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Digital Art: How to Create Virtual Objects

Digital Art: How to Create Virtual Objects

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Trained as a painter and sculptor, McCrystle Wood turns to a 3D modeling program to create digital art. Here, she offers a step-by-step demo on how to create virtual objects in art.

Creating Virtual Objects
By McCrystle Wood

I usually begin with a body or a flower in mind. The body is always abstract and organically built; the flower is invented but may loosely resemble an existing flower. Mademoiselle began with the idea of a young woman. I wanted her to be lovely and sweet and pure with all the hope for the future. A primary visual resource for this and other works is the work of Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist and naturalist (1647–1717) who documented the metamorphosis of a butterfly.


1. The Axes:
When I begin a project, the screen is empty except for a grid that shows the three XYZ axes’ directions. X is the up-and-down measurement; Y is the left-to-right measurement, and Z measures dimensions in and out from a center point. These are called vector data.


2. Building the Flower:
Each part of the flower was built separately. I wanted the body to be a stem that curled around to indicate enough of the anatomy to show that it wasn’t an actual plant, but I also didn’t want to be too literal. The blue line with yellow dots is called a spline path. A circle is “swept” along the path to create the skin of the body shape.


3. Four Perspectives:
In a three-dimensional, virtual space, objects can be seen and moved from all directions. This picture shows four windows, each displaying a different perspective that I used to look at the scene. I work intuitively, quickly moving any view or window in order to work on a given shape.


4. Building the Image:
Picture A shows the stem rendered and what the spline (the path that led to the artifact) would look like if it were showing. I duplicated the spline path and pulled it next to the neck so you can see what’s actually inside the neck. The picture of the roots (B) shows that the roots are made the same way. Each one of the rootlike pieces has its own little spline path that I made. I told each one to begin at one size and end at the other size. In this case, I’m telling the pieces to be smaller and smaller. When you look at the forms, you can see a torso and other variations of a woman’s body.


5. Refining the Flower/Female:
The flower was built using a process called lofting. This process is a lot like knitting, adding to the form row by row as you would if you were working with yarn. In this case, each row is a spline path, and each spline path adds length and shape to define the skin of the form.


6. Form Completed:
Here’s the completed flower, showing both the rows of splines and the wireframe (or mesh).


7. Embellishing the Form:
This picture shows the flower, with materials (textures and colors) and lighting added. Getting to the final shape and lighting in this image took about three weeks and 45 iterations.


8. Side Petals:
I wanted her side petals to look as if they were the remains of the outer cover of the flower before it blossomed. I placed the side petals carefully along either side of the flower to create the illusion that she’s bursting out of her restraints. To make the side petals, I duplicated the original flower, broke it into two pieces and then manipulated the mesh with a magnet tool (just as you would with clay) to “sculpt” new shapes.


9. Creating the Illusion:
I wanted the side petals to look degraded and old, so I created a material that uses an alpha-channel, which creates the illusion of holes in the surface. It’s a special kind of material so I don’t have to put actual holes into the mesh itself.


10. Viewing the Scene:
Next I put lights and cameras into place. This “scene” used 12 lights and 11 cameras to get just the right angle for the flower. To do this I had to be able to view the scene from many different angles as I rotated it in space.


11. Rendering the Scene:
After all of the “geometry” is complete, I made a rendering of the scene. Rendering is a process that converts all of the vector information into pixels. When the pixel image is opened in Photoshop, the only changes that can be made are the color of the pixels. (Only the 3D modeling scene allows objects in the scene to be moved in space.) With this step, I completed Mademoiselle (at top).

Visit McCrystle’s website at and check out her feature article in the May 2012 issue of Magazine.

Come inside Digital Art Wonderland where digital art and art journaling embark together on a luscious visual journey. The daring crew of Angi Sullins and Silas Toball give you a guide you through your personal tour of the digital art journaling world, showing you how to make your own wondrous creations through instruction, design concepts and lots of inspiration. Available at


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