View Full Version : Looking for some tips on being an animator.

01-09-2008, 08:11 AM
Been spending a lot of time recently trying to get professional at lightwave and be a knowledgeable 3d artist, but have been running into some road blocks. I've been working on surreal skull and rose thing lately and I was pretty happy with the overall shape of things (except for the teeth and surrounding area, but those are easy enough to fix) but the textures on the skull are absolutely terrible.

So basically I was just wondering if I could get some feedback on the image and maybe some industry tips when it comes to being a pro instead of a hobbyist.

Thanks in advance, and here' the image.


01-09-2008, 12:46 PM
Practice, practice, pratice.

Learn to paint, which will help you to "see" with the creative eye. See detail and subtle nuances.

Learn design beyond anything technical. Learn what makes a good composition. Learn what makes a good logo.

Practice photography. Learn to control light, focus, depth.

Being a professional digital artist (IMHO) is beyond learning the technical aspects. Yes, it's a part, but that can be learned the fastest.

Building your creative "eye" takes years and never stops growing...

...As for feedback on specific images, you may want to post in the "Work-in-progress" section. As for your textures, I recommend painting onto the surface for best control. Use zBrush or BodyPaint. You can also unwrap and create the textures in Photoshop. Procedural textures are OK for non-subject objects, but for a 'professional' level, you will need to paint.
Move your camera closer to your subject.. you have a lot of negative space. Emphasize the difference between your rose and skull to show the contrast between life and death.

01-09-2008, 01:06 PM
I like what you did with that. I think you did a good job with the rose and the overall modeling.

Regarding textures, this is a week point for me still. I am just getting my head around modeling. I plan to dig into textures soon with the same approach I have to modeling.

Which was:

1) Read the entire manual. (can not emphasize this one enough)

2) Dig up any tutorials I can find and do them until I am satisfied I have learned enough tips and tricks to hold my own in a professional setting.

3) Practice and do a lot of work.

4) Come online and stay current with things as they develop as well as share and learn new tricks.

5) Be open to the fact that I don't know everything and be willing to continue to learn.

6) Take up a traditional art practice on the side (painting and or sketching) to hone my artistic eye regarding shapes and relationships of form and of course color.

I think if you were to take any number on this list and do it only you would be doing yourself a disservice as a professional.

01-09-2008, 09:37 PM
Thanks for the replies, they've been really helpful. I think my next goal is to really focus on learning to make interesting and convincing textures. I played around a bit with a bump map that put some cracks in the skull, it's amazing what a little wear and tear can do for a model.

While I'm here, could anyone point me towards some good uv texturing tutorials. I'm having a very hard time translating my models into clean uv maps to draw on.

01-10-2008, 12:33 PM
UV Unwrapping:

I personally use endomorphs so I can model the unwrapping directly in the modeler viewport. that's been the best solution for me.



01-10-2008, 12:40 PM
I dont mean this in a rude way, but, why have you used the term 'animator' in your thread title.
Being an animator is a very different thing to being a general CG artist and there is nothing animation related in your posts.

01-10-2008, 01:29 PM
adamredwoods: Thanks for the links I'll be sure to look over them and put them to good use.

pooby: Yes I'm aware of that, I wrote the post an hour after I got up and 5 minutes after I should have left for work, so please excuse any errors in my post. I used the term animator mostly because I don't have enough real world experience to actively differentiate between an animator and 3d artist. Even though I understand the differences it just hasn't clicked for me yet.

01-10-2008, 02:14 PM
It gets mentioned frequently in various threads throughout the forums in response to such questions, but one key thing (which I am also guilty of not doing enough sometimes) is get out more :D ..... and I mean look around you all the time and learn all you can about how the real world looks and moves, all times of the year, all weathers, all times of day - take photos, hordes of them, study them, learn from them.

Never stop learning the processes of cgi and never stop practising and gaining experience.

Same advice for any form of artistic endeavour.


01-10-2008, 03:01 PM
There is nothing 'wrong' with what you are doing, but it doesn't look real. I often hear 'it wasn't meant to be photoreal'. Well, if not, then no-one has anything to judge the work by, unless it is on the appeal of the design.
To get to the point where you can not only replicate real like, but make pleasing stylised designs of real life, you really need to be able to do real life first.

If you want to model and texture excellently, the first thing to realise is that no-one has a comprehensive texture library in their heads. neither do they have a complete database of every object on the earth.
COPY real life when you are learning. If you want to know what a skull really looks like, then look at skulls and look at them in every detail imaginable. Then when you are modelling one, model the details, not just enough general shape to show it's meant to be a skull.
In fact, don't think of it as modelling a skull - break it down into parts.. Ie. make the eye socket, then make the cheekbone etc This will focus you in on the shapes. Think of it as 'copying shapes exactly', not 'making a skull'
Again, when texturing, dont just pick a rough colour and a bumpy texture- study photos of skulls and even better, find a real one. see where the cracks go and the indents and the smooth parts and the rougher parts, and what fine detailed shapes the bumps are.
Then, identify how the specular should appear, and which parts are less specular than others, and how should be broken up using spec maps.

