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How to Make Your Manga Drawings Look 3D

When we talk about drawing something in a way that looks 3D, we are really talking about using shading and perspective to trick the eye into believing that the drawing has more dimensions than it does.

If you think about it we are frequently viewing images this way. Any time we watch a movie or look at a photograph, we are always looking at a three-dimensional representation in two-dimensional space.

So how do you apply this to your own drawings?

Learning how to draw in a style that looks 3D requires a basic understanding of perspective and shading. In this case, 

  • Perspective is how someone perceives objects as distorted by a focal point.
  • Shading refers to how light source in the scene interact with the surface of the objects.

Since manga is a stylized art, your shading will not need to be totally realistic. Instead, it should approximate an aesthetic level of realism. Perspective and shading, in this case, do double duty, as they help to represent a feeling while giving a sense of believability.

Start With a 3D Wireframe

manga wireframes

To make things easier on yourself, begin working with all three dimensions from the very beginning stages of your drawing.

The easiest way to incorporate three-dimensionality into your drawing is to draw all your initial shapes as 3D volumes. Learning to draw is frequently taught as a process of breaking complex objects down into simple shapes. Now, instead of simple shapes, it's important to envision and draw these in as simple volumes.

This means that where you might want to draw a circle, you should draw it as a sphere. Add depth to your rectangles and turn any of your wireframe geometry into polygons. For example, use cylinders to represent the limbs of your character, as opposed to two lines.

Drawing everything as volumes may make your first sketch messier, but it will ultimately help you envision the scene with all three dimensions. It will also indicate spaces that require natural shading.

Use the Right Perspective

Three-dimensional objects take place in space. This might sound obvious, but it's important to remember when you start to consider which drawings look realistic and which don't. One way to represent dimensionality is to situate your character in space. Creating a scene will force you to decide on your perspective while framing and developing the scene as a whole.

Drawing without a consistent perspective will make your drawing look less realistic and therefore less three-dimensional. However, it's not all science. Once you know have your perspective down, it lends a level of believability to the whole scene. That means that as you as you use perspective, you can do outlandish things with your scene and still have them look believable.

If you're struggling with perspective, don't hesitate to draw in grid lines. Grid lines help you by indicating the line of sight, as well as any distortion that may come from that particular perspective. It also helps to have a photo reference for the type of space that you are trying to represent. This reference will give you an idea of what things should look like so that you can notice when something looks unnatural.

In manga, depth is often conveyed by the thickness of the outlines surrounding objects. Objects in the foreground will have thicker lines, and background objects will have thinner lines. This is true to indicate dimension on a single character as well. For example, if a character is holding their hand out in front, the hand will use a thicker outline than the rest of the character.

Use Realistic Shading to Add Dimension

volumes manga

Shading and lighting go hand in hand. When we look at objects with our eyes, we are always seeing how they are lit. Light sources are therefore very important for how we perceive objects and their dimensionality.

To begin adding shading, it's important to understand where your light is coming from. There are a few forms of light that you can draw on, such as atmospheric light, directional light, and area lighting.

Atmospheric light generally includes daylight, indirect sunlight, and basically, any light that surrounds the scene without coming from a particular source. Atmospheric lighting can be some of the most difficult to predict, since all objects may be evenly lit. Shading, therefore, falls on objects that are shadowed by other parts of the body. With this kind of lighting, the shading is primarily dependent on perspective and what the point of view sees.

Directional light casts light against the object in a certain area. The light will fall directly on the object and places where the light doesn't fall will be shadowed. This is an excellent lighting choice for creating dramatic effects. Similarly, area light, such as lighting that might fall inside a room, will come from a particular direction, allowing you to determine what's in shadow and what isn't.

Once you get comfortable with the basics of shading you can use these lighting effects to make your pieces appear more three-dimensional while also using them to create a tone or feeling for your piece.

Use a 3D Model Reference

While the above offers useful theory and rules for how to think about drawing your manga art using all three dimensions, it can still be difficult to get started working this way. One way to improve the process is to use three-dimensional models and references for drawing your scene.

Using a pose-able figure can help you understand the placement of limbs and parts. You can also take a photo of your pose-able figure from a particular point of view. This will help you to sort out perspective as well as the dimensionality of the pose. Similarly, some artists are using 3D modeling software to help them envision space, perspective, and lighting effects for drawing more complex scenes.

Make Your Drawings Pop

One way to make your drawing appear more realistic or three-dimensional is to draw and hold your viewer's focus. You can do this by closely framing the subject. Try drawing the subject upfront and very close to the frame.

Another way to catch your viewer's eye is to draw your character in a state of movement. Not only will movement draw the eye, but it will also give you increased opportunities for representing dynamic shading.

If your drawing still feel bland, try using over-the-top contrasts between light and shadow. While these contrasts won't make your drawing appear more realistic, it will still have a level of believability. The contrasts may help your drawing feel like it has more dimensions, many of which are hidden in the shading.

Manga is a highly stylized art form, but it is still reliant on the basic principles of volume, space, and lighting. The idea behind making your manga look three-dimensional is to help it pop, giving it the feeling of movement and life. Nonetheless, since manga is so stylized, once you learn the rules of perspective and shading, it's up to you to decide how to apply these to your drawings and find the unique styles that best express your characters and scenes.





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