Introduction to 3D Computer Graphic’s for use in Advertising._____________________________________________
The following is adapted from an introduction to 3D when I ran a full-time 3D design department at The Cimarron Group in Hollywood for 6 years after setting up one across town at BLT and Associates.
It is no secret that 3D Computer graphics have revolutionized the entertainment industry in the last decade, and its momentum is only increasing. The Feature Animation divisions of all the large players are slowing down and even dropping production of traditional 2D animation projects, and increasing the amount of green lights for 3D animation projects.
This trend is sweeping through the industry. The VFX industry had adopted 3D for visual effects first, and it is now entirely saturated in the field. 2D video games have almost entirely been replaced by 3D real-time game systems. Pre-Visualization of complex production shots, which once were sketched out, are now worked out ahead of time in 3D.
This is not even taking into account the large number of other fields that have been affected by the use of 3D Graphics, such as; Medical visualizations; Architectural rendering, fly-through’s; Automotive Design; Photography; Manufacturing, and the list goes on.
This brings us to our industry of Advertising and the adoption of the 3D toolset for our use.
It was just twenty years ago that the first Apple computers were being used for Commercial Graphics that were once an ink, paint, and photography dominated field. Today Apple has held onto that market and every 2D graphics professional working today uses a Mac.
Well, 3D is the next wave to hit this field, and just like the introduction of the Mac changed forever the way we work, so too will the implementation of 3D into the workflow. It will not change what we do, but how we do it.
What are 3D Computer Graphics?
When we speak of 3D computer graphics a bit of education is in order. Some have mistakenly thought that 3D computer graphics has to do with those funny glasses you wear with one blue and one red lens in order to see a 3D movie like AVATAR, or a still image. Others think that it is a tool to create perspective views automatically. This however is not what we are talking about.
3D is a dimensional workspace that has added this 3rd dimension of depth in addition to the height and width parameters found in every other computer program from MS Word to Photoshop. This is a workspace like an empty stage or room, that gets filled with objects I create along with lights backgrounds and cameras to view these “virtual sets”.
Anyone who has sketched in a figure drawing class and then sculpted a model of that figure, knows that the latter task requires a full knowledge of the first two dimensions in order to move into the third dimension. The same is true with those trained in 2D thinking in Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects.
What 3D will do for Advertising?
3D is going to change the entire process in the creation of visual assets for advertising, so we will look at three distinct areas. First, we will look at the concept and design phase and how 3D is going to change this part of production. Second, we will learn how 3D is going to change the actual production of assets used in advertisements. And finally, we will look at the products that were created during production that have secondary uses and a market value not only a service, but as a product.
Part One: 3D used for the Concept and Design Phase
To illustrate a complex object out of a foreign material like the handgun done in glass would have been a hefty task for an illustrator, not to mention a real challenge to make it very realistic. 3D Computer Graphics has opened up this area to not only be quite possible but relatively straightforward to execute.
If you know what is possible to do in 3D, the design choices you make up front will follow your knowledge. If you are unfamiliar with what can be done, then the possibilities in 3D only become another way to do the same solution. Unfortunately, this is how many people are viewing 3D.
A fundamental shift into the 3D thinking process must take place with those who begin to use the medium either directly themselves, or indirectly use what has been created in 3D. It must be said that this is a real shift in thinking from 2D to 3D, and some do not make this shift.
While attending Art Center in Pasadena and going through the Automotive Design program each of us has a moment when we experience the disconnection between 2D and 3D. The car we sketched looked nothing like the 3D hunk of clay that we tried to sculpt out. Why is this? Well as designers we used the “tricks” that all illustrators do to “fake it” and make it look good. These do not translate into the real 3D world we live in. If the front end of the car being designed is sitting on the ground in the sketch, then the cars wheels won’t turn in real life, and as a designer you have failed, even if it looks great sitting that low in the sketch.
Most of us in the program make the connection, and the way we draw has changed so what we are thinking about while we sketch is what will happen when we sculpt it. This same connection has to be made by those who are going to use 3D as a tool in an effective manner.
Once the connection is made and the thinking has shifted, this opens up the possibilities available to us in 3D. Glass becomes a material that can be applied to anything that can be built. And like any material it has real 3D properties of color, transparency, reflection, refraction, etc. A Chrome tree, a wood hand, a glass airplane are now thought of as possibilities up front in the design and concept phase since it is now known that these things are possible to do with just a switch in the materials we apply to the 3D objects we build.
Also the designs that we come up with will broaden since in 3D we can build objects that do not and cannot exist in the real world. A wooden #2 pencil twisted into a pretzel and melting on the end is now an option that can be executed in 3D faster, and easier than to have it illustrated in a 2D program.
What this means is that in this first stage presentation phase, creatively we can be freed up to come up with new concepts based upon the knowledge that we have of the possibilities of 3D. So, the people involved here must be educated to the possibilities available to them in 3D at the concept and brainstorming level.
