That theme is reinforced by James. “Within our workflow we strive for photorealistic renders from our 3D artists, so that a CG element being composited into a photographic backplate [looks] no different from placing another disparate photographic element,” he says.

“Texture, image quality and grain need to match the adjacent photography and must appear to have been captured through the same photographic lens and processing. Additionally, lighting, shadows and ambient hues need to represent light bouncing around a unified scene.”

Losing My Religion, a collaboration between Michael Ostermann and photographer Merry Phillips

James’s colleague, senior digital artist Nic Wickens, agrees. “Texture scales, perspective, lighting, shadow planes – they all need to match the photography for a successful composite,” he says.

Attention to detail remains vital when putting a project to bed, James adds. “Building a library of your own textures as well as specifically shooting some for a job, or to help with the realism of an element within a job, can be a key factor to getting good results within tight timelines.”

Don’t forget Photoshop

So much for general principles, but how can you achieve the levels of consistency and quality that you aspire to? For 2D artists, this is where you can turn to your most familiar tool – Photoshop. Even standard versions of the application, as opposed to the 3D-geared Photoshop Extended, have a number of tools that are handy for 3D and compositing.

Mystique, personal work by Sorin Bechira of the X3 agency, for which he’s used 3D elements to creare an abstract piece very different to the visualisations of his studio

For texturing and colour correction, Photoshop can actually be preferable to a dedicated 3D application, says illustrator Michael Ostermann (michaelostermann.com), who is based in Vienna, Austria. “All the details and customisations are way easier in Photoshop, and you get much more control over tasks like texturing,” he says. “I like to use clipping masks with my 3D elements and change the look completely.”

Zorana Gee, Photoshop product manager at Adobe, says 2D artists may not be aware of just how many 3D tools Photoshop Extended offers. “The 3D axis widget can help out by at least eliminating the need to switch between rotation tools for light, mesh, object and/or camera,” she says. “Holding down the Alt key will also toggle a different rotation tool.”

For Sorin, the most useful feature in Photoshop Extended is Vanishing Point. “It saves you a lot of computations and headaches,” he says. Also the 3D paint mode is pretty useful.”

Rendering tips

Of course you will want your work to render as realistically as possible and reasonably fast. Dutch digital artist Kevin Roodhoorst (kevinroodhorst.com) recommends you try experimenting with Ambient Occlusion and Global Illumination in your 3D suite’s rendering options. He also recommends using a multi-pass render and export different attributes like shadows, reflection and refraction to separate layers. “This can be useful if you want to edit your render in Photoshop,” he explains. “If you just want to adjust the shadows, say, it’s an easy job with multi-pass.”

Bringing it all back to print

When it comes to printing, for best results Michael advises using high anti-aliasing settings and rendering models at 300dpi. “Before rendering, make sure you turn on the alpha channel setting,” he adds. “In Photoshop you can use the alpha channel to instantly separate your rendered object from the background.”

If you’re primarily a 3D artist wanting to bring your work to print, you will need to remind yourself that the way colours combine on paper is different to what you see on screen.

“Paper misses out on a lot of important details, especially in light and shaded areas,” Sorin says. “This is why I recommend adjusting images very carefully in order to avoid large white and black spots.

“The colour saturation will also be affected. I therefore recommend a saturation boost on screen to compensate for the screen/paper difference and of course, repeated testing until you get the result you want.”