Lesson 6: Applying Construction to Everyday Objects
Computer Mouse Demo
This is something more than a few people have struggled with, and for good reason. Computer mice combine both hard surface qualities with smooth, organic curves, and can be very challenging to construct with the standard geometric means.
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Step by step
So as usual, I construct a box. Here we're going to be using the encapsulating box approach, but with a bit of a twist. For now, make sure you subdivide the box and draw a line going down the center of the box length-wise, all the way around. Think of this as constructing a plane inside the center of the enclosing form.
So here's the twist - instead of constructing our object with geometric primitives, we're going to start out by drawing orthographic studies off to the side. That is, a flat drawing of the mouse's profile from the side, and from the bottom. Make sure to factor in proportion, as that is our main focus. Feel free to subdivide these orthographic studies as much as you want, but be sure to subdivide the actual 3D planes as well, as you will be trying to replicate the same shapes there.
Note: The use of orthographic plans demonstrated here is very loose and basic. For more information on how to leverage these more fully in your own object constructions, be sure to read through these notes and the demo presented there.
If you look at my side view orthographic, you'll notice that I've included both the overall silhouette as well as the shape that sits on the far sides of the mouse. Just as I transferred the other details, here I transfer this far side information to the planes on both sides of the box. Patience is key here, and make sure you draw the smooth curves from your shoulder, as your wrist will cause them to come out stiff and awkward.
Carefully looking at the overall form of your reference, start connecting the pieces. You'll notice here that initially I tried to do so within the encapsulating box, but I quickly realized that I had underestimated the amount of vertical space needed. It is okay to go beyond your bounds, but don't do so lightly. In most cases it's very important to respect the space enclosed by your box, and to work towards fitting everything snugly inside of it. Beyond a certain point though, mistakes made early on can't really be avoided.
Aside from the extra details I've started adding (probably too early), the major change to the form here is that I cut a substantial gap between the buttons, where the scroll wheel will eventually go. Note that I cut this equally on both sides of the center line, and that I pay close attention to how this cut curves down towards the base.
When constructing the scroll wheel, I draw only one ellipse. You certainly can choose to draw two, and depending on your comfort level with visualization and cylinders in general, it may be the better choice. Still, here I made that decision in order to reduce the amount of clutter. As with everything else, with all of the subdivision, clutter is a major factor here. Still, the solidity of your forms and construction is of the highest priority. One of the main reasons I made that decision was because this was intended as a demo, so clutter would have made it much more difficult to follow.
You could also choose to build this cylinder as a box initially, but again, that would further compound the clutter problem and may not be entirely necessary. Make sure you pay close attention to the proportions and sizing of the scroll wheel in your reference image before beginning this phase.
The Art of Blizzard Entertainment
While I have a massive library of non-instructional art books I've collected over the years, there's only a handful that are actually important to me. This is one of them - so much so that I jammed my copy into my overstuffed backpack when flying back from my parents' house just so I could have it at my apartment. My back's been sore for a week.
The reason I hold this book in such high esteem is because of how it puts the relatively new field of game art into perspective, showing how concept art really just started off as crude sketches intended to communicate ideas to storytellers, designers and 3D modelers. How all of this focus on beautiful illustrations is really secondary to the core of a concept artist's job. A real eye-opener.