Skill Transcends Software

Today, I am going to take you on a journey; an embarrassing journey. Embarrassing for me mostly…and probably entertaining for you. I found some of my old 3D models and decided to share my 3D modeling journey in all its misaligned polygonal horror and glory. I am self taught, which means I probably did everything wrong, before I finally got it right…mostly…well some…I’m still learning is my point here. So, I am not trying to paint myself as some self-proclaimed Guru, merely using myself as an example. Every single person that is at the top of their game right now, at whatever they do, had to start somewhere. I’ve just decided to share my cringe-worthy, wonky beginnings in this blog. Over the years, on my journey to become a better 3D artist-person, I have always come across this scenario: Someone posts an amazing animation / 3D model / digital painting to a facebook or art forum page, and someone will always inevitably ask “What software did you use to make this?” Now, there is nothing wrong with asking this question, however, when the question is asked so as to imply that the Software alone is responsible for the final outcome, that is where the issue lies. I would like to think that I am seeing less of this question, but, it still does come up. In fact, I too once thought that getting the software the pros used would make me instantly awesome at 3D. I soon realized this to not be true at all. In fact, there were a few times when I became sort of frustrated that my work was not meeting my unrealistic, self-imposed expectations. It was a hard lesson to learn, especially when you think you’ve got a shortcut, only to realize you still have to run the whole race like everyone else. I learned over the years that it was never anything to do with software. It is about building skill…the type of skill that translates to any software platform you chose to use. My first foray into the world of 3D began with finding a disc of 3D software found in a bargain bin at my local computer store… MoRay and PovRay It was so complicated looking, that I didn’t spend as much time with it.  I got a few renders out, but the learning curve was too steep for me at the time. I really properly started with Corel’s Bryce 5. It wasn’t much, but it gave me a crash course in 3D; simple shapes, Booleans, lighting and controlling the look of materials. Then, I wanted more. So I stepped up to poser, then onto Maya, dabbled a bit with 3DsMax and C4D, but came back to Maya as my weapon of choice. I even tried sculpting in Zbrush…with a mouse. Needless to say, my sculpts were less than stellar. Now, my first few models in Maya were simply AWFUL! Here I was, using one of the best software packages out there, and my work looked nothing like the stuff I had seen in the movies. How awful was it? This is the part where I close my eyes and try to look the other way. pic 1 Ok…Stop laughing…it’s not that funny. Actually it kinda is….but stop laughing…seriously. This atrocity (circa 2006)  was one of the first 3D modeled organic heads and bodies I ever did. Before this I would copy the meshes from Poser and import them into Maya. But that didn’t feel satisfying enough…I wanted to make my own 3D models from scratch. Clearly, I had no grasp of edge flow, or proper anatomy, but I had made my first 3D modeled head and partial torso dammit! (All dem polygons tho) Even though I was really great at drawing, it still took me a while to get a grasp of the whole “3D” thing. Other things were somewhat easier. Like Robots! No worrying about organic edge-flow. It was easier to just assemble various shapes into a humanoid figure and animate that. Like what I did with most of the characters in my 3rd Animated Short: Voyajah Episode 2 (circa 2006) policebot-trio Other organic things were somewhat easier to model. 2007 (2) …Easier especially when they were not human. This burger-man creature was made for the local Burger King chain (circa 2007). Utilizing simple shapes made me happy. But my character had, what I refer to now as, the “Banana smile” (I think that should be pretty self explanatory), and those fingers are ALL kinds of wrong. Organic things were noticeably difficult…so… 2007 MORE ROBOTS! Nice assortments of simplistic shapes, I did not have to worry about organic stuff or why my models looked so janky. My Animated video for “Deeper: Shadow Song” Won Animae Caribe’s Most outstanding Animation award for 2007. It utilized what I knew to do (robots and simple shapes) and offset it with some clever manipulation that put a video face in place of a face I was unable to model myself…because I clearly sucked at it. It still isn’t great. I was glad to get away with winning anything with that video to be honest XD Just because I cheated my way around by making lots of robotic things, that did not mean I was not wanting to learn organic stuff at all. So I attempted this the following year: green guy Mmmm. Sexy green alien man-meat circa 2008…Ladies, refrain from tossing your panties at him, I never did get around to his lower half. It was far from perfect, but the important thing is, that I was making slow progress especially when compared to that box-torso thing from 2006. *shudder* girl face (circa 2008) A little better at the whole edge-flow thing (but not good still) However, still suffering from the dreaded “Banana smile”. kina 2009 was the year of “Kina Sky” the animated short that made it to air on Nickelodeon that same year. Her face was much better, but still not perfect. Also, you can see I used way more polygons than was ever necessary. But, practice made improvement: Image converted using ifftoany I titled this piece “Neck Romancers” Get it?…a play on Necromancers…but these things are romancing each other’s long necks? No? Forward to 2010 and I finally got the grasp of “edge flow”. Mostly thanks to a handy Youtube tutorial by a guy named Ryan Kittleson…Big Shoutout to Ryan! Thanks for the tutorials, and for saving me from terrible edge-flow 😀 (Ryan is also doing 3D printing. Shapeways and 3D Printing, the power that Unites! *Hi Five!) During my journey of self-taught 3D shenanigans, I came to realize a basic rule that applied to everything. It had nothing to do with learning where the buttons were in the software, or neat plugins that extruded and did all kinds of snippy modeling fanciness… it had to do with my understanding of the essential basics: Anatomy, form, function, topology and edge-flow. For animation, I had to learn to utilize the principles of animation and basic physics; all things I am learning to do better all the time…even now! Learning NEVER stops! These are aspects and skills that transcend software. They should follow anywhere, from paper to digital and back. The computer is not the answer, the software is not the answer, and even operating systems are not the answer. (believe me…I did my first 3 animated shorts on a system with a Pentium 4 Processor and a 64 MB video card…all of which was kinda the hot sh*t back in the day) It begins with YOU the artist, the creator. And there is no better time to learn than now. I started back in the early 2000s, Youtube did not exist until 2005, and even then, the concept of the tutorial video did not come around until years after. I had NOTHING to look at, no one to turn to, just determination and endless hours of making mistakes and figuring out how to fix them. Now all the information is there to find at the press of a “search” button. All the hurdles I tripped over, and all the stumbling blocks I had to crawl over, are virtually obliterated with the slew of information now available. There really is no excuse. All you have to do is put fear and procrastination aside, and start with you and whatever you have available to you now, even if it is just paper to scribble on. AND PRACTICE! You are not going to get it right the first time…or maybe the first hundred times. But you will get progressively better each time. Just keep going. And if you REALLY want to, and the opportunity is available to you, go and enroll in an animation program or apply to an animation college. Had I been able to afford that option, I would gladly have taken it. But that is a story for another blog. Go forth and be awesome!

5 thoughts on “Skill Transcends Software

  1. Lovely blog Corretta. I wish I could laugh at your early efforts, but then I would have to laugh at me first, because my 3D models look worse. This blog certainly encourages me to keep trying. I cannot afford school either, so I am going to take the hard route like you. I so wish I could afford it though. I shall go forth and be awesome. Thanks.

  2. Great post! I especially liked the throwback pictures; it’s cool to see how your skills have progressed overtime. Imagine what the next decade will bring 🙂

    – Jess

  3. What is important is that meaningful, real progress is very often tracked in years and not mere days. Too often we become frustrated with our progress (or lack thereof) without realising that it takes serious dedication extended over many many many hours of focused work. Your own stellar progress is proof of this.

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