3D Illustration Tips, Secrets & Hardware Picks

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3D Illustration Tips, Secrets & Hardware Picks

Becoming a Working Professional…



When modeling real-world objects, pay special attention to fine details, such as the patina on an old antique. These are the nuanced flairs of artistry that separate great illustrators from the rest of the pack.


How did you get your start?

I have no formal training with computers or 3D, but I did study art and design, followed by illustration, after leaving school. The first Macintoshes were already out, but there was no real indication of where they might go in the future. So I started out with paints, brushes and airbrushes – and then went on a decade-long diversion into music production!


Anyhow, in ’95 I bought a PowerMac 7200 for music, but also discovered Photoshop, etcetera, and started to rekindle my love of the visual world. I quickly realized that my real strength was as a visual artist, and got a job with a publishing company as a designer/illustrator. They employed me for my traditional painting skills primarily, with my knowledge of the Mac being a bonus. But I created most of my illustrations digitally using Photoshop and Painter.


A colleague introduced me to Bryce and Poser, and I saw a whole new avenue of possibility opening up. After a year with the company, I realized that I was not a company man, and needed to get on and begin doing what I should have been doing when I first left college -- go freelance! I bought a G4 400 and a 21-inch CRT at the end of ‘99, started out officially on my own in January 2000, and have never looked back.


What separates top-notch 3D illustrators from “merely OK” ones?

That’s a tough question! Generally, the better illustrators are the ones getting paid and published, although there are plenty of talented artists out there who find it hard to get a first break.


Artistic skills speak for themselves. Potential clients can either see that you have it, or you don’t, from your finished output alone. But I also believe that your success as an illustrator is determined by how well you listen to clients, work with their ideas, and are able to adapt and perfect a project without getting egotistical or too precious about your work. It’s not always an easy path, though. Remaining professional and sticking within, or close, to the deadlines -- as much as possible! -- is also very important for how you’re perceived.


Are there public resources where artists can find common figures and objects – in effect, models that can be reverse-engineered, to be used as learning tools, or customized, in order to save time when doing common models like people and cars?

There are a number of 3D asset resources online, many of them free, and many for reasonable prices. Beginning 3D artists can start out by downloading somebody else’s models, and experimenting with lighting, composition, etcetera, until they gain enough experience to create their own.


Also, many experienced illustrators will purchase a high-quality existing model and adapt that to a clients need’s if there’s not enough time to start from scratch, or if this approach would simply be more cost-effective, allowing more time to concentrate on actual texturing, lighting and rendering. Now, with conceptual modeling this is obviously impossible, but it’s amazing how quickly you build up your own library of assets, and can re-use, adapt, or simply reference a technique that you used previously to save some time on a new project.


He may not have been paid for all the time he spent reimagining the Star Wars universe, but Adam Benton says working on a Star Wars “fan film” was one of his most interesting experiences as a 3D artist.


Most interesting job you ever worked on?

I would say that on a scale and diversity perspective, it would be the huge body of work – unpaid! -- I produced for a couple of Star Wars fan films. “Revelations” took three years in my quote-unquote spare time, and included designing original ships based on classic Star Wars design motifs, as well as modeling and animating a number of scenes and sequences for the final film.


I learned so much about CG film production, and also produced matte paintings and composites for final output, all by purely throwing myself in at the deep end. The finished result was downloaded some three million times in the few months after it’s release alone.


I then went on to work on another film, “Pitching Lucas,” with the same team. We submitted to the Atom Film Awards in 2006, and won both the Audience Choice award, and, the ultimate accolade for any Star Wars fans, the George Lucas Selects award. All this, plus we had our film playing proudly on StarWars.com.




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David Blanton

Picked the magazine up at the airport before a 12 hour flight from Dallas to Eastern Europe. Two hours into the flight I knew I had to drop you a note after landing. Your work in the Jan issue was just awesome. I am not an illustrator, a designer or even the least bit creative, but I know AWESOME when I see it ... very well done. We need to see your version of the iCar on the US market.

Keep cranking out the great stuff ... and thanks for I'm sure were 1000s of hours on the first issue of MacLife of the new year! .. I was blown away!



Adam Benton

Hi David,

Many thanks for your kind comments on my work - it was a really fun project to work on, and I am sure there will be more of this kind at some stage!

Warm regards