For Project Gold we used a lot more Model Sheets than previous projects. Both for 3D models and 2D concepts. In this article I explain various uses and pitfalls.
I also created a setup to render out sheets from your Blender workfile at any time. No additional files and software required. Below I’ll show you how to create your own.
Easier communication with external team members was the original reason we started using 3D model sheets. It’s good to have a lot of information in a couple images to easily pass around:
The better way would be to open the .blend file and see the model first hand. But this is less accessible and not always an option. So model sheets and additional videos/turntables are a good default method.
But don’t rely only on these sheets as an accurate representation of the model.
The orthographic perspective, limited angles & lighting examples are good for judging broad shapes but terrible for judging appeal (or how it will look like in the movie). Make sure to also pose your characters, sculpt expressions, put them in previz shots and test various lighting scenarios & cameras.
There's a similar case about concept sheets:
Does the sheet focus on proportional relations or appeal?
It can be very helpful to start working with a character sheet to get a general sense of shape and scale but it shouldn’t be taken as an exact blueprint or the main reference.
Vastly more important are key concepts.
Seeing the character in poses, expressions and angles that appear in the movie.
To paraphrase the amazing Greg Dykstra:
A concept comes with 2D “cheats” that can give the character life and energy. But these might be hard to translate into a 3D design that has to work from multiple angles. While making a mostly symmetrical and consistent 3D sculpt, the results might have to look different, and still retain the essence of the original concept. In the process you’ll discover new things about the character that weren’t obvious, which will surprise both you and the director.
Drawing a character in a spatially consistent and neutral way is a good way to check for coherency but not if it’s at the cost of discarding what makes the character recognisable and special. Try to keep that in mind.
Let’s get into the practical tutorial! How do you render out a model sheet directly and automatically out of your work file?
In a nutshell:
You create a Camera and animate it frame-by frame to show all angles of the asset you want.
In a second Scene you import the Camera output as a series of Sequencer Strips and arrange them into a sheet with additional text info. This can be expanded into multiple Sheets, all in the same file.
Here’s an example file of the setup, ready to go and edit further: model_sheet_template.blend
But let's also get into detail on how to set it up and use it.
You need to create this top level collection hierarchy. The “Work” collection includes everything that you actually work on. The rest is for the Model Sheets.
It’s best to put versions and parts of your model into sub-collections. To add them to the sheet, they need to be linked into the “Current Model” or “Old Model” collections. The second collection is in case you want to show them side by side.
These two collections are then instanced via the right click option “Instance to Scene” and moved into the “Render Collection”. (Instancing adds options like animating the visibility)
The Render Collection also has the lighting setup and camera.
To create the different camera angles, the trick is to parent all lighting and camera objects to an Empty object in the center. I named it “HLP-camera_angles”.
This Empty will be animated frame-by-frame to rotate the camera and lights. Only this empty needs to be animated most of the time. Once the camera should be closer to the face or hand, be sure to animate the camera location instead, so the lights are still pointing at the same object.
Animate the Camera Type from Perspective and Orthographic to what is needed. I settled on using Perspective for the 3/4 angle and Ortho for all others.
Another neat trick is to animate the Clip Start and End of the camera to hide the body on closeups for the Head and Hand for certain angles, or to remove an arm to see the body better from the side.
Anything can be animated for each angle. Hide the outfit or switch out hair versions.
The Mask Modifier is also useful to hide parts of the model, like the arms.
In the end of the timeline, toggle the visibility of the current and new model instance, so that there’s one 3/4 view to show the old model. This will later be put side by side in an additional sheet.
To make sure the Render Collection will show up on the sheets and not the Working collection, you create two View Layers. “Rendering” and ”Working”. In the first the “work” collection is excluded (checkmark toggle) and in the second all other collections related to instancing and rendering are excluded.
Then make sure to disable the Working view layer from rendering (In the Properties under "View Layer")
To make sure the background is not rendered enable the “Transparent” checkmark in
Properties Editor → Render → Film.
To create the sheet add a new Video Editing workspace (named for example “Body Sheet”). Also create a “New” empty Scene on the top right (named “sheet_body”). Pin the Scene to the Workspace so they will always be used together.
In this blank scene and workspace add a new Strip with
Shift A → Scene → Pick the primary scene.
Move the strip in the timeline to see how it flips through all camera angles you set up. The trick now is to duplicate the strip and offset each by one frame (for each angle). Then while on the first frame of the timeline, crop & move the camera angles in the Preview above.
Add a background color and text strips for dates, and extra info and you have the basic sheet.
Now you can also still change the look of the rendered result in the Sheet settings.
In the Preview Sidebar you can change the Scene Strip Display to either use Solid or Rendered
If “Override Scene Settings” is enabled, the look of Solid rendering can be changed in the Render Settings (like Engine, Color, Lighting and even Color Management)
With this setup it’s possible at any time to switch out the collections that appear in the sheets, change the workspace and press
F12 to render it out.
I hope you learned something from this.