How To Draw a Scene In Three Point Perspective
By Joe Catapano
Introduction To Three Point Perspective
While one point and two point perspective setups give an artist a very solid ground on which to build their world, a three point perspective pushes that foundation a step forward with a third dynamic axis. The understanding of using a three point perspective is a “must-learn” practice for any artist. While there are more complex perspective setups (which I will discuss later), the three point perspective is what I consider the “sweet spot” when factoring in a scene’s appeal versus the skill and time required to create that said scene.
Here’s it in visual terms:
Now, what I just demonstrated is just my opinion and highly subjective.
Some may think that pursuing the more complex perspective setups are worth the effort but I, for one, believe the three point perspective is as far as you need to take this complexity for any comic scene.
I think I’ve made it clear that this is going to be very useful for creating dynamic and wondrous scenes for a comic book so lets not waste any more time, and get right to reviewing the concepts.
Just like with all perspective drawings, the goal is to create a 3D looking space on a flat 2D plane (your paper or canvas). These concepts are tools, and they are all you need to accomplish this most necessary of tasks as a comic artist.
Overlap – Shapes that cover over top of other shapes appear to be closer to the viewer.
Convergence – As they get farther away from the viewer, objects seem to get closer together (towards a single point).
Diminution – As they get farther away from the viewer, objects seem to get smaller.
Foreshortening – Lengths of objects seem to get shorter when viewed in certain angles.
Atmospheric Perspective - Objects that are extremely far from the viewer seem to get hazy because of particles in the atmosphere.
Value / Color – Objects that are closer to the viewer tend to have a higher contrast and saturation than objects that are farther away.
As we start making our scene later in this tutorial, I will point out where each of these concepts is being used.
Ok! So before I begin leading you into constructing a three point perspective grid, I would like to introduce you to another distinction within this arena of perspective rules. And that is…
Linear vs. Curvilinear Perspective Grids
So if you haven’t heard these terms used before, let me first clarify what I mean. Linear means something going in a straight line (on one axis), while CURVE-ilinear means something going in a curved line (on one axis). I will use two different images here to help further clarify what I mean.
As you can see the grid is constructed with perfectly straight lines. Linear perspectives are usually generated by artificial means like in a 3D software.
This type of grid has one or more of its axis’ obeying a curvilinear distortion. Curvilinear perspectives are ones made by photography and mimic our vision.
The way we view the world is really judged only by our own perception. Even though a curvilinear perspective is technically more accurate to our eyes, doesn’t mean it’s as comfortable for us to view when looking as a third party. That is, if you are personally viewing the world this way, this perspective seems natural but if viewed on an image or video, a curvilinear perspective will seem over exaggerated and skewed. But that is sometimes exactly what you might be going for in your drawing. That is also why using a normal, linear perspective setup like the three point perspective grid we are about to utilize is just as valid. We will likely have a future tutorial where we will work with a curvilinear grid, but for now lets stick with the resilient linear grids.
Ok, with that explanation out of the way let us get to constructing a three point perspective grid.
Setting Up a Three Point Perspective Grid
The process of setting up a three point perspective uses all the same tools and guidelines that you already might know from setting up one or two point perspective grid. In this example, however, things get a little tricky when all of your vanishing points (VP’s) are off of the picture plane. No worries, though, I have your back. Just follow along.
Step 1: Set up the Horizon
In this particular three point perspective, the grid will be set up has if we are looking from a high camera angle pointed downward toward the ground. And in this case, the horizon will not even be visible in the drawing.
This brings me to explaining the very simple concept of high and low angles. A camera pointed down will have a horizon that that is above the visible picture plane and to the contrary, a camera pointed up will have a horizon that is below the picture plane.
For our drawing, we will also be using a camera angle with a dolly, or in other words a camera that is tilted. To clearly show this whole process, I’ve pulled far away from the picture plane and set up a tiny version of this whole process.
To plan out this first step, all you must do is recognize that the horizon is above the picture plane.
Step 2: Draw in the Guidelines from VP 1
I know that plotting out a grid without actually seeing the Vanishing Points (VPs) can be somewhat confusing but fear not, I have a few tips to help the process along.
Here, we will draw the guidelines from the first VP. That is the VP on the up left part of the Step1 image. To do this without actually knowing where the VP is, all you have to do start with the first guideline.
2a. Draw a line from the center of the top boundary of your picture plane to the center of the right boundary of your picture plane. If you trace this line way off the page, it will match up with the horizon at some point. At that point is where the first VP is placed.
2b. Draw a line that starts on the left boundary of the picture plan and complete the line by drawing it to the bottom boundary. Since these measurements are somewhat precise, be sure to stick to how I have drawn this line.
