3D Motion Graphics for 2D Artists: Conquering the Third Dimension

3D Motion Graphics for 2D Artists: Conquering the Third Dimension

by Bill Byrne

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Add 3D to your mograph skillset! For the experienced 2D artist, this lavishly illustrated, 4 color book presents the essentials to building and compositing 3D elements into your 2D world of film and broadcast. Concepts and techniques are presented in concise, step-by-step tutorials, hundreds of which are featured throughout. Featured applications include Photoshop,

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Add 3D to your mograph skillset! For the experienced 2D artist, this lavishly illustrated, 4 color book presents the essentials to building and compositing 3D elements into your 2D world of film and broadcast. Concepts and techniques are presented in concise, step-by-step tutorials, hundreds of which are featured throughout. Featured applications include Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Cinema 4D.

Lessons include exploring the expanded 3D functionality of the Adobe Creative Suite applications (After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator) through a series of practical tutorials. More advanced lessons then follow, with tutorials and insight provided in specifically geared lessons for 2D artists working in Cinema 4D, 3ds Max, and ZBrush.

4-color presentation is further enhanced by various sidebars, tips, and "gotchas" to watch for through-out the book. The DVD contains hours of project files with which you can work along the tutorials in the book.

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Conquering the Third Dimension

Focal Press

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-81534-3

Chapter One


This book is designed to solve a very specific problem— flatness. Two-dimensional motion graphics designers and animators routinely hit a brick wall. You have these flat objects occupying a manufactured world, and the illusion of depth is just not enough—you want it to turn in space. More so, you have a client who is demanding that object turn in space, and you need to meet that request (or, let's face it, someone else will).

This usually leads folks to look for plug-ins for After Effects, or a three-dimensional animation application. Then a new roadblock appears (or several)—how do I use these things? First, 3D is a lot more difficult than 2D. Second, beginner resources for 3D software start you from the very, very beginning, and you may not have the time to spend spinning cubes.

This book will explore several options for 2D motion graphics artists. First, we'll take advantage of the new and not-so-new 3D tools in Adobe software, which are quite useful and may solve a large percentage of your concerns. Second, this book will address existing tools that can be added to After Effects, like third-party plug-ins that add 3D functionality to AE. Third, we'll dip into 3D software including Cinema 4D, ZBrush, 3dsMax, and others, starting you in the direction of developing your 3D skill set.

How to Use This Book

If you are familiar with either of my two previous textbooks, The Visual Effects Arsenal (Focal Press 2009) and Creative Motion Graphics Titling (coauthored with Yael Braha; Focal Press 2010), then you won't find what I am about to say all that surprising. My teaching motivates my textbook writing. I am as fascinated by how people learn as I am by what they learn.

Students and professionals want books that address specific problems and solve them. They are not nearly as motivated by the guts of a software package as they are by what it can do for them. This book is designed to take people who know 2D motion graphics and animation and get them on the right path to learning 3D. This book won't teach you everything you need to know about 3D motion graphics—learning everything about 3D animation is a lifelong pursuit.

The aim of this text is to get you started in 3D by introducing you to available options that can be added with relative ease to an existing 2D animation skill set. In many ways, this book is designed to be 3D animation from the very, very beginning. This book does assume some foreknowledge of standard 2D tools (such as Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator). 3D packages will be introduced like 3dsMax, Cinema 4D, ZBrush; and After Effects plug-ins like Trapcode Particular, Trapcode 3D Stroke, and more.

Even though you will be introduced to numerous tools that have infinite applications, techniques will be the focus of this book. What's the point of learning an incredibly complex tool if you don't get to see what it does?

Chapter Two


Creating the Illusion of Depth

The essential point of creating 3D art and animation is to create a believable world. That world can be completely false, but the audience needs to buy into your reality to some degree or it will be meaningless to them. Even the strangest realities will need to have some signposts for the audience to be able to get some sense of it. In any case, the 3D artist must build a world, a world that is also a stage.

What's the difference? A world exists, and does things with or without the viewer. It pays the viewer little mind. A stage contains a representation of something that resembles the world for the benefit of the viewer. It's a show. Art is always a presentation for the viewer. Flat art, such as drawings, photographs, films, and paintings have always had a limitation in that they pretend to contain true depth but are actually flat illusions of depth.

Why does this matter to you? Well, 3D animation will take the real world and recreate it within a flat space. It matters to you because in this day and age, when that "wow" factor is few and far between, what better way to engage viewers than inviting them into a completely imagined world that they can relate to and that is a complete work of your own fantasy and design?

Three Dimensions

Objects in our world have three dimensions: height (represented by X space in Figure 2.2), width (Y), and depth (Z). Nonsculptural, flat art represents height and width easily because flat art is two-dimensional. Now you may be thinking, I have seen three dimensions in flat art, but that actually is not true. You've seen the illusion of depth. In fact, there are a series of techniques that are employed to make something appear to have depth that in fact does not.

Stacking or Layering

The first of these techniques is stacking or layering. What this simply means is placing objects on top of each other. Objects that are closer to the viewer should be on top of objects that are farther from the viewer.

Stacked or layered objects overlap others and this establishes distance quickly and effectively.

Top and Bottom Placement

The vertical order in which objects are arranged in a frame influences the perception a viewer has of how close or far an object is from them.

However this rule varies based on the content of your frame. For example, in Figure 2.4, an exterior space or landscape's depth is determined by placing objects closer to the top of the frame if they are farther away from the viewer. In an interior space, the objects at the top of the frame appear closer to the viewer; see Figure 2.5.


