The 3d illustration you’re about to see took the better part of my May, June, and July to plan, build, and finish. To date, this was one of the biggest 3d projects I’ve tackled alone. It’s not the biggest, mind you, but it’s close. Today I’m sharing what I learned during this project and-no spoilers here-it’s gonna be a long post.

So, if this is the first postmortem you’ve seen from me then I welcome you to the blog. If you’d like to see the first postmortem then check out my other post Gibson 335 Custom: Post Mortem 01. From time to time, I take a look back on my most recent project and dissect it so I can share what I’ve learned with you. What am I talking about? Well, let’s take a look at the final render…

Umi No Ha (Blade of the Sea) by Brandon Hix | Owner of Blender Unleashed and Blender Foundation Certified Trainer
Check out the rest of my work on my Art Station page, and while your at it please follow and leave me a comment! (See this project on Art Station!)

So as you can see, what brings this image to life is the composition, feeling of depth, and a sense of impending doom. But none of that happened by accident. Was it because I’m a genius? No, I just had a plan before jumping into the deep end. Notice how I used the word plan in that last sentence? Yeah, well, that part is pretty important, and without it I would have been lost. So, let’s get into some specifics about what I learned while working on this project.

 

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The final clean version of the katana from the top and side.

The Idea: A Bad Ass, Epic Sword Render

So like most projects I had a general idea of what I wanted to do when I started, but my idea needed some work. I knew the first step on the journey to a successful illustration was fleshing out the idea until it was a bit more mature.

You Fight The Most Important Battles Before You Open Blender

These days, it can be hard to even start a project. So, taking action is one of the most important things you can do. So many people find out too late that the key to getting ahead in life is just starting in the first place. And I’m a big proponent of that philosophy. Yet, the best artists also understand something more. They understand the importance of having a solid game plan when working on a project. The bigger the project the more solid your game plan needs to be. This is especially true if the project involves getting into unexplored territory as an artist.

In this case, it all started with the idea of showcasing my recently modeled katana. I wanted to put the sword in an environment that was more interesting than your typical softbox-filled studio.

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It’s great for product visualization, but doesn’t make a very interesting illustration.
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The very first concepts had me exploring how best to showcase the katana in a unique way. I knew I could do better.

And this is where my journey as a problem solver began. I had to figure out what the heck I was gonna do with this sword. So, the first idea I had was putting the sword on a beach where it was partially submerged in the rising tide. It seemed like a very picturesque setting (at the time). Now, I’m not opposed to working up my own concept art to start a project. In fact, I enjoy the process of scratching my 2d rendering itch whenever I get the chance. The first step was to do a rough painting. This helps me nail down specifics like perspective, composition, lighting, and really get the ideas flowing. It’s important to understand that everything at this stage is in a state of constant change. The only thing I’m concerned about at this point is how to tell a story. So with that in mind, I began painting.

It’s not much to look at, but it does it’s job. With this one action I started an internal debate in my mind. I began hashing out what I was trying to achieve with this piece. The goal is to paint just enough to have a clear idea of what the final image is communicating so you can start answering the next round of questions. It can seem like a never-ending cycle of refinement. But this is imperative, because it helps you discover how to tell the best story. With a solid piece of concept art you can nail the feeling of your concept before you start the bigger project and it allows you to start thinking about what you need, and don’t need, to create to achieve the final illustration.

Your Concept and Your Execution are Equally Important

Now, I knew with this minimal amount of planning out of the way I could make a nice looking render. But who cares?! Big deal. So can the rest of the very talented Blender community. And I already knew I would be devoting at least a month of production to this illustration. So, why waste the time if I wasn’t going to do something truly unique?

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The first concept painting based on the beach setting. A bit too boring, needs a story.

This goes back to a key tenant I’ve come to embrace in all my work. In each of my illustrations, I try to embed as many narrative elements as possible. Because there’s nothing original at all about a sword washed up on a beach. And I’m sure as you’re reading this right now then working on that project sounds a little boring. So what’s the answer? How do we turn a mundane concept into something that feels epic? The answer is a simple one. We have one goal that is above all others; to tell a compelling story. That is what great artists do. They tell stories. And that’s what we should all strive to do as 3d artists. Because stories transcend language and are universal to all cultures. Stories make people want to engage. They encourage people to ask questions and share what they see with their friends. So if you want to create compelling art then learn how to be a good storyteller. And as a visual storyteller, it’s all about adding elements to your project that help move your story forward and removing elements that don’t.

