We spoke to CG Spectrum’s 3D Modeling Technical Assistants Yulia Porokhnia, Marat Nurgaliyev, and Pietro Trizzullo about what led them to the world of 3D modeling. They talk about their training with CG Spectrum and how they help students to get the most out of their course experience.
Hi Yulia, Marat, and Pietro! Tell us about yourselves and your journey into 3D modeling. How and when did you decide you wanted to become a 3D modeler and what inspires you?
YP: Hi! My journey into 3D started a long time ago. Ever since I can remember, I always had a passion for creating objects that you can touch, hold in your hands, and look at from different angles. When I was a child I liked to play with clay and create my own toys, create stories behind them, and make scenes with different characters. Through the years this passion grew and when it was time to choose a profession, I chose product design. That’s when I learned my first 3D software application - SolidWorks. It was pretty basic and highly technical, but it still amazed me.
I discovered ZBrush after I graduated and it was like discovering a new world! I was amazed by the possibilities of this tool. It was a dream come true, I could finally translate all my ideas into shapes and characters. It was like I was a child playing with clay again—a fantastic feeling I get still to this day.
When I started learning ZBrush I relied on YouTube and SkillShare tutorials, and I managed to learn quite a lot independently.
But as time passed I realized that independent learning wasn’t enough and I needed support and a guiding hand.
I eventually found CG Spectrum and enrolled in the Advanced 3D Modeling Course, and here I am today! I was not sure what exactly I was looking for until I saw someone’s artwork on Facebook mentioning they created it as part of a course. Then I knew that I need a school and started looking. I eventually found CG Spectrum and enrolled in the Advanced 3D Modeling Course, and here I am today!
MN: Hi, I never thought I would be an artist and my journey started thanks to my little son. One day in 2016, he asked me to buy clay and model a car for him. I made the car, then a second, and a third, and realized how much I enjoyed it. The more cars I made the better they turned out. So from then on, I was playing with clay in my free time. In 2019 I finally decided to quit my office job. I had a good career, but I felt I had to try something else so I didn't regret it. After leaving my job I was thinking about how to transform what I love (i.e. playing with clay) into a long-term career that would support my family.
I was inspired by a lot of 3D art on social media, especially Instagram. In November 2019 I decided to find a 3D modeling online course. I read some articles on the net and found out that CG Spectrum was providing good online education. With that in mind, I enrolled in the Introduction to 3D Modeling course in December 2019 and at 37 I was quite old at the time. Since then I’ve practiced 3D modeling almost every day.
Sometimes I feel tired, but I really like this and always feel inspired by the artwork of prominent 3D artists. This year, thanks to my amazing mentors Alex Lori and Professor Bryan Bentley, I completed my Advanced 3D Modeling Course with an excellent mark and started working as a TA at CG Spectrum. I learned so much during the course and developed a solid foundation in the subject matter. Now I am aiming to refine it further.
PT: Hey there! My journey into 3D art started two and a half years ago. I was a video editor and camera operator working for an indie studio that I had created with a couple of friends. After some years in the business, I realized I wanted to do something different, something I enjoyed and that I was more passionate about. I came across one of the CG Spectrum ads on Instagram and I was curious enough to consider the opportunity of enrolling. Games have always been a huge part of my life. I've been playing games since I was a little kid and the idea of being able to turn this passion into a real job was just thrilling. The things that inspire me are many. I’m a great fan of stylized character design, I love art, painting miniatures, music, TV series, and movies.
Character model turntable by Pietro Trizzullo. Stylized PBR was done with Maya, Substance Painter and Marmoset Toolbag. Concept by CG Spectrum mentor, Tyler James.
What software and tools do you use for your work and why? Could you describe your general creative workflow for us?
YP: I think my toolset is fairly standard: ZBrush for sculpting and fine detail; Maya for hard-surface modeling, retopo, UVs and renders; and Substance Painter for texturing. I’m also learning Mari for texturing and MayaXGen plugin for creating renders. In terms of workflow, I learned that it is extremely important to start with broad strokes and not rush working on the details. When there is no solid foundation of proportions, anatomy, and composition, no amount of intricate detail will make the piece stand out.
MN: If it’s a character I usually create a base block-in shape of the model in Maya, then switch to Zbrush to give the model the look I want. The second phase is a technical process of retopology and UV unwrapping in Maya. After that, I’m back in Zbrush giving the model final detailing touches, i.e. scratches, small bumps, wounds, pores on the skin, etc. Then I apply baking and texturing in Substance Painter. And finally, I render in Arnold Maya. But it depends on the complexity of the model and it’s not always the case. Sometimes I just do most of the work in Maya and then jump into Substance Painter for texturing. All these workflow techniques I learned in CG Spectrum’s Introduction and Advanced courses.
