The secrets of illustration

This month, Our panel of experts provides tips to help you produce 3D illustrations quicker and more flexibly: from the use of stock assets to vital tricks.

Sometimes it's easy to become overawed by the power of the moving image: to strive to capture the epic sweep of a crowd scene, the shifting play of light on wall, or the nuances of a human gesture. But despite the millions of dollars spent on research and the billions of CPU cycles ploughed into dynamic AI, particle simulations and motion capture each year, much of the bread and butter work for 3D artists is destined for that most static of all distribution media: print.

In contrast to animation and special effects, illustration an industry in which a lone artist can compete with the major studios on even terms. Although you will still need decent tools to do a professional job, you won't need to spend a fortune on R&D. But while the opportunity to strike out on your own is often a productive one, it also means that you stand or fall on the quality of your work and your professionalism alone.

In a field like illustration, in which deadlines are tight and clients often demanding, it's vital to be able to turn out work quickly, flexibly and reliably. Over the next six pages, our panel of experts discuss some of the strategies they use in order to do so: from ways of structuring a scene to make last-minute changes less painful, to Photoshop tricks to sharpen up a lacklustre render.

Some of the issues we will consider have no universal solutions: for example, the question of whether to rig characters that will only be seen in still images, or when to rely on stock assets. Whose advice you follow will depend on which of a gamut of artistic styles you choose to adopt on a job: from simple cartoon illustration, through more painterly work, to photorealism.

Finally, we'll take a brief look at the all-important human aspects of illustration work, with a rundown of our experts' top tips for handling - and retaining - clients.

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