Strong Concepts vs. Technical Execution

A lot of people in life will tell you that ideas are worth nothing and execution is everything. And I get it. If you don’t bother finishing what you start then you’re never going to get anywhere. The problem is that most of the time that’s all we talk about. That’s what 90+% of the tutorials in this industry talk about: technical execution. Technical expertise can’t help you conjure up a meaningful story until you have something worth saying to say. So my advice is: don’t start executing your next project until you have refined your concept to a point that it’s worth doing.

If you’re looking for a simple approach to kick start your next brainstorming session then I’d recommend checking out my video below and head over to the YouTube channel and subscribe if you haven’t yet!

A Word to the Students Reading This

I want to take a second to speak to all the students who are just getting started. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of storytelling in this postmortem. But, if you’re still learning how to hone your craft then I can’t stress enough how important it is to experiment and work on developing your foundational skills. And sharing your results with the community to get feedback is vital. In the beginning, it’s more important to get into the habit of sharing your work than having a perfectly developed concept. But when you start to move past the student level and are trying to develop your voice as an individual artist there’s so much more to learn. And it’s never too early to start practicing how to be a good storyteller.

The Hook: What If It Belong's to a Giant Sea God Who's Pissed?

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So, at this point I started sharing my concept art online with everyone. I knew how important feedback can be as you’re developing an idea. And because I had been living with this problem for a couple of weeks, I was in desperate need for some objectivity. I posted in some 3d art forums, but I was keen on posting more to the concept art forums. I knew that these artists looked at unfinished work like my concept painting on a daily basis. And they could give me some fresh ideas for how to spice things up.

 

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After a few days I had received some good feedback on how to balance my composition, but nothing that would help me solve my story problem. I shared the backstory that I had come up with about the sword:

This particular katana belonged to an ancient Japanese sea god. He lost the sword some time ago and now it had washed up on the beach.

At this point someone in passing mentioned that I should have a Godzilla-like figure tromping through the background. And at first I didn’t take it seriously. It was clear this person was just out for attention by their snarky tone; you know the type. Just another internet troll I thought. Who knows?

But somehow, that ridiculous idea led me to the thought that if this sea god from my story was as big as Godzilla then his sword would be much bigger too. And that’s when the new idea for this illustration hit me like a ton of bricks:

What if this sword belonged to a giant sea god? What if he lost the sword a long time ago and a clan of sea-faring samurai had uncovered it near a beach? A massive undertaking to recover this mystical talisman begins. During their archeological quest, the treasure hunters spot a figure emerging from the mist. The general alerts the tower guards. And the towers’ flags for archers signal the army to prepare to fire on the gargantuan fiend!

Ok, I got a little dramatic towards the end there, but what a story! I knew this was a story worth telling. And although I was looking for something epic for this project it doesn’t always have to be epic to be good. It all depends on the kind of story you want to tell.

Something else I learned here is that ideas can come from the strangest places. So don’t be so close-minded that you aren’t willing to hear someone out. Even if their opinion seems absurd at the time it may lead to something that helps you solve your problem. Such as it did in this project. So, no matter who is talking don’t let ego get in the way of you finding a way to tell the best story possible.

The Plan: This Is Gonna Be a Lot of Work

Over the course of the next couple of weeks or so I worked on refining my concept art to a finished point. I still moved things around and played with angles and lighting. But at this point I knew that the concept was a good one and I felt a bit untouchable. The only problem once the concept phase was over was figuring out how I was going to pull this concept painting off in 3d.

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Become a patron to help support Blender Unleashed! With your help I can produce more projects like these and you can get exclusive access to projects while they happen. Patreon.com/BrandonHix

How to Plan an Epic 3d Render

You may remember a video I did on the vlog about my process for planning called Planning a 3d Illustration from a Concept. If not, then you’ll want to check out that video below for more info on how you can examine your final concept art to figure out how to move into the production phase. I actually use this project as an example in that video so it pairs well with what we’re discussing here.

This is the part where taking the time to do your own concept art really pays off. At this point you’ve verified that the final illustration has a good visual story to tell. And now it’s time to make some decisions about how to bring that concept to life. So, you don’t have to spend time thinking through the storytelling problems that you’ve already solved. It frees you up to be creative with your technical solutions. And as long as you keep to the storytelling solutions you’ve developed in the concepting phase you’re golden.

Now, I start deciding what assets to model in Blender. Whether I really need to include volumetric shaders or if I should just paint that mist effect in Photoshop. How to use the scale of trees, rocks, and people set against the sword to sell the scale of this environment. And how I’m going to make the terrain feel like it goes on for miles without breaking my computer at render time.

If you want to see more about this process in detail then check out my video below to learn more.

Eating the Elephant

Have you heard the old expression:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

This project nailed that motto home for me. I poured a lot of 17 hour days, nights, and weekends into this project. It payed off, but it definitely cost me something. And I believe that when you’re doing something that is worthwhile you’ve gotta stop counting the hours at some point. This is about something bigger. It’s about elevating yourself to a new plane of existence. And that only happens when you take on a project that you can’t do at your current level. And it isn’t that you can’t do it. It’s that a big part of you feels like you can’t do it. But that’s never true. It’s just a challenge to overcome. And when you decide to take action then it becomes just another problem to solve. And you can do that. Because that’s the job. As a creative you solve problems to get to the finish line.

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Finishing the katana was an entirely separate project on its own. If you’d like to see live streams of me modeling the katana check it out on the Blender Unleashed YouTube channel. Please be sure to subscribe!

So my advice to you on this point is to get comfortable. Settle in. And forget about watching TV for a while. Because you’re working on something bigger. Bigger than every distraction around you. Bigger than your last project. Maybe…something bigger than yourself. And the only way to conquer this mammoth project that’s in front of you is going to be a combination of discipline and consistency. Discipline is something most good artists have in moderation. But great artists work on developing their consistency as well. They don’t let their environment dictate when they are going to work. They just sit down and work every day because they understand that doing the work, even the boring parts, is the most important thing they can do to keep their edge and grow.

The Problems: Or What I Like to Call "Creative Speed Bumps"

So this project had it’s fair share of problems and if you’ve made it this far I’m assuming this section is why you’re probably here. You want to know what roadblocks I ran into and how I solved them, right? Alright, let’s jump in and explore the difficulties of pulling off this project.

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Research is so important when you are working on any project to ensure accuracy and realism. I spent a long time learning about the process of Japanese sword smithing.

The Classic Question: "Can I Do This?"

No matter how many times I tackle a project I seem to have this ugly question lurking in the back of my mind. And at this point it’s a bit ridiculous. I mean, I can do anything if I commit myself to it. Because I know that it’s simply a matter of being patient, persistent, and working the problem until I come to a solution. Even so, more often than not “Can I Do This?” is the first speed bump I encounter when tackling a new project. The best way I’ve found to deal with this is to start working on the project as soon as possible. If I give myself too much time to think I’ll start procrastinating. And then this simple speed bump could turn into a major catastrophe.

For this project, I was nervous about the sheer scale. By the time I had landed on my final concept I was dreaming up samurai armies, miles of terrain, forests full of vegetation, and some other challenging elements. This project tested me in new ways as I’ll discuss a bit more in the next couple of sections. But I always knew deep down that it was possible. I just had to do the work. And the key to finishing was to keep pushing. Because when you stop pushing you might find it’s impossible to drum up the will power to gain momentum again.

umi-no-ha-katana-concept-art
The final Umi No Ha katana design was much more steeped in fantasy. In the end, I decided to split the difference and go for a more real-to-life interpretation of this concept for the final model in the illustration.

Problems also seem much bigger than they really are when you’re looking at them piled on top of each other. At the beginning of any project the potential problems can seem overwhelming. This is because from your current perspective you see them simultaneously as enormous obstacles to overcome. You have the whole project in front of you so it seems much worse. So, the best course of action is to tackle one milestone at a time and start putting your speed bumps behind you. This way the problems start to dwindle because you gain perspective as you complete each milestone. So, come up with a master strategy, but after that stop focusing on the big picture. And start working on solving one piece of the puzzle at a time until you pass the first major milestone in your project. Put enough milestones behind you and you’ll reach the end as a winner. But it all starts by taking that first step.

