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.

My Photos Published for Article in Cattery Design Book

In 2005, I was asked to take pictures of a local pet boarding facility that caters only to cat owners. Because of the facility's unique design and dedication by the architect/owner, the facility was to be featured in a new book about Cattery Design to be published in the UK.

Cat lounging in one of the home-like "rooms" of Kitty Hill
In the UK, "Catteries" are dedicated facilities where large numbers of domestic cats are boarded, raised and cared for. The article in Cattery Design (By David Key, Cambridge University Press, May 2006) was entitled: Case Study USA: Condo? No can do! My photographs of the interior of the home-like facility are published in the 8 page article (pp. 150-157).

Cattery Design Book Cover

Instructional videos aid online banking users

Bay Federal Credit Union rolled out a new online banking solution for their entire membership base in the Fall of 2015. Due to the significant differences from their old online banking system, they needed to create a large number of marketing communication projects to prepare and introduce the membership to the new system.

As part of this process, I designed and created two short "how-to" videos showing users how to login to the new system for the first time. In less than a week after the new online banking system was rolled out, these videos had been viewed almost 600 times.

Illustration Restoration and Conversion: Pencils to Pixels

In the old days before sophisticated computer programs were available to graphic artists, we had to use "old school" techniques for illustrations and concept drawings. In the following example, I had created the original drawing using colored pencil, air marker, air brush and frisket. Once a medium was committed to vellum, it was not possible to go back. Undo hadn't been invented yet.

Concept Car Hand Drawing, colored pencil, air pen.
I had created a number of illustrations like this one as design assignments in college. These "traditional media" drawings languished in my portfolio for years fading and gathering dust until I decided to do pens to pixels" conversion, creating a clean, updated digital copy which would be immune to the effects of the physical world.

Hand-drawing restored and converted to a scalable vector graphic
This "concept car" illustration was originally done in the media I mentioned above. For this project, I reproduced the entire illustration in Adobe Illustrator. So now the original drawing, which is fading and bleeding into the paper from age, can live on in digital immorality, existing as a scalable vector-graphics computer file which can be reproduced at any size and resolution, and will never fade.
I'm The illustration is a flat 2D image created using a 2D graphics program. I could have used a 3D graphics program to create a similar image. I would create a virtual "scene", generate a computer rendering, which could be "photo-realistic. That would have been exceedingly time-consumptive, although had I used a 3D graphics program, I could have produced an infinite number of images or animations, from different angles and with a variety of lighting and environmental effects. In this case, all I wanted was a simple reproduction of the original media-on-vellum illustration.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Black and White Conversion: Sandstone Outcrop

Color to black and white conversion
This started out as a color slide. I decided to convert it to black and white to see what it would look like.

Black and white conversion is not as simple as basic removal of color (desaturation). A much more effective conversion can be accomplished when keeping the effects of traditional photographic lens filters in mind - red for a darker sky, etc. 

After some adjustments to color the channels, contrast and grain, I think it looks pretty good, maybe even better than in color.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Model of Klingon "Bird of Prey" Makes Cover of National Magazine and Special DVD Movie Release

Back when I had more time in my life, I dabbled with a bit of miniature scale model scratch-building. I've always loved plastic model kits.

One day, after seeing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, I was talking with a friend and mentioned that I would really love to have a scale model of that Klingon Bird of Prey hanging from the ceiling, but at the time there were no plastic model kits available. I already had an interest in scale models, knew quite a bit about materials, concept modeling, and prototyping from my degree in Industrial Design. I had the time, so my friend said, "Why not just build your own scale model to hang from the ceiling." Well, that was it, I was off and running.

Original Klingon Bird of Prey miniature designed and built by Industrial Light and Magic -
being measured by my friend Jamie.
Original Klingon Bird of Prey miniature designed and built by Industrial Light and Magic - being measured by my friend Jamie.

I took reference photographs of the actual miniature models used in the Paramount movie, since they were on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (where part of the movie was filmed), I created my own scale construction drawings, gathered up some tools, in about 6 months I had done it. I had designed and made my own accurately detailed scale model of that cool Klingon Bird of Prey. Of course the original models in the film had a wingspan of about 48". Mine was about half that.

