I have been drawing a lot of maps lately, and have been reminded of the joys of isometric perspective. I suppose dizziness is the appropriate response for concepts like one, two, or three point perspective, but for some reason, I have always found it fascinating.
For the uninitiated, drawing objects in perspective means using a system to mimic the way things appear to diminish in size as they get farther away. One, two, and three point perspectives use different numbers of vanishing points to help determine an object’s relative size based on perceived distance from the viewer. All this is a visual trick to represent three dimensions on a two dimensional sheet of paper or computer screen. Piccaso is quoted saying, “Art is lies that tell the truth.” Perspective is one of those lies.
Isometric perspective is different only in that it trades one lie for another. There are no vanishing points. Objects don’t diminish in size as they get further away in the scene, instead everything is locked on a parallel grid. This doesn’t match reality as we experience it, but it can prove useful in architectural renderings, or other applications where dimensions are critical. It turns out this false perspective is also useful in video games, and turns up everywhere on the web. Everything from casual games like Farmville, to the soon-to-be-released Starcraft II are built on these rules of projection.
It is easy to see the underlying grid in these screen caps: