3d artist and instructor Zacharias Reinhardt talked about the way he works with Blender to create some fantastic 3d designs.
Hi, my name is Zacharias Reinhardt (28), I’m from Germany and I’m a self-thought 3d artist and Blender trainer. I started with 3D design in 2004 as a hobby. In 2010, I started to share my knowledge in many free tutorials on YouTube, which helped me to make a name in the Blender community. Over the years I was employed in an advertising agency for about 2 years, I ran my own company together with my brother for 4 years, where we were offering video and 3d services for clients and since 2016 I’m an independent artist and trainer, making a living from what I love doing: Blender tutorials and online courses, coaching and 3d art. Since 2013, I’m a “Blender Foundation Certified Trainer”.
The magic of Blender
In my childhood, my brother and I created LEGO stop motion movies with a simple video camera. It was my first contact with the medium and at that time an enthusiasm for filming and animation slowly awakened in me. In 2004, I bought my first digital camera. We started to shoot short movies and to integrate visual effects into our films; we also started digital editing. After a while, we came across Blender and studied additional simple VFX tools, which eventually allowed us to implement 3D contents into our videos. Of course, we had to get acquainted with the complexity of Blender first and with a slow internet connection, this seemingly took forever. Most of the things we learned by trial and error.
After I successfully created simple 3D projects, the “3D fever” grabbed me. I spent a lot of my free time shooting short movies, building 3D worlds and creating short 3D animated movies. After a while, I discovered Cinema 4D and since the interface was much easier to use than Blender’s, I continued using C4D as my main 3D tool for the years to come (until 2009).
In 2009, I went back to Blender (2.49). I needed it while working on a 2D / 3D animated movie (I was working in an open TV channel in Germany, back then). My brother, who was more familiar with Blender at that time, helped me to get back into the program. In 2010 Blender 2.5 with a completely revised user interface was released. I compared it with C4D and realized, that Blender has everything I needed and some tools were even working better than in C4D, like the UV mapping tools (not to mention that it is completely free of charge). So, I fully switched to Blender in 2010 because there was no reason for me to stay with Cinema 4D anymore. Since that time I use it nearly every day for professional and private work, I never regret the switch.
The magic about Blender is, the huge range of functions within one tool, the incredibly fast pace you can work with this tool by using shortcuts and of course the large helpful community.
I really like to create 2d concepts of wired looking vehicles with robot legs or vehicles that are transformed in some way. Most of the time I use real vehicles as a reference so that they have parts people can recognize. Then I combine these vehicles, with all kinds of other elements, so that it looks like a self-made robot or flying machine.
I start with a concept sketch, to get an idea where I want to go with the design. Then I create a rough car blockout with simple low poly 3d objects. This helps a lot to get proportions right and I already played around with the camera perspective to see what will be in the final shot, so that I only create things that are necessary. In this phase, it is super easy to add and remove stuff without spending and wasting hours of your time, since everything is super low poly and quickly created. After the blockout is done, I start to replace all the low-resolution objects with high-resolution ones. Here it is important to start with the large and important parts first, to get a better idea what details are really necessary at the end. Although the blockout gives a nice overview of what is needed in the scene, it is just natural that new ideas come into your mind while working on it. So it will develop during the creation process.
Usually, I start by checking my 3d model if I can apply fully procedural textures and shaders. The great thing about that is, that you can do it completely inside of Blender, you don’t have to import any external textures. Blender has some great functionality to quickly project procedural textures onto the model without adding any UV maps. This is especially useful when you have a sculpting with a bad topology and you don’t want to do a retopo, e.g. for a quick still render. Also, a nice side effect of procedural shaders is, that you can use them on any other model since they are not connected with a UV map.
If the procedural-only-workflow is not possible, since you can’t create any texture out of procedural textures in Blender, I use seamless textures. Usually, I create my own using a tool called PixPlant. In Blender, you can use seamless textures similar to procedural ones, since you don’t necessarily need a UV map here. This is great if you quickly want to add textures to your vehicles, like rusted metal, scratches etc. A pointiness attribute helps you to detect cavity and edges on your model. This is useful to mix different seamless textures so that you have e.g. worn edges on your model. This works also without UV maps and automatically adjusts when the shape of the model is changing. Super flexible!
Only when both above-mentioned techniques are not working from my model, I create a UV map and create custom textures, where I use Photoshop from time to time. But since you are not limited to only one of these methods, I mostly combine all of them for my 3d art.
Most of the time I try to keep it simple. What I always do is to check my values in Photoshop using the histogram. This is something many beginner 3d artist don’t do and the result is too dark renders. Then if needed, I export different layers of my 3d scene, like foreground, background, main objects etc. which I then put back together in Photoshop (or After Effects if it is an animation). There it is super easy to adjust every layer individually without affecting the others. Also, sometimes I export different passes, like shadows, ambient occlusion, glossiness etc. to have more control over these attributes while doing the post effects.
Last but not least, I use photos of fire, smoke, particles etc. and add them to the certain part of the rendering, to add nice effects. A bit color correction adds the final touch to it.
The big strength of Blender is its great community. If you want to start out, then just go to YouTube and start learning. There are many tutorials for beginners. I recommend the official fundamentals series or the beginner tutorials by Blender Guru. If you are looking for more advanced training, I recommend Creative Shrimp, CG Masters, CG Geek, Yan Sculpts, Ramington Graphics to name a few and some shameless self-promotion, my tutorials.
If you’re planning to use Blender in the future. I recommend waiting a few more months until Blender 2.8 is officially released. It will be the next big release with many improvements in terms of features but also (and more important for beginners) the user interface and usability in general. The user interface and navigation is the main thing that holds many people back from Blender, but I think this problem should be solved with 2.8.
And if we are taking a more general look at learning a new tool, I always recommend to work on actual projects. Start with simple projects and finish them. Then go to the next project, maybe a bit more complex and use what you have learned in the previous projects. You need to solve problems and you need to use features in a creative way. Never just recreate what is shown in tutorials, create your own projects with the shown techniques and you will drastically shorten your learning path.