Yes, You Too Can Draw! – Ch 13 — How To Cheat At Perspective In 3D


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What I’m about to reveal to you will either seem really obvious or a possible game-changer. (Depending on how willing you are.) So far most of you have been taking baby-steps via pencil and paper. But this time, what I plan to suggest may seem like a huge leap.

What We Learned From Last Time

Before we push forward, let’s review what we learned from the previous chapter:

If you’re willing to try this path (and willing to likely stumble a great deal) you will find yourself well rewarded. If you don’t, no big deal. This is honestly more of a really good tip on how to cheat at perspective. I’ll start with my premiss.

The Premiss

As we, or most of us already know, it’s extremely beneficial to draw subjects from real-life. The purpose frankly doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a sketch or a painting utilizing persons, places, objects, whatever, will go a long ways towards helping us achieve a more believable result than what could be done straight from our heads. If our imaginations lack enough development (or are a little fuzzy), we will find that all those great ideas that form within our minds fail to materialize in the manner we intended.

Well, what if there was a method, that would allow you to both use your imagination yet allow you to have the clarity to draw geometric subjects in either a more convincing fashion and/or allow you to modify your subject so that it’s more believable to your viewer. What’s my method?

Use 3-D Modeling

It’s quite possible that more than a few of you are reacting along the lines of, “Are you kidding me?!” Well, I’m not. With 3D modeling, you the artist have the ability to quickly rough out geometric subjects and enjoy the benefits of visually seeing how an idea will look before you ever commit pencil to paper. I’m not asking anyone to create overly complex objects. You can model in as simple a fashion as you like. You don’t have to blow hundreds or even thousands of dollars for software. As far as software goes, my suggestions will all be FREE. As in costing you nothing.

I also want to note that I have actually used these programs. (Not very well.) I didn’t just google them for this article. There are other free 3D programs that exist (and some really affordable ones), but these are the top 3 that I believe will best serve the purposes of this chapter.

Check out the following 3-D programs:

  • Blender 3D One of my personal favorites. (This is the 3D program that I use the most.) I consider Blender 3D one of the most developed and mature open-source programs to date. Blender has a vast user and developer community, allowing for constant updates and bug fixes. It has most of the bells and whistles that you’ll find in any expensive 3D program and then some. Blender is capable of importing and exporting models to practically all other 3D programs. Download your copy from the Blender 3D website
  • SketchUpThis is a program that Google acquired a few years ago. There are two versions, the free SketchUp Make and the paid version SketchUp Pro. The Make version will allow you to knock out most basic tasks, but will force you to find workarounds if you want to import/export into other programs. What really benefits me is the 2D person that appears in every new window. The 2D person really helps to keep stuff like rooms and furniture at a correct scale. Google does provide solid tutorials to get you up and running. As a bonus, you have access to a ridiculous number of free models via 3D Warehouse. You can download your copy from Google’s SketchUp website.
  • Wings 3DWings 3D is an efficient, dedicated modeling program. It is open-sourced, but not as popular as Blender. I consider it pretty no-thrills. If you need to go beyond modeling or its built-in renderer, Wings will export to most major 3D file formats. Get you copy at Winds 3D website.

Any one of these 3D programs will allow you to quickly rough out a subject or scene. Will there be a learning curve? Of course. But the most I’ll ask you to do is to create basic geometric objects and scale them. Those are pretty simple things to accomplish in any 3D program. There are plenty of tutorials online that will get you up and running. Once you learn how to drop in, move, and scale 3D objects, you’ll eventually become more adventurous and learn how to modify objects. Heck, you may even want to learn how to model.

Once you have your subject roughed out to your liking, you can use it as a live model of sorts. You can also render your model and save it as an image to be printed. This is akin to drawing from a photo. You can also draw in details and expand upon your print out.

An old render of a restaurant done in Blender 3D
This is a render of an old scene that was created in Blender 3D a few years ago. I used this scene for a self-published comic book that I was working on. Copyright © 2015 Chris Hilbig

Are you still interested? Let’s start with the process.

