Tag Archives: Practical

Concept; The Impact of a One Sentence Purpose

I love the beginning of a new project.

You’re given a set of parameters to adhere to (or very rarely a clean slate), you have a specific amount of time and usually some form of budget or lack of one.  With those parameters and limitations you’re then set loose to come up with an idea.  Blank slates excluded, it’s usual to have some form of a goal defined for you and a set of targets to reach.

Increase sales, redefine brand x as being for people y, launch a product, make one person say ‘wow’, educate, entertain – there are a lot of reasons for what we do, sometimes on a day to day basis.  The important thing is to know which one of these goals is the most important for any given project; which one matters above all else and, if delivered, would count the project a success.  Setting your main goal, defining its purpose and scope, and wrapping it up into one neat, concise sentence can make the difference between a tight design and a sloppy one.

Golden Goal Rule (Not ‘the one who has the goals makes the rules’ though I was tempted)

All goals should answer one simple question in order to be effective; ‘What’s the point?’

Let me explain.  If your example goal is something like ‘Increase number of clients by summer’ it’s easy to get diverted.  There’s no reward built in and there’s no definite point at which you can cross it off your list as complete.  Not very motivating and if you ever venture into the land of late nights/early mornings for this sort of goal you’re likely to start wondering if you can just forget about it instead!

At least, I would.  Raw stubbornness can only take you so far.


Let’s go back to the point at the start of the project where we’re all happily bubbling away over new ideas and dancing around gleefully at the thought of having something fun to do (maybe that last part was just me, but you get the picture).  Right then you may know perfectly well what you want to accomplish and why, or at least you’re in the best place to figure it out.  While you’re enthusiastically yet diligently writing out your initial plan (right?) it’s worth taking a moment to write this sentence:

[Action] [Object] to [Goal] for [target audience] (by [timescale]).

Let me wash the mud off the window:

  1. Action:  Create, Redesign, Realign, Launch, Increase, Decrease
  2. Object: Tutorial interface, website, logo, ebook, sales, bounce rate
  3. Goal: Make sharing easier, to reflect the new branding scheme, for a more professional look, to teach people how to skip, from 5% to 10%, to 60%
  4. Target Audience: students between the ages of 16-25 studying 3D, adults working in offices full time, sophistocated young investors, children 6-10 years old, teenage girls with an interest in drawing, visitors from USA.

Formatting the first example so we can see it properly:  Create a tutorial interface to make sharing easier for students between the ages of 16-25 studying 3D.

Why bother?

Someone asks you what you’re doing? You can tell them your statement.

Get stuck or muddled part way through the project? It’s right there to remind you of where you’re going.

Focusing too much on an unimportant area of the project? That statement brooks no excuses.

Of every piece of planning I’ve ever done for a project this is the quickest part, and also the part that provides the most benefit (says the planning addict that usually has at least 10 pages of stuff).  It’s also the part that’ll make you want to throw the most objects our your window, but that’s another story.

Practical Graphics Tip #1: Easiest way to save time in Photoshop

Have you ever shown a client a design or layout (perhaps for an illustration or website) near the end of a project and had them ask to see a version with one or two elements changed?

Was this after hours of work polishing and perfecting each part, and did you have to re-do most of it to compensate?

If so, I’m probably preaching to the converted. If you’ve already discovered the benefits of using layers then this tip isn’t for you (stop reading!).

Still here? Excellent, we’re about to make your life a whole lot easier.

“Using layers within your projects can give you back hours of time normally swallowed by tweaks and changes.”

Design; The Time-Intensive Way

When we hear about people taking days or hours to re-design and accomodate slight tweaks from clients digitally, I wouldn’t be surprised if we thought their process looked something like this:

After reviewing the project brief (in this example, its a website) they gather as much information as possible about their requirements, becoming confident that they understand the client’s needs. They then hurry off and spend a lot of time getting the layout right, making button appearances and polishing the design – gaining client approval all the way. There may be different variations of the same file showing the buttons in hover or click states as well as the main file showing everything laid out perfectly in place.

The client asks for a slightly different layout. Our poor freelancer rushes off to re-make the main file, moving things around, re-doing parts and polishing it again until it looks ‘right’. It’s presented again, maybe another change is needed, the cycle repeats. This time with a more resentful freelancer.

On the sunnier side…

I can’t give you the magical telepathic ability to see straight into the minds of your clients and produce the project 100% correctly the first time. Using this simple technique I can, however, make alterations less painful (if no less annoying). Wouldn’t it be much nicer to take an hour (at the very most, simple tweaks usually take far less time) instead of a day?

You could be doing something more useful than re-shuffling a design; reading, learning something new, playing video-games, spending time with your family… maybe even (getting a little crazy here) working on a project meaningful to you.

5 Steps to Freedom

Having discovered we love extra time the following steps will show you a really simple way to save some.

1 – Open your project in Photoshop (or your graphics program). From looking at it, decide what the different elements of the design are and make a mental note of them.

