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Principles of Process

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Lesson 3 Principles of Process

The previous lesson discussed some basic tools and elements of 3D Studio MAX. Creating worlds that exist only in your imagination is dependent on your mastery of those tools and your ability to create within the structured process of this book's workshop. Showing you the step-by-step process of how to create TheEnd.avi is important, but without an understanding of the principles behind the process you won't be able to achieve your own vision in the work you produce.

The process that moves your ideas out of your imagination and into final rendered imagery is the focus of this lesson.


Previsualization is the process of getting what you see in your imagination out into some preliminary form. The result of previs can take several different forms: doodles, sketches, story writing, storyboards, preproduction paintings, and so forth.

When you've been given a scene to create, your mind will buzz with ideas—visions of what you want to make. You'll want it to be a masterpiece. Your producer then tells you the deadline and your heart sinks, reality sets in, and true creativity starts to appear.

True creativity is creation within some structural constraint, whether self imposed or as the result of the time and budget limitations of a CGI production. When these constraints are present, your individual creative process becomes the savior of your brilliant vision. This individual process must include some form of quick and dirty preliminary visualization. Without a way to quickly visualize the end vision you want to achieve, you will flail and then fail as an artist.

The first step in creating any scene is to have some preliminary visualization to guide you. This brings up an obvious question: "Do I have to be able to draw to be a CGI artist?"

Drawing and Computer Generated Imagery

This question and its answer are very controversial. The answer varies based on the background, training, and bias of the individual art director or animator answering the question. I have met and worked with many really good CGI artists. I like working with the ones who can draw.

So, in answer to the question: "Do I have to be able to draw to be a CGI artist?" From where I sit as an Art Director, the short, medium, and long answer to that question is: "Yes!"

The act of drawing trains an artist to be aware of proportion, positive and negative space, surface development, value contrast, and so on. Draw you must, but at what level?

You will need to develop your drawing skills to a level that will support creating your vision. This might mean that you keep a sketchbook (I recommend it) full of indecipherable diagrams that only you understand. It doesn't have to be great; you just have to understand what the drawing means.

Visual Shorthand

The reality is that if you can't draw, someone who can will be feeding you imagery to create. In many studios there will be people who are CGI artists that also have traditional drawing abilities. Depending on the size and focus of the studio, even if you can draw it might be only for your own process of creation. There are storyboard artists who specialize in preproduction visualization. They are excellent at producing concept sketches and preproduction art to guide you as you create your shots.

In Figure 3.1 you can see the entire page—from my sketchbook—that I used to previsualize TheEnd.avi. This visual shorthand is not that impressive. What's important is that I understand what I was trying to achieve. For me this was enough to create what you've seen in TheEnd.avi.

Figure 3.1 This is the sketch for TheEnd.avi. Sketches such as this are visual shorthand for your creative process.

In Figure 3.2 you see a different level of drawing. This is a sketch produced as a guide to create the CG image seen next to it. Even though it seems to be a more complex level of sketch, the same principles are in effect. The idea is to know what level you need to capture the preliminary vision and translate it into the computer.

Figure 3.2 Good previsualization of a CGI environment saves time and enhances your creative process. Use your sketches to guide you as you create your scene in MAX. Image from Intergalactic Bounty Hunter, c.1999, Creative Capers Entertainment, Inc.


The ability to previsualize design and animation ideas via diagrams, scribbles, clay sculpture, marker renderings, and so forth is absolutely essential. Without some previsualization, CGI artists wander in search of a place to start. This creates a common language that unites you as the artist with your art director, producer, and client. For this reason alone, these important people want to work with CGI artists who can produce some form of previsualization, usually in the form of sketches. To improve your sketching skills, get a sketchbook and draw every day.

You have your project; you've done some doodles and sketches—you're ready to go! Before you start using MAX to create your shot, there is one most important factor to consider: the story.

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