12 June 2020

7 Mins Read

David Ofiare

David Ofiare

Expressing with 3D Illustrations

You are a designer. Congratulations, We celebrate you! But now you are charged by your team to brainstorm on ideas on this new platform you all have set out to build. You are sitting in this well lit room that could double as a speck-less isolation centre with a few of your colleagues, while the Project Manager walks in. She is dressed in event t-shirts yet again, and you are not surprised — that is her style.

“Illustrations!” her voice tears through your premature thoughts, of how she has no sense of style and nothing else to wear in her wardrobe. “what do we think about the illustrations for the landing page?” she continues, “I personally do not think we should work with pictures this time. Let us try something different, or what do we think?”

Indeed she has caught your attention. You remember that yours is not just a design role and that you are doubling as the team’s sole designer and graphic illustrator. You have to say something — you think to yourself, “I am not confused.” You came prepared.

Enter 3D illustrations. Dear Designer, it is not enough to have a personal style as an illustrator and of course master it, you also have the freedom to explore whatever style that feels interesting enough for you (or your team lead), and effective enough for the project to be marketable and pleasing to its users.

Don’t forget, Illustrators are often sought after for their personal artistic skill or aesthetic.

3D Illustrations

Every few months product designers and print studios look for new ways to continue creating engaging visuals to infuse into the experience of their products or content for their campaigns. Highly prevalent right now — albeit a trend — is the use of extremely friendly characters for products and marketing. This is where the designer comes in, with 3D characters that almost feel very human and yet appear as rubbery toys that can easily be played with.

Of course the engaging potentials of this new style has already been tested by a few organisations to see how customers react to seeing them being used, but it is left for the designer to chose to use this style or not in projects they are involved in.

A 3D illustration is different from a 2D illustration in many ways. In this case, the audience sees objects (characters, items, etc.) in three dimensions instead of the usual two, and is able to work them rather easily. Explaining it lightly enough, the obvious benefit would be the ability to pose this model or character any how the illustrator wishes.

Benefits of 3D illustrations

There are many other benefits however using in 3D models:

  1. Infinite (and close to real) lighting possibilities.
  2. Endless and easy re-usability.
  3. Ease of animation.
  4. Ease of material selection and application.

and many more…


Here are a few companies, studios or illustrators using this “new,” playful style in their works.

1. Pitch Software

Pitch, the previous builders of Wunderlist have managed to design a page that sucks you in whenever you visit, with the interactions, type and of course the witty use of 3D illustrations allover their landing page. The same could also be said for their blog.

First View Height of the pitch.com landing page

You can also see a few other methods they have optimised this style to create the type of feeling they want for their product.

The Scene and Character design of Pitch

2. Leo Natsume

This Brazilian designer is an example of an illustrator that shifts his style according to trends and still manages to keep his clients interested in his works. Leo now creates 3D illustrations to the patronage of handful of influential brands.

Leo Natsume for Jukebox
Expressing 3D illustrations
Leo Natsume for Jukebox II

3. Kirill Emelyanov

Designer Kirill from Portugal has also created a business pack under Arki Studios, which is a selection of a few icons that can be posed in Figma or Cinema 4D and have made these available as a freebie.

The designer should note however that this is only free for personal use only. So, there is a lot of freedom to learn from this set and use freely for personal projects.

Expressing 3D illustrations
Several angles of the Arki Business Pack
White clay render of the Arki 3D Business Pack

Getting started with 3D forms

You are a designer. If it were not for the bug called creativity, you would have been a Medical Doctor or an Engineer. However, your other career or hobby options are nothing compared to what you are right now, a designer! You can learn anything, but be warned, the learning curve for this one is rather steep.

Here are a few things to consider, before getting started:

  1. Determination, else, this would drive you crazy.
  2. Ask enough questions before starting anything. There are many 3D illustrators in Nigeria (and abroad), many of whom would be likely to entertain your questions.
  3. Software and cost of machine. There is ample information on this in the next heading.
  4. Study, courses and time. Hours and hours of these.

Software and cost of machine

Before getting started, you have to know that most 3D softwares, plugins and tools are not free. Here is a list of a few of these softwares that you could start with.

  1. Maxon Cinema 4D (paid)
  2. Blender (free)
  3. Element 3D (paid)
  4. Adobe Dimension (paid)

and many more.

You also have to consider rendering engines that could go with these for some of the best results: Autodesk Arnold, Octane, Vray, Redshift, etc.

While for the hardware tools, you would most likely need access to a dedicated system that can handle most 3D modeling and rendering works. These types of systems do not come for cheap, and could range from a sizable chunk of your savings to all of your savings. Some very reliable ones come with in-built or external graphic rendering hardware like Nvidia GeForce or AMD Ryzen processing chips.

However you choose to go about this journey DearDesigner, we are with you all the way. Acquiring a new style or skill is not a thing for the faint-hearted. Best of luck.

3D IllustrationsDavid OfiareDesign Article

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