Why learning 3D modelling has helped my art

This is a topic I said I would discuss in my new year post. I got reminded of it again earlier this week when I was brushing up my InDesign knowledge and the tutorial mentioned about the benefits of multiple hobbies. How the different skills you learn can be surprisingly transferable.

I have been to multiple art schools and my favourite classes were always the technical, drawing based classes, such as still life and life drawing. Drawing to me has always lent itself towards mathematics than creativity. You don’t draw what you think you are looking at, you draw the specific dimensions, space and tonal values that is constructing the image. You create an illusion of 3D on a 2D plane by following strict rules.

Obviously, there is more to a good drawing than accuracy. A richness can be created by how and what materials you use; the confidence of a line; experimentation with colour and texture: these skills come with time and practice. But generally, if you want to learn how to draw you are usually taught how to draw naturalistically first.

Example of my life-drawing practice
3d modelling does something really unique. To create images, you literally have to build the object and the environment.

We talk about light sources in paintings. We learn about refraction and reflections….but its still two dimensional. Perhaps I became a lazy artist, where I just used tricks to create dimension because I knew they worked. I knew how to shade an apple because of demonstrations in workbooks. I knew how to create depth between objects through implying thickness of line or focus.

By building the environments in 3D programme, its essentially replicating the world and how light works and how textures and materials are perceived. The object could be “plastic” one moment, and then “jelly” the next just by affecting the controls. Or add and manipulate light sources on a whim.

Essentially, by manipulating computer generated environments to look like real environments. It enforces you to engage with your environment on a different level. You can’t just leave it to luck if you want it to look correct. By learning 3d modelling, I’ve had to learn more about light and colour theory than I ever needed to before. I’ve had to understand the properties of materials more than just ‘tonal values’ and ‘expressive mark making’.

Sitting down and watch endless tutorials about these subjects from 3D artists, although I have little interest in pursuing 3D art professionally, has felt like a valuable exercise for my future art practices. I wouldn’t have engaged with some of the theories if I hadn’t been introduced to 3D art. I don’t get to construct still-lives often enough, or have the equipment, to manipulate lights in a way that you can in seconds on a 3D software. You definitely can’t just “move the sun” in an aesthetic decision making process.

A 3D model based on a tutorial by a medical illustrator on youtube (sorry cannot find the source)
I have tried and failed to get into Photography. There is no reason why I would find it difficult, but I just can’t find that interest. We all know that passion drives learning.

3D modelling has a lot of techniques from photographers and film-makers. To render the images and animations you are using a computer-generated camera. Depth of field; focus; motion blur; camera filters can be manipulated in the control panels beforehand completely changing the look of the image. I personally would not have engaged in learning about these topics, if it wasn’t for 3D rendering. I’ve sat through multiple photograph-based classes, these weren’t new things to me, just unengaging in a way its hard to explain. Ironically, I now have a better understand on photography works and how to compose images for different uses. Maybe, I won’t be so timid about this topic in the future.

Learning is a habit and one I hope to continue.

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