My experience with the mentorship was more than excellent. It was an honor to have Ankush as my mentor.
Obrad Atlija is a very dedicated and passionate 3D Character Artist always striving to improve.
3,580 Words written by Obrad
~17 Minutes to read
My name is Obrad Atlija, and I live in the beautiful city of Thun, Switzerland. My parents have always been avid fans of films and art in general. My father exposed me to all kinds of movies, whether they were action films, sci-fi/fantasy, or horror films. But every time after watching such films, we would also watch the making-of together.
He would explain every detail about the special effects or how they created creatures and monsters. We delved so deeply into this subject that after Jurassic Park 3, we even modeled dinosaurs at home ourselves and made a stop-motion film. However, my fascination with film wasn’t my only passion. I’ve always been a person with a wide range of interests, from mythological books to drawing and making music. All in all, accumulating knowledge, mastering things, constantly pushing beyond limits, and never standing still – that is the purpose of my life.
I knew that I wanted to pursue something creative professionally. I remembered what I enjoyed most in my younger years. Apart from art, I was a passionate gamer. In my view, games are one of the ultimate forms to experience a story and an adventure – almost like an epic that’s impossible to experience in real life. The feeling is not the same as with a film. You’re not just an observer; you’re the main character. You interact with the world and make decisions differently than in a film. Every form of art is present in games. From modeling to texturing, animating, music, and more – it’s all there. In my opinion, this is the type of experience that defines our era. All the foundations and directions of art in human history are united in today’s games.
In games like Unreal Tournament and Warcraft 3, I spent more time creating my own maps in the editor than actually playing the games. Every time, I saw something in these games that made me think, “I want to contribute to this.” Just as an example, when World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade was released, I fell in love with WoW. However, since I had always played as the Undead in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, I was disappointed that there were no Death Knights in WoW. I spent hours drawing variations of Death Knights and thinking about which abilities would suit the class. Fortunately, the Death Knight was introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.
But the point is, the interest in creating something was always there, and from that point on, I realized that the game industry is perfect for me to express myself. The fact that you can make a living as a full-time artist in this industry, rather than just pursuing art as a hobby, is a huge factor in entering this field. There are no limits to possibilities, except for technical limitations, which fortunately improve year after year. The best part is that you don’t work alone on a game. You collaborate with a team of like-minded individuals to create a beautiful artwork that enriches people’s imagination and inspires some to create something of their own.
Once I realized the industry I wanted to work in, the question arose: what exactly did I want to do? I searched on the internet and came across SAE Zurich. There, I started my studies in game design & 3D animation. Due to the many beautiful landscapes, mountains, forests, ruins, and castles in my surroundings, I decided to focus on environment art. After my studies, I worked as a 3D environment artist, but I felt that it wasn’t my ultimate dream. It’s great; you create beautiful worlds and objects, but something was missing.
In the last project I worked on, I had the privilege of also contributing to creatures and characters. For years, I hadn’t felt that childlike joy until then – I felt like when I modeled dinosaurs with my father. Since I spent most of my time in ZBrush during this project, I realized that I wanted to build my career around ZBrush. Thanks to my background as an environment artist, I have good knowledge of Maya, Substance Painter & Designer, and Unreal Engine, but I wanted to learn more sculpting skills, specifically for creatures and characters. Shortly after that, I looked for a mentor to further my education and came across CG Verse.
Earth Dragon final composition
This dragon is based on the concept of Jason Kang. I tried to create something more towards realism and focus mainly on the sculpture in Zbrush. Also, I wanted to improve my skills in posing a character. The goal of this project was to give the dragon a dynamic, aggressive and very dangerous aesthetics.
I think the biggest problem for me personally was to specialize in a field. On one hand, being a generalist can be advantageous, but on the other hand, it can be easier to find a job if you specialize in a specific area. Thanks to my experience in the field of Environment Art, I believe that I can offer a wide range of flexibility. Even as a Creature Artist, I can support my team in other areas, which can greatly accelerate efficiency in completing a project.
Another challenge was always maintaining a certain mindset. On some days, you simply don’t feel it, and progress is scarce. Especially with Creature Design, I sometimes felt fear that something wasn’t anatomically correct or that I was overthinking things in general. Since our task is to visualize the concept as well as possible, I overthought things because there are countless ways to depict a good look. Passion is good, but overthinking can stall the workflow.
A sculpture can look great from one side depending on the pose and very bad from another perspective, even if you’ve taken it directly from the concept. In that case, you have to be ready to sculpt certain parts differently and possibly rework proportions and shapes, as the creature or character should look good from every angle. In a way, this challenge is what I love about 3D sculpting. In a game or even in a 3D print-ready miniature figure, characters and creatures should look dynamic and cool from every perspective.
Regarding the mentorship project, one of the biggest challenges was planning the low-poly model. Since the dragon I created during the program had some repetitive parts, there were various ways to approach the retopology and UV process. Ultimately, the appearance of the final renders was more important to us than creating a technically perfect game-ready model. Therefore, I had the freedom to aim for a slightly higher polycount and create multiple UV sets, which allowed for better texture quality.
Cropped shot of the final composition
Primarily, I aimed to refine my sculpting skills, specifically focusing on creature designs. In my opinion, learning from professionals is most effective. The opportunity to learn from an artist who successfully works in the industry as a character/creature artist is invaluable. I completed my studies at SAE Zurich, which provided an excellent foundation.
However, after graduation, I had to continuously work on my skills and learn new ones. This encompasses not only software-related aspects but also maintaining a strong thirst for knowledge in general. Curiosity about everything is as much a part of an artist’s existence as the actual work itself.
As a creature artist, I need to focus on completely different fields and foundations of art compared to environment art. Of course, I benefit from my existing knowledge in the realm of environment design, but to fully dedicate myself to creature design, I found that reaching out to CGVerse was the best solution to efficiently acquire the required knowledge and mindset.
Naturally, I extensively searched for a school that primarily emphasized working with ZBrush. Upon discovering CGVerse, I researched the offerings and information about Christopher and Ankush. I was impressed by the professionalism, depth, and overall opportunities they provide. The program with Ankush not only offers me the chance to create a sculpture but also guides me through the entire process of crafting a game-ready character, all within a span of 4 months.
The online nature of the school provided me with the flexibility to learn at my own pace while still benefiting from a structured curriculum and one-on-one interactions with my mentor. In summary, I enrolled in the CGVerse Mentorship to receive personalized guidance, elevate my skills, and tap into the expertise of industry professionals, all within a flexible and supportive online learning environment.
Neutral light setup to show the textures and details
I opted for a dragon and found a fantastic concept drawing by Jason Kang. We began directly with the blockout in the desired pose. Starting with the pose was quite unfamiliar as it complicates working with symmetry and sometimes renders it impossible. Nevertheless, I believe it’s a good decision, especially for a portfolio piece. It serves as excellent training, especially when dealing with secondary and tertiary details. This adds interest and organic complexity to the creature, preventing a sense of uniformity in details and making the dragon more captivating to view.
During the blockout phase, I learned that sometimes personal decisions must be made to ensure the model looks good from all perspectives. This can lead to deviations from the concept, which generally isn’t a problem if it results in an improved appearance for the creature. One of the blockout phase decisions was to pose the dragon not horizontally but slightly ascending a rock.
The neck’s curvature was intensified, and the tail’s counter curve was accentuated to infuse dynamism, aggression, and fluidity into the overall pose. When the blockout phase yields a dynamically appealing pose, it significantly saves time, effort, and stress in the subsequent project stages. It’s easier to make impactful decisions compared to altering an almost finished high-poly sculpt.
In conclusion, primary details and significant shapes are paramount. Having numerous micro-details is futile if the overall form and anatomy are flawed. Conversely, minor imperfections like the arrangement of pores on a face can be less impactful, as long as the face itself looks good and of high quality, especially in terms of anatomy.
To save time, we chose to remesh some parts in ZBrush and utilized tools like Decimate Master. As this is a personal portfolio piece with a strong emphasis on sculpting and the goal of achieving a stellar appearance, we opted for manual retopology for the key main parts. Even for the UVs, we created various materials and UV sets to gain more control over shaders in Marmoset for increased variation. UDIM UVs or fewer diverse UV sets wouldn’t have been as flexible in this context.
