In this interview we talk with Rudi Witt, the 1st place winner of the CG Boost Power of Nature Challenge from Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany. He will give us some insights of his journey as CG Artist and a look behind the scenes 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 Rudi Witt and it is difficult to quickly summarize who I am and what I do. 😉
My life has given me a lot of different opportunities and experiences. Born in Kirgizstan, I moved to Germany with my parents as a young boy.
After completing school, I studied economics and business, and finished my studies with a PhD in economics. After that, I worked in academics for a while, then switching careers to management consulting and being managing director of a small media company.
I have lived and worked in different countries, including the Netherlands, Cameroon and Germany.
I almost became a professional pianist, studying music at the Hanover university of music, drama and media for a couple of semesters.
I have taught at universities and research centers and I have worked on communication strategies for big international automotive corporations.
I am married to a wonderful wife, and we have two beautiful girls.
In 2016, I started my own business (specialized in branding and web design) with a business partner.
And since about a year ago I began to undergo a metamorphosis to become a professional 3D artist.
More on that in the next question…
2. Tell us more about your creative path: How did you get to the point you are now?
During all my life, I have been fascinated by beauty in music and art. It was like a quiet, unfulfilled passion for many years. Since I chose a different career path early on, the opportunity to pursue art as a professional occupation never was on the table anymore.
Nevertheless, I learned what I could learn in my spare time.
Drawing was never my strong suit, so I dove into filmmaking and photography first. Just simple stuff in Premiere Pro at first, and then also compositing and some simple VFX in After Effects.
In 2015 I visited the FMX, and I was hooked.
I knew deep in my soul, that 3D is what I really want to do. However, the 3D world was like a shiny, beautiful garden with no entry. Just looking over the wall and wishing to be there. 😉
Licenses for professional software like Maya were prohibitive, and I would not even know where to begin.
Finally, in 2020 I discovered an amazing free software: Blender!
This was my gate into the garden. In the past year I have been trying to learn everything I can, so I have the tools I need to create something beautiful myself.
I must say, the Blender community is incredibly helpful and there are so many excellent learning resources.
All you need is passion and some degree of persistence. 🙂
3. What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?
In January 2021 I decided to participate in the Sculpt January challenge in order to work on my sculpting skills.
After those 31 days of high pressure and fast-paced work assignments, I really wanted to relax and concentrate on a bigger project, where I could devote as much time as I need to work out the details of a scene, and work meticulously on the composition, texturing and lighting.
The Power of Nature challenge came quite at the right time. I really liked the theme of the challenge and since I am fascinated by ancient history and post-apocalyptic worlds, it triggered a lot of creativity and ideas.
So, it was a natural choice to participate.
4. Where did you find the inspiration for your latest entry, and what inspires your work every day?
Someone told me once: “If you want to become a better version of yourself than you are today, surround yourself with people who you can look up to.” I often think of those wise words.
My inspiration mainly comes from amazing artists whom I follow on Instagram or Artstation.
Every time I see a compelling image or video, I ask myself: “Man, how in the world did they do that?!” Then I try to figure it out, which is often frustrating, but you always learn some things.
I especially enjoy behind-the-scenes and breakdown videos, since they lift the veil a bit and show how the magic is done.
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 mostly worked in Blender for this image (maybe 95% of the work), including Add-ons like Mask Tools and Botaniq.
Quixel Mixer was used for some textures, and Photoshop and Lightroom for post-processing.
Pureref is my usual tool for collecting and organizing references and inspirational images.
For the thought process, I often use mind maps.
6. Are there any particular techniques that you often use?
One of the most helpful techniques, that I try to use right from the start of my projects, is “layering” or “blocking”.
This applies to so many aspects of the workflow.
Like in sculpting, where you first work out the very rough sculpt trying to get the general shape and proportions right, then adding a second layer with some more details, only then moving on to add resolution to your sculpt and work on all the small details.
This principle is also helpful for setting up the composition and lighting of a scene.
I really liked the course “3D Environment Design for Production” by Jan Urschel, where I learned to first block out a scene, only paying attention to light and shadows, and then moving on to create assets and populate the scene.
This saves you a lot of frustration at later stages of your project.
7. Can you give us a short breakdown of your entry?
After zoning in on the idea, that I wanted to create a kind of post-apocalyptic scene, with some solid stone structures that were completely reclaimed by nature, I spent quite some time on research, looking for references.
