3D Artist Jonathan Bogart, a.k.a. Renafox, has told us how he started creating his amazing vehicle models, explained how and when he joined Sketchfab, and shared some advice on selling assets via the platform.
Hello! My name is Jonathan Bogart, a.k.a. Renafox. I'm from the US but am currently residing in NSW, Australia. I'm a Freelance/Commission Artist who focuses on vehicles and other mechanical things. My biggest contributions have been to a handful of unreleased indie projects and a fanmade Fallout: New Vegas-themed mod for Fallout 4, for which I oversaw vehicles.
My interest in content creation started with level editors in video games, like Half-Life 2's Hammer level editor, Halo's forge, etc. Eventually, I wanted to do more than what the pre-provided models and textures let you do, so I started learning how to use 3ds Max, which had plug-ins available to import/export content directly to/from Half-Life 2. Here's a picture of one of my custom levels for that game, complete with some really early 3D models of mine:
I've always been inspired and fascinated by abandoned places and buildings. Being from Georgia, there was never a shortage of run-down and abandoned places that I saw on a day-to-day basis.
Getting Started with 3D Art
I taught myself 3D mainly by trial and error. My earliest 3D models were a little more than boxes with pictures of buildings/vehicles slapped on them. It wasn't until much later that I figured out that stuff like baked Normal Maps or specular materials make your model look so much better.
Being an introvert from an area most would consider remote, I had a lot of free time and a fascination with creativity and video games. I feel like it's only natural that they'd mix. I also feel like I still have a lot to learn, there's a lot of cool tech the industry uses that I have yet to even scratch the surface on.
For anyone else living in remote or impoverished areas, I'd say game editors for older titles, like Doom Builder or Half-Life 1's Worldcraft Hammer Editor, are a great way to start, particularly with environment art. They don't require a powerful PC and are very well-documented in their functionality. Creating a room full of critters in a game like this will give you a good idea of how to make a well-proportioned, well-decorated space that reads well.
Joining the Sketchfab Community
I found out about Sketchfab around 2015 from a friend who described the somewhat new site as "DeviantArt for 3D models", not the best description if you ask me, but it did sound promising for someone who was just starting to get confident in their 3D modeling ability.
I joined Sketchfab because I really wanted to show off what I was making, I thought I was doing very well, even though my models weren't actually that great for 2015 standards. I think it was the 3D rendering in the browser that won me over, that seemed novel to a younger me.
My early work didn't get much attention, and even today, the few old models left from that time don't really have that many views, but I don't get discouraged! I'd advise anyone getting into Sketchfab to not chase trends and just make what you love making, it may take a while for your models to "pop off" in popularity, but when they do, you'll have a backlog of other work that's uniquely "you" for people to enjoy.
My focus on vehicles started from two sources – these early level editors I mentioned earlier and my traditional art. Half-Life 2, being the game I was really big into at the time, only has a handful of broken soviet vehicles to work with, so these were some of the first models I wanted to replace. I also enjoyed drawing abandoned cars, they made up my art focus during high school, and these art pieces even earned a lot of praise locally.
I eventually realized I was just making cars and vehicles because I liked making cars and vehicles, though. Find what you enjoy making, and stick with it. Don't be afraid to try new methods and make new things, but don't get yourself stuck making art you hate making, either.
Selling Assets via Sketchfab
I've been selling assets for as long as Sketchfab has had a store, and I was one of the Sketchfab masters that pushed for its implementation. However, the Sketchfab store wasn't my first foray into selling assets online, my first foray was actually Second Life, that mid-2000s "metaverse" platform where I still occasionally sell things today.
Selling on Sketchfab is easy, people are drawn to assets with well-made preview images. Follow up a good preview image to catch their attention with a good model at a reasonable price, and you're golden. Selling raw photogrammetry data for reference is also something that I've enjoyed a great deal of success with, I've seen a lot of really cool concept renders/art over on ArtStation that have used my 3D scans to great effect.
I usually share them on Twitter, but it seems that being a big user with a lot of followers on Sketchfab does far more for the algorithm, and I built up this follower base by purely doing what I like. I feel like if you do what you love and have patience, people who like the sort of thing you like will eventually notice.
If you want to make a living out of making models (and any content creation really), consistency is key. Have something to post every other day, or at least on a predictable schedule. You'll have to start it as a hobby, and it'll take a lot of your spare time, but eventually, you will make it.