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 Taming The Dimensions
Marie Brown
Marie Brown
Marie Brown is an experienced writer and a less experienced 3D artist. Her interests include creating 3D content, experimenting with different software and render engines, and learning how to make 3D imagery so fabulous that no one will question whether it's art or not.

Composition? Or Worldbuilding…

August 11th, 2014 by Marie Brown

Hello again! First off, I need to apologize for falling off the face of the web. I didn’t produce even a single post for the entire month of July, because I got thoroughly sidetracked by Camp NaNoWriMo, one of those crazy wild writing adventures I’ve grown to love. But I’m back now, and I have a few subjects waiting patiently in line for me to write them out. So here goes.

Composition is a huge word in the photography world, and in the 3D art world, as well. I don’t much like thinking about it, which tells me it’s something I probably should look into. I avoid stuff I don’t completely understand. To me, the word and the concept behind it just smacks of careful thought, and planning, and mapping out concepts, and all sorts of other stuff, when all I want to do is make pictures I think are cool looking. But to get those cool looking pictures, I really should know the rules of the trade. Right?

A very basic definition of composition, as applied to both photography and 3D art, is “the arrangement of visual elements within the visual frame.” Nice, bland, boring definition. It doesn’t take into account the vast amount of discourse on composition available online, in books, in videos and classes and pamphlets… You get the picture.

Now, I’m not about to take on the entire subject of composition in this blog post. That’d take half a lifetime. And I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably run across the term before, and maybe even concepts like the “rule of thirds” and the “golden spiral.” What I will do, however, is share some thoughts I’ve had recently while I was supposed to be working, about how traditional composition fits together with the worldbuilding a writer does, and applies to 3D art.

A 3D artist, like an author or a movie director, is in complete control of the set. Of course, in this case, the set is a program window in DAZ Studio, empty and waiting to be filled with magic.

So what belongs on this blank stage? The obvious things are a character and some background elements. But to build a believable world, you need a whole lot more than that.

Cue WRITER, stage center.

As a writer, I’m used to thinking about the backstories of my characters, and I suggest doing that for 3D artwork, as well. Giving the character a life and a story, even if it just stays in your head, will make a more believable image. What’s the character’s name? What kind of world does he/she live in? What is he/she doing at the moment you want to portray? What colors does he/she like? (Yes, there’s a reason to know that.) Does he/she have a job? A pet? A significant other? Or even three significant others.
Now for the setting. Where do you want this person? Or creature, or plant… nothing says, after all, that the subject of an image must be a human. Best part about 3D art right there, if you want to do a picture of an alien infant as it hatches from an egg, you can, and make it as realistic as a photograph. But for now, I’m going to call the subject a female person. What can she see around her? Can she hear anything? Is there any noticeable smell? What objects can she reach out and pick up, or otherwise interact with?

This is the point when I start getting into the details of my character, the posing and dressing and hairstyle. Here’s the part where it’s helpful to know your character’s favorite color is emerald green, because you can retexture the clothes you choose to reflect the character’s personality.

You’ve got your basic scene, now. There’s a person, who is doing something, in a setting with stuff all around. That sounds terribly unimpressive when described so generically, but it looks a lot better in your head, doesn’t it? Now think about the atmosphere. And I don’t just mean the stuff your character is breathing. What is the temperature? What is the time of day? Where is the sun, or the moon? Are there stars or planets visible? Indoors or outdoors? Is there any haze in the air, and if so, why? A foggy mist produces a different kind of haze than, say, flying sawdust. What does the lighting look like? Are there bugs, or birds, or pixies? Is there perhaps a cat creeping across the mantle of the fireplace?

So there you go. That’s the kind of thinking I do when I’m writing, and applying it to 3D art works just as well, and helps avoid that whole “purchased content plopped on a stage without much thought” look that sometimes happens in 3D rendering. Maybe seeing the worldbuilding process laid out from an art perspective will give you ideas. If so, feel free to share the results!


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