Reference Hoarders


Hi everyone!

We wanted to focus this week’s Röki blog on the subject of collecting reference. Might sound a bit dry but rest assured they’ll be lots of pretty pictures.

We’ve already covered the importance of using reference footage in animation (if you missed that you can read it here) so we thought we’d look at building a reference library for use in 3D artwork.

Using reference materials when building things, whether it’s environments or characters, is very important. This is especially true at the start of your career (as you get more seasoned you’ll hopefully build up a knowledge base over time from looking at lots of reference). Studying reference images (and by that we mean photos from the real work of the type of thing you’re trying to create, or aspects of it) when you’re modelling something in 3D will greatly enhance your work.


Look at the construction detail on the above two examples. Examine how the materials are layered up and fixed together, look at how the objects have been damaged and scuffed over time.

By studying reference photos in this way you can see how things are constructed and put together, what materials they are made of, where the dirt accumulates, how they interact with the floor or objects around them, what grounds them in the scene. Basically it’s about the realistic touches that make the real ‘real‘ and bringing that solidity and believability into your imaginary 3D creations.

For example, take a rock on a shoreline; Does the rock have salt deposits where the seawater laps at it’s sides? Is it encrusted with barnacles, how are they dispersed? Is the top surface bleached from the sun or splatted with bird doo-doo?

The devil is in the details, and studying reference will lend your work a sense of realism hard to accomplish without it.


Here is another good example. See how the timbers are connected, see how the cabin is raised off the ground by a later of rocks (presumably to keep it warm from the cold ground). In the right image you can see how rolled birch bark is used as insulation on the roof to keep the cabin cosy. Lots of neat details that might not spring to mind if you were creating something from pure imagination.

With all this in mind, whenever we are off on our travels always try to snap a few pics of interesting things and store them away in the reference vault for a rainy day.

The subject matter may not be directly relevant to what you’re working on at that precise time, but you never know it might be in the future so it’s always good to get in the habit of grabbing reference materials when you can.


Of course, you don’t have to be a globe trotter to build a reference library of your own. With the power of the interwebs you can explore the world from your desk to collect and curate your own library, tailored to your interests. You may also find that friends supply you with snaps as well! The following lovely images were sent to us by our talented friends (and fellow game developers) Víctor and Ara who knew of the project and were kind enough to send these our way!


Now, we’re definitely not saying that you should be a slave to reference material. In fact, if you are your work may appear a little uninspired if you directly reproduce the real world, but you can use it as a solid jumping-off point for your imagination to build upon.

Ultimately using reference materials is a tool to help lend your creations a weight and credibility that makes them feel real, even when they are fantastical.

Until next time,

Alex & Team Röki

Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou