Inspirational 3D illustration from cool Cardiff-based Poked Studio

With a client list that includes MTV, BBC, National Library of Wales, Sony Playstation, Microsoft, Nicklelodean, Penguin Books and Channel 4, we knew Jonathan Ball of Poked Studio in Cardiff must be doing a lot right, so we tracked him down to pick his brain.

3D World: How did you break into the industry?

Jonathan Ball: It was quite gradual really, I just started making 3D art with Blender and managed to get a few pieces showcased in some widely read blogs and websites. Then commissions starting rolling in.

It took a few years before I was able to make a full-time career out of illustration, but the past four to five years have been non-stop work.

3D World: What first inspired you to become a CG artist?

JB: I don't think I particularly aimed to get into CG itself, it was just the easiest way I found of creating what I wanted. I tried painting but wasn't very good at it. With CG I was able to correct mistakes more easily and develop as an artist.

3D World: At what point in your life did you make the decision that that's what you were going to do?

JB: Quite late really: I was 29 when I decided to study Graphic Design at university and get a degree. While doing that, I realised illustration was what I really loved. After college, I worked in a commercial design studio, and in my spare time I steadily built up a portfolio of illustration work.

When I was made redundant due to the loss of a big banking client, and before I had time to think about what to do next, I started getting lots of illustration commissions, and it hasn't stopped since.

3D World: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

JB: All over the place... My childhood, city life, everyday objects. It's really just what grabs my attention at any particular time.

3D World: What is the most enjoyable project you have worked on so far in your career and why?

JB: I have had quite a few ace projects to work on and my favourites are always when I am able to control the output and am given free rein. Working on some packaging design for a diary company in Scandinavia was great as they totally loved my style.

Early on in my freelance career, I gave a price for an illustration for a big company. I wasn't sure how much to quote but estimated what I thought would be a good rate. The art director got back to me and said it was too cheap and to triple the price! That never happened again!

3D World: What 3D tools and techniques do you use on a day-to-day basis?

JB: I use Blender almost every day. It's what I started with because as a student I couldn't afford any of the 3D packages. I do have Cinema 4D but have never found time to learn it properly.

If I am on a project, I need to know I can complete it on time, so I need to use Blender for the fastest results.

3D World: What's your favourite 3D package?

JB: Having said I use Blender every day, I wouldn't say I'm 100% happy with it... I would love to get to play with some better render engines like Vray and some ZBrush modelling, but never seem to have time...

3D World: What's your favourite film?

JB: I don't really have a favourite film, but there are many that changed the way I look at things. I almost totally hate anything from Hollywood and with big-name actors in. Using blue screen instead of real locations is something I really don't like... C'mon, guys, we can always tell!

I like films that make you think, and where you can't predict the outcome...

Having said all that about hating blockbusters, I've recently enjoyed Inception and Prometheus!

3D World: What's your favourite animation?

JB: Akira without a doubt although I love Pixar's CG work. A lot of CG animation, while I'm astounded at the technical accomplishments, looks very bland right now. We need some new styles to break through.

3D World: What's your favourite video game?

JB: It would have to be something from the 1980s. I was totally addicted as a child. At one point I had Sega Master Systems, Mega Drives, a PC engine (anyone remember that?), a Nintendo and Atari Lynx in my bedroom.

Down our local taxi rank we had Bubble Bobble and Rygar. How I miss the days where every chip shop had an arcade game.

I'm going to say R-Type for my favourite game, though.

3D World: What advice can you give for aspiring 3D artists looking to break into the industry?

JB: Develop you own look. And get skilled. None of those involve going to uni, but uni may help you organise projects and set learning goals.

If you are not obsessed to some degree you are unlikely to get far, you should be waking up at night in hot sweats thinking of things to create....

3D World: Please could you share a technical 'secret' or top tip with us on how you work?

JB: Over the years I've developed quite a few working practices and shortcuts to good results...

I often get a basic render, take it into Photoshop, create multiple copies and change the colour of each version, stack them on top of each other and start blending them by using the mask tool to rub out areas.

This can create some coloured shadows, textures and lighting effects that would take an age to set up with UV maps and lighting in a 3D package.

3D World: If you have any comments on how the industry has changed since you first started, that would be great.

JB: I haven't been in the industry that long to see major change. Computer power is getting cheaper and people are getting more creative with CG. The improvements to software from just a few years ago are staggering. What will the next 10 years bring? There will probably be render farms on mobiles! (And yes, I'm taking the credit for that idea!)

The artist

Jonathan Ball, born Cardiff UK 1974. Owns and runs Poked Studio, loves making stuff and poking things.