2 – Heading down to the layers section, create a new layer for each of the different elements you’ve just identified.

3 – Name your layers! On its own this will save roughly five minutes (depending on the amount of layers) each time you need to make a change. Say what’s on that layer in one or two words.

4 – Cut each of your elements from the main layer, then paste them in place on their own layer. If you happen to have a background to your design, you can patch it up after everything’s been taken off of it.

5 – With your newly split project you can re-design, tweak, and play at your leisure.


Having everything on its own layer makes it easy to tweak layouts, colours, and effects without the need to edit everything else. It also means that you can create alternate layouts within the same file and compare them without constantly moving everything.

Very simple. Terribly appealing.

Practical Tips #4; Pay Attention to Time

Vancouver clock wikimedia commons

How many times have you had to re-work something that you thought clicked really well?

I’m going to assume it’s been at least once. Probably far more times than you care to really think about! In this last week alone I’ve had to change and tweak things on a project at least three times; I’ve a feeling we can all relate to that. The next few Practical Tips are going to focus on areas of planning that can help minimize repeat tasks, starting with taking time of day and season into account. You may not really think about these and still create some amazing pieces, however this series is about polishing things and making it even better. Besides, on the off chance it does become important, wouldn’t you like to know how to start?

This tip will show you how to add context to your scenes and animations by using the time and date.

It’s good, but…

There’s a city scene in your animation; one that you’re particularly proud of actually. You’ve got your lighting set up beautifully, you have wonderfully animated people in the background, your sound effects are realistic, and your camera fly-through is nothing short of an art form. Your textures even manage to work well together and approximate realism – but better!

When your project manager (or audience/client/whoever) sees it they start asking questions. Why are there people in party clothes first thing in the morning? Why are the lights on all the cars on in full sunlight? Shouldn’t the children be heading to school instead of skipping around in the middle of the park next to the old people on the benches? Didn’t the brief say ‘Monday morning’?

Your scene is beautiful; but it’s logic is so flawed that you’ll have to go and redesign parts of it. Think of the waste!

Avoiding the ‘but’

How much easier would it be if  there had been a way to plan this sort of thing before doing all that work?  Instead of redesigning parts and tweaking for a few hours, you could have been doing something more fun, or even getting a jump-start on your next task!  Your scenes would mesh together logically, you wouldn’t have avid fans (or, worse, your boss) wondering why certain things were there, and best of all your viewers would be able to appreciate your work without getting distracted.

Also, you could be secure in the knowledge that each item or piece of your scene was there for a reason; this means you could justify it if you needed to further down the line.

Prevention is better than a cure

1. Read your brief twice. If there are any mentions of time or date on it you may not notice until the second pass; if there aren’t you’ll need to dig a bit deeper to find your information. Go to the source and ask your boss or clients. Read the context of the scene too if it’s part of a larger project, sometimes this will give you more information as well.

2. Research. I can hear the groans now… Look at it this way – an hour (or less) doing research now can save you 2+ hours later. Check the background of the location, local weather, what people do at a specific time of day or season. Find out enough so you have a basic grounding in your chosen place.

3. Find ways to work it in! This is the fun part; use your research and the information you got from your brief, and come up with the most creative way to incorporate your new ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything big or particularly thorough, just show you’ve thought about it and avoid the obvious errors. (Note: don’t obsess over this. If you start to take longer making sure things are accurate than you do working on the project there’s something wrong.)


It’s worth running through these steps whenever you’re working on a big project, or you feel time might play a factor. While you might not want to use it every time it’ll lift your work when you do, and keeping it in the back of your mind will help you add an extra layer of polish.

And if things do go wrong and you have to re-do a part? You now have some idea of where to start.

Practical 3D Tips #3; Backing up is your saviour

Everyone loses a vital piece of work at least once in their career. It could happen at a relatively harmless time when you haven’t done much work on the project anyway. It could also happen at the worst possible time, five minutes before deadline with your boss (or tutor, sometimes that’s the same thing) breathing down your neck.

With this tip we may not remove that dynamic entirely, but we can lessen the chances of it happening. Do you want to limit the amount of times you’ll have to go through that particular uncomfortable, sickening experience?

Storing backups of your work in several different locations will limit the chances of you losing that piece of work when you need to use it.

How you can lose everything:

Even if you’re using incremental saving with your 3D work, you can lose everything. Lets say you go into work one day and your computer’s died, or your hard drive’s failed, or the disk needs to be reformatted. Your pen drive (if that’s where you keep your work) refuses to work and your only copy of that important file is now gone. Or worse, you send the finished product to the appropriate person then lose the original file; they misplace the email and its now on your head.

What happens when you don’t lose it all:

Assuming we follow this tip and back up our files the way we’re meant to we can erase this entire problem. If your hard drive gets corrupted, no big deal – you have your files elsewhere. Your pen drive may still fail however aside from some minor annoyance you can get through it quickly. Sent the file to the required person and they lose it? No problem, you can just resend at your leisure.

