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My Student Showreel

My Student Showreel

Marija Derkovic
by MarijaDerkovic on 19 Mar 2023 for Rookie Awards 2023

This is my second year participating in the Rookie awards, only this time, I have graduated! I present these projects as a result of my education at Pixl Visn media arts academy and look forward to breaking into the industry.

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Axolotl Apothecary

Working with a Team

The axolotl project was my first group project, and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

My teammates, Naja Jelec, Niyazi Ertut and I collected references for maximalist interiors and agreed to integrate a charming little character into the scene. Naja was tasked with modeling, the first layout of assets, and most of the texturing, while Niyazi worked on the axolotl's animation and rig modification. I was responsible for the final layout, texturing of glass and the axolotl, lighting, rendering, and compositing.

The key to bringing this project to its full potential was good communication, regular meetings and feedback. In addition, I found that presenting test renders with basic shading, lighting and compositing at an unfinished stage motivated the group.


The axolotl rig from CGTrader needed some retexturing as the resolution didn't meet our intentions, and the color and level of detail didn't fit the scene.

After deciding on a color palette, I used a combination of procedural and tillable textures in Mari as a base over the entire body. I painted masks on the palms, cheeks and underside of the feet and used them to tint these areas red, imitating blood flow. Similarly, I painted lighter areas like the tail, stomach and ribs to imitate thin skin. Finally, I added details, like gold flakes and white freckles. The previously painted masks helped create the rest of the texture maps. Lastly, I used projection painting tools for the veins in the subsurface and displacement maps.

Lookdev and Final Layout

I quickly textured all glass objects in Substance Painter and added colorful liquids in Maya and plants from Quixel Megascans to imitate herbs and oils. In the end, I finalized the assets' layout and reviewed all textures to adjust to our reference.


I knew I needed good fill lights as one light from the outside did not bounce far enough to fill the whole room. The key lights I placed emphasized the wall's gold accents and green paint. To carve out the assets' shapes and build a convincing sunset, rim lights were added to the glassware and boxes on the table, the stairs and the axolotl. For a moody and dusty look I added volumetric fog.


The background and foreground were divided into different render Layers to minimize render time.


In compositing, I tweaked the lighting and added atmospheric effects by slightly desaturating the background, tinting it blue, and adding the separately rendered volumetric light. In addition to that, I used Nuke's particle system to add dust to the air.

The view outside the window consists of a building and sky card integrated with color corrections and bloom to imitate a bright light spilling into the room.

My last compositing steps are adding motion blur, a lookup table, lens distortion, a defocus and chromatic aberration.

Mermaid below the Surface


Alexandra Brak sculpted, textured and groomed the mermaid in this project, and you can read more about it in her Rookie portfolio. My responsibility was shading the character, lighting the scene, rendering and compositing.

Looking at Alexandra's reference, I noticed the scales on the mermaid's arms had white spots. To achieve that look, I tweaked the roughness map until I had a mask of the scales' edges, which were then tinted white. The mermaid's clothes looked more like plastic than cloth, so I added a fabric texture for more roughness and bump. Sheen on the clothes sold the cloth-like look by imitating the density and length of the fibers. I brightened the eyes to draw focus to them and tweaked the color of the hair, body and ears. The final touch was the iridescence, which accentuated the body's contours.

The bubbles are spheres of different sizes with an animated displacement map scattered and animated along a Mash curve. I needed to invert the bubbles' index of refraction (IOR), as these are air bubbles underwater, not water drops in the air.

Simple Lighting

Jakob Klauenberg created a caustic generator I could use to generate and adjust caustics to my scene and export them as textures for two spotlights.

Additionally, I wanted more focus on the Mermaid, so I used two area lights to brighten up her face and chest. Lastly, I needed a dome light for realistic reflections and to brighten the shadows.

Beauty Rebuild

I rendered diffuse, specular, transmission, sss, and sheen render passes of all lights and multiplied them with their respective albedo pass, giving me the most control over my render.

As a result, I could brighten up the eyes and skin even more, boost the subsurface scattering and the iridescence and play around with all other components until I was satisfied.

The exponential glow effect was the knot that tied everything together and sold the underwater look.

Butterfly of the Canyon

Reference and Composition

I did not want to rely on concept art for this quick project done in a week, so I collected canyon references and drew up some sketches following compositions I liked.


I scattered everything from pebbles to bushes with Mash and hand-placed the key assets, downloaded from Megascans, to achieve the composition.

Lighting and Compositing

I quickly decided on a soft and dark sunset for my lighting and lit the scene accordingly. The butterfly, however, was lit separately with additional lighting through Autodesk Arnold's Light Linking feature.

In compositing, I added more canyon images as cards and a sky and finished my usual compositing process.

Arthur's Olde Tavern

Last year this project was my first entry to the Rookie Awards and my first demo project. I am happy it got drafted. If you are interested in a more thorough breakdown, you can find my entry here. In case you want a quick overview right here, I provided some pictures and sliders.

Clay Render

Render Layers

Wood Sign Texturing


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