Why this question?
Even after more than ten years as a concept artist I still ask myself the same question: what is a good design layout? Too often I see 3D artists getting frustrated when they try to study design layouts given by 2D artists.
We 2D guys many times get lost in this jungle of visual information. We follow trends and fill our blank pages with unnecessary sketches just to make the page look full. At the end we use a whole lot of cheap photoshop effects to make everything look shiny. Everything might be very clear to the concept artist himself but not to the 3D guy who uses this information. Too often he gets tangled up and has hard time decoding the visual riddles we provide them with. This shouldn’t happen. If it does, it means job has been done poorly and incorrectly.
How to do it right though? It is hard to find analytical information on this specific topic, so I decided to dig deeper into this subject myself. It is not an attempt to find all the answers but to get to know the subject more and share knowledge with whoever might find it useful.
So what is a good design layout?
In my humble opinion a good design layout is the one which delivers very clear information on how to proceed with the task once it’s been handed to the 3D artist. Not less, not more.
If you ever bought something from IKEA you probably know the feeling when you hold the manual in your hands and hope that all instructions will be clear enough so the job can be done smoothly. Same goes with design layout. Person who uses your visual guidelines is hoping that he will have the same smooth experience as with assembling IKEA furniture. If that’s the case, then both the 2D and the 3D artist avoid running across the office or writing tens of messages trying to figure out what was supposed to be clear and easy to read in the first place.
So what elements make a good layout? According to my opinion, these are the most crucial things when delivering visual guidance to the next person in line:
Side, front, back and top views
Size reference indicator
Multiple piece explosion image
Change stages of particular piece/pieces
Combinations of these basic elements can vary depending on situation. Often we need second page if first one gets cluttered with too many images. Better keep it clear and move it to another page than deliver a mess.
Short explanation about each of these elements
Everything is usually very clear for concept artist himself. However, 3D artist sees the layout for the first time. Let’s not forget that. To be on the same page with your colleague you need to show your design in context. Believe me, this way you will avoid false interpretations. To save time, you can use fragments from previously done key art or sketches. Finished and neat look is far less important than the story we tell with our layout to the 3D guy. Often times it can even serve as inspiration for his work. This is always a plus.
This one is for your object or character to be shown in perspective. We have to choose suitable angle of camera and the object itself to provide as much visual clues and information about shapes, volumes and textures as possible. The key here is to use simple light. Don’t do fancy and strange. Shadows have to be simple and travel through the surface telling clear story about shapes, volumes, textures and curves.
Side, front, back and top views
Here we should find all the information that was missing from drawings mentioned above. Side, front, back and top views give artist all additional information for modeling. Plus it serves as ready-made blueprint for sculpting or poly modeling.
There ALWAYS has to be a size reference. It doesn’t matter whether you do realistic design or stylized. Always include information about scale. If you don’t, you will be visited by a 3D artist with a lot of questions. Your choice!
This one also will help you to avoid unnecessary frustration. You can make your life easier by gathering a little material library of your own. In no time you will have quite nice set of material examples and the only thing left to do with individual layouts is to modify them when needed.
Is it worth to spend so much time making such layouts?
Firstly: yes! Secondly: not always. It is a time consuming task. We don’t always have the luxury to spend hours making this happen. But keeping these things in mind will give you a good chance of making life easier for yourself and others. I’ve received many thanks when the visual information I provided was clear and easy to understand. It takes time, but in the end it pays off. So again, it’s your choice. And last but not least I see design layout as an art form in itself. Sadly though very few people pay attention on creating a well-crafted design layout.
Few more examples
Here are few examples from my archive. I don’t want to say this is the only way to do it right but I believe these are somewhat following the principals I have written about in this post.