The Rookie Awards has always been the best way to help digital artists get discovered without having to compete with professionals for attention, not to mention win a mountain of prizes!

Over the years our entrants have been setting the standards of student artwork exceptionally high. They have walked away with industry recognition, mentorship, cool prizes and have connected with their peers and other industry leaders, globally.

Avery Kukla tells us how winning the Rookie Awards, Rookie of The Year for Product Design, propelled his career and shares some invaluable advice for other aspiring artists on a similar journey.


Entering the Awards

Why did you decide to enter the Rookie Awards?

I decided to enter the Rookie Awards in 2019 because I believed it was a vehicle in helping to get my foot into the industry. Another reason was that although I have a lot of experience and an urge to learn the medium of 3D, people would never know I existed if I didn't share my work to as many outlets as possible.

Describe some of the projects you included in your entry?

The project I entered was a recreation of the Eli Lily Humalog insulin pens I made as my final project in my Advanced Lighting & Rendering class at Ferris State University in November 2018.

The topic of that final project was essentially rendering static images and an animation of a real-life product. You can see my entry here.

If you could enter again, what would you do differently?

If I could participate in this contest again, my entry would be more geared towards a short film. I’ve only ever put together three short film animations in the past 6 years, but they were fun to work on from start to finish. In my spare time I will work on these types of personal projects more.

How has the Rookie Awards helped you on your journey?

The Rookie Awards assured me that I am awesome as a 3D Artist, especially during rough times. Secondly, affiliating my awards with my resume and portfolio adds so much more value to my capabilities as a 3D Artist.

What advice would you give to people thinking about entering?

Include your best work. Even if it is just one project. Everyone wants to see you put the time and dedication into your work, rather than doing so haphazardly.


The Journey

What made you want to work in creative industries?

I grew up watching Pixar movies like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. One summer during my middle school days, my cousin introduced me to a piece of software called Blender, explained what it was a layman’s term and mentioned, to an effect, that this is how Pixar makes their movies.

Blown away by the notion that a free computer program can “make” Pixar movies made me want to download it on the family laptop as soon as I could. One of my first projects was coloring the default cube red and animating it in a way that it floated in space while expanding and contracting its size.

To this day, I still aspire to tell stories through my work whenever possible, to be a director in either film or games. Over the past few years, the works of Pixar and Yoko Taro’s NieR Replicant have been notable pieces of inspiration to help innovate industry.

Describe your education journey that helped you become a professional artist?

Truth be told – I mainly taught myself. Specifically, by watching tutorials made by individuals such as Blender Guru and my aforementioned cousin. I still ask him questions about Blender to this day. My time studying at Ferris State University in the Digital Animation & Game Design program consisted of learning more about industry standards like real-time rendering in Unreal and quad-based topology while continuing to enhance my skills in the 3D medium.

Since graduating from university in May 2020, I’ve been teaching myself a cornucopia of 3D software like Maya, the Substance suite, Zbrush, Unreal Engine 4, V-Ray, and Nuke – and I enjoy every second of it. I have also been improving my current skills like modeling, texturing, lighting, animation, path-trace rendering, and real-time rendering.

Recently, I’ve been teaching myself procedural workflows in modeling and texturing. Namely, procedural animation using MASH within Maya to create 3D motion graphics and render them out using Arnold. I have also been learning to create materials like leather and fabric via Substance Designer and Alchemist for furniture recreation.

How did you get your first big industry break?

Truth be told, I feel that I truly haven’t yet. But I have done quite a lot pertaining to the medium over the past 6 years. In high school, when I still had a novice skillset in Blender, I was able to attend the Emerging Technologies classroom via Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center for half of the school day each day for my Junior and Senior years. Through the class, I was able to participate in the Business Professionals of America (BPA) student club, which provided plenty of opportunities for students like myself to grow as individuals and learn or advance skills through competitions.

Affiliating my [Rookie Awards] with my resume and portfolio adds so much more value to my capabilities as a 3D Artist.

I participated in the Computer Animation Team event both years attending Bay-Arenac. The first year my team, with one other teammate, placed 2nd in the state of Michigan. The second year, my team consisting of 2 other teammates, placed 3rd in the nation. You can see those animations from both years here and here.

When studying in community college, I took up the role of volunteer Computer Animation Coach: teaching high school students the fundamentals of 3D using Blender. Furthermore, I provided any troubleshooting if and when errors came about, helping them achieve their vision as they competed in the Computer Animation Team event.

During that 2-year timespan, I coached 6 teams—1 of which placed 3rd in the State of Michigan in 2016, and another 2nd in 2017. Since 2018, I am a national-level technical judge for the Computer Animation Team, and Computer Modeling events, reviewing each and every entry objectively and I look forward to doing that each year.

What advice would you give artists to help them break into the creative industry?

Breaking into this industry takes time, and you need to be patient with it. A lot of professionals you interview with are going to tell you, in essence, “no,” “maybe,” or even say nothing at all to you about working with them and the team – and do not let all that discourage you from pursuing your dreams. Neither should the very notion of failure, for it should be perceived as learning and growing, rather than letting it be the end.

Believe in yourself. Everyone has a galaxy of potential to explore through and through, and I can’t wait to see what people discover in theirs.

On the Job

Where do you work, and what is your role?

At the moment, I am working remotely for Skyline E3, Inc. They are based in Lenexa, Kansas. I am an Interactive Designer there.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The typical day of an Interactive Designer consists of reading and replying to emails; revising and updating 3D environments to be sent off to our render farm, and interactive content for virtual showrooms; sending showroom progress to project managers, sales, and my supervisor via email.

Describe some of the tasks you are given?

I assemble and optimize 3D scenes to be rendered as panoramic images., take those rendered images into 3Dvista and create interactive media— mainly, buttons that would open menus, PDF and YouTube video links, and 3D model viewers.

Your favourite experience while working is:

Being able to teach the recently recruited Exhibit Designer Blender.

An experience you’d prefer to forget about is:

Not being able to consistently use my skillset in 3D to its fullest potential.

What software and tools do you use daily?

Blender, the Adobe Creative suite, and 3Dvista.

How do you manage to keep upskilling while working?

I always find time to keep breaking my bars and setting them higher during the week. A wise man once told me to keep pursuing my passions whenever I have the time to spare. My latest project is creating abstract and surreal animation using Perk-a-Cola cans from Call of Duty: Cold War Zombies.


What’s Next

How have things changed for you now that you’re working professionally?

Honestly, I don’t feel any different. Just my same old, ponderous self, really.

What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting your career?

Hard work isn’t defined by working on something 24/7; but rather finding inspiration that would make your work stand out even longer. As well as giving yourself time to rest. Not by lying in bed all day (unless you really want to), but by playing video games, spending time with friends and family—or what have you! Doing these things will make you motivated to get back on the grind.

Where will we see you next? Where will the journey take you?

Let’s just say anything is possible if you believe in it!


You can find more of Avery's work on ArtStation, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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