What in 2D could help me in my 3D?


So I see a lot of points and counter points on the 2D helps 3D issue.

In my case, I thought I should ask since every situation is different. Regarding sculpting im fine. Theres room for improvement but I feel confident and im pushing myself to explore sculpt styles. What I dont feel confident in is “the finishing touch”. Flare? Artistic Finish? I dont know what its called.

For example, Ive seen tons of artists sculpting, texturing, and rendering. What surprises me the most is a good deal of them do touchups in photoshop. Like adding backdrops or adding skin texture. Ive seen them add stuff to the point where it doesnt even look 3D anymore. Adding lip shine and reflectivity. To the point where the original render is lost in touchups.

Which makes me wonder what the point is? Why go through the trouble of sculpting, texturing, then rendering it out just so you can apply finishing touches that essentially make it look like a well drawn 2D image? May as well draw it.

Whatever the case, what in 2D could I practice that would give me an eye for backdrops, colors, and general texturing? Any good tutorials or books? Nothing anatomy. Theres references everywhere for that. Im simply looking for my “artistic shine”. That instinct that tells me what to touch up and what to finish. That knowledge or whatever it is that tells me “this lip needs to be shinier” or “this color splotched here would be a nice backdrop”.

Looking at these speed-up videos makes me wonder how you know when you’re done?

Ive been wracking my head over this for the past week. Should I just practice sculpting backdrops and items in 3D or learn to draw it so I can add it to my renders if I do any. Focus on 3D or set yourself aside for some 2D. Wondering if 2D would even help at this point.


Any good tutorials on shading and/or developing a style?


If you haven’t read this sticky thread, then now’s a good time because it answers most of your questions: http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?f=166&t=1028244

As for what the point of doing 2D touch-ups on 3D renders to the point that it simply looks like a well painted 2D artwork–you have to look at it with a different mentality.

First of all, unless there’s a compelling reason why the finished artwork must look like a 3D render, there’s no reason why it looking like a 2D painting is a negative thing. A piece of art is a piece of art, and the only thing that really matters is if it’s a good piece of art.

Second, one of the most important reasons why people combine 3D and 2D is because there’s a lot of mathematical accuracy that can be achieved with 3D lighting, rendering, shaders, perspective that is much harder (or more time-consuming) to achieve in 2D, so the artist would get as much of those done in 3D, and then do the rest in 2D. A lot of today’s 2D concept art actually have the base foundation done in 3D to get the convincing GI lighting effect in early on, and then elaborate on top of that basic render (usually of very primitive geometry with no details).

In the case where there are important reasons for the finished image to look like it’s 3D, then the person doing the retouching would try much harder to maintain the illusion of a 3D render and not use overtly obvious 2D painting brush marks or other dead giveaways. And since they are very careful, you would never know you were looking at a 3D render that’s been retouched a lot with 2D painting. So that means your impression is skewed, since you only notice the ones where the artists weren’t trying to hide the 2D touchups.


Yea I read that thread. It seemed directed towards those that started.
I only saw 3D turning into a 2D looking image as a negative because of the time it takes to get things done in 3D versus just learning it then doing it in 2D.

In that thread you said something along the line of “3D without 2D skillsets will deliver turds and many 3D applications let you polish that turd” or something like that. What im wondering is why not knowing anything in 2D means anything you produce will be a turd? Why learn to paint in 2D when you can learn to paint in 3D? Why learn color theory in 2D if you can in 3D as well?

All I ever see is that “its quicker to do it in 2D” but what if someone just enjoys 3D and has all the time in the world.

Also what about animation? Batch rendering stuff out, would one go through each frame painting etc.


You misread the linked post. In in, I specifically said you can learn the foundations of visual art through 3D too, but it’s simply much more effective and useful to learn those foundations through 2D because 2D forces you to learn the foundations while 3D does not, and having 2D skills on top of 3D skills gives you far more creative tools to work with, and you’ll be able to do things artistically that you never could if you only knew 3D.

