In this interview we talk with Mateusz Szymoński, the 1st place winner of the CG Boost Space Carrier Challenge from Warsaw, Poland. 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?
My name is Mateusz Szymoński. I am 22 years old. I live in Warsaw, Poland. Currently, studying computer science there.
I can describe myself as a fusion of a digital artist, game developer, gamer, game jammer and game engine programmer, so besides studying I am orbiting around game dev and computer graphics.
2. Tell us more about your creative path: How did you get to the point you are now?
I have been fascinated and totally absorbed by video games since I can remember. This is what had the biggest impact on what I do now.
When I was 15 I decided – probably as many others in this age – to create a video game myself. The plan was to make an RPG set in a giant open world using Unity 3D. This is of course nearly impossible even with developed skill set but I did not know this at that time. Moreover, I had no idea how games work, how it is possible that when I am holding the button something moves on the screen. It was absolute black magic for me.
However, the curiosity has been pushing me and ultimately pushed me at the path that brought me where I am now. I’m totally self-taught. All I know I have learned from the internet or by practicing.
While developing my RPG I touched some basics of programming and tried to make my first 3D models. They were food stalls and archery shooting targets. I even still have them on my hard drive.
Immediately I was sucked into the world of 3D graphics so strongly, that I abandoned my plan to make games for 3 years and concentrated on trying to achieve renders that look as believable as renders I saw on the Internet.
After this pretty intensive time I started focusing my attention on programming more and more. Along the way I kept creating new works, refining my skills and learning new software.
Since in fact 3D art is based on computer code I realized that knowing the technical side of the process (how shaders and GPU work, how vertices of models are stored, how renderers process them, etc) gives a much broader perspective and opens new exciting ways of development.
The combination of graphic and programming skills gives really powerful possibilities. For example, in Blender (my main modeling tool) creating new materials is quite a tedious and repetitive task that I have always struggled with.
It took me a single day to code a program that imports all selected textures and connects them properly with one click. After some time I thought that there are probably many people who have this problem, so I called it Rapid PBR Material Creator and put it on Blender Market to be publicly available.
Initially, I was pushed by curiosity, but after a while I realized that it is this freedom of creation, this amazing feeling of making something from scratch, what keeps me going.
3. What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?
I found this challenge to be a great opportunity to finally make a large open scene that I always wanted to do. But most importantly, I love to create and I love challenges of all kinds, they are my main source of motivation. The feeling of well-used time and ending up with a finished project gives real satisfaction.
It is extremely helpful for me to have a deadline. It makes me enter hyper-effective working mode. That is why I am participating in game jams around 7 times a year. (These are hackathons where you have to make a game in a limited amount of time, usually 24 or 48 hours).
Place or prizes are not so important for me, they are great but not my main goal. Just making stuff and networking with people I find to be the best.
4. Where did you find the inspiration for your latest entry, and what inspires your work everyday?
As I said at the beginning I am a rather hard gamer (PCMasterRace etc haha). I have over 500 titles in my library and around 6000 hours of total playtime. Real-time strategy games, especially economic strategies, are my favorite genre.
At the moment my friends and I play a lot Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, the spiritual successor of Total Annihilation from 1997. It is set in a future where the human race, united as the United Earth Federation (UEF), fights an infinite war with three other factions. When thinking about a space carrier for my scene I was inspired by the design of UEF’s units. In Supreme Commander, the smallest unit, a simple fighting mech is 15 meters tall so to show the scale, I put my ship in the planet’s atmosphere setting.
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.)?
This time I used a lot of different software. The more projects I make there is more of it, haha.
Initially I wanted to make the final image in Blender as I always do. It offers Cycles renderer that uses ray tracing thus it is producing the render with the best quality lighting. However, Blender lacks several key features needed for open scenes. What I mean is: advanced atmospheric fog, tessellated landscape system and foliage system (particle system with weight painting can be used but it is not ultra-convenient to control when making vegetation).
That is why I have chosen Unreal Engine 4. I had in mind that I would need to work a lot more on post-processing and final touches in Photoshop to compensate for the lack of ray-traced rendering. The positive fact was that I could take some rocks and plants from Quixel Megascans since the entire scans library is now completely free for UE4 users.
Modeling and UV unwrapping were made in Blender. I used my Rapid PBR Material Creator add-on and a few others I have also coded to speed up the whole process.
For texturing the ship and creating several tiled materials I used Substance Painter.
For creating a height map for my landscape I experimented a bit with World Machine but finally switched to its successor Gaea.
Additionally, I used PureRef to hold references well-organized in one place.
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 knew what kind of scene I wanted to do from the beginning. I had a general idea in mind long before the theme was even announced.
I found some references on the web, put them into PureRef to have them better organized and started working on the composition.
After generating a simple height map in Gaea I created a landscape in Unreal Engine using it.
In fact, the scene is extremely simple. Placing three boxes on the scene, two for people and one for the ship and finding a good angle was enough to finish the composition process.
It took me a whole day to model, unwrap and texture my Summit-class star carrier. I experimented with kitbashing a bit during modeling.
Then I headed to Sketchfab and found a 3D scan of a father with his son by DigitalArtisan. I created a custom textures in Substance Painter for them so as to better fit the Sci-Fi look.
After importing all models and placing them in proper places in the scene it was time to create terrain material and put some environment props like rocks and grass which I found in Megascans library.
Finally, after playing with sliders responsible for lighting settings, camera parameters and in-engine post-processing I switched to Photoshop to polish the final image.
I made this entry in 3 days only where half of the time I was learning the Unreal Engine since I knew pretty much nothing about it. Learning how the editor is organized and what almost all of its features related to graphics do in such a short amount of time was the biggest challenge.
8. Any advice for people who want to learn 3D art or join challenges like this?
If you are starting with 3D do not give up if you are not satisfied with your works. They will get better over time for sure because the more you practice the better you are and that is really working in the art industry.
Taking part in challenges is a certainly good idea. You will be less likely to abandon your projects if you have a well-defined target.
You can also find some not too complicated projects of good 3D artists that you like and try to recreate them. Think about how you can achieve the effect he or she has achieved. It will force you to think and develop skills you did not know.
Ahh, and remember about post-processing!
It will take a long time to describe why they are my favorites. I think that it is enough to say that their works share common features. They are exceptionally high quality, well-designed and extremely detailed – truly masterclass creations.
10. Any good books, podcasts, youtube channels or other useful / inspirational content you can recommend to other aspiring artists?
Gleb Alexandrov – Great tutorials and Blender insights
IanHubert – Crazy 1 minute tutorials by really experienced and talented artist
CGMatter – Even more crazy tutorials, completely different dimension of tutorials