Anyone can model or texture very well, Its all about learning and studying real life.
Once you have done this a lot and understand how to make various textures and how materials in real life can be replicated shape-wise, and texture wise, then you are in a far better position to freestyle and make it up out of your head.

01-10-2008, 03:27 PM
Thanks for the advice, It sounds like what I need to be doing is:

1. Take up sketching/painting.

2. Start by simply copying basic objects until I understand the form that makes them what they are.

3. Practice even the things that seem useless/lowend just so I can develop a full mastery of the skills needed for them.

If I missed anything please feel free to add to my list.

Also when it comes to point number 2, what would be the best way to accomplish it? The first thing that comes to mind is picking an object and doing both a sketch and model of it so I can hone both skills individually and train myself into the correct mindset.

01-10-2008, 03:47 PM
1. Sketching is more important in my opinion. Digital painting may help, to develop your eye AND by the time you need to, create layered mattes and UV textures.

2. Yeeees, but don't be afraid to throw a more difficult object in to challenge yourself. There is nothing like a 'real' project to learn 'on the job'. Sometimes it's hard to find the motivation to model just anything - a real brief (eg. try a modelling challenge on a forum) gives you real goals and quality control too ..

3. Try inorganic and organic modelling. A 'complex building isn't necessarily hard to model, but the strategy of how to cleanly model it takes time to develop. It is also to try this just to see if you can force yourself to be accurate to the milimeter. The flower is great. Organic modelling is an entirely different way of tackling modelling, however.

4. .. You missed Pooby's advice! He wasn't saying make it simple, he was saying you should develop a strategy to model each part of the model 'separately' ie. as an abstract attempt for an exact copy, the end result of many pieces coincidentally being a 'skull'.

5. ... modelling in LW is fun! :) .. I hated modelling in cad packages, in max, but when I got to LW I really enjoyed it. Still do, depending on what I'm making ...


01-10-2008, 04:04 PM
Something I've found extremely helpful over the past year is setting myself regular challenges. I look at things and think "how would I model that"? I always think that if you want to become good at something, do it every day. Look at stuff around you (as others have said) and have a go at making it. Doesn't matter if it turns out poorly, so long as you learned something (and you will).

I had a few hours spare at work the other day, and decided to model the building I can see from the window. Turned out much better than I expected, and I've found it very satisfying to be able to raise the standard that I hold myself to with everything I produce from these little challenges.

Oh yeah, here's my building. I'm proud of it, so I guess I'll show it off. It's not earth-shattering by any means, but I'm pleased with how it turned out. I guess the idea is to keep challenging yourself outside of your comfort zone. I really didn't relish the prospect of plotting out all the geometry for the windows, but I figured out a minimum-hassle plan, and will use that again in the future.


01-10-2008, 06:53 PM
i don't believe that sketching or being a capable 2d artist is pre-requisite to being a good or capable 3d artist, frank deliese by his own admission is a very poor 2d artist but that didn't hold him back from creating great 3d work on the sci-fi film fx of lost in space back in 1998...

'looking'' and ''observing'' ARE really helpful to understand how to breakdown a complicated object and as that's how 2d artists work out how to draw and how light and shadow work then yeah drawing may help but you can certainly make good 3d art whilst being utter poo at 2d.
as for animating i'd point you over to go buy the jeff lew animation dvd's to act as a foundation to animation...they're available on amazon and for his website too.

steve g

01-10-2008, 11:46 PM
After reading over all your posts, browsing some tuts, and taking time to think and plan out the scene I made some massive improvements. The only immediate problem I have is with the text uv map, for some reason it tiled itself across the polys I mapped it to despite all the geometry being within the uv grid and setting the layer tiling parameters to reset.

As always suggestions are more than welcome, and again thanks for all your advice.


01-11-2008, 05:37 AM
i don't believe that sketching or being a capable 2d artist is pre-requisite to being a good or capable 3d artist, frank deliese by his own admission is a very poor 2d artist but that didn't hold him back from creating great 3d work on the sci-fi film fx of lost in space back in 1998...

'looking'' and ''observing'' ARE really helpful to understand how to breakdown a complicated object and as that's how 2d artists work out how to draw and how light and shadow work then yeah drawing may help but you can certainly make good 3d art whilst being utter poo at 2d.
as for animating i'd point you over to go buy the jeff lew animation dvd's to act as a foundation to animation...they're available on amazon and for his website too.

steve g

I have to reinforce this point, because I believe it is one of the great myths of this industry, and yet it is incessantly repeated in interviews with various artists who are 'big' in the industry that drawing is essential to getting a job.

It is, however, a fact that I know 2D artists, people who can draw and paint, completely fall apart with 3D - they just can't do it, they don't get it. And vice versa.....

I can't draw or paint, but it doesn't stop me having a reasonable grasp of working with 3D, plenty enough to make a career out of it, plus photography, plus comp.

