A Hero's Journey: My call to artistic adventure
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A Hero's Journey: My call to artistic adventure

Crystal Xie
by crystalxie on 28 May 2022 for Rookie Awards 2022

2 years ago, I was standing in a hotel lobby waiting to take my law school entrance exams when I had the epiphany of my life: Deep down, I needed to be an artist. Since that moment, I embarked on my adventure as a 3D Generalist and never looked back. Here are some scenic highlights along the journey so far.

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The Sacrifice

From the first time I laid eyes on this wonderful character concept by Raul Urias, she had my attention. With only 3 months of experience at the time, my instructor wisely advised me to wait. Before being ready for a challenge like this, I needed more time to assemble the right toolbox of skills. 

I was patient. A whole year later, when I finally had the chance to make my first CG portrait for Texturing 4 class, I knew the time had come to give this a shot. 

The skin was textured in Mari using TexturingXYZ, and everything else was done in Substance Painter. The groom was made with Yeti (feather cards textured using Megascans). Lighting and compositing determined a large part of the final look. I started with more traditional portrait lighting (more dramatic, less lights), but ended up with a total of 14 lights and a much brighter scene overall. This began to evoke a more graphic and modern 2D feel, which I happily leaned into as it felt like a tribute to the unapologetic boldness of the original concept. 

Interpreting a more abstract 2D concept like this one was equal parts exciting and tough. I really enjoyed the opportunity to express my own artistic vision, but made sure to represent the key shape language, color palette, and clear cultural influence. 

All in all, I'm happy with how she turned out. Each step of this piece taught me something new, and I proved to myself that what was an insurmountable challenge just a year ago on my art journey was now entirely possible. 

Automaton's Prayer

This piece was my introduction to Substance Painter, which was also when I first fell in love with texturing. Based on this illustration by Viktor Crookdlg, my interpretation evokes a relic from an advanced ancient civilization, a precious moment of solitude and reflection encapsulated in time. 

I used a combination of texture and compositing to give more weight to the render. I paid particular attention to the balance of lights and shadows. The texture design drew inspiration from the amazing work of Tomàs Barceló

These hands also marked my budding artistic interest in the juxtaposition of past and future, the coexistence of beauty and decay, and the expression of palpable emotion and sentimentality in non-human subjects. These are some motifs which come up time and time again in my thought processes, and seem to manifest themselves frequently in my work so far. I'm excited to explore these ideas more.

Tomb Guard

I decided on this badass concept by Stepan Alekseev  for my Digital Sculpting class in Term 3 -  it was a huge risk for me as a total Zbrush noob at the time, but I pulled through in the end. However, when I decided to develop the initial sculpt into a full render months later, I was haunted by multiple errors of my past inexperience. Whether it was cleaning up errors in form, organization, topology, or UVs, I can truly say that sticking with this project became a labor of love. 

Nonetheless, I challenged myself to push this piece aesthetically as far as I could, even given its limitations. This actually pushed me to put a heavier focus on lighting and compositing in Nuke, which has really shaped my workflow since. This piece was textured in Mari and Substance Painter, rendered in Vray, and composited in Nuke. 

Here you can see multiple stages of progression - Lighting was a big part of telling the story. I started off staying more faithful to the atmosphere of the 2D concept, but ended up putting my own spin on him. Don't be fooled by his appearance, he's actually a friendly dude who loves hugs. 

Abandoned Vault

This piece right here is my magnum opus. Just kidding, it was my first ever Maya project, made for my Intro to Maya midterm. I was drawn to this photograph by Matthew Christopher of an abandoned bank vault which was later turned into a bookstore, and abandoned again. Everything was made in Maya and rendered in Vray. 

I remember feeling a lot of pressure to get this one right. At the time, I had the least experience in my class and really looked up to my peers, who were already strong artists and problem-solvers. However, they never once hesitated to help me, share resources with me, or give patient explanations to my most basic questions. I realized then that I was in the right place, amongst a community of amazing people taking this journey together. As such, I am proud to show off this milestone I'll never forget.  

Miles Morales' Bedroom 

Made for my Intro to Maya final, this piece is a fan-art of Miles' dorm room from the incredible film Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. I used a combination of this interior concept by Yuhki Demers and these lighting studies to create this environment, and posed a spiderman rig for fun. 

My favorite part of this project was crafting the lighting and reflections. I also experimented with different times of day. My goal was to make the environment look lived-in, dynamic and youthful. As an artist with a messy room, I had plenty of inspiration. 

Thank you!

For me, finally participating in the rookies as I wrap up my time as a Gnomon student is yet another landmark in my journey. I'm proud of the progress I've made in these two crazy years, and I'm excited to think I'm just getting started. I could never have grown so much without the endless support of my friends and my instructors, and I have unbelievable gratitude for them. 

If you're interested in seeing more of me and my work, please feel free to follow me on Artstation Instagram, or LinkedIn. For any inquiries, you can also reach me at [email protected]. Thank you so much for checking out my stuff. :) 


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