HowTo:Plan your scenes

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Planning Your Scenes

There's really a lot of different ways to do this. Some people have best practices that don't exactly coincide with others. Here's a few.


The biggest thing in a part of an image is most notably, what. The picture has to be about something, or OF something. So the first thing one would need to decide for themselves, is what type of image do they want to portray. Here's a few questions you can ask yourself to garner some ideas.

  1. Is it an object, an idea, or a full fledged scene?
  2. Does it have a mood you wish to get across?
  3. Do you want your picture to have a purpose or a message?
  4. Is your image abstract?
    1. If So, go back to 2 and 3 and think about what those would be.
  5. Is it a depiction of real life, or some fantasy?

These are all questions artists in general, from painters to writers, have to think about when starting a new project. Do you want to be accurate? Realistic? Phantasmagoric? What?


As soon as you figure out what you want to say, you gotta figure out how you want to say it. This is the real meat of actually planning a scene and involves many steps.


What objects are you gonna have in your scene? Is it just a simple Wine Goblet? Or a re-envisioning of a WWII battle? Figure out what you want to use to express your idea.


An interesting question is to ask yourself, what's the best way to show off the most detail of this object and still get the message across? Positioning, along with everything else is key to getting an idea or a point across. Instead of having a birds-eye view on an old west gun battle, where the guys are more spread out and buffered from each other, group them up nice and close, make them seem almost personal with each other, and then you can mess with the camera angle some more to better get your emotion across. But then again, sometimes close-knit groups aren't what's meant to be. Some of the most renowned art out there is just of one person, a face, a profile, streaks on canvas that convey a message so powerful that you just want to re-enact it yourself.


The biggest role in conveying a message or feeling in an image by far is the colors. It's what people first see when they look at an image. They don't focus in on the objects until something has caught their eye. With this, comes an inherently good knowledge of the color wheel. Reds are cooled by purples, but warmed by oranges. The opposite of Blue is orange and can be used to warm up the scene a little bit. The hardest part about figuring out colors however, is trying to find the best balance out there. There's more than a lot of taste involved in this decision, and is in general left up to personal feelings at the time of conception.

Camera Angle

Not as big as colors, and just a bit more important than light setup, is camera angle. A jarring, new, weird angle is more likely to get someone's attention, than an angle of say, top-down.


The biggest thing that comes up when deciding camera angle, is action. Is there movement? Is there something happening? Is it just a still life? Not every case needs an angle from the ground up with the camera tilted at 37 degrees around the looking angle. Yet a slight... Jarring of the camera, if you will can do wonders for making a dull, boring picture actually seem interesting.


Perspective is huge. Something in the background can help the eye of the viewer flow around the image and notice the true beauty of the image itself, despite the biggest focus being on the object in the foreground. Sometimes a small distortion, like the use of a macro-lens effect can do wonders for bringing focus onto an object, but still keeping something going on in the background interesting.


If it weren't for Camera Angle, Lighting would be right up there with just objects and colors in general. Sometimes colors are even governed by lights, you never know. The reflection of a light blue light versus the dull tinted yellow refraction of a sun can add volume to a once flat object. Shadows can add a lot of drama to an image, half a face hidden in the dark is much more scary and tense-feeling in general than the full face viewable in the light.


To a lot of professional artists, be they 3D game artists, or starving artists who paint, most of the planning comes through sketching of what they invision. It's much easier to just makes strokes of a pencil, no matter how rough, to just conceptualize an object or an image layout. That way they get the basic idea out of their head and immortalized on paper, and from there, they can improve on it, change things around, and make things better in general. At this stage, you have something called Concept Art.


The final step of sketching, you finalize what you want, what you don't want, and how you want it. The steps from Sketching to Finalizing are taking into consideration the elements of the image, and everything under the "how" section.


After all that hard work of building your scene in your head and forcing onto the page this image and continually making it better and more awesome, it's time to take it all apart. Take every object in the scene and figure out how you're gonna build it. Whether that's through an external automatic mesh builder (for a tree or a bush), or by hand doing the math yourself, is up to you. There's a group of people that says you build it by hand or not at all, and another group that automatic is easier, and then the majority are the ones that balance the two. This step also includes things like texturing, and testing out how it looks combined in certain areas.


After you have everything in your scene built up to how you want it (make sure you use the same units when measuring the sizes), it's time to bring it all together. This is where your concept art comes back into play. Following that you build your original version of the scene, and then repeat the process of refining and improving your scene. Something you thought would be awesome actually isn't and needs a different texture, a different placement or to just be removed all together. Maybe the camera angle was off and it needs to change. The lighting doesn't portray the right mood and needs to be changed to be from dusk-like to mid-morning.


  1. Please remember, this is only a general guide, and does not have to be followed to the step. Sometimes scenes can be so easy, the sketching and the planning isn't even needed. It could be as simple as making a sword, and then portraying that in a way that it looks awesome. You don't need to sketch that out, because in general the image in your head won't change.
  2. The true thing about making a good image is not in the planning. It's in your love for the image, and your fun in doing it. You'd be surprised how many images look like crap because someone just doesn't wanna do it. The flip side is that you get practice and more thoughts and ideas on how to make images better, which is essential to getting to a high level of excellence.