At no point in your 3D journey will you ever come upon a point where the 3D process clearly tells you that you are lacking all the critical foundations of a visual artist, because you can simply continue to push all those buttons and generate assets and scenes that are completely lacking in any understanding of the foundations, yet looks “finished” simply because the assets can be created and lit and textured and rendered. But appearing “finished” is not the same thing as looking good. There are so many “finished” looking 3D images that are absolutely horrible in terms artistic merit, with really bad composition; inappropriate camera angle; ugly or boring lighting; misshapen, stiff, and inexpressive anatomy/figure; garish or sterile colors, and so on. And they turn out that way because the people who made them never bothered to learn the foundations of visual art, and their 3D creation process never brought this glaring shortcoming to their attention.

In contrast, with 2D art, if you don’t know the foundations, you couldn’t even create any drawing or paintings that looked halfway decent–in fact, that lack of foundation can and will stop you dead in your tracks because you have no way of finishing an image without the proper foundation knowledge/training. In other words, when training as a 2D artist, every single thing do you forces you to learn and master the critical foundations of visual art.

Also, it’s a misconception that 2D is easier and faster. It all depends on the subject matter and style. There are paintings that took months or years to complete, and there are also 3D images that took only hours or even minutes to create (such as procedural ones).

I didn’t quite understand your question about animation. Can you rephrase the question?


Thanks for taking the time to answer. Nowhere else could I find someone willing to discuss it out.

“because you can simply continue to push all those buttons and generate assets and scenes that are completely lacking in any understanding of the foundations”

What buttons exactly? When I make a scene, theres no button that would generate anything. A bit confused. I use zbrush and maya primarily and aside from simply importing premade geomatry, everything must be sculpted from the ground up. Texture-wise I would either use real photos or texture my own. I actually find more “make it awesome” buttons for 2D images than 3D via photoshop filters.

“yet looks “finished” simply because the assets can be created and lit and textured and rendered. But appearing “finished” is not the same thing as looking good.”

Isnt whats finished and isnt up to the artist? I know that I can draw stick figures and say “Im finished” and it still look crap but it could still “look good” to me no? I could also find a decent amount of free assetts with realish to artistic-ish texturing and look amazing in vray. Im not sure if im missing something or what but there are some very well made assetts out there.

"bad composition; inappropriate camera angle; ugly or boring lighting; misshapen, stiff, and inexpressive anatomy/figure; garish or sterile colors, and so on. And they turn out that way because the people who made them never bothered to learn the foundations of visual art, and their 3D creation process never brought this glaring shortcoming to their attention"

All those issues seem to be standard for up and coming artists, same with 2D artists. Except in 3D im able to adjust that angle, brighten that light, or redo that mesh. Im assuming this is why 2D forces me to learn foundations? At this point I still have no idea what the foundations actually are. Im also wondering why being able to adjust my mistakes is a bad thing? I learn from them.

There are tons of great tutorials from artists out there that teach lighting, sculpting, texturing, and rendering techniques. None of them use anything 2D. If theyre actually teaching from 2D experience, just not saying it in the tutorial, then does that not cut out the middle man if theyre teaching me the correct way?

I know 2D isnt always fast but it generally is if you’re wanting to put a simple peice. Was just sayin that in the other post, you were noting that its quicker to draw / block out an idea in 2D which was one of the points you made on why one should learn 2D which I agree.

I just cant convince myself to commit to 2D when every one of those issues could be adjusted via 3D application or photoshop. I feel lost. Maybe thats what im looking for when it comes to art. Another way of looking at things (which would be 2D). Except I have no interest in 2D.

Regarding animation, sorry my english isnt so great (I try). I like renders but my main interest is animation. Essentially batch rendering renders and combing them for animation. With a still render, youre able to touchup via painting but with renders producing tons and tons of frames at a time, it would be a disaster. However I see tons of great short film 3D animations that have nothing but proper lighting, texturing, rendering, etc etc without a touch of 2D.

You could say “well thats because they know the foundations” but what I wonder is if they learned it through 3D trial an error. 3D and 2D both seem unforgiving when it comes to art. Im just able to fix my mistake on the spot.


Oh yea thanks for answering me. Im just looking for a concrete reason why I should commit such an immense amount of time to something Im unsure of.

Its aggrevating. All I wanna do is sculpt and animate but theres a possibility of me being better if I learn another skill. Except learning that skill could be for nothing but wasted time if it turns out I didnt need it.


