Project Inspiration from a Self-Taught 3D Artist

Project Inspiration from a Self-Taught 3D Artist

Zahid Lagumdžić, a self-taught 3D Character Artist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, offers insights into his unique vision through his latest project, "Lil Guy".

Zahid Lagumdžić is a self taught 3D Character Artist, residing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it’s easier to say you work in “computers” than explain what game design is. He has a background in illustration, having worked as a freelancer before deciding to focus on full time 3D. He specialises in characters and creatures, and is now working in the video game industry. In this article we explore Zahid's latest project, where he offers insights into his self-taught journey and artistic vision.

Today I’ll be talking about a piece near and dear to me. I don’t think I can provide any original or groundbreaking insights on how 3D should be done. Everything I know was learned from various individuals sharing their knowledge freely online, which is an incredible benefit of this industry.

I watched countless ZBrush sculpting videos before I ever attempted to create a character of my own. As a self taught artist, I was lucky to have so many resources available, which wasn’t always the case.

Alongside the showcase of the character, I’d like to delve a bit into the mindset of creating something for yourself, rather than following trends. Like many personal artworks, this piece started off with a bit of a nervous breakdown, or if you want to be fancy about it, a creativé block. At the time I was unable to get myself to finalsze any portfolio piece. After a slight meltdown regarding the anatomy of a certain deltoid region, I realised I should do something for myself. Something I would enjoy working on that wasn’t likely to garner much attention. As I was scrolling through Pinterest, the clouds of scantily clad women and 0% body fat superheroes cleared, and there it was. I gazed upon the most beautiful creature my eyes had laid upon. This was, of course, in the form of a disgusting, stumpy, little goblin creature. He was perfect. The illustration was so expertly done by Ben Stenbeck, who you might know for his illustrative work in the Hellboy comics, and his most recent comic "Our Bones Dust".

That night I went into the sculpting phase, blocking out the basic shapes. We’ve all seen the videos, so we know how it goes. I started off with a basic sphere for the head and went from there. The head is usually the most important aspect of the sculpt for me, because it’s the part I find the most interesting. I started off my sculpting journey doing portraits, and I’ll be damned if I’ll devote any time learning body anatomy.*

*For potential future employers out there, this is but a humorous jest to showcase brevity, not an admission of my skill, or lack of it. Like every artist, I naturally know what, where and how much a flexor digitorum superficialis is.

This brings me to a point that I’d like to touch on for a moment. Every single sculpt will start off looking poorly. At this stage it only has a nice personality. There is no shame in it, and in fact, I absolutely adore when artists showcase their early sketches and block-outs. It shows that under all of that glitz and glamor there is still a human being underneath. Except for those individuals whose work instantly looks appealing with the first stroke of the pen. For those artists, we’ll sleep better at night by making up lies that they are deficient in some other areas in which we are experts in. Perhaps they need to play Baldur's Gate 3 on the Explorer setting because they can’t get past the first act.

For the body I used a base mesh that I made in the past for myself. See, I know how to do body anatomy, at least once. The armour started life off as a sphere as well. I think it’s a very important aspect of any artistic representation to think about the character and their setting. The armor looks beat up in the concept, so the complexity of its craftsmanship only goes as far as the tech of this goblin species allows. Perhaps he had gotten it off of a corpse, or it was custom made for his tiny stature. The bone sticking on his right seems to be a part of a sword, which makes sense for the character. The dagger on the other hand is very ornate and intricate in comparison, suggesting it may have been stolen. These are the types of details that always draw me to a character. Storytelling elements are important when it comes to bringing a character to life, and grounding them in their chosen setting.

Will any of these aspects show up in your final work? Perhaps not, but the goblin is in the details.

Once the major shapes were in place, I place my model side by side with the illustration for comparison. It doesn't have to be perfect, as certain aspects that work in an illustration will not work when you have them placed in 3D. The most important part is that they share a similar feeling between one another.

Storytelling elements are important when it comes to bringing a character to life, and grounding them in their chosen setting.

Another tool I use frequently when I need to match proportions is this useful slider in ZBrush. You might have encountered this little thing in the past, and like myself, assumed it a very strange feature. You can use it to have an image beneath your software, so you may directly adjust your model to match the reference underneath. Once you have your camera in the correct FOV, angle and placement, you may save it and continue working on your models from all angles, without losing the camera placement.

Frequently I'll take my model into the rendering software I will be using, so I can tell what works and what doesn't in the final. Don't trust ZBrush all the time. Something that works great there, might not in the renderer.

After I felt my model looked relatively decent, I started planning out my topology and UV’s for texturing. For the topology and UV’s I took myself over to Maya, which in some distant lands and old texts might be referred to as the ‘industry standard’. Archeologists are still trying to determine the meaning behind these ancient words.

There, I did a very basic and dirty topology + UVs and called it a day. It’s not like anyone will see it…

kinda looks like a baby's head

Making 3D characters is a juggling act between softwares if you wish to achieve your preferred results. Unless you’re an exclusive Blender user, but those people are a species unto themselves.

I am a ZBrush cowboy through and through, so most of my initial albedo work is done there. After placing the basic skin colour and determining regions of interest, we turn to the ‘Surface’ panel, where all the fun layering can be done.

Same as with the sculpt, it is very important to continuously check your textures in the engine you decide to render in. It might look good in ZBrush or Substance 3D,  but all of that will fall through if it doesn’t look good in the final.

Having finished the iterations, I was ready to post the work. It was created purely for my own enjoyment, so I wasn’t expecting a lot of traction, and that was alright. Artists shouldn’t judge themselves based on likes, though it’s an easy trap to fall into. Online engagement and likes are a currency of appreciation, but shouldn’t be the main goal for anyone. Having worked on a character purely out of the urge to do so was rewarding enough on its own.

In a span of an hour I had gotten TWENTY likes on ArtStation. In the currency of multi platform conversion, those twenty likes on ArtStation were almost two hundred on platforms such as Instagram. I was practically famous.

In the span of a few days it had amassed to several hundred, and subsequently to two thousand, but who’s counting? People whose work I’ve followed for years were commenting and liking the nasty little goblin guy. It was eye opening for me that when I went out and did a thing I thought no one would care about but me, I had gotten the most praise for. It was exactly my style and the subject matter I adored.

One of the people that saw my piece was Ben Stenbeck himself. Him loving it was probably the best compliment I could have gotten. And when he asked me if the model was printable, I said yes.  

Naturally it wasn’t at the time, but I wasn’t going to let the truth come in the way of that. Luckily I had prior experience with working in 3D printing.

I made the hair in ZBrush, and made sure that everything was airtight for the printer. I sent him over two pieces. One to be used as a mini (which can be printed as a whole piece), and a bigger one (which needed to be split in multiple part and attached after printing).

Overall, I love how it turned out! Perhaps I’ll do more of this sort of stuff in the future.

Ben's first test of the print :)

Getting praise for the work was great, but it’s worth noting how important it is to go after concepts that interest you. More often than not, those are the pieces that people notice. If I hadn’t done my ‘Lil guy’ I wouldn’t have known how many freaks, such as myself, love this sort of work. And if you’ve reached this far, then I guess you’re a freak too. <3

Thank you for reading. Okay. Bye now.

You can reach out to Zahid and learn more about his projects here.