Image courtesy of Yuya Takeda/Lamp models by Kevin Weber

The creative techniques behind 5 impressive 3D art projects

Artistic inspiration is often the driving force behind the most intriguing visual design projects, but the techniques adopted by individual creators can also have a tremendous impact on the process. From streamlining workflows to enabling greater control and flexibility, the tools in a 3D artist's arsenal make a big difference in helping them deliver on their creative visions.

We recently explored the inspirations and influences behind the work of five 3D artists from our community. Join us again for a deeper look into how they put Modo to use on these captivating projects.

Making the screen slither

Passion projects occupy vital space in the spare time of many professional creatives. For 3D digital artist Andre McGrail, chipping away at his dark, horror-tinged personal short film project, "Somewhat Damaged," has been an ongoing labor of love for years. His dedication to honing its eerie atmosphere shows throughout this fascinating work-in-progress.

Andre's workflow begins with building base meshes in Modo before moving to sculpting in ZBrush. Once sculpted, he brings the models back into Modo for lighting, animation and rendering. " I use a lot of the procedural shading layers that you get with Modo, mixed with some basic textures, it’s amazing what you can create—all with the bonus of having infinite detail," he says, adding the interconnectivity between both tools lets him easily shift gears as needed.

The project’s biggest challenge has been modeling and animating the centipede protagonist that slithers through the film's grim scenery. "The schematic view in Modo solved this, as it has all the types of nodes you could want to drive any channel on any item in any way. When automating the process for the many legs, assemblies and the TD SDK also helped massively in creating the kind of rig that was needed" he says.

On using Modo in his work

"I tend to use Modo a lot for look dev throughout anything I do, it’s so quick to setup lighting, materials and even rough animation, the ability to tweak parts of a mesh after you have weighted and rigged it is so powerful and forgiving," he says.

Nude horror vfx image by Andre Mcgrail

Exploring photorealistic nostalgia

Learning new tricks and fresh skills is an important part of the being a creative professional. When he's not busy working on projects for major clients, digital artist Mike Campau likes to sharpen his chops on personal projects that let him explore the creative potential of new techniques.

Mike’s nostalgia-driven image series, "Generation Gap," is a great example of how tinkering can lead you down the path to something interesting and unexpected, as he explains: "I wanted to get my feet wet with the V-Ray plug-in for Modo and explore lighting techniques that simulate color gels in studio".

Initial experiments produced a strong retro feel, Mike says, which spurred him to recreate photorealistic objects from his youth. Every aspect of "Generation Gap" was created in Modo. Mike's "less is more" approach to the work aimed to simplify production while maximizing visual impact. "I wanted to keep the composition, lighting, and elements simple, and that is what Modo does perfectly," he says.

"What got me hooked was the interactive 'real-time' preview that allowed me to see instant results while working on lighting and materials," he adds. "That was key, because I’m a visual artist and not a very technical one. I don’t really know the science behind the settings, and don’t really care to. I just want to play with light and composition and get it to look good."

On using Modo in his work:

"Modo has really opened up possibilities that otherwise would have been nearly impossible to achieve conventionally—or at least would have cost a small fortune to produce," Mike says. "Traditional photography and CGI have their pros and cons, but now it has given me a new toolset to offer up a solution that will give the best results based on time and budget.

Mike Campau VFX project

Bringing vibrant characters to life

Crafting cartoonish characters that burst with personality is more than a job for illustrator and 3D artist, Teodoru Baidu. It's a creative quest to merge traditional 2D cartooning sketch elements with 3D modeling techniques in fresh, and often striking, ways.

"Most of my ideas are based on my sketches and drawings," says Teodoru about his design workflow. "That drawing-based idea will be taken afterwards into 3D software to be modeled, texture and rendered as standalone characters."

Once all the characters are ready, he poses them, creates props and designs the imaginary world around them. Using a combination of techniques, Teodoru relies on Modo's toolset to speed up the creative process while creating top-notch designs. "I use the Flex and Transform tools a lot," he says. "They're a huge time saver when it comes to character posing, because I don’t have to spend time on rigging characters that are created for illustration only."

Teodoru says Modo's modeling and UV tools and rendering options are an ideal fit for his workflow, as they've allowed him to work at a brisk pace when he's on deadline. "The ability to create perfect models, UV maps and rendered files in a relatively short time is imperative when it comes to commission work," he says.

On using Modo in his work:

"Having the perfect stable toolset for all the tasks that are involved in my creative process is why I love using Modo. Modo makes it easy for me to take my drawings and ideas from the 2D world to 3D model and illustrations without having to think about the technical background that is involved in the 3D process."

Toedoru Baidu VFX project

Finding the path to "SideTrip"

Many years ago, Yuya Takeda scrawled notebooks full of complex stories. Without a means to visually craft these tales and fantastic worlds, they languished in secret, untold, until he set out to forge a career in motion graphics and 3D art. Finding ways to unlock his creative potential eventually helped Yuya transform these childhood storyscapes into the fully-realized digital art pieces he'd always wanted them to be.

Discovering Modo gave Yuya the tools to make 3D modeling more accessible, intuitive and easy to understand. "Not only are the modeling tools straightforward, but I also found myself really enjoying the shader tree and the render engine to visually push details out," he says. "As I'm modeling something, I can run the preview render to see how a little change might affect how the shadows look on a specific object."

Quickly iterating and sketching out ideas has been key to the design process on the SideTrip series, letting Yuya rough out a basic layout he could return to and refine over time. "A lot of my techniques are simple. I kitbash a lot to produce more complex looking objects and often do so in a way to quickly mass out scenery...I specifically love using the replicator to build a load of objects in a scene," he says. "This has been one of Modo's strengths, to simply distribute tons of objects in many interesting ways."

On using Modo in his work

"[Modo] basically made my entire career," says Yuya. "I probably wouldn’t have been not doing as much 3D work if it weren't for Modo. It's really impacted everything that's happened so far. Modo's modeling tools have effectively eliminated my fear of modeling anything. It's basically helped me make whatever I was thinking of in my head since I was a kid."

Designing horrors for film

Creature designer Ken Barthelmey's realistic monstrosities stretch the boundary between Mother Nature's grisliest fare and the eerier reaches of the mind. They've landed him work designing horrors for everything from feature films like the Maze Runner series and NISSAN commercials to designing tutorials to help aspiring digital artists improve their craft.

Starting with ZBrush to sculpt and texture his creature models, Ken exports to Modo for shading, rendering and adding further details to make his monsters memorable. From there, he adds customized materials and lighting, before making multiple rendering passes that are composited in Photoshop to produce the final polished image.

"Modo is a very fast renderer which helps me to save time, and it also very realistic subsurface scattering in a relatively short time," he says. "This is very valuable when it comes to rendering creatures, especially with translucent skins. Being able to see the result almost instantly in the Preview Viewport saves a lot of time and frustration."

Presenting photorealistic concepts to your client is also very valuable, he adds, as it can be difficult to make a final judgment call on an early pencil sketch alone.

On using Modo in his work:

"I enjoy the many facets of control Modo enables users," says Ken. "You can easily create the scene you had in mind by adding light sources, backgrounds and materials. In order to save time, I created a Modo render scene with saved render settings, light settings and backgrounds. I use this scene for all my projects, and it saves me a lot of work."

Demon dog VFX model by Ken Barhelmey

Keen to try out Modo for yourself? You can get a 30-day free trial of the toolset here.

Or why not check out all the latest performance enhancements and modelling workflow improvements we’ve made to the toolset in Modo 11.0.