No doubt you can practice and hone drawing skills, but I will always maintain that the aptitude for it is hardwired - you either can or you can't. Friends I was at school with even at 9 years old were able to draw more than passably well without training or encouragement, whereas the rest of us drew stuff that looked like a 9 years old had done it ..... mine still does, though I believe some major galleries pay good money for such stuff :D


01-11-2008, 06:08 AM
You dont HAVE to be able to draw well to do well in CG, but it is likely that if you can sculpt and model excellently, you will also be able to draw excellently.
The part of your brain that is used is the same.
I'm referring more to organic forms such as humans and animals than buildings, or spaceships etc, where the shapes tend to be much easier to replicate.
CG has loads of different aspects and facets, so of course there will be lots of artists making a good living in CG without delving into sculpting and replicating organic forms.
I believe that there is a 'real world' and CG equivalent of what you are good at.

If you are a great engineer and inventor in real life, it is likely that, if you had a real interest in it, and learnt the tools, you would be great at rigging in CG.
Others whos skills lie elsewhere could learn to rig, but I think it would come more naturally to you.

In a similar vein - animators HAVE to have a real understanding of what makes a performance interesting.
It doesn't follow that a great actor can animate, of course, but that is down to a lack of technical skills and an interest in doing so more than the fact that the actor does not have the ability to do so.

Anyone can learn to draw too. Its a misconception that you're born with the talent. It's mostly down to learning what to do, then practice and confidence.
Where people go wrong with drawing is that their brain has an 'idea' of what certain items look like, and you end up drawing that simple ' brain proxy' instead of the real thing.
For example. anyone can draw an eye. it's an almond shape with a circle in right? Not necessarily. When you do a portrait you have to draw what's in front of you and try to forget what it is. You are replicating light and shade and shapes. If you think 'right I'll do the eye now' ... you'll put your brain in proxy mode and when you look down at your paper you'll draw an almond shape with a circle in.
There was an experiment where they gave 20 students of the same (poor) drawing ability a line drawing to copy.
10 were handed the drawing upside down. It was complex and you could not tell what it was. both groups of 10 were told to copy the lines exactly.

At the end of the session, the group that had drawn the picture upside down had copied it almost exactly as they were just copying swirly lines, and hadn't had to deal with the fact they were drawing a seated figure.
The other team's looked like they were childrens drawings - full of tubular arms and crappy hands and eyes etc.

This is proof that anyone can draw. The irony is that it's more about Forgetting things than learning things.

(edit ... Drawing objects from memory depends on you improving and understanding your brain proxy objects through practice)

01-11-2008, 06:45 AM
Just to go a bit further.
This illustration shows what's going on when you draw. Obviously, if you are copying a 2d photo you can literally draw lines, (or trace even if you REALLY want to 'cheat') but even if you are drawing a real subject you can do this.
You see artists closing one eye and holding up a paintbrush in front of them. they are doing the above in their head -ie Seeing what lies on a certain line to give spacial clues as to where to place items on the canvas or page.
Its very easy to copy something exactly if you have something indicating exactly where it's meant to go.

I taught someone to go from being complete rubbish to drawing pretty well in half an hour once. All he did was understand the above process and could do it instantly.

Why am I waffling on about drawing? Well 3D modelling uses the same type of approach, its all about replicating something that is in front of you.
(unless as I said earlier, it's in your head.. but no-one can crit that properly.. That's subconciously why a lot of people like making monsters. they are easy and cant be 'wrong' -......'No I meant it to look like that'..... )

01-11-2008, 07:00 AM
Just to continue further. .this illustration shows again how you have to go forget what you think you see and observe properly when drawing light and shade.

On first examination the middle 'cube' on the right appears to be a lot brighter that the one on the left. It would be tempting to actually use a much lighter shade for the tone on the face of the cube.
However, this is an optical illusion. your brain is telling you it MUST be lighter because it is in shadow. but, tonally (as you would put down on paper, the middle of that cube is the same shade as the one on the left.

It is more obvious if you shield with your finger the point where the 2 cubes join.

This is another challenge that faces the artist. If you are drawing from life you can get aroundthe illusion by looking through a piece of paper with holes cut out of to isolate and compare areas of light and dark.

01-11-2008, 12:20 PM
That's interesting and worth exploring, for me - though one key pointer I realised recently, and not for the first time, was that I would always far rather achieve an image using 3D. Making pictures for me went from photography and miniatures and whatever worked to cgi. Though my business partner said the other day that maybe I ought to try again, at drawing, unlearn the notion that I can't do it.....maybe :)

But much as I will concede the point that you can be taught and therefore anyone could do it, there is also that truth that at such early ages, people do display very real aptitudes for certain things. But I agree that to pursue those things you also need to be driven enough to do so - we doubtless pass many great artists and writers and mathematicians and engineers everyday, and the rest, if only they'd actually wanted to be those things!!!

But yes, your points are interesting and I would agree by and large.