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Basic perspective terms

From: Digital Matte Painting Essentials 2: Perspective

Video: Basic perspective terms

Linear perspective is a strange thing. Even people who know nothing about perspective can tell when it is wrong. If you do a perspective drawing with a major error, and show it to your 12 year-old nephew, even if he can't tell you exactly what's wrong about it, he will still know something is off. It's actually harder to learn the rules of perspective today than it was 25 years ago when I was in art school. Back then, if you wanted to paint a castle, you'd have to paint it from scratch. You couldn't patch together photographs to create an image like you can in photoshop.

Basic perspective terms

Linear perspective is a strange thing. Even people who know nothing about perspective can tell when it is wrong. If you do a perspective drawing with a major error, and show it to your 12 year-old nephew, even if he can't tell you exactly what's wrong about it, he will still know something is off. It's actually harder to learn the rules of perspective today than it was 25 years ago when I was in art school. Back then, if you wanted to paint a castle, you'd have to paint it from scratch. You couldn't patch together photographs to create an image like you can in photoshop.

Also, most art students today have access to 3D programs like Maya. And in those programs the perspective is done for you. If you create a cube in 3D, the cube is automatically in perspective. You don't have to work out the vanishing points for it to work. But understanding the rules of perspective can be incredibly powerful in your picture making. And it will make you confident in your artistic vision, that you know everything will look right to your viewer. Just remember no matter how beautifully rendered, a picture where the perspective is off will never look realistic.

The first and most important rule of perspective is this, everything vanishes to the horizon. Everything in linear perspective, even inclined planes and shadows all relate ultimately to the horizon. So that leads to a question. What is the horizon? The horizon is where the earth meets the sky, even when there are intervening objects that prevent you from seeing where they meet. So, if you were up in an airplane at 3000 feet and you look out the window, the horizon is where the earth meets the sky.

If you're at the beach lying down in the sand, the horizon is where the water meets the sky. If you were standing in New York City, the horizon would again be where the earth meets the sky if there weren't buildings blocking your view. You also need to know that the horizon equals your eye level. Your horizon line and the horizon line for someone ten feet above you will not be the same. You carry your view of the horizon line with you at your eye level. Students always ask me, so, if I look down, is the horizon line now on the floor? Of course, the answer is, no.

Your eye level is not your direction of sight, but the level of your eyes. So, you can always find the horizon by looking straight in front of you at the level of your eyes. There are two more important prospective terms you need to know. Vanishing points and lines of convergence. Vanishing points are points on the horizon where you'll draw guides to line up the objects in your scene. These lines are called lines of convergence. With these three terms defined, we're ready to talk about the three types of linear perspective you'll use.

One point, two point, and three point.

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Digital Matte Painting Essentials 2: Perspective

30 video lessons · 3003 viewers

David Mattingly
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