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3d artist Johan De Leenheer discussed the way he builds his amazing 3d models and described the way he makes money on selling his amazing models.
Hi, my name is Johan De Leenheer, I was born in Antwerp Belgium in 1973 and that is also where I still live today. I learned computer graphics from the internet and personal training and it still is an ongoing process. The drive to artistically create and a love for futuristic things like virtual reality and sci-fi in combination with the advances in computer technology and exposure to software like 3DS Max plus evolution of internet is what lay at basis of what I do.
I’ve started out doing all sorts of small projects (mainly photo retouching on freelance basis +/- 15 years ago) for various companies including graphics for websites and it gradually evolved into doing small video productions. However, I learned this direction was not really my destination. The thing is I feel strong need to do independent self-initiated projects, but until recent years found no good solution to combine my learned skills and long term goals to make this work somehow, but that has changed now.
I now focus as much as possible on designing and producing 3D stock media and the prospects of it for VR applications. Where I eventually would like to go with this is a situation where I can produce my own VR environments driven from the repository of 3D stock media I’m currently developing. The connection to 3D stock media production now basically allows me to grow organically towards my long term goals and at same time incrementally earn on the effort that go into that right now. It also allows me to use all my learned skills and at same time develop them further in the direction I need them to be.
So basically 3D stock media production is now my main long term project I’m working on.
Part of the main idea is to produce multifunctional designer elements that can be used in different situations like for example in 3D concept designing, sci-fi environment creation or motion graphics design. I’m basically learning this stuff as I go, so things should evolve over time as I gather more sense of what I’m doing and what can be useful. An important part in this is combining powerful software tools and developing/learning new techniques and incorporating generative/procedural means for streamlining the designing and production stages of different types of 3D content.
It basically all needs to fit the long-term goal of being able to create different types of concept designs relatively fast strait into 3D and fit for use in VR applications. What inspires me a lot in this is the traditional concept designing work done by lots of great artists, for example, artists like David Levy, Arthur Haas, Ben Procter, Ryan Church, Levi Hopkins, Thom Tenery, etc., so that is my main influence. When I see that kind of depictions I can’t wait to make that sort of stuff for VR applications, the prospects of being able to enter these kind of worlds that’s what gets me going. If I would be able to design to that degree of quality then I would be very happy. Still, have some distance to go but I think I’m well on my way to getting there.
So, I mainly use 3ds Max, 3D-Coat, GrowFX and Para 3D. Most of what I do is still being made traditional way, so things like polygonal modeling and 3D sculpting. But the thing is, most of the traditional modeling techniques I have learned so far basically all take too much time to be able to use them for concept designing strait into 3D. The rise of 3D sculpting programs somewhat bridged this gap but currently noting can still beat the speed of feeling out shapes and sketch ideas in 2D.
I’m seeking to overcome this somehow by exploring ways of having 3D form finding techniques strait in 3D via combining premade elements with design grammars to create parametric setups that can be manipulated in order to have shape shifting feedback (design iterating) and enabling ways to pull out interesting shapes/parts that can be used as kitbash elements, environment elements or base models (see screen-samples.jpg to have a view of my trash bin and some early testing cases)
The main strategy is to use outputs of a given setup and use them as inputs for other setups and get to smart designs that have lots of parameters that can be altered in order to get a myriad of new design iterations out of it by changing its parameters (it’s all still very experimental to me). The basic idea is to connect shape generators and transformation systems in such a way that it creates new interesting shapes or complete designs, but the main challenge in this is to somehow artistically maintain in control so that this approaches indeed deliver consistent designs instead of some random symmetries or blobs of geometry.
Basically, these are ideas adopted from architectural world and computational design and software tools that currently gain popularity in design fabrication and 3D printing. But this is now also finding its way in art production and Game development.
It also involves some fractal related stuff and other mathematical wizardry that actually goes beyond my comprehension but some of it is accessible through software tools that tap into this and provide visual interfaces for manipulation (e.g. things like L-systems, voronoi diagrams, etc.)
