Reference Image Management

Reference Images for 3D Modelling

Preparation for the Project: 1929 Bentley Blower

To create an illustration in the kind of detail that we envisage, we need lots of reference images—hundreds of them. If you are fortunate enough to have access to an actual real Bentley car, then you’ve hit the jackpot. Photograph every single inch of the vehicle from all conceivable angles. Ensure there is enough light (or flash) to capture the materials and surfaces, i.e., how rough is a matte pipe or the exact shade of the paint? If you are a mere mortal like the rest of us, you won’t ever be granted photographic access to one of these beautiful cars. So instead, we have to resort to Google and Bing, to Pinterest, to coffee table books, magazines and any other reference source.

I found that it took quite a while to collect sufficient images even to make a start; it’s certainly not a weekend job. I had to hunt for specific photos throughout the whole project. I constantly needed a picture of a particular part. At times I even had to cheat and use a part that I could find on the assumption the original Bentley part must have been reasonably similar. Remember, the model needs to be good enough for purpose – perfect is an illusion.

We will need overall images, detailed images, sunlight images, artificial light images and photos in cloudy light. We will need perspective images and as many orthogonal pictures as we can lay our hands on. If you can find some actual blueprints, then you are off to a good start. So just to repeat, you can never get enough images, so start collecting them as soon as possible.

However, once there are enough images to make a start, then the question that raises its head is, “How do we manage all these images?” There are two main software programs that you will need:

You will need an Image Organizer and Viewer

An excellent little program called PureRef allows you to collate all those images into a sort of collage to get an overview of your pictures. You can then click on an individual photo to get a zoomed view. It’s rather like a clickable visual scrapbook.

The PureRef overview with all photos of any size normalized into thumbnails.

The interface takes a bit of getting used to, and I find it awkward, but that’s just a personal preference.

On PureRef’s download page, you are prompted to pay your own price – i.e., whatever you want to pay for it. You can even specify $0, and it will allow you to download it for free.

If you prefer to have a more organised polished system [which costs more], another excellent alternative is to use the Adobe Lightroom program. This is my personal preference, especially since I subscribe to Photoshop anyway, so it’s part of my package. I like the features that Lightroom offers me – I couldn’t live without it!
But… the downside is, it costs a bit of money every month.

The Adobe Lightroom interface

Lightroom has an excellent taxonomy system of keywords and key phrases that allow you to tag photos and display the images that match a keyword. For example, a photograph that shows the wheel, the spokes, the mudguard, the tires and the hub could all be tagged with these words, and then at a later stage, all images which have been tagged with, say, mudguard will be displayed. It’s a very good powerful system for reference images. Lightroom will also allow operation on a dual monitor system, showing thumbnails on one screen and full-screen images on the other.

You will need a Photo Editor

You will also need a photo editor. The most well known of which is obviously Photoshop, but a very very good alternative is GIMP which is free.

The Gimp photo editing interface

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Gimp, but I use Photoshop – probably because after using it (and teaching it) for 30 years, it’s somewhat familiar. The great advantage of Photoshop is that the number of tutorials and articles written for the program is astronomical. If you have a question, thousands of people will certainly know your problem and have a helpful solution.

Photoshop – The undisputed king of image editors

Here’s a Reference Image tip:

Get a second computer. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest. The graphics card does not have to be render capable; it must just display reference images on a large screen. The CPU also does not have to be the most powerful. Before you upgrade to your current graphics machine, your last computer would do ideally for this purpose. You will have a tremendous productivity boost if you have a system where you can consult reference images by simply turning your head toward another monitor. It is much better and easier to display a reference image on another monitor next to you, which does not interfere with your work in the blender editor.

Always keep your older computer. Never sell it. If it is halfway decent in power and graphics capability, in addition to a reference image display device, it can also be used as a second render machine. Two or more machines lying around spare can be hooked up to a network to render an image or an animation concurrently with each other.

Never miss another tip or article.

I’ll send you each post straight into your email box. That means that you can keep the emails and store them for future reference in a way that makes sense to you.

Never miss the next step.

I’ll send you each post straight into your email box. That means that you can keep the emails and store them for future reference in a way that makes sense to you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top