PT: For personal work, I usually always start with a solid reference I really like. I need to be driven by the style and the story behind the characters I make. The first stages of the process are always messy and explorative. I switch between Maya and ZBrush trying to find the right balance between proportions and silhouette. I block out the foundations of the model and then work my way up to the finer details.
Working on anatomical volumes of the body and the face muscles is one of my favorite parts of the process. I get to experiment and exaggerate, try different solutions, learn new techniques and possibilities. For texturing, I always tend to stylize the colors with contrast, gradients and, complementary theory. I like to steer away from realism and focus more on the overall eye-catching strength of the figure. My main inspirations are 100% Overwatch characters and World of Warcraft painting techniques.
Can you share your favorite piece of work right now and tell us about it?
YP: I made this dragon as part of my Advanced 3D Modeling Course, and it took 5 months. I did not have a concept for it and used about 20-30 reference images to try and create a unique character. One of the tools that stood out to me was custom brushes in ZBrush. I wanted my dragon to have unique scales. Surprisingly, creating custom brushes was easier than I thought it would be. It was also very interesting, so I made quite a few.
MN: I did this dragon in the Advanced Modeling Course. I used a bunch of references from artwork by other artists, for textures I used pictures of real crocodile skin and eyes. Anatomy work was difficult as dragons are fictional creatures. I used the anatomy of the human body for the chest, shoulders, back and arm muscle groups. I used lion references for the legs and many sketches from the net. I worked on this piece for almost 4 months and honestly did not meet the given deadlines, but I really wanted to go the extra mile.
PT: With this goblin bust I wanted to focus on sculpting. It was during a period of heavy workloads and tight deadlines where I didn’t really have much time for personal projects. I saw Qichao Wang’s artwork and fell in love with it. I just enjoyed making something fun and relaxed that in the end turned out to be quite a decent piece to showcase!
What brought you to CG Spectrum and what has your experience been like so far?
YP: I felt I had hit a wall with learning independently and I was looking for a school. This was a big commitment, so I looked carefully and compared multiple options. CG Spectrum stood out because all the mentors are industry professionals and the curriculum is geared towards preparing you to work in the industry. My experience so far has been nothing but positive. Everyone is very nice, genuinely wants to help, and is enthusiastic about art.
MN: I had no artistic experience before starting my journey at CG Spectrum. As I mentioned, I had been only playing with clay by that time. But I had a strong desire to try myself in the digital arts.
PT: The first factor that made me curious about CG Spectrum was certainly the community aspect and the mentors. I wanted to find a place where I could grow alongside other people with common interests, guided by industry veterans. It just really sounded amazing to me. The experience has been incredible!
I started at CG Spectrum with no 3D knowledge two years ago and now I’m currently working as a freelancer in games and for CG Spectrum as a TA. I couldn’t really ask for more! -PT
What does your role as a 3D Modeling Technical Assistant involve, and what do you most enjoy about it?
YP: I could not have learned what I have without the help and support of others. Being a TA gives me an opportunity to pay it forward and help others learn and improve. It is most rewarding to support people who are genuinely willing to grow. As a bonus, I get to see the works of others and observe them being reviewed and critiqued, which is always a learning opportunity for me.
MN: As a Technical Assistant I help students to navigate a path that I’ve taken as a student myself. It’s not easy at all and there are always technical issues along the way. You cannot just do creative work when you are a 3D artist. You need to know how the software works, you need to think of your workflow in advance and plan. You need to learn daily since the technologies are constantly updating. There is fierce competition between the software developers and they are always introducing new tools and upgrades. And you do not want to miss them. Some students get discouraged because of this, and I always help them in solving technical problems, I sometimes motivate them and I share my experiences as I’ve already walked through every single assignment in the course.
PT: I mainly run morning classes with CG Spectrum's DEG program in partnership with LevelUp. I work with the students, following lessons, troubleshooting together, with the end goal of making a good portfolio piece. When I’m not online with the DEG students I always try to help out as many people as I can on Slack! My favorite part of assisting students is sharing artistic feedback. The exchange that springs from analyzing a piece of artwork can always bring incredible results. I love talking about art fundamentals and showing tips and tricks to make the models look better.