I especially looked for scenes with a certain mood and atmosphere, but also looked for eroded structures and buildings.
In order to collect my thoughts and ideas, I made a very rough sketch (did I mention, that I really suck at drawing? 😉).
It didn’t need to be particularly beautiful, but just give me an idea on where I want to position my character and the size of the structures that make up the scene.
I then went on to quickly block out a scene in Blender. It is particularly helpful to select the “Shadow” render pass in the render preview (Eevee). Adding a sun light, I could easily change the light direction and position the cubes and cylinders until I was happy with the lighting setup.
The main criterion of this stage is to achieve an interesting contrast between foreground and background, and to make sure that there is a good separation of the main character against the background.
In the next step, I started creating the main assets to populate the scene.
You might notice that the final scene is quite different from the original block out.
While working on the assets, many artistic decisions can be made as to the look and feel of the structures. The wall, pillars and stones were sculpted with quite high resolution and later decimated to a reasonable number of polygons.
After positioning, duplicating and reusing the assets, I went on to create the trees, roots and plants that really give the impression that nature has taken over.
For the trees and small plants, I mainly used some assets from the Botaniq addon.
For the roots of the main tree, I created curves, which I later converted to a mesh and sculpted some bumps to make them look more natural.
Now came the fun part: Texturing. I particularly enjoy this step in the process.
To better blend the different assets into the terrain and make them look old, I needed to create a procedural shader with a combination of stone and moss textures.
This way, I didn’t have to hand paint every single asset, and could make adjustments to the distribution of the moss on the fly.
I then created a couple of particle systems for the grass, moss and flowers, introduced my main character – the shaman – into the scene and spent a lot of time on tweaking the little details.
Since I already defined the lighting setup right at the start of the project, the lighting of the scene was easy. It is basically an HDRI, with three additional spotlights to emphasize some specific areas of interest.
For the fog, I positioned several images with an emission shader along the y-axis.
For the post-processing in Photoshop, I used the different render passes from Cycles, and did the final touches and color correction in Lightroom.
8. What was the hardest part on creating your entry?
The part that I really struggled with, where the particle systems for the moss and grass.
Not only were they quite taxing on the PC, slowing down Blender, but it was also difficult to judge the final look without rendering out parts of the image. That was slowing down the work progress, with a lot of waiting times in between.
After a lot of iterations, I finally decided to delete almost all the grass systems, since they weren’t very visible in the scene anyway.
9. Have you learned something new from participating in this challenge and if yes, what?
I learned a ton of different tricks and techniques in Blender.
But apart from the technical side, the really important thing that I learned is to have confidence in yourself.
As a noob, who has been dabbling in 3D for only a year, I often struggle with self-doubts, impostor syndrome and all that. But I learned that as long as you enjoy what you do, and pursue your short-term goals with passion, you will grow.
This challenge and the great honor to have been awarded the 1st place really helped me to understand that I am (and always will be) a Padawan, always learning and improving – which doesn’t necessarily mean that I am inferior to other artists, just that they have been on this journey for some time longer than others.
Instead of feeling like a loser comparing myself to others, I rather regard them as those people that I can look up to and want to surround myself with.
10. Any advice for people who want to learn 3D art or join challenges like this?
It is absolutely necessary to follow tutorials when you start out. However, it is good to grow out of the “following instructions” phase and learn by experimenting and failing.
Take your time to really understand how and why some techniques are used, what the different settings mean etc.
It’s through failure that we learn best.
And also: Don’t push yourself too hard and don’t rush things.
If you are active on social media, sometimes the pressure to post something regularly takes over, and you rush through some stages in the workflow (like texturing or lighting), just to get a render out.
It’s often better to slow down and try to produce the best work you are capable of at this moment.
11. Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
I guess, everybody knows all the great Blender tutors, such as Andrew Price, Grant Abbitt, Ian Hubert, all the CG-channels (CG Boost, CG Cookie, CG Matter, … 😉) and many others. They are legends, helping to pave the way for so many beginners.
Thank you all for your work!
A really cool and inspiring traditional filmmaker is Daniel Schiffer. This guy is a wizard with the camera!
Watching his tutorials is also quite helpful for 3D camera work.
Other amazing artist I admire (in no particular order of appearance):