Friday, September 16, 2005

How'd you do that?

For those that don’t know, my main gig is at the local newspaper. My official title is graphics reporter, but because my illustration skills outweigh my reporting skills, I tend to get more illustration assignments than locator maps — which is good, ‘cause I’m one of those people who’d get lost with map in hand and GPS calling out directions.

Anyway, I sometimes get emails from readers who like my illustration work. Last week, I received an email from a journalism/multimedia teacher. She and a few of her students would like to know how I created a recently published illustration.
I thank her for writing me, and here’s how I did it:

First, I created this sketch using old fashioned pencil and paper. I emailed this sketch to my graphics editor and the sports editor for their approval. They just sit across the room, I can see them from where I sit, but in the age of computers and email, it's easy to be lazy.

Thing is, I created this illustration using a 6-year old outdated version of a program called Raydream Studio on a broken down G4, OS9 Mac. You can just imagine how many times this dinosaur crashed. Could somebody tell my people that graphic designers need equipment equal to or better than the company telemarketers? Excuse my editorializing, I'll get on. Anyway, most 3D programs use the same basic premise: start with 2D shapes, and extrude them into 3D objects. This example should give you the basics of how 3D works no matter what program you might be working in.

Think of 3D as modeling with virtual clay, except that you can't actually touch the model. (however, with newer 3D programs, you can use a putty-type tool to actually mold a model) You will form your clay-like object using three drawing planes: an X plane, Y plane, and Z plane. If you need to move an object, select the appropriate plane and move up or down, left or right.

Modeling: Here, I've taken a basic shape, in this example I've created a circle on drawing plane X. I've extruded the circle along a sweep path. Now I have a 3D cylinder. Using the various planes, I can now manipulate the sweep paths on either plane to get a desired shape. The red shape will eventually serve as my football players lower lip, and neck.

Using various cameras placed throughout the scene (universe), I can see the model from different vantage points. As you might imagine, this can be time consuming because this scene is literally built. Each piece — the nose; eyes; helmet; fingers; palms of hands; shoes; shoulder pads; arms; etc. — are modeled and placed in their proper alignment in order to build this scene.

I've also placed virtual lights throughout the scene to get a desired lighting effect. For special effects, I could have chosen colored lights, light bulb type lights, or even sunlight. I tend to have better luck, at least with Raydream, using distant light which gives a sunlight sort of effect. I can also decide if each light will cast shadows. I try to limit throwing shadows because they can muddy up your image. Besides that, look around you. Most times, depending upon the lighting sources and particularly if you are outside, your body only casts one or two shadows.

I used texture maps to add rough textures to the skull. I also added texture to the football players skin by sampling textures provided from other 3D models provided within the program. After getting the models positioned and lighted the way I wanted, I rendered the image (clicked a button) which basically created my final 3D image. I also created the mask (above right), within Raydream which I later used in Photoshop.

At this point, I finished the illustration in Photoshop, smoothing out rough edges and correcting the colors. Raydream has the tendency to go dark, particularly since it uses an RGB (red, green, blue) coloring environment. To correct colors, I used the "levels" command, and toned down the blacks. There are various ways in Photoshop to color correct, I just prefer "levels". I created details such as the eyelashes; the team logos on the helmets; and numbers on the uniforms in Adobe Illustrator. I also created the background clouds, sky, cracked ground in Illustrator. I placed all these components into separate layers within Photoshop. I basically had 4 layers. Bottom layer was white; next layer was the background sky and environment; the next layer was the players and cactus; the top layer was any graphic details. Once everything was in Photoshop, I fine-tuned everything with the airbrush tool.

That's it! Now, if ya'll could just convince my people to get me some updated equipment, I could do something really dazzling, probably much easier.


trish said...

Even your pencil sketches are lovely! Thts just not fair you know. everytime i read your blog, im overcome by serious envy!

Susan Taylor Brown said...

Oh boy, Don, looking at this process makes my brain hurt (sort of like doing math). My writing mind can't wrap itself around the idea of creating 3-D things on a flat computer screen. Wow.

And you write too. I'll take comfort in the fact that your sense of direction matches my own.

The Archivist said...

Actually, you seem to understand the current program pretty well, as evidenced here. If you got a new one, it would take time to learn... and how do you know that it would be any easier?