Are backdrop images absolutely necessary for digital sculpting ?

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  06 June 2013
Are backdrop images absolutely necessary for digital sculpting ?

I am hoping whoever reads this could give me opinions on this matter. I am a newbie at digital sculpting in zbrush. I have struggled a lot when sculpting and not using any reference images whatsoever. When ever I did have reference, it was very poor and somewhat unusable. I am trying to sculpt somewhat animeish character busts. A few months ago I was thinking and remembered I've seen Korean Ball Jointed Dolls or BJDs that some what have the qualities I'm looking for. I found some and bought them, hoping I can use them for reference. ( Please don't call me crazy ) I was first hoping to take pictures of them but using a point and shoot camera always leads to somewhat inadequate pictures. I once heard that using a DSLR for stuff like that is better. (100 mm macro lens) Problem is that they are very expensive and the only person I know that has one isn't really responding to my please. So I'm thinking, should I give it a shot in the dark and just sculpt away without any backdrop images for reference? Do many of you sculpt without any back drop images and turn out to be fine without them? A little feedback is "greatly" appreciated. Thank you so much in advance.
  06 June 2013
Reference images do have their role in sculpting, if accuracy is a concern they will make your life easier. As long you are using quality references of course (preferably drawn or shot by a pro).

You're not crazy for buying an object and making your own reference out of it, it's a pretty common thing, bigger studios even go as far as scanning the subject and simply redo a more efficient version of it so it'll be faster when rendering or easier to rig/animate.

If you decide to not use references in the viewport then you need to pay careful attention at every stage of the process, you can still use references by taking screenshots of your work and drawing lines on top of features then compare with the references to spot mistakes.
  07 July 2013
The problem with using photos as reference backgrounds is that you're not getting a true orthographic view. So there's a distortion of perspective, vanishing points, and curvature of the lens.

If I were going to use a photograph, I'd use a wide-angle lens to reduce the depth of field as much as possible. I'd also measure my distance to the target, or at least use a tripod (and rotate the target) so that a side view will be in the same scale as a front view. The further away you are, and the more zoomed-in you are, the "flatter" the image will be, which definitely helps.

The background is a guide though, and I find that with drawn images (which are 2nd only to blueprints, if drawn correctly), there is a tendency to incorrectly visualize details from the front to the side.. As a result, you end-up winging it in some respects anyways. It DOES help you keep the proportions correct, and it also assists you in remembering what it is you want to achieve, in case you get too carried away with something.

Best piece of advice I can give though is that it's much more important to "just do it" than it is to set yourself up with roadblocks in delaying yourself by seeking the perfect scenario. I'm REAL guilty of that myself, and try to look out for it as much as possible. Make the mistakes, gain the experience, smooth the roughness, preplan the next one a little better, etc. If nothing else, you'll be able to see yourself get better because you'll be able to compare your current progress with previous attempts. Don't be discouraged by imperfections, just identify areas you need more experience in... you won't know where your weakpoints are until you see them in your attempts.
  07 July 2013
Thank you both so much for the help. I really appreciate the input. I'm probably just going to do what Ryan Kingslien did in that Anatomy of the Face tutorial. I'm going to draw land marks and note proportions and things like that on the image and then trace them on the sculpt afterwards. I'll probably stop using the image after I sculpt the base mesh and just use the physical doll it's self as reference. I was also wondering about the distance between the doll. I'll have to experiment and see what I get. Again, thank you so much.
  07 July 2013
A good quote and idea here is, "10,000 hours to mastery". Your not getting any better talking about it, we learn art through trial and error. We have thousands of bad drawings and art pieces with in us, its best to start getting them out now so we can enjoy more years of masterpieces rather than disaster-pieces. Reference is almost always key , do you necessarily need to have it in the backdrop while you sculpt ? Not entirely necessarily. Should you have it near by in the event that you need it ? Of course. If you are just starting out you should exhaust your reference as if there is no tomorrow. You will be very surprised things you see in reference images that you never knew were actually like that. Reference doesn't necessarily have to be perfect but it should fit the most basic needs and answer the most necessary and basic questions. There are many times when I was taking classes that we never got perfect reference but the quality expected was still there. We would usually get hit with a standard 1/3 view and expected to replicate exactly what we saw, whether it be that the reference addressed the parts we couldn't necessarily see or not. The point being that not all reference has to be perfect and many times you wont be given top quality reference anyways in the industry. Reference doesn't produce art, YOU Do. Its just there to assist you along the way.
  07 July 2013
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