Turning 2D Into 3D: Seeing The New Angle

If you haven’t seen the viral pictures of English artist Julian Beever’s work, then you aren’t on the web enough. Mr. Beever started as a street artist who figured out how to make his pastel chalk drawings on hard sidewalks turn into three-dimensional scenes that amazed and delighted passersby. Beever started out with traditional paintings but soon figured out how to give his work a three-dimensional twist and those pieces became a web sensation.

Turning 2D Into 3D

Beever’s work soon gave way to commercial success as he was commissioned to incorporate famous brands into his street art.

Yet another viral group of art was optical illusions painted in hallways and offices. You’ve probably seen these too, but if you haven’t or it’s been a while since you marveled at these feats of planning and drafting.

The one thing all of these pieces share is that you need to be standing in just the right place to make them work and someone had to figure out the distortions to make them all look real and line up just right.

Printing 3D Pieces

Purely by accident, I once created a 3d piece on a printed piece without even trying using the distort function in Photoshop. I was called into an important smoking break by some coworkers, and I was so excited by the prospect of renewing some much needed nicotine into my blood stream. So instead of hitting save, I hit the keyboard combination for print and ran off to our little smoking spot on the fifth level of the underground garage. Where the smokers and Morlocks were banished.

Upon my return to my cubicle, I found, as often happened, someone at the printer had done me a favor and put my printout on my keyboard. I was struck by the distortion and realized that the piece had a three-dimensional appearance. Not saying I invented this way to make 2D objects into 3D optical illusions as Beever and others had done it many years before.

I showed a couple of coworkers, who pronounced it to be “neat” and “like that guy who does the sidewalk art” and I even left it on the department worktable to see if anyone would see it as 3D. I tried incorporating it into some of our products but it just didn’t fly as we were starting to work with high definition lenticular technology.

I’m sure you’ve stumbled upon it, too. While working on a file, surely something struck a cord in your creativity. That’s often how we discover optical illusions. With a bit of manipulation in Photoshop (edit > transform > distort), a 2D print can create an unbelievable illusion.

Leo Burnett’s advertising agency in São Paulo, Brazil started using the same 2D printing for Samsung to advertise their printers. A few extra cuts and folds can yield surprising results as in these examples (turn off your computer’s sound or you’ll regret it!)…

How Can You Use This?

For print, the applications are endless. Any image that is used on a flat card can have a 3D appearance. Selling real estate? Have a house standing up on a brochure that sits on a table. Put an image, QR code or AR code on your business card so when it sits on someone’s desk, you’ll “stand out” among the other pieces of paper. Put one on hats, T-shirts, pants (use your imagination but don’t be disgusting) and any other flat surface that is intended to sell.

With a mix of angles on billboards and posters, drivers and passersby will really take notice… and probably crash into something, but what a way to get a message across. Massive pile-ups on the highway may be a tragedy on the evening news but think of the free advertising!

For point of purchase advertising, using the same technique as Beever can have people taking notice in store aisles and parking lots. A cool scene of hell in your driveway will keep away pesky door-to-door salespeople and the neighbors.

Best of all, there are no extraordinary production costs involved aside from some extra Photoshop manipulation and a decent drop shadow.

For the web, it can be a bit more challenging. Still, any 2D surface will work as long as you figure out the angles of viewing. If you can’t figure out the angles, then let web functionality work FOR you. Animated gifs using the same technique as the old stereo viewers with two images, just slightly askew so when viewed through two lenses the images came together into one 3D image. Also caused long-term cross-eyed headaches, which are now suspected to have been the major cause of the First World War.

The Stereoscope glasses. This is why my great grandparents were cross-eyed and thought I was twins. At least I got TWO birthday presents!

Unlike the other examples, that have two layers, this image is ten layers of objects. The effect is hypnotic.

Keep Looking At The Same Things In Different Ways

Every day some creative comes up with a different way of seeing the ordinary. Looking past the limitations of 2D has led to innovative insights. Take the examples here and run with them. See mistakes for what they might present. In the creative process we don’t really make mistakes… we either discover ways something won’t work or a way something will work on a different plane.

Using small white pegs to match the background color, placed in just the right spots, this 2D billboard is actually 3D, and uses the sun’s rays to create shadows to reveal the image for this sunscreen product.

Was it a “royal pain” to figure this one out or did the creator just pull crumpled ten pound notes from his/her pocket and notice how the ripples made the queen smile and frown?

In the End

Always remember this: When they think you’re weird because of your ideas, proudly say, “YES!” When they say you’re different, be glad you are. When they say you don’t look at things the way everyone else does, smile because you are the one who will change things by seeing the solutions… in 3D!

This article is originally published on Apr 04, 2012, and updated on Jul 22, 2020.
Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices. Follow him on Twitter @speider.

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