Is it time you got to grips with 3D soft­ware?

Added di­men­sion Is mas­ter­ing 3D soft­ware the key to artis­tic suc­cess, or does it have its lim­i­ta­tions? Dom Carter speaks to artists about their ex­pe­ri­ences

ImagineFX - - Contents -

Is mas­ter­ing 3D soft­ware the key to artis­tic suc­cess, or does it have its lim­i­ta­tions? Dom Carter dis­cov­ers that the an­swer’s not clear cut…

It wasn’t un­til re­cently that ZBrush made sense. I’ve been learn­ing it ever since…

Art soft­ware has rev­o­lu­tionised how il­lus­tra­tors cre­ate 2D work, thanks to fea­tures that give users greater con­trol over their cre­ations. Along­side these tools, soft­ware tai­lored to­wards 3D art has also changed peo­ple’s cre­ative am­bi­tions and opened up new ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. Yet, de­spite the two dis­ci­plines hav­ing skill sets that over­lap and feed into one an­other, some artists have ini­tially strug­gled to move be­tween 2D and 3D.

Even a rel­a­tively early in­tro­duc­tion to an­i­ma­tion and mo­tion graph­ics soft­ware Maya 3.0 couldn’t help it click with Imag­in­ism Stu­dios co­founder Bobby Chiu. “It didn’t re­ally feel like sculpt­ing to me back then,” says the con­cept and char­ac­ter de­signer. “It wasn’t un­til 2017 when I asked a sculp­tor friend of mine, Justin Goby Fields, to put to­gether an in­tro­duc­tion to ZBrush course for artists that ZBrush fi­nally made sense to me. I’ve been learn­ing and us­ing ZBrush ever since.” For 2000 AD artist Thomas Foster, pick­ing up 3D soft­ware skills helped im­prove his con­fi­dence in cre­at­ing re­al­is­tic back­grounds and ve­hi­cles. “Upon dis­cov­er­ing SketchUp, I spent

a lot of time de­sign­ing back­ground el­e­ments from scratch, or util­is­ing ex­ist­ing as­sets in or­der to round out my reper­toire.”

The fur­ther dis­cov­ery of DAZ 3D, which spe­cialises in rigged 3D hu­man models, en­abled Thomas to cre­ate full 3D scenes with min­i­mal mod­el­ling in­volved, be­fore he even put pen­cil to pa­per. “This meant I al­ways had a solid foun­da­tion on which to build my images. The time spent ex­plor­ing these meth­ods has greatly im­proved my ver­sa­til­ity and the range of re­sources at my dis­posal.”

Ca­reer ben­e­fits

The speed with which artists can lay down ideas with 3D soft­ware makes a pro­fi­ciency with tools such as ZBrush, Blender and Cin­ema 4D hugely de­sir­able to clients – es­pe­cially when it comes to con­cept art.

“De­signs that con­cept artists cre­ate are meant for one thing: to be built,” ex­plains con­cept artist and il­lus­tra­tor Hous­ton Sharp. “If con­cept artists can start that 3D vi­su­al­i­sa­tion in the be­gin­ning de­sign phase, it makes it eas­ier for the rest of the team to un­der­stand what needs to built. From there, the team can even take the 3D con­cept to use as a start­ing point for the fi­nal as­sets.”

De­spite its use­ful­ness, artists are still able to get work with no prior knowl­edge of 3D soft­ware. It just de­pends on which route you want to take. Philipp Scherer re­veals that get­ting your foot in the door still re­mains the most dif­fi­cult step to landing projects.

“If you’re work­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try how­ever, a ba­sic knowl­edge of 3D is al­most ex­pected and work­ing dig­i­tally is manda­tory,” the con­cept artist and il­lus­tra­tor ex­plains. “Even ba­sic knowl­edge of 3D tools can be help­ful. I have friends work­ing as 2D artists that only know how to nav­i­gate in 3D and set up a ba­sic ren­der. But it helps them when they re­ceive files from a third party and they’re asked to cre­ate a quick painting based on a 3D model.”

Phoebe Her­ring, a lec­turer in game art at Fal­mouth Uni­ver­sity, agrees that 3D art is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly vi­tal for con­cept artists. “Clients are in­ter­ested in the de­signer’s vi­sion, not in wait­ing around for them to lay out all of their van­ish­ing points by hand.”

