Improve Your Holiday Composition

Nov 05, 2020 at 07:30 am by Warlord720


With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving almost upon us, it is that magical time of year that a lot of digital artists look forward to. No… not the holidays themselves… rather the composing of holiday images celebrating not only Thanksgiving but Christmas and New Years for those that celebrate them.

With the pandemic, this will certainly be a different kind of Christmas.  A lot of Rendo-ites create seasonal art but for some, this holiday season will be the first time since taking up digital art to express themselves to family and friends via their new digital skills.

From now till New Year, pumpkins, snow, pine trees, and characters of all sorts will pop up in digital image compositions on social media. Some will be backgrounds for family photos and if green screening is one of your new skills then you’ll be putting your family in some cool places. Most will be 3D based compositions and some will be real jewels.

One thing that will slip by many, if not most, newbies will be how the image is presented to the camera. Not so much angle or direction as placement of the main content whether it be a prop or person. Since we are basically talking about illustrating an entire scene in one frame that frame needs to be interesting.

Since you don’t have the luxury of even a few seconds of animation the scene needs to convey a lot and it needs to grab attention with a focal point. Believe it or not, there are rules to where this focal point should be depending on the situation. We certainly don’t have to follow these rules as some great work is created ignoring them but one simple rule that we have spoken of before can change your images from ho-hum to eye-catching and it never hurts to cover it again.

That is the Rule of Thirds. There are other considerations like the Golden Ratio but that can start to complicate things whereas the Rule of Thirds is as straightforward as it sounds. It looks to be taken from the world of photography which has a lot of overlap with digital image composition or rather, digital artists have adopted a lot of photography techniques.

From Wikipedia:

The rule of thirds is a "rule of thumb" or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.[2] Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.

You hear me say this a lot… it’s not rocket science, but it is a practical guide to improving your images by improving focal point placement. For this example, I’m using iClone and fellow user PlanetStarDragon has provided a nice set of overlays that include the rule of thirds to help us visualize it. This pack is free and contains many other templates like the aforementioned Golden Ratio.

[Click here for Golden Ration – Rule of Thirds Guide at the Reallusion Marketplace – Free]

In the example below I am using the motorcycle and rider as the focal point of the scene. I’ve tried not to make the scene too busy but have something to see including people in the background. The natural tendency for some of us is to center the bike and rider but in this case if we apply the rule of thirds we see a bit more than just the bike and rider but it is still the focal point of the composition.

Rule of Thirds
Initial Layout and With PlanetStarDragon's Rule of Thirds Overlay

Check out the great rule of thirds article over at PhotographyMad to get more in-depth info about this simple rule.

With just a few simple adjustments we move the focal objects to the side intersectins exposing more of the park and the people in the park including those waiting in line in the darker background. You can also rotate the camera up or down a bit to keep from presenting a flat looking image.

Rule of Thirds
Moving the Bike and Rider to the left and Moving it up then angled down on the intersection showing more of the park.

All of this is subjective of course. You could ask five different artists and they could easily give you five different ways to interpret this rule but it’s a starting point. A basis for a good image that won’t be overpowered by the focal point but retain focus where it needs to be.


M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website






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