The tertiaries were intimidating but in a positive sense. This phase marked the final stages of sculpting and caused me to overthink. Thanks to Ankush’s tips and tricks, I developed a mindset that significantly helped me strike the right balance in detail. Ensuring a detail-rich but non-noisy and believable result is crucial for an artist, a challenge that’s hard to master, and I believe hardly anyone is 100% satisfied with the end result. However, at some point, you need to finish, and a certain degree of time pressure can be a blessing in finding closure.
Ultimately, the dragon had a polycount of 173,000,000, and sculpting it alongside Ankush was incredibly enjoyable. Ankush’s explanations and his knack for observations are unparalleled. Through him, I learned to feel more and not solely focus on objectivity. Relying on feeling gives a clearer answer about whether something looks cool, whereas a purely objective perspective can make things appear anatomically or realistically correct but also dull. We want both aspects, but ultimately, it should look great.
For efficiency, we decided to remesh certain parts in ZBrush and used Decimate Master, among other tools. As this is a personal portfolio piece with an emphasis on sculpting and a focus on achieving a high-quality look, we chose to manually retopologize the main parts. Even for UVs, we created various materials and UV sets to have more control over shaders in Marmoset, resulting in increased variation. UDIM UVs or fewer diverse UV sets wouldn’t have been as flexible in this context.
Creating a solid base texture in ZBrush and having a good grasp of Substance Painter facilitated the texturing process. Ankush’s guidance helped me here as well, and I learned new techniques. A new experience for me was modifying some maps in Photoshop or altering them. I will definitely integrate this new method into my workflow.
Finally, we come to rendering. It was the first time in years that I rendered something in Marmoset. Yet, I had no trouble navigating the software. Crafting the shaders was enjoyable, and Ankush’s guidance was invaluable here too. Realism was relatively new to me, and there was much to consider. Particularly, creating interesting roughness, SSS, and glossiness maps was a challenge Ankush helped me overcome. Much of what I thought I knew from tutorials was thrown out the window.
The multiple shader approach allowed for adjustments and modifications to individual dragon parts, which, in combination with Photoshop adjustments, proved highly effective and efficient. Creating the rendering scene was one of the project phases where I learned a great deal. A guiding hand and support like that of a mentor are crucial, especially during more challenging stages. When we showed Christopher the dragon, he took the time to point out several significant improvements. After refining and adjusting the dragon based on his feedback, we rendered the final image in Blender. Christopher’s perspective and skill in harnessing light, shadow, and form to elevate a model were truly eye-opening.
The final product speaks for itself. While one is never 100% satisfied, and there’s always room for improvement, this is my best work to date. I hadn’t enjoyed working on a project this much in years, and the most valuable aspect was the collaboration with Ankush and Christopher. Whether from a personal, artistic, or technical standpoint, CGVerse has given me much more than I could have ever dreamed of.
High poly render
This is the final sculpt in ZBrush.
My experience with the mentorship was more than excellent. It was an honor to have Ankush as my mentor. Not only is he a great personality, but his ability to explain things and make very subjective and hard-to-put-into-words processes understandable makes him an outstanding mentor.
He has been able to teach me a lot of new things, and above all, his technical and artistic knowledge has been a great asset to me. Having faced some difficulties in shading, Ankush’s input was incredibly helpful. Particularly in this area, I was overthinking things in a very technical and rigid manner. He showed me that sometimes the feeling that something looks good is more important than whether it’s realistically correct. However, the most valuable thing was the mindset I adopted from him.
While explaining things, he rarely or never said, “It should be” or “I believe.” He always said, “I feel.” At first, I thought it was just his way of speaking. Later, I realized that it’s really about feeling. It’s something very primal in art that I somehow lost due to the technical routine in environment art.
This moment was like an enlightenment for me, and since adopting this mindset, I hardly had any problems working on the project. Recognizing the importance of feedback and, more importantly, implementing and learning from it is also a great skill that I was able to refine through Ankush. It’s one thing to hear feedback, but another to extract the essence from it and translate that essence into the work.
Generally, his feedback was constructive and helpful. Occasionally, I had to change or even redo entire parts, which was demanding, but it truly helped me perfect my skills. One always has to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and give their best, no matter how challenging it can be. The emotional joy one feels afterward is incomparable. Every time I worried too much and overthought things, he was able to easily resolve those concerns. Especially since he had similar thoughts about certain things, I never felt alone with my worries.
