Professional freelance 3D artist, Jose Alves da Silva, divulges some top tips for aspiring and established artists alike...
Usually, when I start my day, I make a mental list of the tasks I have to complete during that day. I won't consider that my working day has finished until those tasks are complete. In order for this to be effective you have to set realistic goals for each day, otherwise you will be constantly crunching. Also, it is a good idea not to check your email frequently. Set 2 or 3 times a day to check it so that there are no distractions.
I try to have fast machines, especially a good graphics card to keep a fluid interactivity with the 3D models, as so many of today's software use GPU processing.
"Usually, I also use 2 monitors so that I don't have to switch back and forth
I also have 2 machines (a workstation and a laptop), so that if one project needs a lot of rendering, for example, I can work on the other machine at the same time, not wasting time waiting. Usually, I also use 2 monitors so that I don't have to switch back and forth between software, and to keep image references visible all the time while sculpting.
"New software should be tested in personal work first to avoid surprises during crunch time"
For a long time, the base of my work is supported by 4 software packages: ZBrush
, 3ds Max
. All these tools have been around for a long time, improved with each new release, and have been battle tested, so they are highly reliable. In the heat of the battle I wouldn't throw in any untested software. That would be asking for trouble! New software should be tested in personal work first to avoid surprises during crunch time.
Speeding up your workflow
I would say that the GoZ function in ZBrush was the most influential shortcut I've adopted.
ZBrush is great for organic modeling, but for certain hard surface geometry 3ds Max is more practical and has a lot more tools to handle polygon modeling. By being able to send a model back and forth between the sculpting program (ZBrush) and the 3D modeling software (3ds Max) I get to use the best tools of each program.
Often, character work involves dealing with hair and fur. I have tried several combinations of rendering software and hair generation plugins/tools, and I finally found the deadly combo. Hairfarm
is a plug-in for 3ds Max that does a terrific job at creating hair, using an original process in which the hair strands are generated within mesh volumes. Combined with the latest version of V-Ray, which supports Hairfarm, I have the ability to render hair that handles GI, area lights, reflections, and so on, with manageable render times. A process that used to take me some days, now takes me hours.
Staying on top of your game
There are 3 sources for keeping up to date: internet, research and manuals.
Internet is the place where you are spoon fed. Following specialty sites on the web is a must. If a new great software comes out, the 3D community will start talking about it. Also, the internet is packed with videos and tutorials explaining how to do anything you can imagine.
Reading the software manuals is still a great way to learn in detail how the tools work. Learning the tools and thinking how they can fit your pipeline is the key to evolve.
And research, which means testing your own ideas, failing and coming up with new ones.
There are some sculpting tasks which don't need so much brain activity, like when you're sculpting hair detail, a tree bark texture or a wrinkled cloth. At those times I love to listen to podcasts to keep my brain fully active. When there is a need for fast paced working, a playlist with plenty of high BPM tracks will make me work faster.
Divide your project into smaller tasks and focus on completing each task. A big project can be overwhelming; breaking it into parts will allow you to keep filling the checklist and understand your progress and pace.
Don't forget to go outside and socialize. There is more in life than just your work. You can't work to the point that you will no longer love what you do.
Also, some people forget the importance of sleeping. At night is when our brain reorganizes and files all the things that happen during the day. Being well rested at the beginning of each day will make you more productive. Having spent 20 hours in a day in front of the computer doesn't mean you have been productive; probably you have spent a few of those hours with your eyes closed or banging the head against the screen.
Check out Jose's personal site
You can buy prints of Jose's work here
To see more by Jose Alves da Silva, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 9
and ZBrush Character Sculpting