You run fun modeling challenges for students in our community. How are these designed to help students improve as 3D modelers? Do you have a favorite challenge/entry so far?
PT: As soon as we saw our fellow Digital Painting TAs doing challenges, we knew it was a great opportunity to tag along and do them as well. Getting your work out there can be frustrating, especially if you’re starting out and you still have to improve your skills. The challenges we issue are designed to give students the chance to practice whatever they need to work on. They can try out new techniques that scare them, they may create that great portfolio piece they needed inspiration for, or just have fun releasing stress into a cool piece!
I’m a great fan of Jon Sharratt’s work. I think he did a great job with his 1982 Donkey Kong Jr piece.
Jon Sharratt’s entry in the Console Nostalgia Challenge.
MN: We have many talented students in our CG Spectrum community, and to support their constant desire to grow as artists we run monthly challenges with Pietro and Yulia.
Challenge entries help students to refine their skills, get feedback from community members, meet each other to grow their network, and help in building careers. -MN
I see great progress in students who constantly attend challenges. Just look at this amazing texture work from Gabriel Dubois.
YP: I’ve only run one challenge so far, but I think it’s in the name - modeling challenge. My idea was to help students do more than they’ve done so far, and to have fun pushing their abilities further.
What do you think makes the CG Spectrum community so unique? How can 3D modeling students make the most out of their experience here?
YP: When you graduate from a course it’s not the end of participation with CG Spectrum, it’s a beginning! The mere fact that you stay around fellow artists of all different levels of experience, that you can collaborate, get feedback, make friends, look for work, and just be engaged is priceless. You can’t do it on your own, we only grow and learn together with other people and the community is right there for you. I think this is absolutely unique.
MN: It is a very friendly and creative community consisting of people who are always ready to support each other and help. Also, good for networking and collaboration.
PT: Being an open community where everyone can share their work, ideas, doubts, fears, passions, experiences, and more. It is well organized and structured so that everything has its own category. The feeling I have sometimes with online communities is that they easily get overwhelmingly full of content. This doesn’t seem to be the case with CG Spectrum.
I always felt like a part of something cohesive and solid where I could grow with others. My best suggestion to new students is to not be afraid. -PT
Share your work, your WIPS, ask for feedback, get in touch with students whose work you like, collaborate with others. Simply create a network of any kind.
For all the artists reading who are inspired to follow in your footsteps is there anything you wish you knew when first starting with CG Spectrum?
YP: No, I received all the support I needed and at the right times too. If I wanted to change one thing that would be to learn about CG Spectrum sooner.
MN: This is an amazing and interesting journey. But like anything in life it’s full of ups and downs, so patience could be a good friend and will definitely pay off.
One more thing that can be helpful in 3D modeling is not forgetting about artistic skills while learning software, because programs such as Maya, Zbrush, or Substance Painter are simply tools and you still need to improve your artistic skills if you want your models to look good. Drawing and sculpting will definitely help in this regard. Also, learning lighting, color theory, and proportion is a must.
PT: I think a thing that could have helped me when I was starting out with 3D would be to accept mistakes light-heartedly.
This journey is a marathon and there will be times when things do not work right away. -PT
Every artwork you create is going to look bad for the first hours you spend on it. Just keep working, remain steady and constant, and try not to get discouraged.
What other advice would you give to aspiring 3D artists?
YP: There are no shortcuts. Nothing beats practice and endless hours of going over your piece again and again. Be prepared to spend way more time than you expected, and then some. Try to find enjoyment in every step of your workflow, because you won’t be able to do it well if it’s boring to you.
Also, always do backups.
MN: My advice would be to work consistently, maybe sometimes in a slow mode but keep going. Sooner or later you will get wherever you want. It is just a matter of time. Success is unavoidable.
PT: Have fun. You’re at the start of a new journey and there are so many things you still need to figure out and learn. This is a great opportunity, a great time to experiment and try out new things. You don’t want to reach the time where you have to actually search for a job and are already stressed out!
Let us know where your career is headed. Where can we learn more about you/see your work?
YP: I only have one publicly available piece, but please follow me on ArtStation as I will be publishing more.
If you love the idea of sculpting new worlds and characters in a virtual environment 3D modeling could be the career for you. CG Spectrum courses are all 100% online, taught by industry professionals, and offer assistance with job applications and career development services. Our Technical Assistants offer added value and support as you build your skills and develop your portfolio. They are part of the ongoing community of support that our students become a part of. Take a look at our 3D modeling courses and see how you can mold your dream career with us!