Learning the importance of eventually reaching a conclusion and knowing when something is sufficient was also something I learned from him. No project is ever truly finished; you could keep going on forever, to the point where you ruin it. Knowing the balance of when you’ve reached the peak and when it starts to decline is another art in itself, and with practice, determination, passion, experience, and most importantly, time, you develop an intuition for it.
From a technical standpoint, I gained immense knowledge, but the most valuable part was the time I spent in ZBrush with Ankush. The knowledge I gained from him in the realm of sculpting was by far one of the best experiences in my artistic journey, and it catapulted my abilities to a new level. Each phase of sculpting was inspiring and never dull because of it.
As a person, Ankush is also incredibly interesting, wise, and charismatic. We had many good conversations about all sorts of things. His knowledge and experience in the industry enriched my understanding of it. Thanks to him, the entrance into the industry no longer felt so distant, and I learned a lot about building a network and what matters in job searches.
An important point was also what to focus on in one’s portfolio and how to present oneself and their work effectively. I will be grateful to Ankush for this incredible experience for the rest of my life. Christopher who helped me after the mentorship with building authority, which was part of the mentorship program I chose was equally valuable and enlightening. Christopher’s perspective and artistic understanding are unparalleled. He inspired me to engage more with classical art again, as the fundamentals in this area remain essential, and the better one understands the old fundamentals, the better the end result in 3D. His input made my dragon even cooler, and his tips for creating an interesting lighting setup were invaluable. I had many very interesting conversations with him as well, and I’ll be grateful for his insider knowledge about the industry and its expectations for the rest of my life. I hold such deep respect and immense gratitude for both of them that I’d have to write a book just to try to put it into words.
I can say with confidence and pride that starting a mentorship with CGVerse was the right decision. I’ve received much more than I expected, and not only have my skills improved, but I’ve also gained new friends.
Continuous self-growth is crucial in our field. Willingly perfecting one’s skills, being curious, and having the desire to consistently bring out the best in oneself can be demanding. Therefore, no investment in oneself is too large. This applies not only to beginners but also to those at advanced and even professional levels, all of whom can benefit from CGVerse.
If one is serious about pursuing a career in the industry and aims to excel in a particular area, it’s a logical conclusion to eventually find a mentor. Self-study is essential, and tutorials, articles, or books are fantastic resources. However, the essence and a wealth of knowledge are best gained from a professional who is successfully engaged in the industry. The interaction with a mentor rejuvenates passion and inspiration, while also highlighting the similarities among individuals. This helps one to no longer feel alone. After all, even they started where we stand now, so why shouldn’t we also reach higher?
What sets CGVerse apart is the passion and effort they invest in you. You can sense that they put in a lot of effort, and you don’t feel left to your own devices or abandoned. Whether it’s about technical aspects, artistic know-how, key portfolio points, building a network, the art of making oneself visible and presenting well, or reaching studios and clients, CGVerse covers every essential aspect.
All in all, I can confidently assert that CGVerse truly serves as a career springboard for those who want to make tremendous progress in a very short time!
My next steps definitely involve reaching out for various interviews and finalizing the presentation of the second project that I started with Ankush after completing my dragon. We spent approximately more than half of the 4 months on the dragon, which is why we also created an orc bust. I can’t wait to share the bust with you as soon as possible. Now that my last project as a prop and creature artist has concluded, I will be applying to several studios. Through CGVerse, I was able to confirm for myself that creature design is precisely the right path for me. Therefore, I am now specifically seeking a position as a creature artist, whether it’s for games, films, or 3D printing.
Simultaneously, I will continue to work diligently on honing my skills. There is still so much to learn, and my self-discovery has inspired me to keep pushing forward. I need to learn much more about various types of anatomy, whether it’s human, animal, or insect. For my next personal project, I will be tackling an Engineer from the movies Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
In this project, I will strive to implement everything I’ve learned from Ankush to the best of my ability and undoubtedly push myself even further. The primary focus will be on sculpting in ZBrush. I might turn it into a game-ready version or a 3D print-ready version, possibly both depending on the amount of private time I’ll have. I am excited about my future as an artist and curious about all that lies ahead.
As a conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude once again to Ankush and Christopher. Without both of you, I wouldn’t have recognized and gained confidence in my own abilities for a long time.
Thank you CGVerse!
(Before the mentorship)
Corrupted Hive Ghost
Ammon The Abyss Runner