Reference or no reference?

I was wondering, do all of you work from a reference of some sort?

Or, are there any of you, who know exactly what you want to , you have the exact image and material and texture planned out in your mind, and you simply go from there punching keys and pushing verts and whatnot.

So, which do you do?

It seems to me that anyone who uses the latter technique must be extremely advanced in their art, for they have a CLEAR picture of what is in their heads and can go on nothing but that, either from sketching out a rough reference or simply “mind ing”.

interesting topic!

I hardly ever use reference images and I never do a story board. Then again, that’s the beauty of making up “original” (if there still is such a thing) content.
Right now I’m working on a robot riding a spaceship like a rodeo cowboy so … there wouldn’t even be any ref pictures available.

Looking back a few years, my favorite images or animations have always come from experimenting and getting inspired from “something” in the scene that kept me going. This probably doesn’t make much sense to anyone reading this, but that’s how I create :slight_smile:

Sounds interesting!

For those refernces you could use something like pictures of rockets or cowboys in rodeos, and combine them in a fantasy way(rodeo cowboy’s riding rockets :D).

So, you could still have references :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t use references except for detail. All concept and form stems from my brain, and what minutiae and various knowledges I’ve managed to pick up. A friend once said I was one of the best BSers he ever met, which means I can make pretty much anything look and sound reasonably plausible.

sometimes… most of the time i don’t use a reference. sometimes i do.


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.

some of the best artists say stuff like “ALWAYS USE A REF!”

but I don’t - then again, I’m not some of the best artists

I usally model something I don’t even know… I just start making loops an what not and then BOOM :eek: it looks like a bird… so I’ll continue to modifying the shape till it looks like something.

When I model I don’t have a goal or a clear picture of what I am modeling, sort of like looking at the bumpy celling, you can sort of make out some amazing figures! Then you close your eyes and it turns into something else…

An example:

I never know where I will end up, I just go with the flow :smiley:

Other examples:

Yeah, sorry to hijack the thread with Calvin art…

Sometimes if I model anything randomly, it’ll come out right, but not always… and that’s bad because I always want it to come out right. Therefore, after my current project I will draw a sketch of what I want the final product to look like. It doesn’t have to match up exactly, but I’ll know ahead of time if it’ll work.

As for direct references that you put in the back ground while you model… I find that wastes time. Also better overall shapes or other adjustments you could make are often passed over because you are usually trying to match up the model exactly.

edit: Heh, looks like we posted at the same time Calvin. Nice stuff man.

The only 3D work I do is for clients, I spend my time outside work getting as far away from 3D as possible!

So I always use reference. You can’t do client work without starting from character designs and storyboards that they’ve approved. And I never model a creature or person without something to look at. For creatures I study their anatomy right down to the bones and muscle structure, because otherwise I don’t have a handle on it. For humans, I’ve studied anatomy for years. Even if I don’t have pictures in front of me, it’s all in my head.

People who have never studied anatomy make really bad decisions when it comes to modeling and rigging for animation. It’s a simple fact.

It depends on your artistic skills and creativity(and your artistic studies).Working without ref means having experience,you have to know what you are doing(with ref you can work without knowing what you are doing,this is the major difference).I like working without ref,you have more freedom(and I think I can do more progress in this way),but honestly,nobody can completely be able to recreate all the different complexitty we find in the world,sometimes a good ref(at least at starting)is necessary.

For me it depends entirely on what I’m modeling. For most of my game content work I use reference pictures. For my own creations or “random” models, I just go by what my imagination tells me.

I try to use references whenever possible. If I have to draw it, that’s what I’ll do. The references I use are not neccessarily exactly what I’m going to model, but something in the genre to pull ideas and similarities from.
I used quite a few pictures off the internet to decide how to model the dragon I’m working on.
I simply work better with references.

That’s so true. 3d human character design used to be a hobby of mine I have to get back to that. I find that video data is superior to still images when it comes to studying the human form. You get a better idea of how the limbs and muscles work. You also can see the more subtle detail areas that images don’t reveal. For instance, the way clothing lays on the body, etc. If you have a video capture card in your PC you have access to an endless amount of video data on the human body. Nature programs can open up your eyes to many types of animal forms also.

depends on the subject, lately i have been just been going straight into blender…if i were modeling a car, or complex object i would probably use refs.

but modeling a face in a blender, like a cartoon style is just awesome…so for that i dont need and refrences :evilgrin:

I model by ear. Its harder to learn, but then I dont get any major needs for references. Plus, they leave little room for improviosing. Anything you do will look strange, cuz youve been looking at a reference for so long. And the references slow down the GUI draw pretty bad for me.

Plus, I dont model any technical things, its all toony, so its all in my head anyway.


I take it you’ve never seen any documentaries on how CG characters for film are made. Artists like those at Pixar are among the best in the world, they all use many references for the characters they model.
By the way, using references doesn’t mean that you have a picture in the background of the 3d view in Edit Mode. A reference is any material you use to help you create your model, it could be a physical object or just a picture on the internet.

If I have a great idea, I will use concept art. Sometimes I’m jus’t bored sitting in from of my comp. and playin’ with blender a bit an I accidently make something awsome. But I try to make it a habit to make concept art before the 3-d. Just so I can get my ideas organized.

I wish I had reference all the time. It makes work so much easier and more fluently. If you ever tried yourself on coding, I see similarities here: the worst mistake you can do is to “think while you’re coding”. Obviously that’s a pretty extreme statement but it is like that - when you get to the point where you actually code something, all the main concepts, variables, functions and whatever need to be done already, they should be exactly known so that you only need to translate the layout into real code.
(By the way…from what I’ve heard and experienced, most of the coders don’t do that…with not-so-nice results…).

So, what I want to say, that it is similar even if not so extreme with my work. I want (although I don’t always have one) to have a clear concept written down or enough reference to have a strong visual impression if what I’m going to model. It happens way too often that I just run out of ideas at a certain point - and that’s where the problems start. The flow of work is broken, the ideas I have may not fit to the overall concept and it takes quite a while until I can continue with the same speed as before. Obviously, the longer you can avoid to meet that point, the better it is.

However, as I’ve said, it is not that extreme - I’m used to that situation and do try to make the best out of it, to add new, surprising twists and details, of which I have not thought before. So, it is not always that bad…

I take it you’ve never seen any documentaries on how CG characters for film are made. Artists like those at Pixar are among the best in the world, they all use many references for the characters they model.
By the way, using references doesn’t mean that you have a picture in the background of the 3d view in Edit Mode. A reference is any material you use to help you create your model, it could be a physical object or just a picture on the internet.

Well, thats wonderful for pixar. Personally, I dont care that much, I do what works well for me.
As for the reference comment, I meant, thats why I dont use them in blender. I really dont use them much out of blender either. Im a good 2d artists(sketching and otherwise), but I just dont bother. I know what it looks like, so(Unlike The people at pixar, who get their characters from concept artists) I can just model from what I see in my mind.

Thanks for trying to prove why Im wrong tho. I guess some people cant handle people who feel differenly than them…