She points out that phys­i­cally based ren­der­ing of­fers her stu­dents a way to talk about ma­te­ri­als that ap­plies to both 2D and 3D art. “3D theory is a great way to talk about this stuff, and

The time spent on these 3D meth­ods has im­proved my ver­sa­til­ity and the range of re­sources at my dis­posal

stu­dents con­fi­dent in 3D can mock up quick scenes to check the way their cre­ations re­spond to the light.”

go­ing in head first

Phoebe adds that there are other ways 3D stud­ies can push your 2D skills to the next level. “Stu­dents often ben­e­fit hugely from sculpt­ing pro­por­tion­ate hu­man heads in ZBrush, even if they never go on to do 3D char­ac­ter art. The study forces a real un­der­stand­ing of the way fea­tures fall on the skull and re­veals weak points for the artist to work on.”

Ac­cord­ing to Phoebe, 3D knowl­edge can’t ex­ist in iso­la­tion. “It needs to sit along­side rock-solid per­spec­tive, anatomy and de­sign skills. These fun­da­men­tals are the real tricky things, and no­body ever stops learn­ing them.”

Il­lus­tra­tor Alix Bran­wyn also thinks that with­out a cer­tain level of 2D un­der­stand­ing, 3D tools can only achieve so much. “I’ve found that a lot of the soft­ware that’s used for pos­ing fig­ures often leaves an un­re­al­is­tic feel that can seep into the il­lus­tra­tion and make it seem ‘off’. Faces feel life­less and a bit ‘un­canny val­ley’, and hands often feel stiff and waxy rather than ex­pres­sive and fleshy.

“I look at the use of 3D the same way that I view the use of photo ref­er­ence and 2D dig­i­tal short­cuts: it’s just an­other tool to get the work done quicker and make it look good.”

Bobby is of the same mind. “If you don’t un­der­stand art fun­da­men­tals, 3D won’t save you.”

Where to start?

For 2D artists look­ing to add 3D to their skill set, the range of tools avail­able can be an em­bar­rass­ment of riches. “Start small. 3D can be over­whelm­ing,” ad­vises Magic: The Gath­er­ing artist Steve

Ar­gyle. “One very good way to learn 3D is to com­mit to one piece of soft­ware at a time and learn the ba­sics of ev­ery­thing it does. Then go deep into what­ever it is you want to do with that soft­ware.”

If this sounds too much like hard work, Thomas still thinks it’ll be worth your time. “There’s vir­tu­ally no rea­son for artists not to learn about 3D. Even if the con­clu­sion they reach is that it’s of no use to them, it will, at least, be an in­formed con­clu­sion. More likely, they will come away with an­other string to their bow.”

3D is per­fectly suited to Hous­ton Sharp’s line of work. “You can reach a photo-re­al­is­tic im­age much quicker with 3D,” he says.

Philipp Scherer says there will al­ways be a place for con­cept artists with­out 3D skills, but ob­serves that, “I would es­ti­mate that 70 per cent of the con­cept artists I work with use 3D soft­ware.”

Alix Bran­wyn says 3D can be an in­valu­able time and money saver. “It en­ables you to ei­ther take on more work or take some time for your­self – some­thing as artists we prob­a­bly don’t do enough.”

Thomas points out that the use­ful­ness of 3D de­pends on the ca­reer route. “Those il­lus­trat­ing chil­dren’s pic­ture books or work­ing in por­trai­ture may not see any sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit.”

Hous­ton warns that artists shouldn’t let 3D take over. “Your 2D skills are just as valu­able – if not more valu­able – as any 3D pro­gram,” he says.

“Art is big­ger than the soft­ware and in the end, artists should re­mem­ber that 3D soft­ware is just a tool,” says Bobby. At Phoebe’s uni­ver­sity, 2D is taught along­side 3D. “I do hear from some stu­dents that it knocks their con­fi­dence at first. These are often artists who have al­ways been top of the class.”

Steve finds 3D use­ful for rough­ing out a scene. “You don’t have to model in every de­tail, but if you have some build­ing blocks to work with, ev­ery­thing be­comes eas­ier.”

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