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Yulia Sokolova: character artist interview

Russian character artist Yulia Sokolova designs and models characters in 3D, and talks about challenges she was able to overcome with her latest gallery entry. Find out more…

Yulia's website

Adam

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

Yulia

Hi, my name is Yulia Sokolova. I was born in a small Russian town, surrounded by lakes and mountains, and at the moment I live in sunny Spain. I’m a freelance 2D/3D character artist currently working on designing concepts and modeling a set of characters for an adventure game which is going to be announced soon.

Videogames and animated movies have been my passion since I was a kid. However, I started working as a 3D artist not so long ago. Before that, I already had some experience in game development, but our company was creating games for social networks back in 2010, and it was mostly vector graphics and 2D animation in Flash. Later I switched to creating various assets for Disney’s Star Darlings franchise, and drawing stickers and icons for mobile apps. But by that time I felt that it was not enough; I wanted to challenge myself with something new and more complex.

About a year ago, following the advice of my fiancé who is a 3D weapon artist, I got back to designing characters and modeling them in 3D too. This helped me to get even more inspired and find passion in my work. I also completed two terms of courses at Mold3D Academy to improve my skills, which gave me a huge step forward.

Adam

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

Yulia

I’ve started this Samurai character right after I saw the original concept by Kati Sarin S. on the Feudal Japan contest held by Artstation. Kati’s style is very close to me, I really love how she works with shapes. I immediately imagined how this character would look like when transferred in 3D, so I just opened ZBrush and started sculpting.

Adam

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

Yulia

There were a couple of things I was concerned about during this project. Firstly, I was deciding on the presentation of my character. I didn’t want to keep her in T-pose. But since it was a real-time character, I didn’t want to pose her in ZBrush, because I was worried about the skin weights and textures. So I ended up trying something new – I’ve made a simple rig in Maya and used it for the final pose.

Another thing was to maintain a balance between simple and complex. The goal was to keep a minimum of small details (wrinkles, folds, material textures, and so on) in terms of style, but at the same time I wanted to bring a drop of realism to the skin, clothes, and weapons, so that it doesn’t look like one and the same material.

Adam

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

Yulia

When working on various models for games, I use a wide range of packages. I always start sculpting in ZBrush and once the hi-poly is ready, I take it to Maya for retopology and UVs. The next step is to bake and texture everything in Substance Painter. Sometimes I use Photoshop and 3D-Coat instead, if I want to create hand-painted textures.

Finally, I put everything together in Marmoset, set a scene, adjust the lights, materials and everything else for a beautiful render and final presentation. If you’re willing to know some more about behind the scenes of my rendering process, you can check out my breakdown article on Marmoset’s website.

Some people say that old works are useful for tracking your progress, and that is true, but for this purpose you I usually keep them in a separate folder or on another platform like Instagram or Twitter.

Adam

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

Yulia

One great tip that I’ve learned about building your art portfolio is to delete an old piece when you upload a new piece. This way, the quality of your portfolio is growing together with your skill and it is easier to keep everything neat and organized.

Another point is having 4-5 strong works instead of a bunch of mediocre pieces. Some people say that old works are useful for tracking your progress, and that is true, but for this purpose you I usually keep them in a separate folder or on another platform like Instagram or Twitter.

I would suggest watching a Killer Portfolio or Portfolio Killer? Industry Artists Weigh In from GDC on YouTube. They share some really useful recommendations and discuss how they pick candidates for a job in the industry when looking through various portfolios.

Adam

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

Yulia

Yes, I’m actually a member of a bunch of websites about 2D/3D graphics, games, and animation. It is unreal to read through all the content out there, but when looking for something specific, you’ll definitely discover a lot of amazing and useful stuff.

3dtotal: I often check other artists’ interviews, read tutorials, and look through the gallery.

80.lv: I love this one for their inspiring articles and tutorials. Job offers from various studios are also presented here.

Polycount: My number one website to check WIP threads and look for help or feedback. They also have a board for employers and employees.

ZBrushcentral: A cozy place for digital sculptors and its name speaks for itself.

Artstation: A well-known place for showcasing your portfolio, following your favorite artists, participating in contests. They also have a lot of interesting and inspiring content and job offers.

Last but not least, I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Instagram; these platforms are great for sharing useful tips, WIPs, and sketches.

Adam

How important is the recognition of your peers?

Yulia

As any other artist, I can’t deny the fact that feedback and recognition are essential. Comments and critiques help to improve my skill and level up when working on every new character. At the same time, receiving positive feedback and being featured in various galleries inspires me and keeps me motivated to create new personal pieces and experiment with new techniques.

Adam

What are your artistic ambitions?

Yulia

I have a long road ahead and I’m eager to work on some amazing AAA-game project or animated movie. That would be a great experience being a part of a team of professionals, and learn all the nuances of the development process in a big studio.

Adam

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

Yulia

It is so hard to mention all of my favorite artists! First of all, I want to name those people who influenced my style a lot and who have given me their priceless feedback: Dylan Ekren, J Hill, and Dachi Gog.

And these guys and girls create truly amazing things: Danny Mac, Olga Anufrieva, Shane Olson, Matt Thorup, Marc Brunet, Shayleen Hulbert, Michael Vicente (Orb), Yekaterina Bourykina, and Maria Panfilova. They also share a lot of useful techniques, streams, and tutorials, definitely check out their works!

Adam

What can we expect to see from you next?

Yulia

I have a couple of models that require a few final touches before I can call them done. As previously, while working on personal projects, I’m experimenting and trying new things. One of the characters is going to be in a more realistic style, with all the PBR bells and whistles. The second one is a creature with various assets. Apart from that, I’ll be sharing a couple of characters that I’m making for the game. It is going to be an interesting setting with elegant outfits, but I’m not going to show all the aces right now. Stay tuned!