Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Digital Audio, Video > 3D

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

2.3 Creating a Morgue

An invaluable tool to start building right now is a morgue; a collection of images, photographs, samples and examples of colors and materials, and the like (see Figure 2.1). Your morgue should contain anything that visually inspires or affects you both in positive and in negative ways. It is a visual diary of sorts made from various sources, even your own work. It can contain real materials such as clothes, paper, rusty nails, washers—whatever you want to keep on record. For instance, I keep graphic design images to use for reference of type styles or current color usage.

Figure 2.1 Example of a morgue.

They all inspire me to create. Use your morgue not only as reference for reproducing textures for a project, but also to define your likes and dislikes—to see how they change over time. Morgues can be loose pages and items categorized into folders or pasted into sketchbooks or scrapbooks. This library-like collection is for you. Make it your own!

2.3.1 Your Own Photographs as Reference

I learned a great deal while taking photographs of textures and materials for this book. Like many of you, I am not a professional photographer, but I didn't let that stop me. They might not be the prettiest pictures, but they give me the information I need, the ideas I have been looking for, just as your own photography will do for you. The photographs you take do not need to be perfect in every way. Nothing ever needs to get in your way of finding reference, or creating it.

This book was a good exercise in encouraging me to rely on my own ability to capture what I needed from a photograph. I also learned a few lessons that may help you.

Camera Choice

Use a 35mm camera that has a reliable light meter either in the lens or handheld flash. If you have an automatic-everything camera, it is also helpful to set it to manual operation for focusing and bracketing purposes. In a pinch, you can shoot reference photos with an instant camera or a "party fun" camera, although these cameras lack the capability to capture the same level of detail as the professional types, because of the quality of their lenses.

A digital still camera can also be used to acquire reference materials. The one drawback is the resolution of the captured stills. Digital cameras vary in resolution. The two kinds I used for this book took pictures that ranged in size from 640x480 pixels (6.6x8.8 inches at 72 dpi) to 1536x1024 pixels (21.3x14.2 inches at 72 dpi). This means that if you need to enlarge these images for some reason, the detail falls apart because the pixels, which make up the image, start to become visible. Digital cameras are better for textures that remain small, for creating tile-able textures, or just for reference shots. They are extremely easy to use and cost effective. There are high-end professional digital cameras that have much larger resolutions, but they have much larger price tags, ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 at the time of writing this book.

A digital video camera is another way to capture both imagery and sound, and is useful for recording audio and/or visual notes on the texture's natural environment. Like digital still cameras, digital video cameras are resolution-dependent, and the images cannot be enlarged without deterioration. The coolest feature about the digital video camera that I used was its capability to capture extreme close-ups. I had the lens about 1/16th of an inch away from my tabletop and the photo turned out beautifully crisp in detail.

Film Stock

Decide on the film stock to use based on when and where you are shooting. For this book I used Fujichrome Velvia 50 and 100 ASA for all of the outdoor shots and Fujichrome Tungsten 200 and 400 ASA for indoor pictures. Your choice is important, because colors will shift if you are not using the correct film speed. At all times I used transparency/slide film because of its color saturation and accuracy of detail. I prefer this to print film. If you are unfamiliar with the aspects of taking photographs such as: film speeds, grain, composition, lighting, indoor versus outdoor, and so on, then I suggest you look at books on the subject or take an introductory course in photography.

Make sure that you buy your film from a professional camera store. Film must be stored in a controlled cool environment and most corner stores do not have this facility. Keep this in mind at your end as well—carrying around your exposed film in your pocket for a month during the summer could also have an effect on the developed pictures.

Bracketing Your Photographs

An important procedure to execute when taking pictures is that of bracketing. It consists of taking three pictures: Take your first picture at the perfect light meter reading, take a second at an f-stop or half an f-stop below, and take a third at an f-stop or half an f-stop above the first setting. The results can be significantly different. A few of the pictures for this book were saved because of this technique. It may seem like a waste of film, but it is much more of a waste if you pay for developing bad pictures and have to retake them. Some photographers will bracket two or more pictures on either side of their first shot by 1/4 or 1/3 f-stop increments, but for your purposes, one on either side should suffice. You should be able to clean up and salvage one of the three pictures in a paint program, such as Photoshop.

Record Information

When you take a picture, be sure you record enough related information, such as the surroundings, f-stops, time of day, and the location. I must confess that it is a pain in the neck, and I did not do it for every shot in this book. If you can record the information, do it. It will help you get into the habit of looking around your surroundings. You will start to identify what may be affecting your photograph, such as cast shadows, the location of the sun, the amount of humidity, if any, and so on. All these things are good to know, especially a month or two after the fact. Instead of writing, try using a video camera or recording the information on audiotape. I walk around with a tiny tape recorder when I go out to get reference and "speak" my findings. Either way, I urge you to record somehow, and devise a system for cataloguing. This is information you do not want to lose.

Sunny Versus Cloudy

I took many pictures in both sun and clouds, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. While bright sunny days offer you wonder- ful saturation and detail, the shadows cast from other objects onto the surface may confuse the textural information. Cloudy days, although they provide you with less saturated images, are void of harsh shadows and the lighting is more constant. In both cases, be sure you record enough supplementary information so that you can correct the photos, such as removing unwanted shadows or adding saturation, in a paint program later.