2c. This step is actually drawing a couple lines from VP 2 to help judge distances for VP1. Draw a line from the bottom left corner of the picture plane to the 2/3’s mark on the top boundary of the picture plane. Then, draw a line from where the bottom of the picture plane and the line from Step 2b intersect. Draw this line almost parallel to the first line. This line should slightly converge toward the first line.
2d. Here, we need to find the center point of both of these new lines. Be sure to measure just in between the two lines from VP1. Mark those spots on each respective line from VP2.
With a ruler or a digital guide draw a line that intersects both of these points. This line traces back to the first VP! This is great trick if you are not able to physically measure back to your VP’s.
2e. Measure the left and right spaces on the VP2 lines to find more guidelines leading back to VP1. Notice that with enough practice you may even be able to judge these distances without measuring.
2f. Finally, sub divide all of the spaces between VP1’s guidelines. I’ve also added one more line toward the top to fill out the space nicely. Great work!
Step 3: Draw the Guidelines for VP 2
From this point, finding the guides for VP 2 should be pretty simple. You need to repeat the process in Step 2 but for VP 2 instead. To help out I’ve drawn in two more lines from VP 2.
Step 4: Draw the Guidelines for VP 3
Again, we need to draw the guidelines for the last vanishing point using Step 2’s instructions. First, draw in the two starting lines that I’ve drawn to start the process of measuring. This time it may be easiest to measure using the picture plane instead of another VP’s guidelines.
*On your own drawing, the exact placement of these lines doesn’t have to match mine, however they do need to converge toward each other in about the same rate as one the ones in my drawing.
Great Work! You just made a three point perspective grid. Now, let us put it to good use. This time I’ve decided to draw a futuristic cityscape as our example scene. We will be using a lot of angles and slick shapes to give the scene a science fiction type of feel.
Building a Scene in Three Point Perspective
Step 1: Make the Three Pt. Grid Transparent
Use any method at your disposal to make the grid less opaque; whether that be with a layer modifier or an simple eraser. Make it light but also be sure that you can see all of the guidelines we just made.
Step 2: Begin Plotting Our Futuristic City
Draw in a large cutout plane that will eventually become a sci-fi skyscraper’s landing platform. I’ve already started to shape the contours of this plane to seem more angular. Now, draw in a couple of modified cubes connecting to the main platform. You may notice that these cubes recede in space as their lines get closer to VP3 (which is the axis that tells us the scenes height).
Finally, we need some far away buildings, so add elongated cubes and fit them in behind the platform.
Step 3: Make an Ellipse
Here, we are going to cut a circle or rather later, a cylinder out of the main landing platform. To make an ellipse you need to first draw a square in which the ellipse will be placed. Like I have shown in blue, draw the square using our grid. Next, make an x connecting the corners. Great, we’ve found the center point of the square.
Alright, here’s the most important part of drawing ellipses: finding the minor axis. The minor axis of an ellipse divides itself in half perfectly. To set up your minor axis, you need to pretend our ellipse is a tire and the minor axis is the axle, like on a car. The axle goes straight through the center of a tire at a perpendicular angle. In our case, the axle or minor axis of this ellipse is a guideline coming from VP3 and going through the center of the square. I have drawn this with a dashed blue line. Now all you have to do is draw a circle that fits in the square so that it touches the center of each of its sides. You will know you have drawn it right when the minor axis looks like it divides the ellipse in half perfectly.
This takes practice but the more you get hands on with drawing ellipses, the easier it becomes. Go ahead and try it!
Step 4: Pull Out Your Ruler and Use the “X” Method
Ok, I’m going to be honest here; this is a very tedious step. That being said, it's absolutely essential to understanding scale and the *diminution that is happening as these cubes recede in space. Everything we are about to draw is only to be used as guides, so draw these lines light on your page or use a new layer.
To begin, imagine these buildings are like a cake. Each floor is a new layer of the cake. Now, draw a line on the main building on the right using guides from VP 1. Use the “x” method of multiplying shapes in perspective to find how far up or down the next layer is. Draw in the entire building’s floors with this method.
This building also has angles to the corners. To find the angle of each floor, all you have to do is pretend that the building’s corners are actually square. I’ve used dashed lines to show me doing this step. Now you can see the intersection of my blue lines and the black lines from Step 2. Connect those two intersections and will be left with a nice angle in perspective. Great, we are done with this main building.
Now, the main building is connected on even plane (our landing platform) to the building or the far left. Use the guidelines from VP 1 and VP 2 to find exactly how tall the floor height is on the new building by tracing over to it using the grid. I’ve shown this is dashed blue lines. Again, use the “x” method again to find how floors going up this building.