The Scope of a Project Can Be Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy

When I was dreaming up the initial idea for this project it wasn’t complicated. All I wanted to do is to put the sword in an interesting environment. But after my big breakthrough I found myself neck deep in a project that had grown from the size of an ant to the size of an elephant in scope! So, I mention this now because it’s an important factor to consider as you’re planning. Consider the scale of your story and how it’s affected based on the creative decisions you make while you’re working out your concept. With extra scale comes the need for extra time. I had intended to finish this project in a single month, but it ended up taking me three. So, if time is a factor-and it usually is-then project scope is something you need to track as your plans change.

umi-no-ha-katana-tsuba-desins
I spent quite a bit of time on the details of the sword because I wanted to tell a story with the sword itself. For it to feel ancient and purposeful it needed to have those details present in the design.

New Workflows, New Headaches

Apart from the sheer scale of this project I had some new software, new workflows, and random growing pains that made it more challenging than normal.

The biggest stretch for completing this project was the initial determination to use a PBR shading workflow because of my interest in learning Substance Painter. In the end, I abandoned this for my normal workflow for building shaders in Cycles because there just wasn’t enough time to do it all with this project. I believe the PBR workflow is extremely valuable, but for this project it was just slowing me down and it wasn’t necessary for me to achieve my goals. So I cut it.

Don’t look for ways to complicate your project unnecessarily just because you want to lasso the moon. You should try your best to maintain tunnel vision around your top goals so you actually finish with a good piece of art. Everything else is just a distraction.

The PBR Workflow and Substance Painter

If you’re not familiar with the term PBR it stands for Physically Based Rendering. And while building the terrain in Substance Painter, I was using a specific PBR workflow called the metallic / rough workflow. The advantage to using a PBR based workflow is that it’s much easier to manage the consistency and accuracy of your textures and lighting while rendering. There are more constants than variables and as long as you ‘play by the rules’ there shouldn’t be any problems. The issues start to arise when you deviate from the predetermined set of rules. Because then you risk breaking the system. And what you end up with at times are very unrealistic and wacky results. In Substance Painter, everything was working great, but the problem with Blender was that I hadn’t planned on a PBR workflow for anything but the terrain shader. And ultimately, this is why I had to abandon the workflow for this project. Consistent lighting would have been impossible between shaders using two separate workflows.

umi-no-ha-pbr-terrain-substance-painter
Substance Painter is an extremely powerful real-time painting application that utilizes a physically based workflow. It’s used heavily in the game development industry to produce cutting edge next gen assets by the leading studios in the industry. Check it out at Allegorithmic.com.

One of the things I learned quickly using Substance Painter was that workflow going into and out of the software is so important. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted while painting. My details were sharp in some places and blurry in others. This had to do with my topology on the terrain not being optimized. So I tried to raise my texture resolution to compensate. But a stack of several 8k textures is not something that is quick to export. Substance is geared towards optimized geometry meant for real-time rendering. I mean, it was originally designed to fulfill a need for artists in the game industry. So, you can’t expect to load a model with 100,000 polys into Substance and paint with hi-res textures. The software just can’t handle the computations required to maintain real-time feedback in the 3d viewport. Another option would have been to spring for a Mari license which allows you to work on painting higher resolution models. But at the time of this project I didn’t have a spare $2,000 laying around. This is a perfect example of a problem that forces you to get creative. You can’t do whatever you want so you have to come up with a working solution that fits within the constraints of your system. For some of you these types of challenges will be harder than it is for others. But you can always find solutions if you’re willing to get creative.

So, in my case I had to go back to the original mesh and work on retopologizing it for a smooth experience in Substance Painter.

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The terrain needed to be retopologized after the sculpting process in Blender to go to Substance Painter. I tapered the polygonal density from the terrain features that were closest to the camera to the furthest away to optimize my texture maps.

My strategy for this was to taper the density of polygons from the near to far end of the mesh based on what was closer to the camera. This allowed me to paint higher levels of detail on the terrain to bake into my exported texture maps. Tapering the poly density also prevented me from having to raise my polycount uniformly across the entire terrain mesh. This was a great solution for this project because I’m rendering a still image from one angle and the camera never moves. Normally, this would be a terrible idea, but in this case I can bake the level of detail into the geometry and use it to my advantage to maximize my texel density.

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A preview of the PBR maps designed in Substance Painter using the IRay rendering engine.

Reaching the Limits of My Brand New, Custom PC Build

This project was also the first project I attempted using a brand-new PC that I had built. I hadn’t had a new system built for the last seven years and I was in desperate need for an upgrade. So, instead of buying a pre-built system I wanted to get my hands dirty and customize this system to suit my 3d needs. What is most important for me about the new build is that I got my hands on dual Radeon WX 7100s with 8GB VRAM each. And killer GPUs are all you need to rule the world, right?

