In this interview we talk with Felipe Del Rio, the 1st place winner of the CG Boost Mushroom House Challenge from São Paulo, Brazil. 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?
Hi, my name is Felipe Del Rio, and I am a 3D artist from Brazil.
2. Tell us more about your creative path: How did you get to the point you are now?
I’ve always been a curious person and that is what took me to the 3D world.
The first time I opened a 3D software was right after googling how animations movies were made, and that research brought me to Blender (version 2.48, a long time ago), but I didn’t start learning 3D since that, actually.
I started and I quit a lot of times before I finally figured it out in high school I would like to work making digital art. Then I became a Graphic Design student at São Paulo State University.
I’m currently working as a freelancer, finishing college and in the free time I like to work on my personal projects.
3. What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?
I’ve joined some challenges since I started learning 3D and it was always a great way to improve my skills, but it had been a while since I last joined one. And this year, I was struggling with finishing my personal stuff, because of work, college and the particularity of this year itself (we all know).
I saw in the challenge an opportunity to finish something personal.
Although challenges tend to have a defined theme, you are free to explore it with your own ideas. Also, having a deadline really helps to get the work finished and you just don’t fall in that part where you just want to keep working on it and it never gets done.
Taking part in a challenge is a great way to boost your creativity and improve your skills.
4. Where did you find the inspiration for your latest entry, and what inspires your work everyday?
I changed my idea a few times, but I started defining some things I would like to have in my final image like the character, the peaceful mood and the vast, but blurred background.
The last one is inspired by anamorphic lenses, which I wanted to explore for a while and the theme was a great opportunity because I was able to make that contrast with the little world of mushroom houses. Having these defined things I wanted to work, I eventually came with the idea of a fishing village.
I think being curious about the world around me keeps being my source of inspiration, anything that catches my attention, whatever if it’s something I saw in nature, in a movie, news or photography.
I start searching for that topic just for curiosity and sometimes that becomes an inspiration for a work, sometimes because I come up with an idea that I think is cool and sometimes because I think it would be a challenge to make that in 3D and this motivates me too.
Most of the works I’ve made so far followed this path and the inverse path is also true.
When I started the challenge I caught myself looking for mushroom species and their biological characteristics on the internet… Making art is really multidisciplinary and I love this.
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 and also Substance Designer for some textures.
One thing I do that really makes my life as an artist easier is that in a certain stage of work, when I already know what my final image will look like, I make a to-do list of everything I still need to make to finish it. Every model, textures and so on, so I can have a more organized workflow.
I also like to go to Google Images and just drop my render there to see what the algorithm will relate my image to, I generally do this just for fun actually.
7. Can you give us a short breakdown of your entry?
I started looking for some mushrooms and structures references, I like to use Pinterest and Google Images for this process.
I also like to look for references from other artists to see how they managed to create the things I’m trying to create too.
I like to have a rough look of my final image since the first steps, so I usually start making some simple modelling and already adding some colors and lightning even if the image is in an early stage.
I start testing the render since the beginning because it really helps to understand what I’m creating, like a concept art to guide me. If you are not worried about adding so much detail you can make a lot of these images in a few time, just changing the light, colors and basic modelling.
The goal is really to catch the essence of the scene before start working on it, so I usually spend some time making these images and exploring my ideas and when I’m finally happy I start the time-consuming part.
This is how my “concept” looked like when I decided to go with that.
Then I started working on the mushrooms.
I first thought about sculpting but then I decided to go with a more procedural workflow using textures for displacement because it would allow me to change them more easily if I need.
I started with a base and the general workflow was subdividing the mesh and adding different displace modifiers for each part of the mushroom.
The textures were made in Substance Designer which was a good opportunity to learn some procedural textures techniques I wanted to learn for a while. Of course, this is a really complex study topic and I think I just scratched the surface but it was a good start.
And after I had the displacement maps for the textures I generated the colors and roughness maps.
For the character, as he would be really small in the scene, I tried to make him more visible by working on a simple, but recognizable silhouette and using warm colors to contrast with the blue lake behind him.
I modelled a simple body and used some simulations for the clothes.
I also created a bunch of props to fill the scene like buckets, rowings, ladder, wooden boxes and foliage.
For the background, I modelled some low poly vegetation at the beginning and I kept it because, as it would be blurred, I didn’t need to worry about adding so many details on it. I just wanted to make some variations in the modelling to feel more organic and get some cool bokeh.
To get the amount of blur I was looking for I also kept everything in real-world size and made the background about 100 meters distanced from the camera with an f1.8 aperture and the ratio set to 2 to get an anamorphic bokeh style.
For the lighting, I basically kept the light I used for the concept too because I liked how it looked.
I used the new Nishita sky from Blender 2.91 and the changes I made in this part was adding some planes to make shadows and extra lights for a better artistic direction.
In the end, I used the compositor to denoise the image, make some color corrections, mist pass for aerial perspective and added a vignette.
8. What was the hardest part on creating your entry?
I guess taking a procedural workflow for the mushrooms was a challenge because I took a while and I experimented a lot with different techniques and displacement maps before I finally got to the final look.
Also, the blurred background which takes a while to render was a hard part to make the adjustments too.
10. Any advice for people who want to learn 3D art or join challenges like this?
Following as many tutorials as I could was really helpful for me.
Not only because you get a good final result with little frustration because the workflow is all given to you, but also because you will always learn a new trick that you will be useful later in your own projects.
Actually, being interested in what other artists have to say about their workflows is something that I still carry with myself.
You rarely have just one way to achieve a result when making 3D and being open to learn and share knowledge with other artists will always make you improve.
11. Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
Pablo Vazquez is one of the first names from the Blender community I knew and his artworks were a real inspiration when I started and Julien Kaspar is another Blender guy that makes really good and inspiring artworks.
10. Any good books, podcasts, YouTube channels or other useful / inspirational content you can recommend to other aspiring artists?
Two Minutes Papers if you are interested in some CGI nerd stuff.
Ian Hubert has this “lazy tutorials” series that is really fun and also can teach you a lot of tricks.
RenderMan Stories has a lot of case studies from the famous renderer and Pixar.
He releases an article every time they release a new movie telling about the process and I like it because it’s more directed to people involved with CGI.