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5 ways to inject story into your artwork

Struggling to draw the viewer in to your work? Suffering from a wandering eye? We take a look at 5 sure-fire ways to inject story into your art, taking it to the next level…

Introduction

One sure-fire way to make your visualizations stand out in a saturated world of 3D renders is to inject story into your scenes. It’s no longer good enough just to create an accurately represented render of a scene, you’ve got to take it to the next level and make it a piece of art. Clients are no longer just demanding their visuals to represent the CAD plans, they want to be wowed with narrative and story. It’s this that wins hearts and sells products, houses, or whatever your visual might be. Let’s take a look at 5 ways you can make narrative take centre stage in your images.

The use of light and mist gives this scene an eerie feel (Image credit supplied by David Spiers)

Context

One of the first things you want to address in your visual is the context with which your narrative is unfolding. As we step through these 5 ways, we’re going to be starting broad and narrowing in on finer detail. This is a broad consideration. You’ll need to be asking questions like “What world does my scene or characters inhabit?” “Am I looking for vast or cozy?” “Does the relationship between outside and inside matter here?” There are many more questions to be asked but really, you’re trying to get the broad brushstrokes of the world that you want your viewer to enter into.

If you have a lonely character embarking on a long and arduous journey where they’re fighting against all the odds, then you could draw the camera back, make the character a very small part of the shot, and show a huge contrast between the world the character is in and the size and capabilities of the character. This will create a huge sense of drama if done well.

If on the other hand you’re wanting to sell a family property and show the viewer that their family will be right at home there, then you’ll want to introduce that into your context. For any outdoor shots, show neighboring properties with loved and looked after gardens. Show neighbors getting out their cars smiling, or kids playing in the front yard.

The context draws the viewer into the narrative and causes them to enter into the world that you have set up for them.

The dark atmosphere and use of light draws the attention to the person. Why are they there, and what are they looking at?  (Image credit supplied by Nick Brunner)

Atmosphere & mood

With the context set you’re now ready to consider the mood of your scene. Questions at this stage go along the lines of “Do I want a dark or light mood?” “Do I want it to be jovial or serious?” “Should there be a sense of impending danger?” Obviously, the nature of the questions will depend on the narrative that you want to communicate. The best thing to do is therefore get really acquainted with your storyline. Make a list of key words that would describe what your character is feeling, or what you want your visual to evoke in the viewer.

With these questions carefully considered, you’re ready to work out how to make your audience feel those things. If we go back to our character, who is on a long and potentially hopeless journey, then you could create a dark and broody atmosphere. Make use of darker colors, clouds, and maybe even lightning! If on the other hand you have a character that is loving life and everything is going well, use warm colors, blue skies, and white fluffy clouds.

The scale of the man compared to the door and the big bright light cause viewers to ask questions about why he’s there and what sort of world he is living on. (Image credit supplied by Mo)

Light

This is really closely related to the idea of setting the mood but light can really help tell a story. I imagine most of us have seen horror films or been to a play where light is shone from down low up into a character’s face. It immediately gives the character a menacing look and sets the stage for something scary or frightening to happen.

Using light well can also accentuate parts of a scene or parts of a character’s body. One way that light can draw an audience in is when a camera is placed outside looking towards a house. The outside is dark, with blue tones, and yet the inside is warm and inviting. The light draws the viewer in. Then what is going on inside the house can really shine. Is it a family playing or friends enjoying dinner together? Light tells the story and focuses the viewer.

Set dressing

With the broader items of context, mood, and light considered, we’re now ready to consider something more detailed – that of set dressing. The way you dress your set will contribute massively towards the story you want to tell. If your visual is of a bedroom and the bed is un-made and messy with clothes on the floor, then it tells the story that the owner of that bed was either in a rush to make the bed or they’re too lazy to do it. You could further the lazy narrative by dressing the scene with half-eaten dinners and crushed beer cans. The way you dress the set sets the tone for your narrative.

Considering our man on the long journey, you might want to dress the set with many obstacles; things that he needs to navigate round or overcome before he can get to his destination. If you’re creating an architectural visualization then you’ll want to ask your client who the target audience is for the sale of the property. The answer to that question will determine whether you dress the property with high-end professional fixtures and fittings, or if you go for something a bit more comfortable and accessible.

The clever use of localized lighting, especially from the laptop, make viewers wonder what sort of person lives here.
(Image credit supplied by Nuddle)

Imperfections

And finally, I think imperfections are a fantastic way to bring story into your visuals. I think this is particularly true for architectural visualizations but it can be applied more broadly for sure. Architectural visualizations have a habit of being too perfect. Rooms that have never been lived in and smooth plastered walls that could never have been created by a plasterer. Or chairs that have never been sat in, or floors never walked on. Imagine your scene has been lived in and think about what sort of imperfections might have been created. It could be marks in a wooden floor or fingerprints on a window. Adding these types of imperfections to your scene will make it more accessible to your audience, and help them believe the story you’re telling.

Imperfections in the bedding and the scene more generally make this room feel very much lived in.
(Image credit supplied by Darren Ahmed Arceo)

Have some fun

I think the most important thing with storytelling through your visuals is to really enjoy it. Take a step back from the technical accuracy of what you’re creating, as important as that is, and think about the why questions of your scene. Dream a little and think creatively. Come up with some ideas, show some friends or colleagues, and ask them how it made them feel. Inject some story into your visuals and you’ll be sure to get more interest in your work.

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