Using Details To Make Something Look Big
By Neil Blevins
Created On: Sept 27th 2014

There are many techniques to make something look big. But this tutorial focuses on details, how you can make something look the correct size by the size of the details, and conversely, how you can ruin the illusion of scale using the wrong details.

Lets start with a simple example, here are 2 rocks, a small one, and a big one.

Now if I asked you which rock is the biggest, you'd of course answer the one on the right. That's because you can directly compare the big rock to the little rock, and the human figure. But something is not right. The problem is that the rock pattern on both rocks are the same size relative to their rock. All I did was literally scale up the rock, both the shape and details, and this leads to a visual problem.

Check out the following image as a better example...

So the house on the right is indeed the bigger house (same house, just scaled up, details and all), but it doesn't look in proper scale, because the doors and windows are the wrong size for the human figure. Either the house is some sort of imaginary house for giants, or the house is normal sized and the person standing beside it has been shrunk down with some sort of shrink ray. If you're trying to make a large house in a normal sized world, just scaling the house up doesn't work.

Here's another example...

When someone makes a small shirt and a large shirt of the same type, they don't use a larger material for the larger shirt, they use the same material, just more of it, so the overall detailed pattern remains a constant size in both the small and big shirt relative to the world. So again, just taking the small shirt and scaling up the shirt and the pattern on the shirt doesn't work.

So the way to fix this issue is to remember, when the object gets bigger, the details on the object do not get bigger, they tend to have a similar size in relation to the world. This will give your objects a proper sense of scale, and big things will actually feel big. As Pascal Blanche said, "The Theory of the Lego Block", as in, when you need to make a bigger house in lego, you don't use bigger bricks, you use more of the same sized bricks.

So in our rock example, lets again do the 2 rocks, but instead of scaling up the texture, lets leave the texture the same size relative to the world.

This already looks a lot better.

Here's another example, placing a detail that we all know the size of beside the rocks, in this case a ladder.

Because we know generally how big a ladder is (because we know generally how far apart each rung is to allow a human body to climb), the rock on the right seems very large. This is why people frequently put man sized objects into scifi scenes, whether it's an actual person, ladders, doors, windows, etc. We know how big these are, so by comparing them to the scene or character or whatever, we can tell how big something is. If we scaled up the ladder when we scale up the rock, the rock wouldn't look bigger, it would look the same size as the small rock.

Another example, we have a tree. If we want a bigger tree, it's not just about scaling up the tree, it's about adding more branches...

So in general, to make something look big, remember to keep the "world" size of details reasonably constant, even if the object gets larger and larger. This means both 2d surface details (like the rock texture, or the size of the thread that makes cloth) as well as 3d details, like if you have two bolts, one that is an inch tall and one that's a foot tall, don't use the same design for both, make a different bulkier looking design for the big one.

If you follow this simple rule, your objects will look the correct scale.

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