When I first started creating 3D meshes, I thought that sketching out models ahead of time on graphite and paper was an unnecessary step. After all, if you're going to create a 3D mesh, you need to think in 3D, right? Wrong.
I quickly learned when trying to build my own human mesh that reference images were invaluable. In fact, without them proportion and scale just weren't even possible. Was this just a limitation of my brain, or was translating from 3D to 2D to 3D just too much of a jump?
Looking at all the "behind the scenes" material of the major titles released, it's obvious that every mesh has to be sketched out first, even if the final mesh doesn't remotely resemble the original concept art. I could come up with plenty of concepts, I just couldn't do the art... so I decided to see if I could learn how to do some actual, "correct" drawing. To learn I've been working with Betty Edwards' book "The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." It's an excellent way for people who have never graduated beyond stick figures to draw something that's actually realistic. In about one week I've been able to start drawing stuff that doesn't suck.
Betty does her best to get people to open their "artist's eye" by explaining things in a left-brain/right-brain sort of way. The basic premise is based on the same sort of layman cognative science that we've heard for a while: the "left brain" is responsible for things in a sequential, verbal and time-based context. The "right brain" manages spacial, differential and big-picture solutions. Her excercises come back to trying to get the left brain to shut up so the right brain can do its work.
She uses the standard exercises of constructed picture planes for coordinate reference, countour drawing and the like to teach, but also throws in some extra tricks to help get you up to speed quickly by awakening a more spatial brain state and "drawing things as they are."
Looking at the Amazon reviews most people think the cognative science aspect of it is imaginary. After six chapters, though, I'm pretty sure she's on to something. This sketch of my hand isn't that bad, and would definitely be passable as concept art or a reference image for a mesh. I'm happy with it.
The more I get into game design and content creation, the more I realize there's a helluva lot of learning one must do. This is no longer the quick "indy developer" scene - you have to be a jack of all trades. Any more I'd suggest any game developer take a quick course on how to draw, learn a good 3D package, do some sample material work (with textures and shaders) and then start the coding. Gone are the days when a lone coder could whip up a few pixels and create a game... now content, and content generation, is king.