In this interview we talk with Benjamin Roman, the 1st place winner of the CG Boost Discovered in Ice Challenge from Paris, France. He will give us some insights of his journey as CG Artist and a look behind the scenes of one of his winning artwork.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
I’m Benjamin Roman, I’m a physics student at Paris Saclay’s University, so I’m living in south of Paris most of the year.
I’m a self-taught 3D artist since I never followed art courses. Even if I’m not that familiar with titles, I think I can describe myself as an aspiring environment artist.
2. Tell us more about your creative path: How did you get to the point you are now?
I’ve always been into 3D since I was 12 (I guess). I loved the idea of building some worlds or creating objects into a 3D space.
I first used Sketchup in class, and I was pretty good at it. Then I used Solidworks when I had mechanics courses later, it’s a very special way of modeling (pretty close to boolean operations) but it was really cool and very powerful.
Here again it was very comfortable for me to create some 3D stuff for my projects. At the same time, I tried Blender for the first time (it was version 2.62) and learned the basics by following an old, but great, course on OpenClassrooms.
At this time, it was the beginning of Cycles but I didn’t want to learn how it worked. A few years later, I started to meet the great Blender community thanks to my better English. I then started to follow some tutorials from Andrew Price and Gleb Alexandrov.
I discovered Zacharias Reinhardt a bit later and it was the missing piece to get all the basics I needed.
I created an account on Blenderartists and started to enter some weekend challenges (4 days to create a 3D render on a given theme, community votes and the winner picks the next theme). It was really cool and a great way to quickly finish a project with the only goal of getting better.
Finally, last year I wanted to enter a Weekly CG Challenge but this challenge was replaced by the CG Boost Challenge. I had the chance to see my first participation (for the Sky Ship Challenge) been smashed down by Zach, so thank you for that.
3. What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?
It was the same motivation as for other challenges. It’s the best way for me to stay focused on a pretty long project.
It’s still very hard for me to set a deadline on my own, so I usually enter a challenge to boost my creativity. Also, having a given theme is nice for inspiration. The prizes are a bonus.
Sometimes I just don’t have time to do a complete project but since I had to stay at home, it was a great opportunity to enter the challenge.
4. Where did you find the inspiration for your latest entry, and what inspires your work everyday?
For this challenge, I wanted to create a huge cave that protected something fragile and undiscovered.
I think the very first idea and colors came from the artwork from Efflam Mercier. Then I searched on Artstation some artworks with ice caves and snow.
For the church, I used some great photos my brother took in Norway.
I think nature is what inspires me most.
I learned that observing is really useful in 3D or in drawing in general. And I think it bled onto my personality: it’s really common that I go somewhere and I try to remember every single detail of the landscape that surrounds me.
5. What software (and plug-ins) did you use to create this image? Are there some other tools that make your life as artist easier (maybe not only CG tools but also something you used to organize your work etc.)?
I mainly used Blender to create the image and Photoshop to do the compositing and post processing.
I used Blenderkit to quickly find some materials and add them to the scene. During the whole process, I used PureRef on another computer to create a mood board and keep me inspired.
But the most useful gear I used was a sheet of paper and a pen to write down each small things I had to finish.
It really helps when I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do next.
6. Are there any particular techniques that you use often?
I rarely sketch anything, instead I prefer to block things out and have the perspective already provided by 3D software.
I discovered that the most powerful techniques that make renders stand out and look believable are used at the post-processing stage. They can boost the final look significantly. That is why post-processing is one of the most essential steps for me. A video by Gleb Alexandrov that made me realize that.
Now my Photoshop files usually weigh 0.5 GB.
7. Can you give us a short breakdown of your entry?
I started by doing some sketches of my ideas, but since I wasn’t comfortable drawing quickly, I blocked out the scene quite early.
I started by modeling the church because it was the element I was the more confident with.
I set up the camera angle to fix my ideas about composition. I wanted to create a spiral shape to guide the viewer’s eye toward the church and decided to do it using the shape of the cave.
To make it more natural looking, I did a second part closer to the camera. I sculpted the shapes of the ice all along the project, so it is hard to describe it as a “step”. When I finished sculpting the ice from the bottom part, I copied it to create the snow: I simply sculpted it to break through the ice.
Then I added the rocks. Once again, it was a sculpt process.
Here I adapted the shape of the snow mesh to interact with the rocks.
For the lighting, I used an HDRI to light most of the scene. I tweaked the tone to be a bit more blueish and dropped down the intensity. I did this environment lighting to create the feel of light in a huge cave diffused by the ice walls.
At this step, I decided to split the image in two separated renders. The reason for that is, that I worked on the HDRI to mimic the lighting coming from everywhere in the cave, so I had to render the main part of the scene without the background.
I rendered it separately and combined the two renders later in Photoshop.
Actually the scene is very open and lets in light coming from everywhere so a 360° lighting seemed to be the best thing to do.
I then added a bright spotlight with a perlin noise as a vector control to add some randomness.
To finish the composition, I did an ugly character that I hid under a quick cloth simulation (I’m super bad at creating characters).
Finally, I went to Photoshop to adjust the levels, do some simple color corrections with curves, add fog and light rays to make it mysterious and magical.
8. What was the hardest part on creating your entry?
The concept idea was one of the hardest part.
It took me about a week and a half to really know where I wanted to go (and that is not a good thing to do). As an example, I started to model the church without knowing how it will be used. The lighting was also a difficult part. I made a lot of trials before being satisfied with the mood.
Finally, as always, it was difficult to finish the project with my “not that powerful” laptop. For this rather simple scene, it was not that difficult but I still experienced some crashes, that can be detrimental sometimes.
9. Have you learned something new from participating in this challenge and if yes, what?
For the first time I used a drawing tablet a friend lent me, so I learned how to navigate and sculpt with it.
I think it was also the first time I tried to focus that much on the atmosphere and the lighting, so I definitively did some progress here.
10. Any advice for people who want to learn 3d art or join challenges like this?
Writing down the ideas on a piece of paper is probably the thing that can help the most.
It’s really simple and enables you to stay motivated by seeing your project as a staircase. It’s much easier to finish small tasks rather than a giant amount of work.
11. Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
- Jessica Woulfe:
I love how peaceful her art is. She always gets great colors and composition.
- Simon Thommes:
The best procedural artist I ever seen, he really inspired me for some procedural works
- Gregory Smith:
I’m really confused by his art. It is so photorealistic. Sometimes you can recognize an artwork because the composition is too perfect, but he is able to get the great amount of imperfection to get something realistic and still beautiful.
- Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman:
They are two designers known as DKNG. They do vector art like gig posters which look absolutely incredible. A must see!
- Reynante Martinez:
Very touching art. It really inspired me a few years ago.
- Gleb Alexandrov:
Crazy tutorials and great artworks, it’s really fun to watch and I’m always impressed how he can get great results with simple techniques.
- Zacharias Reinhardt:
I love how wheels have been banned from his universe.