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Lars Sowig talked about the way he combines 2D & 3D in his concept art, discussed the pros and cons of kitbashing and more.
You can also check out our previous interview with Lars here where he talked about using Megascans in Concept Art:
Hello, I’m Lars Sowig and I am working professionally as a Concept Artist in the Video Games Industry. Besides having a strong passion for video games I simply enjoy things like exploring different cities or nature, having an exchange with different people and learning about their experiences. I am from Germany and my career started in the Frankfurt/Main area where, besides smaller agencies, I had the chance to work for Companies such as Honda, Telekom and later for Crytek, where I got my first job working as an artist. I worked on Warface, the VR debut Robinson: The Journey and the latest Early Access title Hunt: Showdown. At the moment I am living and working in Sweden on The Division 2 for Massive Entertainment.
From my first own computer, I was always into art related things such as the creation of music, photography and editing pictures. I continued doing all of it a little bit for a while and after a few UI jobs when my sense for graphics became more mature I found out about industrial car designers that would do tons of cool looking car sketches. Shortly after I discovered concept art which would perfectly pair my interests in Gaming and Design. I got myself a few books and online courses to learn the basics and realized it was more fun than everything else I tried before. After finishing university (I was studying Interactive Media Design) it took around half a year to eventually start my career. To this point, I am happy that I had the chance to try out a bit of everything creative.
The Importance of Personal Projects
I really enjoy working on personal projects if I find the time. I believe that doing art outside of work is an important component for developing your skills. Especially if you get the chance to apply things you learned at work or explore new techniques and tools.
I work on personal projects on and off. Sometimes if I have a bit of spare time, I organize a little sprint to push a project or start and finish it during a weekend. The sketches I initially do are more about the creative process of getting to the idea and finding rough solutions for potentially occurring problems. My ideas usually come from what I saw or experienced and got inspired by. During the day I can have countless ideas but I obviously go with those I feel have the most potential. The Space Sniper, for instance, has a political origin and hits the nerve of our time, to my mind. Other projects can be less reasonable, either for the fun or experimenting. For example, recently I did a project where I only used screenshots from Google Earth as references. The process I choose to visualize the ideas can vary depending on the way of how to do it effectively.
3D Software in Workflow
I think it is important to have an aspiration to make the scene believable and my goal is always to answer my own design questions. Designing a solid concept thought out from every angle is a back and forth process, and I use a lot of 3D in my workflow. The tools of my choice here are Maya for low poly modeling and ZBrush for high poly modeling. I recently introduced Octane Render to my skillset which I would use over KeyShot if I am rendering an environment because Octane would give me more suitable controls of daylight settings. Rendering in either Octane or KeyShot is where all the important things will be set, such as material definition, lighting, and composition in order to make it presentable in Photoshop eventually.
As a concept artist who uses 3D models as a base, I think that the technical side of texturing has to fall a bit short time-wise since it can be quite tedious to unwrap and texture 3D meshes. This is why I use material templates. I would just assign a generic plastic shader and tweak its roughness, color, and reflectivity until I have a nice and readable contrast between materials for my models. I would add details to that texture base later with the help of images or paint.
Kitbashing: Pros and Cons
I might have a very mixed opinion about kitbashing in general although I am also guilty of using kitbash kits. It depends. I see a lot of artists using kits from other artists carelessly, terribly hurting their own design choices and limiting themselves at the same time. For the Space Sniper, I created my own kit that allowing me to produce a more coherent design (rounded shapes with ribs and bosses). Very minor generic parts in the final result come from a library where a bit of detail would make sense to break up the shapes.
If you carelessly mix a kit though, even if it is consistent in itself, you will end up having a clash of different design languages or a design of the artist who created the kit. Kitbash libraries work very well if they contain very generic and universal elements such as screws, clips, zippers or buttons for clothing. Trees, street signs and traffic lights would make a good library to populate a street with details, for example. These are elements that do not necessarily have to be re-designed. Kitbashing these is a very valid process to speed up the workflow. On the other hand, some may bash entire building sets resulting in identically looking cities or generic backgrounds without a real story.
Kitbashes can be used quite cleverly though by using them as a base or to add extra details in the right spots and in the right amounts.
The Advantages of Mixing 2D & 3D
I find a mix of 2D and 3D a good approach, quite effective in production. A 3D scene will always allow for fast compositional changes while a 2D painting can bring a very unique feel to it that might be very hard to achieve with only 3D tools. Therefore, I am trying to combine these fields to use the advantages of both.
The cool thing in 3D is the flexibility you have while finding your composition. You can easily move the camera, change the position and color of your light source, swap the materials and reposition the objects to match your desire. Once everything is set the 2D finish is where you can define everything in detail. I often try to achieve a semi-photorealistic approach in order not to have too much of my 3D base shining through. A 3D base often looks a bit lifeless and I try to cover it up with photobashing techniques and a little bit of paint to integrate everything. I don’t mind if the 3D base is still slightly visible as it should be more about the concept after all. The games I worked on so far aimed for a photorealistic graphical look which is why this workflow matches the respective requirements perfectly.
Recommendations for Concept Art Learners
I think the best advice I can give is to go with the times. Concept Art develops quite rapidly and is a very competitive field which is why aspiring artists shouldn’t shy away to try out different tools to make their own art more unique and/or more efficient. As a self-taught concept artist, I don’t see a very pricey route through art schools as a necessary step but self-discipline is a must-have attribute you will need to learn the fundamentals. There are very good online courses online from self-established artists who actively work in the industry, and from them, you can learn a lot for a moderate price (for example, on learnsquared and cubebrush).
And of course, always keep it rolling.
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