30 inspiring examples of 3D art

Well executed 3D art can seriously spice up a design portfolio. The extra dimension provides an added sense of depth that is very hard to recreate in 2D. With the introduction of more affordable and free 3D software in recent years, more and more artists are creating incredible 3D art – here are some prime examples...

Click the icon in the top right of each image to see it full-size.

01. Aghori Portrait

This stunning portrait took only two weeks to complete

It's hard to believe that Aldo Martínez Calzadilla's Aghori Portrait, created using ZBrush, Maya and Mari, only took two weeks to finish. "I try to work as fast as possible," he explains. "In my experience, moments of inspiration don't last too long, so I try to go through the process of creating an image as efficiently as I can."

The meticulous groundwork of modelling and sculpting was his favourite part of the project. "I knew that in order to do a good job with the Aghori, the forms and anatomy had to be good and accurate to the reference," he reveals.

02. Summer Reading

This adorable picture is a 3D recreation of a piece by Fredrik Rättzén

Arthur Gatineau's image is based on a concept by Fredrik Rättzén, a Swedish visual development artist. "I really wanted to keep all the features and details, including the camera angle, lighting and general mood," says Gatineau. 

"I did my best to match everything. As I'm faster on 3ds Max, I did all the modelling and UV work there, then I exported everything – including the camera as an Alembic – and switched to Maya."

03. Slug Race

Slug Race was built using 3D spacial data from digital photos

It may be a whimsical scene, but Slug Race is closely based in reality. Brazilian 3D artist Fabricio Moraes and his collaborator Guilherme Formenti used Agisoft PhotoScan to generate 3D spatial data from digital photos. "Photogrammetry was a technique that I had always wanted to try. So I scanned a lot of trees, rocks and ground to get a more realistic approach," says Moraes. 

The pair used 3ds Max and ZBrush for modelling and lighting, V-Ray for rendering and Nuke for compositing. "I normally use Photoshop to compose the final image," says Moraes, "but this time I gave Nuke a try. I was amazed at how powerful it is."

04. The Trade

Lee's work is inspired by classical oil painting

Jacky Lee's image, The Trade, took him two months to create, using Maya, ZBrush, Substance Painter, Arnold and Photoshop. "I like the process of creating something from scratch, watching the gradual creation of the images, which become vivid and inhabit their stories and souls. This makes me very happy," he tells us.

"I think the atmosphere and composition of a 3D piece of work is very important, as well as the story," explains Lee, who studies classic paintings for inspiration. "I really like classical oil painting, and often observe and analyse each painting's mood, colour and composition."

05. Dark Forest

Javora's interest in weird phenomena informed this atmospheric scene

Jakub Javora's surreal Dark Forest scene, with its glowing doorway contrasting with the natural scene, perfectly sums up the artist's eclectic and eccentric interests. "I'm mostly inspired by weird phenomena like chaos theory, sexual selection and various religious practices," he explains.

Unusually for Javora, this scene was a pure 3D composition with no 2D techniques involved. "Some people are using the same tools and workflow without changing," he says. "I am always trying to do something extra to keep my creative spirit going and enjoy the work."

06. Chimpanzee

Guimoneau sculpted this incredible 3D chimp in just two days

This Chimpanzee sculpt was completed in two days by artist Damien Guimoneau, with a further two weeks of work going into the incredible 3D art to refine the textures and fur in Mari and KeyShot.

“Since I didn’t have a lot of time, I decided not to use V-Ray and displacement like I have done in my old projects," says Guimoneau. "I was especially curious to see how far I could go with the SSS materials in KeyShot.”

07. Bed Monster

This monster picked the wrong kid to mess with!

Digital 3D modeller and animator Aamir is the man behind this brilliant 'You picked up the wrong bed, monster!' 3D art illustration. Specialising in character and creature creation, Aamir nails the stylised look, modelling and lighting in this inspiring scene.

08. Cambot – Memory

Liang did things a bit differently to create the rain

Dong Liang is a 3D surfacing artist based in Singapore. His personal project, Cambot – Memory, shows off his talents. “Every artwork begins from a story I try to tell,” he explains. “To start with, I usually do a bunch of concept sketches to explore the design and composition while also looking for reference images. Once there is a decent sketch, I start blocking in the low-poly geometries in 3D.” 

From here, Liang begins working on the detailing and lighting. This piece, however, posed a unique challenge. “The rain effect was done a little bit unconventionally,” he reveals. “I randomly instanced five different streak models onto a nParticle system to mimic the rain streaks instead of using motion blur to  do so. Rendering noise-free motion blur is too heavy for my machine.”

09. Sanctuary

Adekile created this landscape with tools including Nuke, Photoshop and V-Ray

This sci-fi landscape was inspired by artist Akin Adekile’s Nigerian roots, and took him just under three weeks to complete. “I started off with a concept that I painted in Photoshop,” says the Gnomon graduate.

“My favourite part was when I put my image into Nuke and Photoshop,” he says, because “I was able to take advantage of the render passes, adjust the brightness and contrast, and add additional textures and effects... All those trees and vegetation can slow my machine down, but this was alleviated by using V-Ray proxies and minimising polycount.”

10. Welcome to Paradise

This final year project by 3D animation students at the University of Hertfordshire was created over eight months. “We spent the summer discussing the story and created some rough concept art, but it was only in the final year that the project took off,” says Veronika Epsteina.

The animation is inspired by a piece of concept art created by the artist Gennaro Grazioso, which portrayed small nomadic people with big robots. “A storyboard was created, and based on that, a really rough animatic – where we filmed ourselves playing out the scenes. This helped with the editing, to get the timing and camera angles right,” says Epsteina. “One of my favourite shots to work on was the reveal of the alien planet. We knew it would be one of the most important shots in our film so we put a lot of time and effort into it.”

Next page: 10 more great 3D projects