2D Artists Try Out a 3D World
What is it like to be a 2D artist moving into a 3D design world? This month, while we’re focused on 3D design, we wanted to get the inside scoop on making that transition. We spoke with to two artists who’ve successfully made that transition to gather their best advice for fellow designers ready to take the plunge.
A 2D designer tries out 3D.
Graphic designer Michael Dolan had dabbled in 3D design for a while before fully committing fully to the third dimension. “I played around with faking it in Photoshop, adding shadows and lighting and skewing perspective and trying to make it work, but I kind of threw my hands up,” he says.
He also experimented with high-end professional 3D tools like the ones for architects, and ploughed through a few physics research papers on 3D rendering, but the learning curve was too steep to manage along with the daily demands of running his own design studio. When he heard about Project Felix, Adobe’s tool for compositing 2D and 3D objects into photorealistic scenes, he jumped into the pre-release.
For Michael, it was an opportunity to figure out the mechanics of manipulating objects in 3D space through hands-on experimentation. “The cool thing about Felix is that you can play with designs and see what happens. That’s how I learned how materials interact with light and texture. I started by dropping in materials and models and really playing around to understand how 3D works. I don’t think somebody could have told me. I had to see it for myself. I had to understand it through designing.”
Who’s using 3D design, and what are they using it for?
3D design has deep technical roots. The earliest adopters were focused on the math and physics, especially folks in the gaming industry. But Michael suspects that 3D will have a much wider reach soon. His architect colleagues are already considering 3D renderings the new standard, and he thinks all digital designers will eventually need to know how to work in 3D: “It’s going to be part of the new designer’s toolbox,” says Michael. He’s begun using it for client work, and he’s part of a growing group of artists working on their own creative projects in 3D.
Ingrid Tsy, a freelance artist, started exploring 3D by way of her first love: fashion. “I wanted to become a fashion designer,” she says. “I would cut pages out from Vogue and watch runway shows. I was eager to learn the tools behind their work and decided to recreate those forms. Through trial and error, this is how I started making graphics in 3D.”
Every day, while she was studying graphic design in school, Ingrid dedicated time to learning 3D from scratch. The process was arduous, but moving into the third dimension freed her work in fundamental ways, even transforming her 2D pieces. “My work from three or four years ago looks flat and dull. It’s as if I’m following some arbitrary set of design rules. With 3D, I never had the pressure to fit or align anything to a grid, and it gave me the freedom to experiment with different camera angles, lighting, and effects.”
Tips for getting your feet wet in 3D.
If you’re interested in giving 3D design a try with Project Felix, Michael has some suggestions for how to get started. First, he recommends spending at least 20 minutes hovering over the tools. “If you hover over certain sections of the UI, you’ll either get brief descriptions or you’ll get GIF animations. They’ll name the tool or adjustment and show you what’s going on.”
Next, drag some primitives into your scene and get familiar with moving the models. Michael notes that this can be frustrating at first, so it’s worth working on this step until it gets easier. From here, focus on positioning and scaling, and then begin to play with light and materials. After that, Michael suggests bringing in some of the more intricate models.
Playing with words and design.
One of Michael’s favorite 3D designs so far is “Color Run,” a combination of text and abstract graphics. We asked him about the process behind the piece: “It’s got a gradient background that’s bright fluorescent purple-pinkish. I used the water splash model and manipulated it in a bunch of different orbital directions, twisting and turning it and adding different fluorescent colors to it, along with a really shiny material. Then I pulled it into Photoshop, weaving in the copy, and overlaying that copy to interact with the splash model.”