How much drawing and painting have you actually done? If you have never done any, then it’s going to be really hard for you to understand everything I’ve said. Those who have tried to draw and paint seriously immediately understands, because the act of drawing and painting will directly explain to you through your experience of doing them why learning the foundations from 2D is a different experience and will give you a lot more value as an visual artist overall.

If you’ve never seen an accomplished artist take a piece of artwork with a lot of problems, and then within a short couple of minutes completely transform it into a far more compelling image by making both broad and selective improvement to it–all by just doing a quick paintover, then you will have a hard time understanding the power of an accomplished 2D artist to make instantaneous decisions that completely alter the quality of an image. And we’re not talking about only being able to use image adjustment tools like contrast and color correction, but actually completely alter forms, lighting, composition, color palette, anatomy/figure, balance of selective detail, etc, and be able to do it without having to operate a bunch of various parameters in a software. All it took was one paintbrush in Photoshop, and that’s it.

I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through Steven Stahlberg’s “PAINTOVER PLEASE” thread, but I highly recommend you go through it. There are many excellent examples of how he masterfully improved other people’s images by doing quick paintovers, and those images include both 3D and 2D images: http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?f=166&t=359226

I don’t know if you do music or know anything about music, but a similar analogy is when people who only learned how to make music through using DAW software and clicking in the notes via the MIDI editing view and arranging audio loops. Sure, they can still learn about music theory and how to compose/arrange music by clicking with a mouse on a screen, and they can still create good music using that method for learning and creating music.

But now compare that, to another person who actually learned music through actually playing instruments, able to perform the music with expressiveness, be able to instantly improvise melodies and harmonic progressions, to able to instantly play what he just composed in his mind and hear the music without having to first input all those notes and expressions into the MIDI editor first with a mouse. Also, a computer software interface cannot allow you to create instant performance with all the expressiveness of heart and soul that you put into the music, because the controls don’t allow that kind of instant feedback like a human being with hands and ten fingers and instant eye-to-hand coordination that translates every creative impulse and instinct into instant action relayed by muscles and nerves, and then out of a musical instrument.

Would you rather watch a guy clicking away with a mouse on a screen, or would you rather watch a musician play an instrument? And if you had a choice, would you rather learn how to compose/arrange music by clicking a mouse on a screen full of MIDI notes, or would you rather learn it through a musical instrument such as a piano or guitar, so you can instantly play what you’re composing in your head and music will come out of your instrument, and you can improvise and alter your performance according to your creative impulse without having to input all that date into a software first and then wait for it to spit out a render? And wouldn’t you want to be able to quickly hear if a melody or harmonic progression works or not by simply playing it as soon as your mind thinks of it, and also be able to play whatever is in your head for someone else to hear, such as showing someone a new musical idea you’re thinking about?

It not hard to see how what I’ve just described is a very similar analogy to 2D versus working in 3D. While advances in 3D such as Zbrush and advanced texture painting software has bridged some of the gap between 2D and 3D, there is still a big difference between the two.

I have plenty of students who are 3D artists (and some are lead 3D artists and technical directors at big name studios), and they came to me because they finally realized they needed to buckle down and learn the foundations of visual art in order to move forward as artists. It took them years to finally figure out the reason why the were never able to become as good as they had hoped was because they were missing the critical foundations of visual art, and the best way to learn it is through proper training as artists. Many regret not having started to draw and paint much sooner, as they would be far better artists by now if they did. Remember, these are accomplished 3D artists working in some of the biggest VFX, animation, and game studios in the world, so it’s not as if they are clueless or haven’t put in the time and effort. It is because they are accomplished that they realize just how important traditional art training is for those who really want to excel and be the best visual artist they can be.

Now, you can decide that you want to do it your way and ignore 2D and try to learn everything through 3D, and maybe you’ll succeed. But there’s also a chance that years from now, you’ll end up just like those students of mine, living with regret and lamenting the years you’ve wasted not developing effectively as a visual artist, and you’re already aging and have to compete with those who did learn and train effectively and are far more advanced than you artistically. Not only are their 3D works kicking your ass, they can also draw and paint circles around you, and every time you apply for a job, it’s those guys who are getting the jobs. I don’t know if you have noticed, but in many job descriptions for 3D artists, the candidate requirement often say “2D drawing and painting ability a bonus.” Now, why would art directors give a shit if their 3D artists have traditional art skills, if it wasn’t actually important to them somehow?

