if they do save it, they will still be viewing your 1000 pixels-wide image on their 800 pixel-wide screens. If they view it full-screen, their software program will scale it down to fit the screen, which could result in less than optimal results.
Another argument against this idea is the fact that many websites add code to their pages to prevent visitors from saving images. Many websites believe that visitors will save the images and upload them elsewhere (this is a violation of copyright law).
 
Some people may argue that they can't get a good level of detail with a 600 x 600 pixel image. But, think about this: if viewers are marveling over the small details, then you haven't done your job as an artist. Yes, you want to have detailed elements in your scene, but that should be almost an after-thought of your image. You want your viewers to focus on your artwork, not on the cool texture of a spaceship.
 
Watch the Ground
Make sure any objects located on the ground are actually on the ground and not floating above it. Although aircraft, floating super-heroes, and jumping animals can be above the ground, a person standing next to a building probably shouldn't be floating in the air.
 
Character Expression
Whenever you have human characters in the scene, you should ALWAYS give them some kind of expression. Too many technically-correct images are simply ruined by a character's blank expression.
In Poser, it's not very hard to adjust some of the dials on the head to make the character open her mouth or raise her eyebrows. There are also plenty of face poses available for free (and for sale) that will give your character expressions for you.
 
This topic is related to Subject: think about what the character is doing and why he or she is doing it. Should the character be acting brave or cute or scared? Change the expression to let the viewer know.
 


Here are image-specific ideas:
 
Subject
This may seem like a basic concept, but what is the subject of your image?
 
For many images in 3d galleries, the subject is obvious: the shiny car with subtle reflections. But, how "artistic" is the image? What is the image saying, besides "Look at the car model that I rendered"?
 
Background
What's behind the main subject of your image? We recommend you be a little more creative and use something besides Poser's default gray background, Bryce's default sky background, or Vue's default sky background.
 
There are a myriad of sources for backgrounds: you could add additional props to the scene, you could change the sky and ground, or you could use a background image.
 
Style
What is the style of your image? Are you going for an animated look or are you trying to make a photo-realistic image? Keep in mind that it takes a lot of practice to make "photo-real" images, and when they aren't done correctly, they tend to look like a computer model pasted onto a background image.
 
Your goal should not be to create the best-looking photo-real images. Instead, your goal should be to make the best artwork that you can, using whatever style best suits you. If you want to make photo-real images, please feel free. But, you may find that it's less "work" to simply develop your own signature style of artwork.
 
Your Message
What are you saying with the image? What is your intended message? It doesn't have to be a deep political or philosophical statement, but there should be some point to your image. Even a simple pin-up image can have a message such as "The character is having a good time."
 
Are you even trying to express an emotion or a concept... or are you simply dropping an item into a scene and hitting the "Render" command?
 
Some images may seem very basic (such as a single character on a white background). But, look closer- is the artist making a statement by placing the character in a certain pose or location? Maybe the artist further explains a humorous image in the description.
 
Expertise will come with practice, but an average image with a strong "message" may be better than a technically excellent image with no "message". Or, rather, which image would you remember longer- yet another fantasy picture or a humorous picture that makes you laugh for days?
 


If you're stuck for image ideas, check out the editorial page on the JCH Digital Designs website on
Using Poser to Create Artwork (link opens in new window). The top section of the page is an editorial on the state of Poser artwork in the 3d graphics community, but the bottom section lists a large number of ideas for images... many of which haven't even been used in the galleries!
 


For some excellent examples of these techniques, please visit our Showcase Gallery

 

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