Mastering artistic lighting
All images © Gleb Alexandrov
All images © Gleb Alexandrov
Gleb Alexandrov, lighting enthusiast and founder of Creative Shrimp, shares his immersive images and advice for artists stepping out into the online world...
Gleb Alexandrov is the digital artist and blogger behind the Creative Shrimp blog, the place where artists go to get ahead in computer graphics and art. He actively participates in the Blender community by sharing tutorials and experience.
3dtotal: Hello, Gleb! Please could you introduce yourself to our readers: who are you, where are you, and what do you do?
Gleb Alexandrov: Hey everybody! I'm a digital artist and a blogger; I run the Creative Shrimp educational blog, where artists can learn tips and tricks about computer graphics and art. I love sharing my knowledge and experience with people online, and that is the most important thing in my life.
Basically, I believe that every artist can make a living by creating what she or he really wants. On my blog I show you how to do it; how to become a better artist and to think outside of the box. And that's super exciting for me.
I live in Belarus but I also feel connected to many other places (today's world is a global village indeed). I have friends, contacts, and readers from all around the world including the UK, Australia, USA, Germany, Malaysia, Poland, Netherlands, and many other countries. So I'm a kind of a global nerd.
3dt: What first inspired you to get into 3D and what inspires you now?
GA: When I was a kid, I played video games like a maniac, but everything changed when I stumbled across 3D games such as Half-Life, Quake (and even pre-rendered panoramic adventures like Myst). I was twelve years old and it impressed me like nothing else on Earth. The computer graphics blew my mind and in an instant I knew that this would become "thing"; I knew that I want to make virtual worlds for the rest of my life.
Before that moment, I was just playing, after that I started to learn how to create computer graphics. It was my biggest obsession, and I tried every piece of software that I could install on my lousy computer. Not to say that I wasn't lazy – I was probably the laziest person when it came to learning, but still, that urge to actually create, it made all the difference.
3dt: What software and tools do you use for your artwork, and why?
GA: For my artwork I mainly use Blender, because this open-source content-creation tool complements my way of thinking. I love sharing stuff with people and I'm a huge fan of open-source movements, free knowledge, and community-driven projects. Honestly, I have never seen such an active and amazing community before. There is an ecosystem of people that communicate with each other in Blender community, share tools, and create tutorials. That is a crazy mix of democracy, smart crowds, and Web 2.0 trends.
Besides Blender I use ZBrush, After Effects, Photoshop, Audition, 3ds Max, Unity, Unreal Engine, PhotoScan and who knows what else for my artwork. And that's my recommendation to every artist: experiment often. Experiment and always search for new things. You will be surprised how many crucial things you'll find while conducting your experiments.
3dt: Could you describe your general 3D workflow for us?
GA: It all starts with the reference – finding a great reference is a sure way to push your project in the right direction. I usually spend some time surfing Pixabay and Flickr, and saving cool photos in my "Top 100 Inspiring Photos" folder, because they will always be useful in the future. Then I just "draw the rest of the owl", you know? For me it means modeling stuff in Blender, visualizing in Cycles and post-processing in Photoshop. That's the backbone of my general 3D workflow. Oh, and I drink a cup of Costa Rican coffee somewhere in the process.
I also think that sharing works in progress with others is a super important part of my workflow. I don't trust my own eyes too much, you know. Ask other people! To really drive the point home and persuade other people that being critiqued is important, I run an honest critique session every month on Creative Shrimp. A recent one amassed an astonishing 690 comments.
3dt: You have a very active online presence, creating podcasts, tutorials and YouTube vlogs. Not many 3D artists present web content in this way – what motivated you to take this approach?
GA: I am both my narrative and online presence, I know this may sound weird. Creating tutorials, podcasts and communicating with my readers is the biggest motivation for me – nothing comes close. Getting feedback from people and seeing how they are getting ahead in art by watching tutorials is the best motivation for me. Without my audience I wouldn't have been able to start Creative Shrimp and I wouldn't create anything, because I love to share my knowledge. It's like a drug and I can only make my dose higher and higher. I call it gonzo blogging (like gonzo journalism, invented by Hunter S. Thompson), but instead of hard stuff I drink coffee.
3dt: What have you learned from the experience of setting up and maintaining Creative Shrimp?
GA: Here is what I learned from setting up Creative Shrimp. Set up a blog, if you haven't already, just do it and before the end of the month you will be amazed by your newly found productivity, I guarantee. In today's world, it's not enough to just create art, what you really need to do is to learn how to make your voice heard. You need to learn how to share your art, how to show your personality to other people – potential clients, if you are freelancer or readers, if you run a blog.
After setting up Creative Shrimp I almost instantly started to see the difference. I could draw more viewers to my work, and establish meaningful connections to artists and Blender enthusiasts all around the world. Now it is transforming into my income.
3dt: Tell us about your Open Lighting Book. What subjects do you cover, and what's the feedback been like?
GA: The Open Lighting Book is all about (re)discovering lighting as an aesthetic experience. I deeply believe that to create awesome lighting in computer graphics, you need to forget about computer graphics at all. We're used to talk about lighting in terms of shaders, light sources, and parameters. We are so focused on the technical side of things, which is fine while you're learning the basics of the software, but if you want to create something really stunning, something weird, something "outside the box"... then this approach sucks.
Really awesome lighting isn't created with light sources, it is created with your eyes; it's an aesthetic experience that you translate to 3D. It's your life, and your artistic sensitivity. For example, to create really immersive night city lighting (like in Big City Sensory Overload), you need to feel that sensory overstimulation. You can't interpret this Blade Runner-esque scene in terms of lighting schemes. The overwhelming amount of light coming from different angles renders such things as light placement, softness, and direction obsolete.
However, we can describe this lighting scenario in terms of aesthetic experience. I once stumbled across an article, on a mental health talk website, where a person described her overstimulation while visiting a mall; she said it was like taking LSD. "Then my visual perception would shift and it was like everything within my visual range was reaching toward me." It's what Susan Sontag called an 'erotics of art', noting that "in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art".
For me, the format of open project is the only way to write a book. I share every new chapter with my readers for free and I'm getting awesome feedback. I'm very excited to sit down and continue writing this book for you guys.
3dt: What is one key piece of advice that you'd pass on to other artists?
GA: Don't be afraid to show your personality. You are your own brand, so start building the narrative using your blog and social media. In the end, to be visible, it's not enough to create artworks and wait till someone sees it. Speak with other artists; post your artworks to every online gallery that you can find. ArtStation, CGSociety, 3dtotal, Blender Artists, and so on. If you wish, ask for a critique. After taking that leap, you'll never want to return into your comfort zone. Steve Jobs once said: "All dreams are outside of our comfort zone. Leaving that comfort zone is a price we must pay to achieve them."
3dt: Finally, and most importantly: what do you like to do in your spare time?
GA: I'm a coffee monster, so I drink lots and lots of espresso. When I'm not creating weird images, I spend my time with my wife. But honestly, I don't think that my life consists of 'work time' and 'spare time'. My work is my life, because I create the projects that are super interesting to me. And that is so satisfying. The blog, the book, the tutorials, and the art: I try to make sure that everything I do fits into the vision of what I am. I heard somewhere that it's called self-awareness, and I like how it sounds.
Thank you very much for speaking to 3dtotal!
Thank you so much and come visit me at Creative Shrimp.