My name is Maksym Haydar and I work as a 3D Character Artist at Kevuru Games. I started my path as a 3D artist in 2013, but I still continue to comprehend this art, discovering something new for myself.

Let’s say you’ve already read dozens of articles on how to get started, what program to choose, what’s important for a portfolio, and how to get into GameDev.

In this article, I want to share some tips with those who are just starting their journey in the field of 3D. For the most part, these recommendations are based on my own experience and on the mistakes that, in my opinion, are most often made by artists, despite the overabundance of tutorials and training courses.

Well, let’s go!

1. Courses and Ability to Filter Information

It was not in vain that I mentioned an overabundance of information, because it is true – some six or seven years ago, all the training videos on working with certain programs could be counted on the fingers. Not to mention lessons or full-fledged character development courses.

It happened that I just ran into some trifle, with one incomprehensible button or a new slider, and that’s it, even fellow Google with its ornate search was powerless. Now you just have to enter “Zbrush Lessons”, and dozens of options will appear before you, among which there will be paid, free, online, private, and even courses like “become a 3D artist in 12 hours” …

If earlier a 3D artist was polished by the glorious hit-and-miss and trial and error methods, the lessons from which he really learned for his entire future career, now one of the first tasks of the future 3D Character Artist is not to fall into wasted time and money.

If we talk specifically about the beginner level and the first steps in any program, then I would recommend harnessing your willpower, putting aside your wallet, and starting self-study using the lessons available on YouTube. Yes, it will take much longer than the “course in 12 hours”. But in this way, the knowledge gained bit by bit will be firmly entrenched in your memory due to the fact that you’ve made certain efforts for them, managed to ask the right question, find information, read comments, and use the answer in your practice. Believe me, the ability to filter information on your own and know how to solve certain problems without the help of a phone call to a mentor will be very useful for you in your professional activities.

2. First Works – Monsters and Beasts

The following advice will be relevant to those daredevils who still choose the path of self-learning. I have noticed one rather common mistake more than once, when a novice artist, after watching a few lessons on the program interface, and, perhaps, even starting to sculpt a head, immediately rushes into creativity.

The following advice will be relevant to those daredevils who still choose the path of self-learning. I have noticed one rather common mistake more than once, when a novice artist, after watching a few lessons on the program interface, and, perhaps, even starting to sculpt a head, immediately rushes into creativity. To be more precise, at the stage when it comes to “boring” anatomy and long polishing, the student, already knowing how several brushes work, begins supposedly consciously making his first fantasy creation. Most often, a certain monster is obtained, with crooked arms, three eyes, and a lot of unjustified details. And the most interesting thing is that the scarier it looks, the more it seems to the novice artist that he is on the right track. That he found his style by skipping what he thought were boring basic anatomy lessons. To top it all off, you want to quickly render this on a black background under a dim light source, put it in your portfolio, and start looking for jobs on the query “3D monster artist”.

And when confronted with reality, such a scenario often discourages talented guys, potential professionals in their field, from moving forward. Simply because at some point they decided to put off learning and start implementing their ideas. But it is very important to understand that it is the possession of the instrument, experience, “observation”, and reusable study of the basic concepts of anatomy, compositing, and rendering – this is what can fully reveal a unique idea. And if you try to implement it when there is not yet that same base, then the artist will simply be led by what will somehow come out from under his hand. “It didn’t work out for me to sculpt the ears – well, let there be horns. Lips didn’t turn out – it doesn’t matter, let there be teeth, it looks even fatter … ” and so on.

Therefore, my advice is not to rush into creativity, and if you have already reached the stage of creating your first work without step-by-step tutorials, then implement it with an emphasis on getting into the finished, high-quality concept as much as possible.

3. Steal Like an Artist

As Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”. Of course, in the context of this article, I would suggest interpreting this as the ability to generate something unique from something already created. But from my practice, I noticed that 3D artists equally need to be able to do both correctly, and preferably no worse than Picasso. Therefore, in this paragraph, I would like to give some practical advice on working with references and concepts:

  • Use a second monitor for references. If you don’t have one, buy it, it really makes life easier.
  • One of the most popular and convenient programs for working with references is PureRef. This is free software that will help you quickly and correctly organize images for further work with them.
  • If you are working with a concept that was created for the implementation of a 3D model, that is, if the character is drawn in three or four angles of the A- or T-pose, then I advise you to import it directly into your work software (Zbrush, Maya, etc.), assign it as a texture on Plane, and place it clearly behind your model. Thus, by periodically hiding some parts of the model and using transparency, you minimize the chance of not hitting the concept or missing the proportions.
  • Often, in the later stages of work, horizontal mirroring helps – both the mesh and the reference. No matter how symmetrical your model is, elements such as creases in clothes, hair, and textures are often perceived as convincing in their original form, and at the same time false when mirrored. And this needs to be monitored.
  • Save the stages of your work as separate files. This not only applies to cases of unexpected file crashes, but often helps to make sure that you are on the right (or wrong) path in hitting the concept. It often happens to me when I need to achieve a portrait resemblance – the eye is once again blurred, and doubts begin to torment me… And, having loaded a two-day-old model, I often notice that it was much closer to the desired result than the last option. The ability to “roll back” and look at your model with new eyes is what I really lacked in traditional sculpture.

4. Words With the Prefix “Auto-”

The profession of 3D Character Artist entails the indispensable study of more than one program aimed at any specific goal. It goes without saying that at first it will not be easy and it requires some effort. In turn, the developers introduce in their software some kind of “life buoys” in the form of words with the prefix “auto-”.

In the course of your training, you will get acquainted with auto-retopology, auto-layout of seams, auto-unwrap, UV auto-scaling, and so on. This includes fast bake in some programs and automatically generated materials for texturing. I will not say that this is bad, but as they say: “The lazy one walks twice.” Unfortunately, artificial intelligence has not yet reached the point where one button does all the work for you. Otherwise, estimating pipeline stages on serious game projects would not take several weeks of hard work.

5. Stress Test for the Artist

This is rather not advice, but a parting word to everyone who is on the verge of starting to show their work to the world. I mean not quite the first efforts during training, but those materials that you are more or less satisfied with and are consciously ready to share. The first work as the start of your portfolio on ArtStation is certainly good. But I would recommend not being shy to show your project and not being afraid to get some devastating feedback by posting it on a local 3D forum (group, community).

Here it is worth mentioning the difference in the mentality of the Western and CIS community of 3D artists. For example, a European or American will rarely write in the comments that something is wrong with your work. Perhaps it’s all about their instilled tolerance, or maybe, on the contrary, they are proud enough to waste time on you, but in most cases, their entries under any work will be as follows: “Nicely done!” and “Good job!”

At the same time, publishing your work in the popular 3D graphics community, you may be surprised how many caring critics and experts in various fields are in our open spaces, which you might not even have guessed about. And here what I’ve written about in the first paragraph will play an important role – the ability to filter information. In the case of feedback, this is very useful, otherwise, in the end, you just might decide that being a character artist is not for you. Do not be fooled by outright rudeness, but listen to competent advice. They can be easily distinguished by how a person consistently and convincingly presents their criticism. On occasion, you can always go to the commenter’s profile and evaluate the level of their own skills behind their words. And then draw conclusions.

So, don’t be afraid to publish your first works. Your courage is already commendable. Your 3D model does not have to be professional and is not created to please anyone. Just draw useful knowledge from people who share their experience and boldly advance!