Saturday, September 29, 2012

3D, or not 2D?

How about 2.5D? As an artist, I always was somewhat dissatisfied with the two major graphic realms available in this particular universe. I am talking about the time-tested and heavily overused 2D and a bit more modern and innovative, still growing and maturing 3D. The 2D always looked a bit plain and as if something was missing (apologies to the great artists of the past and present). The 3D, on the other hand, no matter how sophisticated and realistic it was, always seemed a bit lifeless and fake (sorry, Pixar). Of course, there were Photorealism and Hyper Realism, but still not quite what I had in mind.   

And then it suddenly dawned on me: what if, somehow, I was able to create a new graphic realm, sort of a love child born out of an unorthodox union of 2D-father and 3D-mother (WOW!), utilizing the best of both worlds? In technical terms, it would possess simplicity, portability and light-weightiness of 2D, at the same time, having stunning look, feel and texture of 3D… Is it even possible, one would ask? Well, I wasn't really sure at the time, but I thought I'd give it a try.

After some research, I have discovered that a few terms somewhat describing this type of imaging technology have already been coined. 2.5D ("two-and-a-half-dimensional"), 3/4 perspective and pseudo-3D are terms, used mainly in the video game industry to describe among other things, a 2D graphical projections and similar techniques, which are used to cause a series of images (or scenes) to simulate the appearance of being three-dimensional (3D) when in fact they are not, or gameplay in an otherwise three-dimensional video game that is restricted to a two-dimensional plane.

 What also helped me a lot on this path of discovery is the fact that I did not have any formal education in the area of graphic design. Zero. Then, quite a while ago, I discovered Adobe Photoshop, and fell in love at first sight. My teachers were renowned Photoshop gurus such as Bert Monroy, always encouraging playing, experiment and working "out of the box". Versatility and virtually unlimited possibilities of Photoshop, combined with my curiosity and strong knack for experimentation, resulted in what I later called M-LETT 3D (or M-LETT 2.5D, in its latest incarnation) method (short for "Multi-Layer Enhancement & Texturing Technique").
The idea was fairly simple. I asked myself: what makes things look 3-dimensional and realistic?  Technically speaking, just a few components: perspective, light/shadow and texture.  So, how would you make things pop without employing actual 3D-rendering technology (a process of automatically converting 3D wire frame models into 2D images with 3D photorealistic effects or non-photorealistic rendering on a computer)?  Basically, how would you fake 3D? Photoshop already had almost everything I needed in its arsenal, and the best possible solution was to utilize the amazing and powerful set of features called ”layer styles".  Now all I needed was to assemble a toolkit appropriate for the task, as well as some innovative ways of using it.  Another important part of the equation was to incorporate various textures, such as various metals, enamels, precious stones, leathers and fabrics into my toolbox.

So, how is it actually done?  In a nutshell, here is how… You start with a regular flat two-dimensional image. I normally create it in a form of a vector image in Adobe Illustrator, or use a pre-existing vector or raster image, which I then vectorize. Next step is sort of a reverse-engineering process of the said 2D image, performed in Photoshop. I literally disassemble the base 2D image into multiple layers, positioning them as they would appear if it was a three-dimensional object. Every little detail counts. You may not even acknowledge it, but your brain will. As soon as all the layers are stacked up and ready, each layer and each detail would get its individual style-texture-shadow/light treatment. All elements come together in a final draft, which pops and comes to life in a very visually-impressive and an unusual way. All my images are results of a very detailed and time-consuming process.  And the process turned out to be a never ending work-in-progress to this day.  I have to admit though -- it's a lot of fun...

At this point, my lifelong interest in heraldry and insignia came into play. I realized that my task would be more feasible when dealing with generally flat objects with moderately-raised reliefs, such as coins, pins or various insignia. While researching the topic, I noticed how flat and plain the majority of such imagery used by webmasters,  in print production and manufacturing were .  A new idea started boiling alongside my Photoshop quest. What if I combine my newly-born "fake 3D" method with the idea of enhancing various heraldry and insignia objects, bringing them to life, so to speak, making them stand out and look realistic? This is how some of my major-scale projects , such as "Military Insignia 3D", "World heraldry 3D" and "Sacred Symbols 3D" were  born. I am following those in detail on my other blogs, as well as on my "Heraldry Workshop" blog.  This particular blog will simply be a showcase of my artwork and ever-evolving M-LETT 3D method, not covered on my other blogs.  Welcome to the new realm of 3D that is not really a 3D, or, if you wish, a 2D, which doesn't look like it normally would...  Hopefully, together we can answer the question: 3D or not 2D?