The Paula Sanders Report:
The Art of Looking

nickcharles · April 30, 2006 12:00 am

I have been involved in art for as long as I can remember. I always felt that I was observant, especially after I was introduced to photography many years ago. Recently, my husband and I went to one of our favorite places, The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Oklahoma. It is there that buffalo have the right of way over humans and vehicles. It is also very beautiful. I have photographed it before and used these photographs to produce 2D artwork.

I felt that I was very familiar with the rocks, trees, and vegetation. However, I had never looked at it from the perspective of one wanting to create 3D art, with programs such as Vue 5 Infinite, Carrara 5 Pro, or GeoControl. If someone had asked me about rock formations, the trees among the rocks, the basic color of the rocks, and the color and texture of the water in the canyons, I would have given a quick and definitive answer. I would have also been at least ninety-five percent wrong. On this trip, I began to look at the scenery in an entirely different manner. I began to look at:

  • how it was constructed
  • how the various parts were layered
  • how the trees grew at different altitudes and slopes
  • how the water flowed
  • how the mountains, for example, were constructed at different altitudes and slopes

I took a lot of pictures, but I took them as reference material for constructing 3D landscapes. As I looked at various landscapes, and different ideas went through my mind, I mentally inventoried the programs I knew, to see which one would work the best to accomplish a certain visual idea. All the programs I use and like, have different strengths and capabilities. Matching them to concepts, I find, is key to a successful creation.

The following are some of the "surprises" I found, when I really started to look:

1- Similar-sized trees of the same variety, and in the same location, will have totally different root structures. Now I know this to be a fact, but I always felt that there should be some roots showing. The tree pictured on the right, below, from some views did not evidence any roots at all. Thus, I felt much better about using some of the "rootless" trees in the various programs.


2 - When I think of mountains, I do not appreciate that rocks will go in one direction on one level, and a different direction on another level. I think of changes in color or foliage, but not in rock structure.


3 - I also looked at how trees could grow on a mountain with very little soil, and at a distance look as if they are growing from the rocks. Look at the image below, and the green arrow in the image above.


4 - Along the same line as the images, is the next one which shows the construction of boulders with a tree growing between the many rocks.


5 - Lastly, I studied lakes, and how from different angles the water looks so very different. I looked at how smooth it can be in spots, and also how rough. These spots are also not always a uniform shape. I considered which programs I could use to capture these variations.


I also looked at how the water's highlights would appear photographically, to see if they would give me more hints to create them either before hand, or in post-work.


I am sharing this experience, because I was amazed at how differently I looked at my surroundings when it was from the perspective of 3D, as opposed to 2D work.

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.

file_302773.jpgThe Paula Sanders Report is a regular Renderosity Front Page featured column, where Paula investigates and comments on graphic software, techniques, and other relevant material through her reviews, tutorials, and general articles.
May 1, 2006

Article Comments

RealUser ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 01 May 2006

Hey Paula, this is a very useful article. I often asked and talked about realism in various forums for landscpae rendering. There are many, many different opinions about what is looking real/photorealistic and what not. But no one took the effort to depict they observations. Thank you very much for that! Regards, Markus / RealUser

Forevernyt ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 01 May 2006

Wow, some very good observations done here. Give me inspiration to take my camera out and do the same thing. I've got Bryce 5.5 and hopefully will be getting Vue in the near future and I always find it difficult to create landscapes from scratch. This gives me some ideas and direction. Thank you!

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 01 May 2006

Outstanding article Paula. I think we, as 3D artists, often tend to overlook the details, the little nuances that separate art from reality. This is an excellent reminder for all of us to remember to take a closer look at what we take for granted. Excellent supporting examples, but, but, but, where are the buffalos evil grin ;] Dee-Marie

DarkStarBurning ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 01 May 2006

Very enjoyable :o) Too often we look without really seeing. Thank you, Michelle.

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 01 May 2006

I just put a buffalo picture in my gallery. Since they didn't illustrate the article, I didn't put any here.

zap326 ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 02 May 2006

Many times when I'm out I'll see something natural and mention to whomever I'm with, "You know if I did that in a render it would look really odd and fake." - Quite often these thoughts of mine just come out when for instance we're looking at a very strange real-life sky,...."That looks so fake." ;-) --- As someone who's also been a photographer (as a hobby) for years I like taking shots from unsual locations and so on. But in 3D artwork often a single item can 'throw' an image off much like a fly on the Mona Lisa's face would. Eveyone focuses on the 'mistake' and loses the big picture, literally. ;-)

clifftoppler ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 02 May 2006

Inevitably we see the merest fraction of what is before us at any moment. the eyes probably focus on little, and even less is filtered for attention. This selective process is necessary for otherwise the brain would be swamped with useless information. Fortunately, the things deemed important get through and the brain-eye chain soon learns to respond to different priorities. This happened with me when I took to photographing fungi. Very quickly they were to be seen everywhere. There is probably a scientific explanation. Cliff

jc ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 04 May 2006

Very thoughtful and thought-provoking article Paula. Like other art skills, seeing is one that takes lots of practice and devotion. As your article shows, photography is one good tool to help in both the learning and constant exercise needed for deep artistic seeing. Many try to simulate the visual world without really learning what it looks like. And they miss out on so much joy in experiencing our magnificent visual world.

3DSublimeProductions ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 05 May 2006

Been meaning to get here and respond to this article. Wonderful observations Paula, and for enthusiasts of how to acheive the "realness" that we all try and capture in our minds... I offer this little excercise: On a day when you are just lounging around the house with nothing to do :) - grab your camera and go outside and pick 1 object as your case study. Take pictures of that object from 4 different angles, and then repeat this process every 2 hours until nightfall. Open your picks in your image program, and make them small enough so that you can view them several angles, and time frames at once. You will simply be AMAZED at how an object can change in appearance in two hours time. Real world lighting is AWESOME and the effects that will become clear to you are even more amazing. I have done this excercise with trees, flower gardens, our shed, and even a brick wall. The sun rises in my kitchen window and sets on my front porch :) - so comparing the lighting on these objects throughout the day helped me understand how real world light moves and changes the appearance of the object. Hope this helps someone... and if not, shoot... youll have fun taking all those pics atleast !!

Claymor ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 05 May 2006

Good words. A friend, who also happened to be a brilliant artist, once told me that the second most important thing an artist can do to improve is learn to use his or her medium...technical practice. The FIRST most important thing is to learn how to see.

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 05 May 2006

Thank you, Southernlady. That is really good exercise that makes a lot of sense. I'm glad you added this. Paula

Jean-Luc_Ajrarn ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 05 May 2006

Thank you Paula. :) Fascinating (as Mr Spock would say) article. :)

fractalartist01 ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 07 May 2006

Thanks soooo much! I enjoyed and learned a meaningful lesson from this. As a 2-D artist and 'visual person'(according to test results) who truly enjoys painting landscapes more than any other subject, this article will help me to view those landscaping elements of water, mountains, rocks, clouds, etc., from an entirely new perspective. Much is often said about the difference between "hearing and listening" but I had never given much thought to the difference between "seeing and observing."

LillianH ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 07 May 2006

Great article Paula! Reminds me that it's never about the reality, only our perception of it. Thanks for sharing your insights, Lillian

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