If you have ever tried to replicate the look of a 2D character in 3D, you may have noticed that some things don’t translate so easily into 3D.  For instance, the way a character’s eyebrows are often drawn in front of his or her hair in manga cannot be represented with a static 3D model, since the location of the eyebrows is relative to the camera.  It is always between the hair and the camera, so if you are moving the camera, the eyebrows have to move as well to render in the right place and at the right angle.Floating Manga Eyebrows Example

This is just a very simple example, but in reality, there are many things that look good in 2D, but don’t necessarily reflect a realistic representation of a 3D object as seen from a certain angle.  This is sometimes referred to as stylization.  Its part of why I love 2D animation and part of why it makes me sad to see everything go 3D these days.  The ability to stylize artwork, in my opinion, requires the most artistic ability.  More than just drawing something realistically.  That extra layer of art is part of why cartoons have an appeal that live action lacks.

When attempting to represent stylized 2D artwork in 3D we run into this problem, because if we model our character to look right from one angle, they won’t look right from another.  One artist that I found on Google+, Omar Ramírez, is experimenting with a very interesting solution to this problem.  He is using Shape Keys in Blender to morph his model’s mesh into different shapes that will produce the ideal stylized shape and lines from certain camera angles.  For those of you that use Poser, DAZ Studio, or Carrara, Shape Keys are just like Morphs.

He is setting his scene up in such a way that the Shape Key values adjust based on the camera’s position, thus causing the geometry of the figure to change relative to the camera’s position.  In other words, as the camera changes the angle at which the figure is viewed, the figure’s geometry actually morphs to suit the current angle.  This makes it possible to form an optimized geometry for each major viewing angle to achieve that sylized look without creating multiple figures.  This video shows the smooth transition between shapes as the camera rotates around the head in the above example.

You can keep an eye on his project by following him on Google+.

What do you think about this technique?  Share you thoughts in the comments below.