Working drawings of the model's main body
produced from reference photos and other resources.
Working drawings of the model's moveable wings
produced from reference photos and other resources.
A friend suggest I tell the story of the project, submit it to FineScale Modeler magazine. I did, and they were very excited to accept it. I now had to send the model itself to Wisconsin so they could photograph it—How-to article on "scratch-building" a scale model of a space ship from the Star Trek movies.

Rear Section Detail
The finished model - 24" wingspan
Here is link to a PDF of the original article published in FineScale Model Magazine (2.3 MB).
After I originally published information about this project on my website in 2002, I was contacted by a DVD production company contracted by Paramount Studios to produce a Collector's Edition DVD of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. They asked me if they could use the "blueprints" I created for my model for a feature on the DVD bonus disk. Needless to say, I obliged. I was compensated of course, but the thrill of having my own work featured in an original Paramount Studios production was amazing.

Here is a clip from the original video on the Star Trek IV: The Voyage  Home Collector's Edition bonus disk. The sequence isn't very long, but it is still awesome to me!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hand-Made 36" U.S.S. Enterprise Spaceship Comes Together in my Tool Shed

Hand-built 3-foot scale model of the USS Enterprise from the Star Trek TV show
My friend Ron made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Ron is a woodworker-cabinet maker. His wife is a die-hard Star Trek fan. He wanted to give her something extra special and unique for her birthday. As it happens, I am a Star Trek fan as well. He asked me if I would be interested in a trade of labor - he would build me a custom modular solid wood desk/workbench of my own design, if I would build a coffee-table-size scale model of the U.S.S. Enterprise spaceship from the original Star Trek television series. This custom hand-built scale model was to have electronic effects, illuminated portholes and needed to be free-standing. My desk and computer work area at that time was an old closet door laying down across two book cases. I could use a new custom-designed desk. It was a fair trade.

My workshop consisted of an 8-foot storage shed in my backyard. I had a modest collection of tools and materials from college, so I knew I had the means to pull it off. The finished size of the model was largely determined by the size of the workshop, the capacity of my tools, cost of the materials, and the weight of the various components that were to be assembled into the finished model. We settled on 36" from bow to stern. I drew up full-size plans and went to work on the model itself. Ron would make the solid wood base that would support the model and supply power to the electronics.

The principal material used in the construction of the model was sheet acrylic sourced from local plastics retailers. Other materials used were fiberglass resin, various other plastics, and various bits of structural hardware, and electronic components. Shaping of the saucer and hull components was done by layering and cementing together rough-cut acrylic parts and machining them down with power tools on specially-constructed jigs (we nearly burned out a router while shaping the 18" diameter saucer components). Since the port holes needed to be illuminated, I borrowed a hollywood special effects technique and chose to make the entire model transparent so only a few strategically-placed lights would be needed to illuminate the whole thing from the inside. The final paint job would be applied so that only the portholes would be unpainted and allow the light to show through in those places. As seen in the pictures of the model, this is quite effective.

The model needed to be semi-hollow in places to accommodate the internal lighting and electronic components. These hollow areas also needed to be accessible so maintenance could be performed if a bulb burned out, or if some other component needed service. Access to the inside of the model was designed into it's construction from the beginning. Three specific areas were designated as internal access points where parts of the model could be removed and replaced without affecting the overall appearance of the model, and without needing any tools.

Final touch-ups
Power to the internal components is supplied through the wooden display stand and a special connection plug inside the support tube under the lower hull. When the model is lifted off the base, the power coupling disconnects by itself. The primary on/off switch is on the wooden base The "sensor dish" at the front of the lower hull is connected to a rotary switch inside which allows the selection of the various lighting effect simulation modes of the model. Switch position #1 turns on the porthole lights, position #2 turns on the "running lights", position #3 turns on the lighting effects inside the caps in the front of the engine pods.

The project took about 4 months to complete. The finished model weighed about 20 pounds and was quite a conversation piece.

Below is a slideshow of images showing more views of the model, and various parts of the project.

Oh, and about that custom-built modular solid wood desk of my own design? It continues to serve me well and is more practical than just about any mass-produced piece of furniture could be.

Modular Desk built by Ron Hiatt Construction
The desk shortly after it's completion.