Here’s my method:

1. Back up to the cloud. There are a number of different places online you can store files; Dropbox and iDrive are a couple that I use. A quick google search will return various options (some paid, some free) that can help you here. Use only for your most important files.

2. Back up to a pen drive. You can quickly make copies of your more important or current files and store them in strategic places (ie. work, home, college, parents’ house, etc).

3. Back up to a portable hard drive. Back up your entire system every couple of weeks or every month; if something goes horribly wrong you’ll always have your main files and system configuration.

Bonus: You can also copy important files onto DVDs and store them at different locations; this works best when they’re not in the same place as the rest of your backups. Give them to a friend or family member for the unlikely event of a fire or flood.


Following even a couple of these technique will save you loads of heartache and re-work. I’ve been there recently; one of my best 3D pieces managed to fall through the cracks and now I only have one of the very beginning files. Don’t do that, it’s not worth it. Backing up, in the long run, is so much quicker.

Practical 3D Tips #2; Need your scene simplified quickly?

This tip is for the people (like me) that love to load up our scenes with all sorts of junk so that they look as real as possible; whether we see them on camera at a specific time or not.

Your polygon count skyrockets, your materials are so complicated that a small piece of them takes ten minutes to render, and you’re ready to resign yourself to the sad truth that that particular piece is unrenderable. Don’t do anything; here’s what might fix it without impacting on quality.

Hiding the objects you can’t see will remove the extra calculations your program has to make, speeding up the creation and rendering process.

Can’t work because of the detail

Complex 3D environments and scenes take a lot of processing power and memory, particularly when it comes to rendering. Sometimes they can be so complicated that even working on the scene takes forever; have you ever had to wait longer than five seconds for a mouse move to register? You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You spend more time waiting on your changes to update than you do making the changes, and you keep getting more and more stressed out by the state of things. Deadlines start to collapse, pressure gets piled on, and you begin to contemplate throwing your monitor out of the nearest window.

Complex scene? No problem.

Wouldn’t it be so much more enjoyable if you were able to keep that level of complexity and detail on camera while ensuring your computer didn’t hang up over the slightest movement? Imagine being able to tweak things without having a super computer, being able to walk away from a render without worrying it’ll crash. Or being able to save without the program failing, your computer rebooting, and losing large amounts of work. You’d meet your deadlines far easier, there’d be less pressure on you, and your poor abused monitor won’t have to learn to fly.

Action Steps:

1. Look at your scene; what doesn’t appear on the camera?
2. Select all the objects that don’t actually appear, right click, and select ‘Hide’.
3. Enjoy being able to move around your scene with greater ease!


This method won’t work on every type of scene; only the ones in which you have a lot of clutter out of view of the camera. You can do something similar by assigning objects to layers and hiding the layers you don’t require while you’re working for a greater level of control.

However this is the quickest way to save your file if it becomes too crowded suddenly. Try it, let me know if it helps. I use it on all but my simplest environment scenes and it works for me.

Practical 3D Tips #1: Save Incrementally

If you’ve ever had one of those days where you spill your coffee, you arrive at work late, your computer takes forever to load, and then you lose access to your files – this tip is for you.

I can’t do anything about your coffee or being late, but with this tip I can make sure your files are suitable for use. What I’m about to tell you will save you untold hours of stress and frustration over your career; Interested?

Saving incrementally (by using the ‘+’ button instead of ‘Save’) will save your files, your time and potentially any colleagues in range when it all goes pear-shaped.

Disaster waiting to happen:

Picture this; you go ahead and try to open that file you’ve been working on for the last three days solid. It refuses to open because the file’s corrupted. Nervously, you try it again – your program crashes straight away and gives you another error report.

Alternatively, you work on the file for a few hours before realizing that you’ve made a huge mistake. You need to go back several steps and your undo button doesn’t reach. You’d saved over your old file less than five minutes ago, the base you started with is long gone and now you’ll have to manually undo everything you’ve done over the last few hours.

Imagine the amount of time and effort you’ve just wasted in either of those situations. Doesn’t it make you sick?

Light at the end of the tunnel.

Now let’s look at how they could have gone with a little more preparation;

Your file’s corrupted, so you go ahead and open the previous file without a problem. You’ve maybe lost about half an hour’s work.

There’s been a mistake made in your project and you have to go back to fix it; no problem, you just load the previous file and continue working from exactly where you need to.

Action Steps:

1. Create a folder for your project; name it something meaningful and name your initial file as something you can instantly recognize.

2. Every time you make an important or meaningful change, choose to save.

3. Instead of clicking ‘Save’ click ‘+’.


Using those three steps consistently may seem like a waste of time and storage space at first, there’s a definite argument for that. However I can guarantee you that at some point in your 3D career, probably several points, without using this simple trick you’re going to get burned.

Taking a little time to save now, will prevent missed deadlines, unhappy co-workers or clients, stress, and hours of work in the future. Boring; yes. Does it work? I’ll let you be the judge, however I’d swear by it.