Development Process

You might take amazing photographs, but if you develop them at your neighborhood drugstore or supermarket you might not get the results you expect. The development of color film negatives or slides is a chemically intricate process. Fluctuation in temperature and time, or chemical impurity or staleness can create undesirable results. The same is true for the printing end of the process if you are shooting with print film. You will be much happier with your results if you spend the extra money and take the film to a professional photo lab. Find out where professional photographers send their film in your city and do the same.


Not all your reference (taken with a nondigital camera) needs to end up in a digital format, although there are times when it is really handy to have it at your digital fingertips. You never know when you might need to grab a texture off of one of your photographs to make it a tileable texture for your work or to send one of your photos as reference via email to the art director off-site. In these cases, you will have to scan in and touch up your photographs.


Most of the photographs I took for this book were immediately put on Kodak PhotoCDs. At first, I thought it was a bit expensive, but my time is also very valuable to me and I would much rather paint than sit at a scanner and scan in 400 slides. Besides saving you time, PhotoCDs give you a number of different resolutions, so you can choose which is best for your needs. Now I have a complete digital library of all my reference at the ready. Try to choose a shop that takes pride in what it does. This means that it first develops the film correctly and then makes sure there is little or no dust on the slide before it scans it (saving you time on the clean-up end). Also, if you pay a little bit extra you can get your CD back the next day. (Not all labs offer this, so ask first.)

2.3.2 Magazines as Reference Sources

In addition to your own photographs, magazine clippings are a great way to beef up your reference library. There are multitudes of magazines published today from which you can obtain imagery and reference material. Here is a list of the types of magazines I use and what they offer:

  • Interior design or architecture magazines Building materials, paints and surfaces, environments, and color trends.

  • Fashion magazines Clothing, cloth, textiles, design, contemporary usage of colors, graphics, and fashion.

  • Industrial design magazines or annuals Contemporary surfaces, such as new synthetics, woods, and metals.

  • Graphic design magazines or annuals Typography, posters, packaging, color usage, and graphic trends.

  • Stock photography catalogs Moods, people and places, products, colors, use of light and textural qualities.

Whatever you are interested in is what drives you. It informs you as to where you will get your reference. This list is to get you started. Inspiration can come from any place. I collect reference constantly even if I do not have a specific project to work on.

Your own drawings or notes should be a part of this collection, as well. Lists of music and movies that inspire you should be too. Adding magazine clippings to your morgue makes sense. Doing so will save you time and money, and may completely do away with the need to take your own pictures as reference. Collecting on a consistent basis will make you ready for any project, and you are afforded more time when it counts. For instance, if you need to photograph something specific you can take the time to find it.

Having said that, I must provide a couple of points against using magazine cutouts verbatim as scanned-in textures.

The question of "reproduction rights" immediately comes to mind. The person who took the photo for the magazine, or the magazine itself more often than not, owns the rights on reproduction. This means that you must ask for permission or buy the rights to use their pictures in your project. The details and intricacies of this issue are far too complex and drawn out to get into here. This is just a friendly reminder that this concern exists, and you may be stealing someone's work if you use it without permission. So be mindful. This is not to say that you cannot use the photo as reference and paint it yourself, or your interpretation of it. Very rarely is there a texture that you pull from a magazine that form-fits your exact needs. No matter what the reference, it will always need adjustment here and there.

The second point of concern is the structure of printed pictures themselves. If you look closely at a printed color photograph in a magazine, you can see the cyan, yellow, magenta, and black dots that make up the image. When scanning these pictures into the computer, this can create a moiré pattern (see top of Figure 2.2), and can be more trouble than its worth trying to remove it. Most scanners today have a de-screen function that in most cases gets rid of this moiré pattern (see bottom of Figure 2.2), and any evidence of the colored dots themselves. So if you are in the market to buy a scanner, be sure that it has this function in the software that comes with the scanner.

Figure 2.2 A scanned printed image comprised of cyan, yellow, magenta, and black dots may cause a moiré pattern (top). Using the "de-screen" function in your scanner's software will usually remove this from the scan (bottom).

2.3.3 Other Reference Gold Mines

In addition to magazines for reference gathering, there are

  1. Photography books You can glean textures, light and shadow, and color information.

  2. Painting and art books Gold mines for learning how painters use brushstrokes to describe textures as well as color palettes. Art books also offer much of the same information as photography books do. Looking at the materials sculptures are made from such as stone, marble, and bronze can tell you about softness, brittleness, and pliability of the material.

  3. Architectural and interior design suppliers They frequently have binders full of material and texture samples for real-world materials, such as tile, marble, wood, and cement.

  4. The Internet Provides a wealth of information and reference. By entering keywords in any of the search engines available, you will most likely find a variety of pictures that can help you start your project.

Unlike many of the other specialties in this computer graphics business, a texture artist needs to accumulate an entire library of images, books, and materials from which to work to be good. It is up to you to know what something looks like and reproduce it; that is your job. It also helps your director or art director if you show images from your morgue to inspire initial ideas from which to start. Much work can be accomplished in this fashion concerning style, mood, and extent of detail. Then you may begin with a much clearer vision of the direction in which you want to take the project.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account