A recent graduate of Lightbox Academy, Laura Suonpera Lozano, has set her sights on crafting beautiful 3D art for animated films in her role as a Surfacing Artist. In this article, Laura discusses the insights garnered from her studies and her inaugural year in the industry, shedding light on the transformative impact on her skills and artistic evolution.
What I want to achieve with my art
My approach to projects involves viewing them as both personal endeavours that I enjoy creating for fun and as portfolio pieces to showcase my artistic and technical abilities. This is why I emphasize the importance of executing high-quality 3D modeling, as well as focusing on aspects like texturing, look development, and lighting. My intention is to ensure that the final results appear as impressive as possible, as I invest a considerable amount of passion into each project.
My artistic and technical background
Last year I studied a Maya Masters Degree at Lightbox Academy in hopes to become a 3D modeler, and by doing so, I learnt most of my artistic abilities.
I also value the technical aspect of 3D art. Prior to becoming a 3D artist, I pursued Game Development in college, and this technical foundation made me interested in various aspects of the 3D pipeline.
Among these facets, shading resonated with me the most. It demands a blend of artistic insight and technical knowledge to create good looking shaders and elevate the visual appeal of my projects.
Upon completing my studies, I started a job at Lightbox Animation Studios, where I joined the surfacing team. In my role I created textures as an artist in Adobe Substance 3D Painter and subsequently creating shaders within Maya. My time there spanned 9 months, during which I absorbed knowledge from my more experienced teammates. This immersive experience enabled me to refine my skills and create detailed assets that could be seamlessly integrated into the production pipeline.
Practical example: Improvement of the gatherer’s garden
To test that my surfacing skills improved after I started working, I decided to redo the textures and the shading of one of my old projects: The Gatherer’s Garden, a Bioshock fanart I created almost a year ago.
I created brand new materials using Substance 3D Painter and Maya based on the ones the old version had, but changing some stuff such as:
Colour palette: I made it more coherent and now the different parts have more chromatic contrast. I also created neutral lighting in the scene to showcase better the materials.
More details in the normal and specular maps: Now the materials roughness has more variation and it simulates as if it was wet in some parts. The normal map also has more detail so the surface looks bumped and a little older
nother project I used my new surfacing skills on, was the one I used as an entry for The Rookie Awards (2023), a recreation of two of the Tamagotchis I had when I was a kid.
Finding a new passion: VFX with Houdini
Just when the production we were working on at the studio ended, I found out that I won a student grant sponsored by NVIDIA and Lightbox Academy and…I was awarded a new computer to continue growing as an artist and a master’s degree of my choice!
I chose to learn VFX with Houdini because it’s also a technical skill and I really admired the stuff other students and professionals created.
I really like how Houdini allows you to model procedural stuff and also gives life to your environments because it creates beautiful effects such as water, particles and even fire!
Mixing different skills in one project: Mechanical beetle
Despite being specialiSed as a Surfacing Artist, I always try to integrate all of the fields I’ve learned about in my projects, so I try to do the whole pipeline by myself, from modeling to simulating and rendering the scene.
The last project I’ve been working on can be used as an example about my workflow: A steampunk beetle based on the sculptures Tom Hardwidge creates using small mechanical pieces.
Firstly, I modeled it in Maya (and created a little animation of it flying too!) I exported the beetle as an alembic file (.abc) to preserve the animation.
This is how the base model looks without textures:
Then, I decided to integrate it inside an environment that consists of a little fountain with a potted plant next to a forest. With the exception of the stones (that were created procedurally with houdini) everything was modeled with Maya.
The textures were created with Substance 3D Painter, then I switched my workflow to Houdini and shaded it using redshift materials. I also created the lighting of the scene there, all finally rendered with Redshift.
For the simulation part, I decided to create a rigid body simulation inside of houdini that makes the beetle fall mid-flight and break into pieces when it reaches the fountain’s rocks.
The water was created using FLIPS. It consists of a water tank and an emitter to simulate falling water and make the tank water’s behavior more interesting.
I also thought that it would be cool to have some sparkling dust flying around to give it a more “magical” feel, so I simulated some with houdini’s particles.
This is how the finished render looks like!
The conclusions I draw from my experience are that it's very rewarding to see all of your skills combined in one project, and it makes you feel that all of the time spent learning the stuff that you enjoyed was worth it.
I’ve also learned that even if you are specialised in a specific field, it shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your passions and keep learning new stuff!
I’d like to say thank you to all of the teachers and students I spent time with learning all of this stuff. It's because of them that I’m confident in myself, and they always inspire me to grow as a student and as a professional. Thank you so much.
And thank you too for taking time to read my article. I hope It was worth it and inspired you a little bit to keep pursuing your dreams.
You can reach out to Laura via her Rookies profile here and LinkedIn.