How to bring 2D Drawings into 3D Life

It’s hard sometimes to conceptualize how one can bring 2d drawings or concepts into 3d art. I consulted my better half who is into the game and 3d prototyping to get some insights into how one can convert 2d drawings into 3d scenes. Sure one can set the image as reference and get to adding assets in a scene and then rendering. But it can always be done better with a few things in mind. So be it 3d concept art, a 2d painting or a plain photo that inspires you to go 3d, there are some key points to consider, so let’s get to them!

Hawaii sunset

Determine the need for the assets: Taking a look at the 2d piece of art, determine what objects you may need and what is built into the software. Some scenery building 3d software have terrains, some have trees, wind effects, and clouds. Some assets like a ship on the horizon or a character may be needed separately. So create a list and make a plan on where to procure them from? Will the final image incorporate objects from different software?

Block it out, the iterative approach: Some Designs essentially require you to block out the basic designs and then replace them with high-resolution models. Examples are dynamically loading game engines and render animations. For this, you will require to block out outlines to high detailed models and remove the models of high detail in far view. As stated earlier, engines and software that handle this automatically need to be told in render or pipeline settings which is the low and which is the high poly model.

Add the details: Adding small details adds richness to the scene. A floating boat that is shot from a high angle looks more attractive with algae, pebbles, a crab and a floating Lilly. Adding such details not only enhances the scene but adds much needed commercial value to the final asset.

Flower garden and walkway,trees in green parks,cartoon style low poly 3d render

Hide the seams: A big issue with 3d is where things meet. A shoreline meeting water, a forest edge meeting plain grassy ground, etc. You can gradually reduce vegetation, create foam and add additional seam hiding elements like fog, haze and smaller objects. Using falloff and glow settings in the right mix is also quite helpful here.

Lighting and shadows: Setting the Sun or main light position in the best possible location is the key to a good render. Also, it is advisable to use local lighting for individual objects. If you are highlighting a specific area or using a specific engine, you need to consider baking, GI, ray tracing or another method of lighting used therein. In general, ray-traced lighting is considered the best while it consumes a lot of rendering resources. New ray-tracing graphics cards have made it possible to get real-time ray tracing results in preview on some systems.

Rendering and post-processing: Try as many drafts renders as you want till you get the perfect camera angle and lighting example. Once you are satisfied, get a medium setting to render and then go for the final one. you can stagger your renders in the draft if you plan on animating a large clip.

Those were some of the insights into how to approach the subject of turning a 2d concept into 3d art. You can find more resources on each aspect in detail with some research. So happy rendering!

Photo credits: Artistashmita, Naruedol Thongkhao.

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March 26, 2020


This is a lot of work!  Thanks for identifying the trouble spots.

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