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The Art of Pixel Painting in 3D

Or “a painter at the 3D”
by: Sebastian Márquez Cladera


This is absolutely essential working in 3d, as we can never exactly know in advance how the lights, textures etc, affect the composition. The way I work might seem chaotic to many computer users (Ok, I admit it is chaotic! ), as I see the tools in Max as brushes, canvas and other traditional media, consequences of being a traditional painter for many years before I laid hands on my first computer!

My first digital painting, using the legendary Amiga 500, back in 1988. The mouse and relatively primitive software worked well then, actually it was easier with simpler tools, nowadays you may get drowned in a sea of tools, losing lots of hours trying all the fancy varieties modern graphics software has to offer.

Computers are terrific figuring out colors and 2D shapes through algorithms we never have to care about, we poor artists have to come with our imagination first before we give computers the necessary variables to figure out and give shape, on screen and printed paper to our creations. Now I see the 3D scene in Max, the view ports, as a box with an open side, where I put my elements, boats, apples, mountains, people or millions of mental pictures still no formed, like clay sculptures without color. These will be the wire frame representations, (yes, I know, made of triangles and bla, bla, bla...)

As an artist I am partly a colorist, the colors are essential to my creations, so I will try different combinations on my figures, add lights that completely change the appearance of the scene, feel my way forwards until I know the painting is there, ready to print, animate, or ready to show in the world’s largest gallery: The Internet.


A rendering of a 3D scene

1-.Cala Figuera, an Impressionistic 3D view

This digital picture, a pixel painting done in Painter 6, will be the inspiration for our first project: a 3D version of an impressionistic seascape in 3ds Max 4. What I want to accomplish is a painting I can view in three dimensions from any angle and distance still keeping the “painting” look, actually a single painting becomes thousands of variations of the same motive! The painting is done digitally in 2D with the help of Painter 6 and a drawing tablet.


Cala Figuera, Mallorca. Pixel painting

Once we have chosen the source of inspiration for our project, we shall concentrate modeling of one of the boats, not for a particular logical reason but because the task seems easy and we got to start somewhere!

As I usually proceed, during the development of the project, I will add, change and delete elements many times, so no changes are final so far, just tests.

(1)Before anything else we create a catalogue in the Max directory and name it as our project: Cala Figuera, the place in the beautiful Mallorca island where this painting is inspired.

(2)Making things easy, in Photoshop or other graphics program, (I use Painter), we clip out our boat, name it calaboat1.jpg , store it in our newly created catalog, and open Max.

(3) We shall place the pic as a background in the Top view, serving as a visual guide modeling the first object in our first project. I don’t care about the change of proportions as it is only a reference guide for my future boat object.

(4) In the Front View, we create a plane (And do not forget to name it appropriately as boatside1), one of the two sides of the boat.

The first boat side should look something like this; I will not dictate the reader with exact measures, as we are creative artists using our feeling and common sense.

(5)The boat side to which we immediately apply a Modifier FFD 3x3x3 (One of my favorites Modifiers) in order to, pulling here and there, achieve the appropriate curvature off the boat body. Now we clone it and mirror it.

The ground of our boat, after cloning one of its sides and applying a mirror modifier. We think it is too neat and symmetric for our taste, as I am horrified thinking my boat will look too computer-made, so we add a Noise in order to add some artistic aging appearance.