Artist Journey: 3D artist Edit Ballai
“But most importantly, just enjoy your journey. It’s not only about finding your own voice, but finding yourself too on the way.” 3D artist Edit Ballai, born in Hungary and now living in the US, talks about her journey through art, from a hobby to a professional career, covering the skills and techniques she acquired along the way. Find out more…
Thank you for sharing your journey so far with our readers. Let’s begin: please introduce yourself and let us know how long ago your journey started? What drew you to art? Any early influences?
My name is Edit Ballai and I’m a 3D artist, specializing in environment art and design, originally from Hungary. Having parents who spent most of their time at home and working on their projects, made me grow up with a unique mindset. My father was a journalist in that time, and my mother a painter. That helped me to develop an artistic eye in my early childhood, and I learned from both of them: my father taught me about storytelling techniques, and my mother taught me about composition and lighting.
I was the enchanted child who lived in her imaginary worlds and it has never changed ever since. It was obvious from a very early age that I’m different from the other kids. I was living inside of my mind and I found so much joy in the imaginary worlds that I created.
I was 14 years old when I first watched some Pixar animation shorts and that was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do with my life: to create authentic 3D worlds. Some years later I was already influenced by works of Dyan Cole (he was the main concept artist and matte painter of the movie Avatar that won so many awards), and I got lost in those visuals and colors. Until today, that movie is still my favorite and never ending inspiration.
When I got my first computer, I discovered Photoshop and started painting right away. I haven’t stopped since then – only the tools and workflow has changed. Of course that Photoshop’s UI looked a little bit different from the Photoshop we know today – also it was very slow – but for me it was like entering into Wonderland.
Do you still have any early artwork? We’d love to see your early work, be they digital or traditional. How do you feel about these works now?
Yes, I do! This one was made in 2011. Definitely one of my oldest works that I could find on my computer. The main concept of the image was about protecting the Earth from ourselves as besides the fact that we only have one home to live in, we continuously destroy it, even though we know we should respect more that we have.
Fun fact: because I couldn’t find the right angled hand reference, I made an actual shot of my friend’s hand with proper lighting, and started to work on it as a base. It was before I was introduced to 3D so I had to build everything up in Photoshop with some hundred of layers.
It wasfeatured in PhotoshopCreative Magazine in 2015 on the gallery pages. I still love this one, because it still speaks to me.
What training or learning did you do in those beginning stages? Could you see your progression?
Like many other artists, my journey started with Photoshop. Wacom tablets were not a thing at that time yet, so I had to paint with a mouse. I believe it helped a lot to develop a certain amount of patience. Not too long after I realized that the vivid images in my head want to come to see the sunlight and in order to make them the way I want, I need to get some new skills, which included 3D modeling as well.
In 2013 I moved to the Netherlands, and soon after I had a chance to start learning Maya through an Autodesk certified course, and a new world opened its gates for me with it.
Some years passed by, and I came across a school that had online workshops and a huge tutorial library: it was called Gnomon and I instantly felt like I found what I was looking for. Gnomon Workshop gave access to artists to develop new skills, and learning new techniques with highly detailed videos from instructors who are working in the industry, so their videos contain not only technical knowledge but practical advice as well. I’m still watching that library’s content as I won the Gnomon Workshop Image Challenge one year ago that allowed me to have instant access to the whole library.
I also took some online courses about Matte Painting, Environment Concept Design, Texturing with Mari, but I also kept watching Gnomon Workshop’s online contents.
As the technology improved, and more tools became available for artists, I slowly picked up some more software and libraries: Megascans, Substance Painter, Mixer, and finally Unreal Engine. This is the base of my current workflow as well. I have some experience in Modo, Blender as well, but my personal preference is Maya > Mixer > Unreal.
Were you always happy with what you produced, or was there a turning point where you thought; “This is it, I’ve made it!”?
I definitely have some proud moments that I like to think of. I like where I am now, but of course there is always room to improve, and I hope I show constant improvement in technique and artistic vision as well.
One of my first proud memories was when I got approached by Adobe (in 2014), who wanted to use one of my images for their 25 Years Of Photoshop anniversary TV spot that was running during the Oscars. They used 71 artists’ works for this special occasion and I was honored to be invited.
I think one of the greatest moments on our journey is when we are able to give some love back to the community. One of these moments was when I was invited to The Rookies to review and rate the amazing students’ work and help them to launch their career. I have been a judge since 2019, and being invited there is a sign for achieving a level of expertise recognized by your industry, which is also a sign of significant accomplishment for artists.
Besides Gnomon Workshop Image Challenge, I participated in some other competitions as well: Kitbash3D “Utopia” Contest (also 2019) was a huge win for me, not because of my final place in the contest – I was a finalist – but the image I created has been shared by Autodesk and also by you, and it gained some publicity for me. I believe that we should always push ourselves to the maximum, regardless of the final target of our work, because eventually hard work always pays off in one way or another.
Which piece are you most proud of, and why?
Well, although we should love each of our creations the same way, we all have a favorite one… Mine is a very special piece, not only because I spent 1 1/2 months on it, but also the message that it carries. I love creating backstories for my artworks, it gives so much feeling.
The main story is about a futuristic reality, where humanity started to use clones for the elite who happen to get a deadly illness that would cost their life; however, those who can afford it, are eligible for a program called Lazarus and can transfer their minds into a new, healthy body. The program is only available for the upper class, based on financial reasons mostly. Our main hero is a professor who leads this program and is very much familiar with the requirements and the process itself. His fiancée, who came from a very poor neighborhood, unfortunately got the disease that killed a lot of people worldwide. The professor decides to take the risk and to save her life by transferring her mind into a new clone’s body. Since the procedure is illegal for those who can’t afford it and the Ministry Of New Life didn’t approve it, he has to do it during the night hours when no one is around. He sneaks into the laboratory, carrying his dying fiancée.
I only used Maya for this scene, and it required a lot of modeling and a lot of time. This artwork gained a lot of exposure but I’m most proud of that moment when Autodesk approached me to use it for their Marketplace Service’s ad at GDC (Game Developers Conference) in 2019. I rendered 2 images for them for this occasion.
What advice would you give to any of our readers who are just beginning their journey now?
I think it’s important to try out different software and techniques, and even different areas of the pipeline. I personally know some people who always thought they wanted to be concept artists, and spent their whole life with drawing and drawing, but once they tried texture painting, they fell in love with it, and since then they only focus on that area. But only you can decide what you want to do the most, if you have options. Take your time.
You also must do networking. It’s a small industry, and people know each other. Never hesitate to ask fellow artists for advice or critics, all of us are always happy to help, and in return, you will do the same, for beginner artists. The kindness you get from professional artists, must be paid forward to other artists who need it.
But most importantly, just enjoy your journey. It’s not only about finding your own voice, but finding yourself too on the way.
What can we expect to see from you next?
I’m transitioning slowly but certainly to Environment Art, and I enjoy the process! I started learning Unreal Engine in 2019, and since then I have had plenty of opportunities to do some work in Unreal, and it still continues. I think my future projects will heavily rely on Unreal, and I see a lot of possibilities regarding virtual sets. It’s like creating new worlds, but in real-time and with 3D assets and photogrammetry based textures.
Besides the actual work, I will always try to find some free time for my own personal projects too. I appreciate personal projects the most from fellow artists because these projects require nothing but our own dedicated time, passion, and love, and can really show what’s inside the mind.