Here’s The Process

  • Rough it out on paper.
  • Rough out a model.
  • Modify and refine your idea.
  • Draw it!

Rough It Out On Paper

Chris Hilbig's sketch of a bar
This took maybe a minute to rough out in my sketch book.

Get your idea out of your mind and on to paper. It doesn’t even matter if it looks like complete garbage or if the perspective and/or the foreshortening is all wrong. Just quickly draw it. No excuses. You need to get your ideas out on paper as soon as possible. Doing so will grant you the first opportunity to visually see your idea and analyze it.

Maybe your idea is just okay, but you have an inkling on how to improve it. This step will allow you to play with your ideas and find ways to improve them. This step will also allow you the opportunity to find out that your idea sucks and was never really worth your time. Regardless, you will find out before you waste large amounts of your time and resources on a drawing that results in failure.

Rough Out A Model

A screen shot of modeling in Blender 3D.
Recent modeling being done in Blender 3D for our next chapter.

Once you have a sketch that you’re happy with (and it doesn’t have to be great), you will use it as a basis for your rough 3D model. At this point, I want to reenforce the fact that this is just a step in the process. Don’t ever delude yourself into thinking that you need to create something that’s perfect or really detailed. In fact, try to avoid details.You just want to create rough shapes.

Nothing has to be perfectly even or exact. What you’re trying to accomplish is much like what you had done in the first step. You’re getting your idea into three-dimensions so that you can visually see and analyze it. This is another level of refinement. The point is to bring you clarity.


Modify And Refine Your Idea

The final render of bar from Blender 3D

What if your idea doesn’t work once you create a rough version in your 3-D software? What if you want to tweak the view or change the lighting? What if you want to add a building to a street scene? This is the step where this happens. If you need to go back to your sketchbook and change things up, don’t be afraid to do so.

What often happens is that the perspective or foreshortening that you use doesn’t directly translate to 3-D. That’s a good thing. Because once you go all out on your final drawing, you’ll directly run into the same issue. That’s the beauty of using 3-D software. It’ll help you quickly find your flaws so that you can modify and adapt to something more believable.

A Side Note

You can also use Google or Bing to search for already created 3-D models that can be imported into your software of choice. You’ll find that some of them will be available for free and other websites will charge you for a download. Once imported, you can modify them to your heart’s content or play with different views and/or lighting. Just be mindful of copyright laws and the type of rights that the author will grant you. I urge everyone to use someone’s model as a basis for your work and to not directly copy from it.

English: Example of 3-point perspective. Model...
English: Example of 3-point perspective. Model by “Noel” from Google 3D Warehouse. Rendered using IRender nXt and Google SketchUp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Draw It!

Final drawing based on render with shadows from Blender 3D
My final drawing based on a model that I created and lit in Blender 3D. Copyright © 2015 Chris Hilbig

Most 3-D programs offer the ability to render your models. What do I mean by render, and why would you want to do it? Rendering is simply the process of converting a 3D object into static pixels. Your objects before being rendered are just polygons made up of points and vectors. Thanks to advanced mathematics, your software can take those points, vectors, and polygons and manipulate them in a virtual 3D space. When you render a 3D model, you are basically creating a static image of your model.

Once your model has been rendered, you can save it as a JPEG or any other pixel-based file format, and open up the render in your favorite image viewer/editing program to print from.

You don’t have to render your model. If you wish, you can draw directly from your screen. I don’t know if you happen to have circumstances that will make this possible, but it is an option.

At this stage, you can finally apply the techniques that you have learned from previous chapters with some confidence.


Next Time…

Next time I’ll walk you step by step through this process using Blender 3D. This will require tons of images and lots of text to read. That’s why I won’t include the tutorial with this chapter. If I feel that it’ll be overwhelming to produce it, I can’t assume that you’ll sit through it all. Until next time!