Finally, do the same process with the far away buildings. Here is a chance to use Diminution and make the floor way smaller. This will show the viewer how far away they really are.
Step 5: Start to Draw the Foreground
This step is very straightforward. Since we know the height of each floor, we also know about how tall a door or a window would be. Here you can draw whatever you want your buildings to look like but be sure to always follow the guidelines from our VP’s. I’ve added angled cutouts for my windows. To do this, use the same method from the last step when I found the angles for each floor; make the windows completely square first and then you can more easily find the angles you want. I’ve also added lines going down inside of the ellipse. This gives the illusion that it is a cylindrical elevator of some sort.
Step 6: Draw in Railings
To draw in hand rails for the main platform just follow the same contour as the ground but use the VP 3 to raise them up a bit. I have also varied the height of the rails in a pattern to add more visual appeal. The rail around the ellipse can be tricky but simply use another square as a guide.
Step 7: Add Further Details in the Foreground
Next is drawing the support strut peeking out from under the bridge platform. Look up reference for a crane or a bridge strut to find this particular triangular pattern. Use your VP’s and the “x” method to evenly space out square on the strut, then, divide them in to the triangular pattern.
Last, is drawing in details for the elevator. On the top floor draw in a couple modified cubes for the controls and a striped decal on the floor. Then use VP 3 to draw rails going down within the elevator. Finally, draw in rails and the floor to show where the base of the elevator is.
Step 8: Add Details to the Platform Below
It’s time to start adding depth. Use the guidelines from Step 4 to draw a new platform below that main one. If you follow the guidelines it show that objects should be a little smaller than on the main platform. Like in Step 5, draw in doors, windows and a couple accents to make them more believable.
Step 9: Add Detail to the Background
Again, using the guides that we’ve made from Step 4, draw in in the floors and windows for the far away buildings. Notice on the roofs, I’ve added random boxes, cylinders and lines to imply the detail.
Two things to remember here:
To sell the fact that these things are far away, use a thin line weight. This is #5 #6 of the Perspective Concepts.
Adding in more detail crammed into this small space will start to sell the realism and the distance of these buildings
Step 10: Finish Up the Background
To do this we need to create more buildings. Use as many overlapping shapes as you can to sell the foreshortening and positioning of these buildings. Adding these extras will really start to impress your audience when utilized regularly in your comic. This takes time but your readers will appreciate the effort.
Step 11: Populate the Scene
We all naturally identify with seeing other people so populating this scene with figures, even tiny figures, will add to the appeal greatly. I’ve scattered figures in several places and while I was at it, added a few more small details. Add some for yourself.
Afterward, I’ve used mist to populate the background. Now, I know that mist doesn’t really count as a populous but as art it does. Mist is organic and really contrasts with all the hard shapes dominating the scene. Add a few spots of clouds and mist to add to #5 on the Perspective Concepts list and add a little more life to your scene.
Step 12: Add Vehicles and More Bystanders
Here, we need to fill in some of the scene’s empty spots. In our case we are going to add a vehicle or two to help describe that this environment is a landing zone. Try your best here to keep the shapes simple and focus on the silhouette. When drawing at this size, the silhouette takes precedence over the details. Remember looking up reference is essential to see more believable results. I’ve also added some more figures to fill out the scene.
Step 13: Fill in Shadows and Add Line Weights
Since this scene is a helicopter shot that would most likely be used as an establishing angle for a story, the line weights and shadows should be used sparingly. That is because all of the objects in the scene are far away in relation to the camera. The contrast of these objects would be quite less in this situation. If fact, I actually started erasing heavier line weights in the background to make the foreground subjects “pop” that much more.
That’s it, everyone! The scene looks great! Notice all of the perfectly straight lines in our grid. That’s because we’ve been using a linear grid instead of the curvilinear. Maybe at some point we will cover the curvilinear approach in a later tutorial.
Take a moment and look at what you just accomplished. This tutorial is a lot of work and you should feel proud to complete it. If you used a keen eye and measured out the diminutive distances of objects in the scene, then your results will be greatly evident. Getting a sense of scale and grounding is a key factor with camera angles like this and those measurements really count.
Keep practicing using a three point perspective and you will get more ideas of how to utilize this setup. If you have the camera pointed up it could show how tall buildings are or if you want an epic character pose to feel even more tremendous add a slight three point perspective to the shot in it will multiply the effect.
Another great exercise to do is to trace the lines on top of a photograph and see what type of perspective is being used in different scenes. This may be simple but even doing a few will help. Try and find photos that are simply awe inspiring. That way when you break it down you will see that at its foundation it is something that you can just as easily recreate on paper.
It’s been an honor guiding you through yet another adventure in the world of perspective. Thank you for reading and be sure to check back for any future tutorials.
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