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Christo Crafford: freelance concept artist interview

Christo Crafford

Freelance Concept Artist

South African freelance concept artist Christo Crafford shares amazing work from his portfolio and goes in depth about his workflow and software preferences…

Christo's Website

3dtotal

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?

Christo

My name is Christo Crafford, I am a concept artist based in Dubai, U.A.E. I am originally from South Africa but have spent most of my adult life in the U.K. and U.A.E. I come from a traditional filmmaking background but fell in love with concept art a couple of years ago. Since then I've dedicated everything I have to make a transition from filmmaking to concept art. Having spent time on real world sets and working in post-production has taught me valuable lessons in visual storytelling, which I am able to draw upon today as a concept artist.

3d digital art of an arctic airbase

3dtotal

What was the workflow behind your latest gallery image? Where did the idea come from?

Christo

I completed watching Peaky Blinders, a period piece taking place in post WW1 Birmingham, England, which has a very industrial setting. The cinematography just blew me away; it is very cinematic while communicating great atmosphere as well. I was already playing with a few ideas in my head for a piece about gangsters when Kitbash 3D announced they were hosting a contest for their Industrial Kit. I jumped at the chance to create something for it and downloaded the sample kit from their site straight away. Deluge was my entry for the contest and I am very thankful that Kitbash 3D awarded me the first prize. They have some amazing assets that I highly recommend.

military men and vehicle in swamp

3dtotal

What challenges did the image present? Did you learn something new?

Christo

The concept was to create a piece that showcases the moment a new gang arrives in town, taking out the current mafia boos. I knew that the characters would be the focal point for the piece and wanted to create a believable wardrobe in 3D. Marvelous Designer was the clear choice. I had used it a number of times before, but this time I had to push my skills further and also create more variations on garments than I used to. The scene contained characters both standing and lying down, all having unique poses barring the character lying face down furthest from the camera. The wardrobe also demanded three layers of garments all interacting with each other during simulation, but MD handled it like a champ. While it was challenging it was also super rewarding to see it all come together.

The characters' faces and gloves were sculpted in ZBrush. I normally use a fair bit of kitbashing on characters to save time while working on concepts, but for this one I wanted to sculpt the heads from scratch to give it an authentic and unique feel. The sculpts were fairly detailed but not too much because I knew they wouldn't be seen close up. Whatever else I wanted to add, I could do in Photoshop. Their faces had to have a real sense of menace about them so I opted for large negative space in the eye socket, and jaws to make it feel very skeletal. Because the scene is mainly lit from above, the light really catches those areas, glinting and making the characters feel very menacing. My motto for the characters were: "Death on two legs." The scene assembly and lighting was handled in Maya with Redshift as my renderer of choice.

Because the scene is mainly lit from above, the light really catches those areas, glinting and making the characters feel very menacing

3d sculpture of creature head

3dtotal

Do you use any other software, either for work or personal projects?

Christo

Maya, ZBrush, and Redshift are currently my 3D tools of choice with World Creator, Gaea and Substance Painter being used as well if and when needed. One of the aspects I really enjoy about ZBrush is that it feels like sketching in 3D. It's really powerful and versatile. Photoshop is employed for sketching, photobashing, overpainting, and finalizing concepts. I try to keep things as simple as possible and get the project into Photoshop as soon as possible. Even when I only have a rough 3D concept I tend to render it and do a quick overpaint in Photoshop to evaluate if my 3D design is going in the right direction, and make changes on the fly before investing too much time in it.

3dtotal

How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?

Christo

I keep a notebook where I write and sketch rough ideas as well as make quick sketches in Photoshop. You end up creating a library of ideas to draw from over time. That way you are never running empty on ideas. Just reading and learning about other industries and interests helps a great deal to broaden your horizons and visual library as well. I've always been a very curious person and like to explore new ideas constantly – that helps a lot too.

3d Maya sculpture of characters

3dtotal

Are you a member of any social media groups? Any favorite hashtags you check on a daily basis?

Christo

There are a smattering of them but I'd say the main ones are Artstation, several groups on Facebook like 3dtotal, LevelUp, the Redshift User group and 10K community and Monster Concepts on Instagram. I try to keep it to a fairly small number so that it is more manageable. Social media can suck up a lot of unnecessary time if you're not careful. But saying that – it is also a great way to showcase your work and connect with people. You just have to find a balance.

3d Maya sculpture of characters
Final 3d Maya sculpture of characters

3dtotal

What are your artistic ambitions?

Christo

I want to deliver the kind of work that can greenlight projects. The kind of work that will make investors say, "We want this." I know it's rather lofty but "Go big or go home" as we always say in South Africa. I want to work with top studios and talent from around the globe. Working with the best is the greatest way to grow, learn, and continually push yourself. Artistically, mastering both traditional and digital tools is the most important for me because I believe that makes you a better, more well rounded artist that can bring greater value to your employer in studio, or for a client as a freelancer. It allows you to contribute to departments further down the pipeline and helps facilitate faster iteration on designs as well.

3dtotal

Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?

Christo

I've always been a sucker for Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Dali, and Bosch. The Hudson River School painters like Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt have also been a great source of inspiration. The old masters will never go out of style. We really stand on the shoulders of giants. Their ability to paint light with oils on canvas and their compositions are just incredible. I really enjoy Dali and Bosch just for their crazy imagination and contributions to the art world. Van Gogh's brush work that feels like it moves when you stare at it.

My favorite modern masters are Craig Mullins, Dylan Cole, Andree Wallin, Steven Messing, Wojtek Fus, Emmanuel Shiu, Jama Jurabaev, Steven Cormann, Vitaly Bulgarov, John Sweeney, Eytan Zana, and Aaron Limonick to name a few. Their work shouts "cinematic" and definitely carries that "WOW" factor. They've really mastered the art of storytelling through concept art and design.

3d digital art of desert sci-fi buildings

3dtotal

What can we expect to see from you next?

Christo

I'd like to do a few more concepts based in the same world of Deluge to flesh out the story more, but for now there is another project I'm working on in my spare time as well. Both are in the sci-fi genre though so you can definitely expect more sci-fi work, maybe with a bit of fantasy in the mix as well. And of course – always keep pushing myself to get better and improve! Thank you for the opportunity to chat with you! It's been a real honor!

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