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Both GPUs cooking on a new render! You can also see the water cooled CPU which helps a lot while rendering as well. Love my new system!

 

So, leave it to me to build a top of the line workstation and figure out how to make it start chugging come render time on my first project. There are a couple of important lessons I thought about while working with my new gear.

The first is that a better system doesn’t make you a better artist out of the box. Remember how I said it had been seven years since I last upgraded my computer? Well that’s because I bought a Mac Pro back in 2009 and I didn’t need to upgrade much other than my graphics card even after all those years. But I had convinced myself after all that time that my system was holding me back. And part of that was starting to be true. Everything moved slower. I couldn’t process larger scenes. And I was frustrated that I couldn’t keep pace with the latest bleeding edge releases of Blender and my other software. But I realized that things weren’t all that different on my brand-new system. Sure, I could move more, keep more processes running, and realize faster render times, but it wasn’t the silver bullet I thought it would be. I still had to be creative which leads me to my next point.

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As much as I love the idea of Apple, sometimes it just makes more sense to get your hands dirty and build something yourself. Now I have all the control I need and upgrading won’t cost me the same as my last car.

The second lesson I learned from my new build was that given a new set of hardware to push it’s easy to find the limits of the system if you’re careless and don’t work smart. It’s my firm belief that it would take several thousand more dollars for me to put a dent into this problem by throwing money at the situation. And even if I could spend that kind of money right now, is that really the best use of my resources? No, no it’s not.

The important distinction here is why are you hitting the limits of your current system? What is happening specifically that is causing this? In my case some of this was due to lack of original problem solving with efficient solutions and some of this was due to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Did you know?… Square pegs won’t go into round holes. Unless you cheat.

I was experimenting a lot with this new project. It was a big undertaking with new workflows, new software, and a new system I was trying to wrangle. My confidence in my new hardware made me feel like there was no problem I couldn’t tackle with Blender on the new system. So, I didn’t bother to worry as much about high poly counts. I didn’t think through the repercussions of using an experimental and computationally expensive feature in Blender like adaptive subdivision cranked up to 11. And I didn’t account for the absolute necessity of optimizing my UV island layouts so that every single bit of my 8K textures’ texel density were being utilized to their fullest. Not only did this leave my precious new system begging for mercy, but the initial test results looked pretty bad as well. If I had bothered to slow down, run smaller tests to improve efficiency along the way, and used my brain I could have saved myself a lot of trouble early on in the project.

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When I talk about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole in this situation I’m talking about underestimating the scale of this project. I already knew when I started production that I would most likely need to render this illustration in several passes. This both saves on the computation necessary to re-render a part of the scene and allows me to achieve more creative effects in the compositing stage. What I hadn’t accounted for was that this project was also going to be rendered at a very high resolution. The reason for this was simple: I was going to print the final render onto a small poster. So, I ended up rendering this scene at 4K resolution. This meant my machine could not handle the rendering phase at all. At one point I calculated the time, and it would have taken my new workstation roughly 36 days to render 10 passes at a 4K resolution with about 1,500 samples in Cycles. Bear in mind, that’s for a single frame, not for an animation. Is it possible I could have done more to optimize the scene? Probably. And depending on how far into the future you’re reading this you might be thinking, “Why didn’t he just use the Eevee engine?”. Well for a couple of reasons. First, because at the time of this writing the amazing Eevee engine isn’t even in beta yet. It’s not even in alpha. Sure, there are demos floating around everywhere, but it’s not production ready. And second, my scene was not built for real-time rendering. No, I needed another solution. So, I turned to my new best friend for all my large projects…RenderStreet.

So, if you haven’t had the chance to use a render farm yet then let me tell you it can be both a tremendous joy and a giant pain in the butt. What I like about RenderStreet is that they have a team of people who are willing to talk through your issues, even if you are the one who isn’t using the farm correctly. They listen. And they aren’t paying me to say this, I just really like the guys over there because they take the time to work with me to solve my problems. Some other time I’ll write up an entire review, but suffice it to say that if you have a few dollars to spend then a render farm is an efficient and necessary tool to have at your disposal for projects that are bigger in scale.

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Check out Render.st for an awesome render farm experience with Blender. Customer support is top notch too!