Part Two: 3D Used for the production of Visual Assets
A simple rule to follow in production is that we use the right tool for the job we have to accomplish. Using a 2D tool to try and do a 3D job is very time consuming, which translates to a high cost. The same goes in the reverse, namely that to try and accomplish a 2D job in a 3D program is time consuming and ends up being expensive.
First let’s look at how we can use 3D for smaller tasks to assist the creation of a 2D piece of artwork. For example, to bend a photograph into a cylindrical shape and view it from any angle is difficult and sometimes cannot be done in a 2D program, but it takes but a few minutes to do in a 3D program.
Understanding what can be done in 3D will allow production teams to assign tasks that would normally go to another department like photography, now to go to the 3D department instead. It will also allow the production teams to have these small tasks done as preparation for a traditional 2D project. For example; while working on a 2D illustration of a shaved head for Scary Movie 3 the finisher needed to have a 3D ball with a cutout showing both the perspective and lighting so the 2d “hair” could be applied in a way to make it look 3D. To “grow” the hair in 3D would have been a huge task, so 3D was only used as a tool to create a guide. Scooby Doo 2 used a similar guide, but this one was a bit more involved; a 3D Paw for lighting and perspective was built and 2D photographs of hair were applied over the top of the 3D illustration. The finisher said it cut his time down to 1/5th.
Secondly, 3D can replace some photo shoots entirely when dealing with objects and set environments. A staircase rendered in the exact materials, at the exact angle needed to match a set piece can be done faster and cheaper than to find a similar piece or visit the set, if that is even still possible. Building props and small sets is what 3D does best. A good rule of thumb is that if man has built it, it is easier to recreate these items in 3D than if it is a naturally existing object like a tree, an animal, or a mountain.
Part Three: 3D Reuse and Asset Creation for sales
One of the biggest benefits in 3D asset creation is that once an object is built we have it in a library of parts. It becomes like a virtual prop house or parts supply warehouse. A door made for one project can be reused in another simply by replacing a material or adjusting a proportion. The longer we are building these models, the bigger the internal library gets. So as time and productions go on, the pool of parts we can pull from becomes bigger and better.
This stock model library does not only serve us internally, but most of the assets can be sold online to other 3D artists for use in their projects. The props we create for an advertisement can be used for video games, architectural clients, film and television clients, as well as advertising and illustration clients like ourselves.
3D Implementation into Advertising
To become aware of what 3D Graphics are and how they will be used by the various advertising agencies this education process should involve anyone who will come in contact with the 3D assets created in 3D. Education from the top down is essential so that those who oversee the productions can be aware and suggest the use of 3D. It should also be brought to the very first worker who will actually need to get the assets from the 3D department as well as the Designer, Art Directors, and Creative Directors.
Those working early on in concept and brainstorming might want to involve the 3D Designer to get the 3D perspective on what can be given to the production.
During the first visualization process in sketch form, the illustrators need to be familiar with the 3D capabilities so that the designs they draw can be done.
Production can use the 3D department to achieve their goals in the concepts they present to clients, and get estimates for having 3D do the work against any other bids they may have.
Finishing can use the 3D department to recreate assets in a larger scale, or for creating guides to help in some tedious tasks in full size illustration work for finishes.
Those who work in Public Relations for the Agency should be familiar with the range of clients they can now tap into to do work for with the addition of a 3D Designer. [Video Game clients for example]
And finally the assets I create can be posted online and sold continuously as I create them, and need to be marketed to those who would want to use these kinds of models, images, and movies.
The 3D Tool
Why is the 2D graphics world so late in the game to implement more fully the use of 3D computer graphics? It does seem odd that the industry that embraced the Mac early on, and completely changed everything about the way we produce artwork would embrace more fully this huge new arena.
Well, it may come as a shock to some but the tool is not on a Mac but a PC. Let’s explain this a bit. Sure I can work in Photoshop and Illustrator on a PC, but every print vendor out there is on a Mac. And I will have to adapt my workflow to that of the industry itself as I deal with other users, clients, services , etc.
Well, the 3D graphics world is 98% PC based, and Mac has only a fraction of that arena. The two top 3D programs are both used primarily on the PC, though most 3D users do not use their Mac’s for 3D. This is why the 2D has been so slow in embracing 3D as it requires another computer which many diehard Mac enthusiasts refuse to get.
So yes, 3D can be done on a Mac, but the industry as a whole uses the PC for their 3D productions in every other 3D industry including Film VFX, Animation, Video Games, Architectural, Manufacturing and the list goes on. This is why the tool must be what the rest are using.
Software wise, 3D Studio Max has the largest worldwide user base of any 3D program and has the largest range of industry users from Film to Video Games to Architecture. This is what I am using.
Please feel free to contact me any time and I can give a quick demonstration.