Sharpen your 3D skills with speed sculpting

Give your 3D modelling skills a workout! Framestore's Adam Dewhirst reveals how he keeps his edge through speed sculpting.

Adam Dewhirst (@IntelligentApe) works as a 3D modeler at Framestore, one of London's leading postproduction VFX houses. Discover how Adam approaches speed sculpting as a way to maintain his creativity...

'I get to make stuff'

On the occasion that I get asked "How was your day?", my normal response could be something like this: "Well, I spent the morning making a lion, and then in the afternoon I had to make a double of Christian Bale, and then I sculpted a Greek temple in the evening".

I’m employed to model and sculpt digital objects or 'assets' for use in film visual effects. What I can create is only limited by imagination. Software such as Mudbox or ZBrush allows artists to have an unlimited supply of materials with which to work with.

These tools free us from having to learn complex scripting and the more technical side of the computer animation industry - something that can seem very daunting to beginners. Most first-time users of Zbrush often take to it much easier than VFX veterans.

Daily sculpts

Despite sculpting and modeling professionally for years, I'm always trying to be better. I find it’s really important to make sure you’re always practicing, constantly stretching those creative muscles. The best way I have found to improve is through doing daily sculpts of creature/concepts every day before work.

Let me walk you through a typical day.

My starting point each morning is normally a sphere or a basic head (Mudbox provides this) and I give myself 20 minutes to create... something. Most mornings I will have an idea in the back of my mind, but occasionally I just see what happens from moving a few things around, it’s a creative exercise designed to warm up my brain – and it’s great fun!

I sort of wish I could do just that all day, but I am, after all, paid to create something specific and not the just the dark concoctions from the back of my subconscious.

The great thing about this whole process is that each day produces something different. I never really know what I am going to make. Don’t focus on quality, because some days it might be awful! But it might also be pretty decent.

I’ll often store away both the good and bad ones so I can come back later and work out a better way to approach the challenge, or just look at it to see how much I have improved. It’s a great way to learn.

Learning experience

And that’s the key point: learning! It’s a developing industry and you’re constantly learning new things. I don’t care how long you have studied or worked in the industry, there is always something new you can learn – generally speaking I tend to pick up a brand new bit of software every two years or so – I have to - it’s evolve or die (or at least wait for your P45 in the post).

The industry is driven around the newest, fastest most efficient software. Its a cliché, but it’s definitely a case of “you snooze, you lose”. So each morning I sculpt, to keep myself on my toes.

What have I learned from doing this? Well.... my anatomy knowledge is constantly improving (although at times, I don’t think it will ever be good enough) – and that I have a weird tendency towards characters with big noses.

Sketchbook mentality

At art college I was advised to always have a sketchbook on me, to fill one every two weeks, I’d like to think I'm still exercising that mentality of always creating – I would hate to think that after years of honing my craft, I had gotten lazy and complacent.

If you’re interested in learning how to create 3D creatures or characters - just dive in, as I mentioned, most first time users adapt to it a lot quicker having not used a 3D modelling package before. There are plenty of tutorials online, or check out a decent training site like Escape Studios or Digital Tutors.

I’m going to keep up my daily sculpts for as long as I can – hey, they can only get better, right? If you have any questions please tweet me @IntelligentApe.

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This content was produced in collaboration with HP & Intel as part of ZED - a Pop-Up Studio for the Creative Community held in Soho, London. For more information about ZED and any future events see here.