After I realized that the solution was to use a render farm for all the heavy lifting, I got used to setting up a proper FTP structure so the farm could access all my assets without issue. And from that point on, anytime I wanted to render out a test all I had to do was re-upload the new files to the FTP and launch a test render. The great thing about this is that I could keep working on my scene in Blender on my workstation while the test was chugging away on the farm. It also allowed me to render at a much higher resolution with a much heavier scene in a fraction of the time. In the end, it still took the farm an entire weekend to render all my layers and passes, but it was worth it. This allowed me to stay productive and efficient so I could keep working through my other problems.

Why Being a Purist Can Cripple Your Work

I’m sure there were many other moments during the project that had me on the fence for a few minutes. But the one that comes to mind now was near the end of the project. I had already finished 90% of the scene and everything was working beautifully. But I was missing something. The people. And without the people the illustration feels empty and lifeless. So, adding them as a finishing touch was vital to the success of the story. There was just one problem…I was exhausted. And after all the work I’d already done to get to this point I couldn’t bear the idea of modeling a bunch of people for this scene. People are challenging on a good day and I knew how much of a commitment it would be to tackle that challenge at this stage of the project. The only thing worse than the idea of modeling these people myself was taking a shortcut to get them finished and in the scene. And this is where there is a lesson to learn.

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Check out all of my reference boards for my projects on the Blender Unleashed Pinterest page!

I have always prided myself on being able to create anything as a 3d artist if I take the time to apply myself. Now, as you move into the professional world you start to work with other artists to be able to achieve bigger tasks. So, you get used to sharing the workload and being responsible for a smaller piece of the pipeline. This varies a lot depending on who you work for, but generally this is true. The problem of working on a personal project like this one is that you are the entire pipeline. So, the challenge is to build something significant, solo. The temptation is to say, “Oh, I can build anything. So, no problem!”. But after months of endless work on a huge project like this you become dazed. You may become jaded with the idea of working on the project. And that’s the dangerous stage. Because that’s where you run the risk of exhausting yourself and giving up. And you either push through and find a solution, or give in to the temptation to sacrifice your original concept to save your sanity. But the best solution isn’t always the obvious one. And I was focusing on the wrong one.

The big lesson I took away from this last 10% of the project was to learn to sacrifice personal vanity for efficiency. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And why was it so important for me to model these people from scratch? Well I didn’t want to just go buy some 3d models because I wanted to say that I built this entire scene myself. But there is a lot of middle ground between doing all the work and none of the work. And none of the people in the final illustration are the focal point of the scene. They aren’t characters, they are scenery. Placeholders to aid in the composition and help tell the story. The point of the project was to set the scene and tell the story. I was out to build a unique world that tells the story of this katana. So, rather than build the people from scratch I looked for a way to speed up the process so I could focus on getting them in the scene as fast as possible. In the end, I settled on an open source program called MakeHuman to help me speed up the production process.

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MakeHuman is a great piece of open source 3d character generation software similar to Daz Studio. I think it’s the best option for generating topologically perfect base meshes for Blender. Check it out at MakeHuman.org!

MakeHuman is a program that allows you to take a prebuilt humanoid model and customize the features. You can change things like skin tone, body build, gender, clothing, expressions, etc… And the best part about this software is that the models come with textures, pre-rigged, and ready to pose upon export to Blender. So, for this project, I opted to get halfway there with some finished male models built in MakeHuman. And then I built custom clothing and posed them in the final scene in Blender. It was still a lot of hard work to get them ready, but by using this shortcut I was able to cut out about 70% of the work on modeling the people. And this was a very efficient solution because, in the end, you see very little of the people in the final illustration.

I have to admit, as a bit of a purist when it comes to creating my scenes this was a hard compromise to make. But it was absolutely necessary in this case. Being a purist, it’s easy to let your ego step into the driver seat. It can slow you down and have you jumping through unnecessary hoops just so you can pat yourself on the back. But you should only be a purist about the stuff that matters. And as you grow as an artist you shouldn’t be building everything from scratch all the time anyway. A smart artist starts to gather resources such as additional software, add-ons, shaders, textures, and 3d models to use creatively throughout their projects. This allows you to do much more on your solo projects because you can establish a foundation and then work to customize your results. So, don’t let your ego dictate the proper workflow. Decide what your goals are and then develop a plan to achieve those goals as quickly as possible.