The use of color can also create depth in an image. Objects closest to the viewer would be the most saturated, with the brighter colors. Objects farther away will be darker or less saturated. In landscapes such as Figure 2.6 you will see that the mountains in the distance look as if they have a blue-gray tint.


Perspective is quite possibly the most effective technique for creating depth in a flat image. Lines that occur naturally within an image moving toward a vanishing point create perspective. The vanishing point is where the lines creating perspective converge, gesturing a continuation that is no longer perceived by the human eye. Perspective lines can be used as a guide to keeping objects following a diminishing scale. Let's say we take two objects that are believed to be the same size by the viewer. The object that is larger in the frame will be perceived as closer to the viewer.

Multipoint Perspectives

One-point perspective is employed for classic road-goes-on-forever, railroad-tracks-to-infinity-type images, because it employs a single vanishing point. Every line in the image meant to indicate perspective moves to that vanishing point.

Two-point perspective would be used to take an object in perspective and rotate it on the horizontal axis. Think of a photograph of the corner of a building. The two sides of the building are following two separate planes, and therefore the perspective should be adjusted accordingly.

To demonstrate a top-down bird's-eye view of an object, three-point perspective can be employed. This time there would be three vanishing points employed to present the object (see Figure 2.10).

Depth of Field

By emulating the behavior of the camera, we can also create a sense of depth. The camera's lens works like a human eye; the objects in focus appear to be closer than objects that are not sharp. However, cameras also allow us to flatten space by leveling the amount of change of focus within an image or depth of field.

Defining the Difference between 2D and 3D Computer Graphics

The techniques just discussed work when applied to 2D art in creation of the illusion of depth. We will discuss several techniques for creating the illusion of depth in 2D graphics, but what about when we need to get past that? 3D graphics software is designed to create virtual worlds like our own real one, within our computers, to handle all of this illusion stuff for us. So rather than painstakingly emulate the behavior of light, the software tools we will discuss will be able to apply algorithms to this for us.

I know what you might be thinking: If I can take a photograph of the real world, why is that considered 2D when a scene built in Maya is considered 3D? The answer is essentially the following: A photograph on a computer monitor is just flat pixels assigned to specific positions. A 3D scene uses wireframe structures that can be viewed from any angle, by moving a virtual camera. As discussed earlier, it is a virtualization of the real world on your computer that can mimic our real world as closely as the artists involved are willing to make it.

Questions about 3D You Were Afraid to Ask

We 3D artists can be an elite bunch with little time for questions from noobs. This section is designed for you beginners, with some of the best answers I could come up with for very common questions.

What is a 3D Model?

Models are mathematical shapes formed into the surface of 3D objects. Vector objects are created by the positions of points in a 3D space, and then a raster graphic is assigned that geometric object to define its appearance. So the vector wireframe can be moved around within the space where its size, angle, and position can be adjusted at any point in time. Models are either built by hand or from a scanned object. In this book we will address the process of making models by hand, as in many cases it is just not possible to use a 3D scanner on an object (like a building).

What is Texture Mapping?

A model is a wireframe with a surface. That surface can be a flat color, an image that was drawn or painted, or even a photograph. So texture mapping is the process of applying a raster image surface to a 3D model. Several different maps can be applied to the same object to create what is known as a multitexture. These would typically include a UV Map. UV mapping is the process of creating maps where specific points in a 2D texture are plotted to specific locations on a 3D model.

What is Rendering?

Rendering is the process of creating a 2D image, be it moving or still, of a 3D model or scene consisting of a number of models.

Why is Poly count an issue?

Every 3D object is made of polygons. A sphere can be infinitely subdivided into a larger number of polygons. So, the more polygons used, the more complex the surface of an object can be. However, the more complex the objects are, the longer it would take to render. Video game designers typically go for lower poly counts because they want the rendering to happen more quickly (since rendering in a game is real-time). Very high poly counts mean the more photo-real the 3D object will be.

What is the Difference between 2.5D and 3D?

2.5D refers to techniques that software will use in order to make a hybrid that lives somewhere between 2D and 3D. For example, Adobe After Effects has a 3D switch that allows users to turn a 2D object in 3D space. That object is still completely flat—it is just turning in 3D space.

Chapter Three


We are assuming that you are a knowledgeable 2D motion graphics artist. We figure you are someone who is looking to branch out your skills by adding new software skills. This book does assume a background with the Adobe CS suite, mainly Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe After Effects. The first few chapters will address techniques for these three packages that are either (1) newly added to the software or (2) classic techniques that users may just not be aware of. Photoshop in its last three versions has added significant and powerful 3D tools. After Effects has supported 2.5D for several versions. With version CS4 it also supports Photoshop 3D files. Additionally there's a long history of add-on tools or plug-ins that add 3D support.

However, this book also addresses how you would dip into other software to get tools like After Effects, which the Adobe suite just doesn't come with. So we will look at 3D hosts, modeling tools, digital sculpture tools, and other options for working some 3D into your motion graphics. The list and advice that follow are in no way intended to be comprehensive or set in stone. At every opportunity I try out a tool or software package that may improve my workflow and I encourage you to do the same. You know your own needs better than anyone else, and part of the theme of this text is managing your expansion into 3D on an as-needed basis.


Excerpted from 3D MOTION GRAPHICS FOR 2D ARTISTS by BILL BYRNE Copyright © 2012 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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