I think of an idea and give that idea it’s own world in my head. The rest all happens by instinct based on my 3d skills as I fill up my world with objects. Reference images of one type or another are helpful. I try to limit my ideas to a sense of real usage for web design, etc. I can find many real world references for the places and objects that I build within a scene. It’s been so long since I just modeled out an entire world just for the fun of it. In that case I would just create what feels right as I modeled. But I would still need to think up a story to shape my 3d world. Image references would be used in that case also.
To start building my main ideas I may do a rough sketch or look for a few images that gets my creative juices going. Later on I review about ten images or so with more ideas in mind. One image gives me the look for lighting another, textures, etc. I put these reference images in the same folder as my .blends. I keep these images on top of my other windows while I work. Then I drop a mesh circle or bezier curve into a pre-lit scene and expand a shape. I may save new files about 3 or four times before I’m happy.
I had to create some new environments for some of my image projects continuing from 2006. Most of the renders were of wide vast exterior and interior places. Now I’m zooming in on the rooms, halls and outdoor living areas. I was having a hard time setting up a sub theme or “look” that would match the flow of the main style. I gave up and just went with shapes that have dominant curved features. Simple circular forms. I almost wanted to slap myself for not seeing this pattern sooner. Some of my ideas came from images of water drops, ripples, etc.
So much of the ideas for final details can be explored as we work through a 3d project. I get a main object/material list going for my worlds, concrete, grass, trees, shrubs, etc. Sometimes I start with a character. I even put in a background image behind a character to place them in a scene that’s similar to the project goal. Mostly my image references are for sampling image elements that I need for my 3d scenes. All of this data can get out of hand after a while. I open up open office and create a simple story driven project plan. It’s good to have a written plan that organizes your ideas.
I have seen 3d artist sketch out plans for lighting, etc. But I like to adjust these details in my 3d software. For this I need a stand in environment that renders fast and a image reference or two. It just seems so natural to work this way. I guess using Blenders scanline renderer and shadow buffered lights let’s me render sketch out light. I can keep my lighting fixed for Yafray or drop a few lights and convert the key light to a sun lamp for Indigo. I prep the layers for these types of changes.
3d also gives me the power of unlimited camera perspective references. I use prepped scenes which are saved and become the reference scenes for many projects. I can drop some stuff in a scene and setup target cameras. Then I can set up proxy objects that represent the general look of my scene. So the 3d software itself becomes a virtual lab for studying various camera perspectives.
That’s it for now. But there are lots more reference techniques for 3d artist. Animatics for instance-
3d animators can use the simplest possible objects and lighting to scrub out motion ideas. They can later track these animatic setups to more complex detailed scenes.