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These three people were all generated from the same base mesh using MakeHuman. They came with diffuse textures and rigs directly into Blender and all I had to focus on was adding clothes, posing them, and getting the shaders to look realistic for my scene.

Conclusion: Hard Work Often Pays Off In More Ways Than One

And finally, after all that work we get to the payoff. And with a project like this where you really go no holds barred and are willing to give it you’re all the payoff can be huge. By completing this project, I solved many problems which will help me do better work in the future. I know more now, I’m faster, and I’ll never have a first encounter with any of these problems ever again. So, what did my three months of turmoil get me?

The First Time an Industry Magazine Published My Work

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Special thanks to 3d Artist for helping me achieve this milestone! Check out the magazine at 3dArtistOnline.com or in your local book store.

That’s right folks, hard work can make you famous! Ok, I’m not famous yet, but you have to start somewhere. I was on the last page and had a very small footprint in the Reader’s Gallery of 3d Artist Issue 110, but the point is that this was a huge milestone for me!

I, like a lot of you, spend a lot of time dreaming of having my work spread all over the world. And this was the first time I had seen the beginning of this goal come to fruition. Was I exhausted at the end of my three-month stint of 17-hour days and sacrificed weekends? Sure. Do you think I thought about any of that when I found out I made it into 3d Artist? No. This was physical evidence and validation from the industry that it was worth my time. But ironically, this wasn’t the most rewarding part of finishing this project.

The Most Epic Render I've Finished to Date

 

When I talk about epic there’s a couple of things to consider about this project. First of all, the size of the environment I created. It just looks epic. But the other thing I’m referencing here is the amount of work it took to finish this project. And what can I learn from this? That doing this project was possible? Sure. But even more important is that there’s room for me to do even bigger projects. And that all the worries that threatened to keep me from completing this project from the beginning and throughout were meaningless. Those thoughts only have power over you if you allow them to control your actions.

So why, even after all my experience, is there a part of me that questions if I can do this? Because we are in a constant state of flux as humans. And if all you do is spend your time focusing on who you’re not there’s no room to decide who you’ll become. No matter how much experience you have the temptation exists to let those negative thoughts creep into your mind. And through the process of building healthy mental habits you can squash those thoughts. But it takes a conscious effort to reprogram your brain and take steps to move forward. You can’t wait on others to give you permission. You have to make a decision and start putting in the work. Now, I still struggle with negative thoughts at every stage of my career as an artist, as an entrepreneur, and as a human being. But over time I’ve learned to focus on positive thinking, building a network of support around me, and taking small steps every day to move towards accomplishing my goals. This is how the game is won and this is how empires are built…one brick at a time.

A Demo Reel That Sets Me Apart From the Crowd and Brings Me Clients

It was around this time that I started to partner with a friend of mine that owns his own production studio for films, commercials, etc… Through this partnership I’m able to provide a larger range of 3d services to his clients. And I’m able to work as an artist in the industry and practice my craft while I continue to develop this business. Partnerships are vital in a successful business. And I encourage you to find people that you want to work with because you have the same creative vision. When we started pitching clients on these new services I had to have a way to show them what I could do for them. So, I needed to build a new reel with some of my up to date work that could communicate why they need to hire us. This project was instrumental in showcasing the kinds of services that we can provide. And without it, my reel would not be nearly as powerful in communicating that to a client.

The Journey to Success

What some people may not know is that I gave up everything to start Blender Unleashed. I quit my job. I spent all my savings. And I’ve devoted the past several years to getting this business off the ground. I’ve been close to bankruptcy several times. I constantly read books, take courses, and try to learn. I’m now working with a business incubator, partners, and personal mentors. And things are slowly getting better, but it’s tougher now than ever before. I haven’t ‘made it’ yet. And there is constant pressure from the outside world to throw in the towel, get another job, and give up on my dream. But the only decision that I have to make each day to be a success is the decision to move forward. I only fail if I give up. And it’s the same way for you as an artist. Each day you’re given a choice. Retreat or advance. You can’t stay where you are because the world around you keeps moving. So, choose to advance. And no matter what anyone tells you, nothing is impossible. It’s not up to them. It’s up to you. So, advance.

If you made it to the end of this article then I want to thank you for reading all the way through! Please write me a comment below about your story. Subscribe for more Blender training and inspiration. And please share this with your friends. Thanks guys!