Basically, I want to help you prevent future regrets. There’s so much to gain by developing effectively as a visual artist and learning traditional foundations of visual art, and there’s absolutely nothing to lose. You gain additional valuable knowledge and skills on top of 3D ones, and you will be a much better artist for it. But ultimately it’s up to you. I’m just trying to pass on hard-won insights I’ve gained in my journey as an artist, hoping that you can benefit from them.


Thank you for convincing me. Really thank you. Im too stuborn for my own good but this is the most convinced ive ever gotten regarding this.


One question though. If i were to do pure animation, would drawing benefit me the same? Im going to learn 2D regardless because youve driven enough points in. Very convincing.

How do you think I could apply this to animation though? With a still render I could easily apply any 2D touch ups but with animation and 400+ render frames, what could I do? Maybe I should accept that animation would be more limited in terms of what I can paint over aside from stills.

I ask because you said some professionals who know 2D work in animation. You’re right though, I have no idea what to expect / visualize when it comes to 2D.


Don’t think of your artistic development with only a utilitarian mindset. It’s not just about what advantages you can gain in your technical workflow–it’s also about your creativity, artistic sensibility, overall richness and well-roundedness as a visual artist, etc.

There ARE practical advantages though. Don’t forget that if you can draw well, you can plan your shots by sketching out all the keyframe poses, as well as do studies and create visual notes wherever you are. If you’re at a restaurant and see a cute girl who carries herself in such a lovely manner and you don’t want to risk taking a photo with your phone and get reprimanded for it, what else could you do if you couldn’t draw? But if you could draw, you can capture her lovely body language and expression even with just a paper napkin and a pen. And if you’re waiting in the doctor’s office and suddenly have a great idea for an animated sequence, how will you record this idea quickly before you forget it? If you can draw, you can simply open up a drawing app on your smartphone and sketch out the keyframe poses for the sequence, or the facial expressions. If you don’t have an mobile devices or art apps, you can simply use any scrap piece of paper and a pen and still record your ideas quickly. There is simply so much more you can do as an artist and enjoy so much more flexibility if you can actually draw and paint, even if all you do is animation.

With that said, there ARE 3D animators who can’t draw and don’t draw, and they can still be good animators, but they will not be able to enjoy the above mentioned advantages.

BTW, you might want to check out these links:


http://www.bloopanimation.com/3d-animator/ (Although this animator says you don’t have to draw to be a 3D animator, he also admits to having 4 years of art school training and did lots of life drawing. He also states that drawing skills are a huge plus.)




What about tracing? Ive heard both sides on that. If you study the linework when you trace, you gain more and understand more as opposed to tracing over it so many times it becomes muscle memory.


Tracing can be helpful, but not nearly as helpful as actually studying the anatomical structure and the figure itself, or understanding how perspective works, or learning critical visual assessment by doing technical copy exercises. It’s too easy to just go through the motions when tracing because there’s nothing there to force you to engage your critical visual assessment skills.


I’m starting to learn both 2d and 3d and i have a question regarding studying both. How would you share time between studying 2d fundamentals and learning 3d modelling? I have approximately 4h per day for learning art. 3d is my main priority.


If you’re just starting out, I would recommend you do 3/4 2D and 1/4 3D. The early stages of 3D learning is all technical–in fact 3D itself is a highly technical tool-set. If you want what you’ll be making in 3D to be quality work, you need to have the artistic foundation to give those tools something of substance to do. Without having that foundation, knowing the 3D tool-set alone will result in a lot of crap. It’s just like knowing how to operate a camera’s various mechanical settings, but have no concept of composition, lighting, color sense, capturing emotions, visual narrative, etc. While it’s possible to pick up those fundamentals while only using 3D, it’s just much more direct and useful to train them in 2D, because 3D skills don’t tranfer to 2D nearly as well as 2D to 3D, and it’s just smart to to be well-versed in both–or at least proficient in 2D and then focus more on 3D.


Thanks for help Lunatique, that really clarified many things. I’ll start with Jack Hamm book you suggested in stickies and see how it will work out.