The creator of JustSketchMe Herman Martinus has shared some behind-the-scenes facts about the tool's development, talked about its features, and explained how they work with the community.
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Hi there, I'm Herman, the creator of JustSketchMe. I live in Cape Town, South Africa, where I moved right out of university (the University of Pretoria) to become a game developer. I worked making VR and mobile games for about 3 years at Seamonster Entertainment before joining a remote tech startup so I could do some traveling. During that time I started creating a bunch of small tools, from a personal journaling app to an open-source publishing platform. You can check out all of my projects here.
The inception of JustSketchMe was a collaboration between Simon-Kai and myself. We both are amateur artists (although he’s significantly more talented than me) and we made use of a standard wooden mannequin to help us along with difficult poses. One of Simon’s mannequin’s legs fell off and we hypothesized a digital “wooden Larry”. I was pretty keen on starting a new project, so off we went to build it.
The Tool's Features
Since both of us had experience as game and web developers we quickly had a working prototype which we released on the web for free. It was initially built in the game engine Unity. The initial prototype only had 3 models: male, female and wooden mannequin and only one could be on the screen at a time. We published it and left it for a decent chunk of time, mostly forgetting about it.
A few months later I got an email saying someone had sent me $40 as a contribution to the JustSketchMe project. This startled me and I went to check out the analytics to find about 35 people using JustSketchMe every day. I decided to take it more seriously and rebuilt the entire app in a web-first framework (ThreeJS for the rendering with a Firebase backend) and the number of users spiked into the hundreds per day. People could now create more complex scenes with multiple models and lighting. I then added a way for users to save their work and offered it as a paid upgrade and had a few people subscribe that very night.
I felt we were onto something and ended up quitting my job a few weeks later to work on JustSketchMe full-time. Since then the JustSketchMe fanbase has grown exponentially and we have been refining and improving the app.
There is an option to export the models as 3D objects which can be printed out. I personally have one of the models 3D printed and standing in a dance position in my house. The format in which 3D models are exported is a standard (.dae or .obj) and can be imported into any 3D modeling program such as ZBrush or Blender. However, we’re a visual artist reference tool first and foremost so we focus more on the ability to set up visually striking scenes instead of 3D modeling integration.
JustSketchMe users are a mixed bunch. We have a decent chunk of experienced illustrators and artists who use it to plan out their scenes for commissions or comic books they’re illustrating. We also have a large number of artists who are using it as a learning device to help improve their art skills and figure out how to better handle posing and scene spacing. There is finally a niche set of users such as architects who use it for populating their building mock-ups with natural-looking people. The idea was essentially to create what amounts to a 3D planning program that is so easy to use it barely needs to be explained.
Danté is our social media and community manager. We have an awesome community of diverse artists from all over the world. We’ve mostly spread via word-of-mouth in disparate Discords and subreddits, but we also have thriving Instagram and Twitter accounts. Finding new users isn’t too tough as we have a tool that is useful and therefore “markets itself”. One of the ways we make ourselves searchable is by providing some robust learning content on our blog.
Over the next year, we’re hiring a full-time 3D Artist who will be beefing up our available models and props. We have plans to accommodate every body type as well as some real and fantasy animals. The number of props will grow to hundreds and JustSketchMe will be the one-stop reference tool for visual artists. We have a bunch of other improvements in the works which can be seen (and voted on) here. My personal goal was to create a useful tool for artists as I want to see more good art in the world. I think we’re well on our way.