So I basically use a spectrum of traditional tools and a combination of these new parametric tools. But as I said, most of the models I currently have on display are made the traditional way (using polygonal modeling or 3D sculpting and just little bit of procedural means here and there).
I believe procedural/generative designing will play increasingly important role in the developments of VR environments so I’m trying to master this as soon as possible.
I mainly use 3D Coat to paint and create texture cords in combination with the baking tools of 3ds Max. 3D-Coat really is an amazing tool, I always get a smile on my face when I’m working with it, it’s a very versatile tool. One of the main reasons this tool works best for me is that I am very dependent on the use of my 3D connexion space mouse and 3D-Coat really has great integration for it. Being able to freely fly around my designs while keeping my hand completely free for modeling and painting is something very important to me. The voxel sculpting took me some time to get use to but now there’s just nothing that can compete with the ease of use of it for me. I’m also looking forward to using Substance Designer, but I have not just spend enough time on it. Photoshop also remains an indispensable tool for editing my textures.
The advantage is mainly speed, Octane Render is a very fast GPU rendering system and gives me instant feedback on what I’m doing. It also is very easy and fast to setup and has good balanced out settings that do exactly what’s needed for me. It also is well integrated into 3ds Max wish is important to me.
I also use Marmoset Toolbag for same reasons, it’s a very useful tool for previewing real-time PBR materials and showcasing real-time 3D models (also very easy and fast to setup).
But my focus will increasingly target real-time environment creation and then my favor goes to Unreal Engine. Octane Render will remain important in this regard as it provides ways for live texture backing for light maps and so on.
Working with Lighting
I don’t really have a fixed workflow for that, it’s mainly feeling and a given mood I’m looking for that drives the placements of lights and bouncing plates for me. It’s a good thing Octane render provides instant feedback because rendering was a nightmare for me before that.
My advice would be to watch online photographer tutorials on how they use soft boxes and sport light to get to certain rigs and definitely learn about color and material and how real physical light behaves.
Working with CG Trader
Yes, I sell the things that I actually would use myself and some of it is indeed intended for real-time applications.
The thing is, a few years ago I was wondering around on 3D stock media websites to find something that could trigger my imagination, some unique designer stuff that I could use to built some nice motion graphics or sci-fi environments. But I encountered that very little of this sort of stuff was available at that time and nothing really captivated my imagination.
So then the question arose, what is it then that I’m looking for, how would it look like and maybe I just need to make this stuff myself? So that became the main drive behind producing the designer elements that I have on CGtrader today, they are things that can trigger imagination for inspiration hunters like me.
Earning money on CGtrader basically happens in automated fashion, you get notified by email when something gets sold and payout of royaltys happens every month (highest royalty rate of all places around). You can basically take a walk in the park afternoon and still earn money, but of course, you have to do some hard work first to make stuff that actually sells, otherwise not mush will happen.
CGtrader has grown considerably past years and receives allot of traffic but I also promote my work on other key traffic websites and social media and drive traffic to my personal CGtrader designer page.
I consider CGtrader the best selling platform around because they simply provide the biggest bang for the bucks. Most convenient uploading system combined with integration of lots of embedding media like Vimeo, YouTube or real-time 3D viewers. The platform also provides lots of opportunities for artists to perform marketing and grow when they participate in community building efforts. There also is a communication system integrated for having direct connection with clients and a job submitting/offering system. It’s also a very lively community and there are always challenges going on that can earn you very attractive prizes. There is also an active blog that provides interesting news about what’s going on in the industry and they also provide valuable sales statistics via convenient infographics.
I think CGtrader is basically miles ahead of every competition in almost every aspect and probably will remain so for long time.
Thanks for having me, I hope it was an interesting read, have fun.
You can follow me on;
Johan De Leenheer, Freelance 3D artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.