If you, like me, began your artist life back in the B.C. days (Before Computers), you learned how to create pictures with a pencil, a brush, or maybe with ink and a pen nib. Perhaps, like me, you went to art school and learned how to draw and paint from life. That is, you most likely learned how to see, how to capture with your hand and eyes the world around you. You learned to study form, shadow, line, perspective, color theory…all that good stuff. If you’re now trying to learn the new computer-based tools for creating art, those skills are just as important to you as they were in the pencil and eraser days. Look around at the art being created on computers, and you’ll see that many of the artists wielding the new tools have still not learned the basics of color, design, and composition. As I’ve spent the last few years trying to learn the new tools, I try to remind myself that I do have an advantage, in knowing those things. So even if it seems some days that the learning curve in front of you is as big as Mount Everest, remember that you start your journey with some important skills already under your belt.
For the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume that you are just starting out on your digital art journey. You know how to paint and draw, but computer art is a mystery to you for the most part. Believe it or not, the book being reviewed here is just what you’re looking for. “But it’s about 3D Game Textures,” I hear you say. “What the heck do I need that for?” Let me explain.
There are two types of computer art: 2D and 3D. Most computer artists tend to stick to one or the other, from what I can see. 2D art is what you already know how to do: paint and draw. On the computer, you use a digital tablet instead of a pencil or paintbrush, and you run software like Photoshop or Painter. Your “paper” is the computer monitor. Learning 2D on the computer is a matter of learning Photoshop and/or Painter, and getting them to make the sort of marks you used to make with traditional materials. The learning curve here is steep, but short.
3D art, on the other hand, has a huge, steep learning curve. In 3D art, you create a 3D representation of the real world, color it, light it, and then take pictures of it (called “renders”). If 2D is like painting a picture, 3D is like creating stage set filled with props, lighting it, and then moving around with a camera taking pictures of it. In the case of 3D animation, your camera is a movie camera, and you have actors running around your set doing stuff. What’s thrilling and daunting at the same time is that you (yes, you) can create a movie not unlike “Ratatouille” or “Monsters, Inc.” all by yourself, on your home computer. Today’s computers and software put that sort of creative power in your hands. It’s very exciting. But holy cow, where do you start?
As you can tell from reading articles on this site, the tools I use are mostly Photoshop, Painter, and Vue Infinite. I do both 2D and 3D work. I began my art career as a watercolorist, painting landscapes, so I was naturally attracted to “landscape generators” such as Bryce and Vue. These programs are very good at creating outdoor scenes, including mountains, lakes, forests, and so on. What they don’t do very well is create objects, such as cars, buildings, and spaceships. For that, you need to use what’s known as a dedicated 3D modelling program, and these are huge, expensive beasts, with names like 3DS Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, and Softimage. If you think Photoshop is hard to learn, you ain’t seen nothing yet. But once you have conquered one of these programs, at least to the point where you can make 3D models with it, you are free to build your “stage set” with anything you can imagine. (The alternative is to buy models on the Internet, much like buying stock photographs. It can be expensive, and you may not be able to find exactly what you’re looking for.)
As an artist, the appeal is irresistible. What creative freedom! As a watercolorist, I was always limited by the scene in front of me, or the photo references I had shot. Now, there are no limits. Any scene I can imagine, I can create in 3D and then “make a picture of it.” I can even bring the picture into Painter and keep working on it there.
At this point you may be asking yourself, “Hey, isn’t this supposed to be a book review?” Yes, it is! But I needed to give you some personal background, and some information about 3D, before I could explain why this book is so very helpful. This book is just about the only one out there that explains how to create 3D textures. The author is a game artist, but don’t let that deter you. What he has to say will help anyone who wants to create realistic images with 3D software.
If 3D is a stage set, then texture is the paint and window dressing and materials used to make the set. In traditional watercolor, you paint a rock by painting all the details of that rock, and the shadows, and so forth. In 3D, you start with a gray, relatively undetailed lump, and assign a texture to it. This is a JPG file, created in (you guessed it) Photoshop. Then, you assign a “bump map” to it (another Photoshop file, naturally) that makes the rock look…well, bumpy. Shine a light on it, and realistic shadows appear. It’s a different way to create a picture, but the end results can be stunning.
This book, 3D Game Textures: Create Professional Game Art Using Photoshop, shows how the pros create realistic surfaces using layers, layer styles, and the other tools in Photoshop. The author, Luke Ahearn, does an admirable job of explaining just enough of the basics to get you oriented. The first two chapters, on the basics of 3D, could have easily gotten lost in technobabble, but Ahearn explains everything in clear terms, with lots of great color illustrations. Chapter three explains the parts of Photoshop you’ll use in the book, nothing more or less. I found it easy to follow, but I also know Photoshop pretty well. Chapter 4 deals with taking digital pictures of textures in the wild, creating seamless tiles, and such like subjects. With these chapters under your belt, it’s time to create some textures. There are one chapter each on textures relating to Sci-Fi, Urban settings, Fantasy settings, and landscape. The final chapter is the only one that is really game-specific, though there is information scattered throughout that won’t be that interesting to you if you (like me) are simply out to make realistic still images to sell in the print market and make a bunch of money. (Ooops, did I say that out loud?)
For a third-career guy like me, this book is a godsend. There are lots of books out there on 3D modelling, tutorials all over the place on the Internet for Photoshop, but finding useful information about 3D texturing is near impossible. Mostly, it seems to be found in forums where everyone already knows what they’re doing, and speak a lingo all their own. This book will help you understand what the heck those folks are talking about. I hope this rambling diatribe inspires you to pick up a copy. You won’t regret it.
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- Book Review: Digital Painting in Photoshop
- Book Review: 100% Photoshop by Steve Caplin
- Book Review: Beyond Digital Photography
- Book Review: Digital Art Revolution by Scott Ligon
- Book Review: Vue 7 – Beyond the Basics
- Review: Digital Collage and Painting, by Susan Ruddick Bloom