When inspiration strikes, getting to work is easy. The idea is fresh, you’re still excited, and you have all sorts of ideas on how exactly to proceed.
But 3D art takes a lot of time, and inspiration passes quickly. How can you make sure to keep your momentum when that eureka moment has passed?
Working while inspired is easy. That feeling of artistic momentum makes the process fun. It’s probably why you’re an artist in the first place – it’s a good feeling!
But as we all know, 3D is a time-consuming medium. And if you’re like me, your artistic momentum usually runs out before you can finish your project completely.
So learning how to overcome that stopping point is one of the most important skills you must master to become a professional artist. And the first step to mastering that skill is to learn what usually stops your momentum!
In my experience, momentum usually dries up in one of two places;
- at DEAD ENDS, or
- at a BLANK CANVAS.
Dead ends come after you’ve completed something:
The most common point of failure comes at the moment where you feel done with what you’re working on now, but you don’t know what’s next – and this moment has been the death of a lot of projects. My hard drive is full of these projects!
When you’ve hit a dead-end, it is hard to know where to go. Some times taking a break actually works. (Warning: don’t use this as an excuse to surf the net or check your email endlessly and feel productive!)
I think the key to getting moving again is iteration. Look at a part of your work, and ask yourself – “how could I make this better?”
When evaluating your work for iteration, you can approach it in lots of ways. A few examples:
- Evaluate the silhouette of your geometry. Is something missing?
- Could there be more curvature, where things look a little too low-poly?
- Is there an accessory that’s missing that you can add?
- Do you have color on your model yet? If not, then create simple colored shaders and apply them to your model. This should only take a few seconds!
- If you already have colored shaders, try adding texture detail.
- If you haven’t started unwrapping because you’ve put it off, maybe this is where you start it.
- If the overall form of your subject is there, you can try diving directly into tiny details like high-resolution textures,
- or super-detailed sculpts,
- or rivets or bevels on small areas of the model.
What does this have to do with iterating?
If we’re doing things right, we’ve done something that improved one part of our level or model or character or whatever.
That improved bit will be better than the rest of the scene/model/character because of that detail. Other parts of your scene will look slightly suckier.
We’ll use that to build up the rest of our project! We bootstrap our art into looking better by pushing the ugly parts to look better.
Here’s the trick – during this process, once you’re working again, something new will almost certainly come to mind. You’ll think of other cool ideas, or other details that need finishing. BAM! Momentum achieved!
What about a blank canvas at the beginning?
The other big area I run into problems with is starting up again after a break, or first thing in the morning. Starting something is even harder than maintaining momentum! It’s hard to get into that groove again.
Here’s the trick though – before finishing up the night before, drop something right in the middle of it. Stop working on a texture before it’s finished. Or stop sculpting while the ear still looks mangled.
The next day, you’ll remember what you were working on. And even if you don’t, the obvious loose end will be right there, begging to be tied up!
You’ll be able to start work right away, working on the thing you previously left unfinished. And just like in the case of iteration, while you’re tying up that loose end, you will spot something new to tackle, et voilà, momentum is rolling!
Keep that artistic momentum going!
With 3D, it is easy to become daunted by a complex project in the face of waning inspiration. Both of the techniques I’ve highlighted are a way to focus on tiny details, in a way that jumpstarts our bigger creative drives.
Instead of looking at that big complex project, we simply advance step-by-step. We strategically build our project up bit by bit, and every step seems reasonable and achievable. And every little bit inspires us to do another little bit. If we do it right, there’s never a sticking point that kills the project.
Sure, it’s not be the kind of world-shaking inspiration that launches our project. But by iteratively adding detail to our scenes, we escape that waning artistic momentum/inspiration trap, and we make steady progress.