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Roman Volkov – A 3D hobby taken to the next level

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My first contact with Roman’s work was through blenderartists.org forum. Being a car aficionado myself, I naturally took a liking to his art. The things that really impressed me though, were the close-up and outdoor renders. The reflections were just right, the light spot on (pun intended) and the overall look was worthy of a manufacturer’s catalogue. In fact, at a certain point I thought they could be easily mistaken for real photos of a car.
Read on to find out how he works and his very interesting views about modelling and more.

 

Hi Roman, you told me that 3D art is currently a hobby of yours. Tell  us a little bit about how you got into it.

Oh, it’s a long story. From my very childhood I liked drawing and freehand modelling. When studying in school, this passion gradually moved into a digital world.
My first steps in 3D art were simply a result of curiosity, but this gave me a general understanding of what 3D modelling itself really is. Actually, I considered this activity only as a good way of spending my spare time.

My main interests lay in the sphere of programming which I studied in university. Despite this, I nearly always tried to find some time for my old passion. As a result, even after graduating as a specialist in IT, I had enough experience in 3D graphics to assist a teaching process of related disciplines and to make my own contribution into university educational programs.

For some period of time I mastered my skills in 2D and 3D art while being a part of the university’s team of designers. It was a productive period. But never the less, it was not my main activity as I was working in a completely different sphere.

It may seem strange, but 3d art is still a hobby of mine. Though I feel a tendency toward switching completely into this industry in the nearest future.

Geely Emgrand EC7 RV (model year 2013) Headlight closeup

 

You studied mathematics and IT, does your artistic side gravitate more around technical designs or does it also touch on freehand modelling?

I liked freehand modelling which resulted in many different models of sail ships and airplanes. They were models made entirely from scratch and from special kits as well.

Currently my artistic side express itself in a digital world. You can create nearly anything there, your imagination gets powerful tools to bring nearly any idea to life. Moreover, there are potentially a lot of application possibilities of such work.

 

How did you discover Blender? What made you stick with it?

When I was a student, I got interested in open software and started to use Linux everywhere. With such a passion, sooner or later I had to come across free solutions for 3D graphics. And of course, it was Blender! I liked it from the very beginning. Before that I had already had some experience with one popular 3D software and I wanted to prove to myself and others that this free solution is worth the attention and is capable to perform as complex things as other famous software could.

It was Blender v2.49. From that time I started to discover a world of Blender. At first it seemed to me that it was a relatively simple software, but the more time I spent with it, the more discoveries I made. It turned out that it had a comprehensive set of tools for modelling, texturing, rigging, rendering and even more.

Of course, there were some unusual things, such as inability to change primitive’s parameters some time after its creation, some peculiarities in manipulations with the object’s center (pivot point) and so on, but very soon I got used to it. Actually, Blender had all the necessary tools and my usual workflow was not affected after switching to this software. So, I had no reasons to switch back.

Geely Emgrand EC7 RV (model year 2013) on a forest road.

 

Your models are very life-like, what is your modeling workflow?

I suppose there is nothing very special in my workflow. Before doing something, there should be a plan or an idea about what you want to achieve in the end. The more detailed it is, the less time you need to accomplish the work. A stage of gathering of information starts right after this. It can be very time consuming work but again, the more information you have (i.e. drafts, measurements, reference photos etc.), the faster you’ll get the model done. When I’m ready with it, I start modelling. Depending on desired accuracy and further application, it can be a low-, mid- or high-poly model. I prefer to use different polygonal techniques.

To have a realistic looking render, you need to recreate as much details as possible (or reasonable). And for me it’s often tricky to decide which of them should be done in mesh and which should be recreated in a texture. I usually make a decision based on a time estimation and complexity of each way for each particular detail.

As for texturing, sometimes I create complex textures before unwrapping corresponding meshes (as with dashboard and buttons icons), sometimes vice versa. Both approaches work well for me, but which one I  choose depends on a certain situation.

Another important factor for having a good-looking model is good materials. I usually create a separate .blend file, where I test materials, especially with procedural textures. After I’m ready with that, I import the material into the main scene. Even if you have a super precise and detailed model of anything it could be insufficient for a good render.

Light! Light is something that can ruin a perfect scene if you have a bad lighting setup, or it can emphasize the good sides of a poor model if you understand how to manage it. I usually spend a lot of time while creating a good lighting setup. Moreover, each render usually requires its own lighting setup. It’s very convenient to make an accent on the parts of your model that you want to draw attention to with the help of a correctly configured lighting setup.

Of course, some post-processing in 2D editors also takes place. I usually adjust color tints, brightness, contrast, remove fireflies if any and so on.

A criteria of a render readiness for me is photo similarity. If there is something that is not eye candy, I consider it as a flaw which should be fixed. Of course, such a polishing process can be infinite, and sooner or later I simply stop this process and wait until the morning. After that I make the final decision whether to publish the current version of the render or continue working and modify some elements in the scene.

Geely Emgrand EC7 RV rear left taillights.

 

What part of the Geely EC7 model did you find the most challenging to create?

It’s hard to say exactly. Actually I tested different new modelling techniques within this project. There were many complex interior elements with different kinds of wrinkles and seams. Maybe, the most challenging was the creation of the door apertures. These areas are places where the interior joins the exterior. Any unnoticed mistakes in measurements during exterior or interior modelling stage become obvious while modelling these apertures. It may take hours to fix even small flaws in those areas. (if your goal is a precise recreation of an object, of course)

Another interesting thing was the creation of a fully procedural leather texture. Blenderartists.org forum helped a lot with it.

To get good reflections on a white car paint was yet another challenge. It’s much simpler to play with darker colors, but as the reference car was white I wanted to stay with that and try to make good renders.

Geely Emgrand EC7 RV Leather Interior

 

You’ve received a very positive feedback for your work from the blenderartists.org forum. How do you find the blender community?

The Blender community is very responsive and fast growing, having many people with great experience in the 3D industry. It’s a pleasure to have the ability to communicate with such people. I like blenderartists.org forum as you can find answers there on nearly all possible technical questions regarding Blender and even more.  

I very much appreciate the comments that I am being given regarding my work. This feedback is very valuable as it helps me understand what I should pay attention to first of all to improve my skills. And, of course, I’m very pleased that people find my work interesting and worth mentioning. It inspires me to start new projects and to continue working on existing ones.

 

You’re currently a Technical Education Coordinator in the telecom and utility industry, why choose car design? And more to the point, why Geely?

Currently my work is to prepare employees for the company which creates and supports its own product mainly for small and mid size telecom businesses. I lead educational courses which include such topics as Linux and network administration, relational databases, web servers, VoIP protocols and technologies and so on. When I have some spare time, I return to my old passion – 3D graphics. For me, resting is simply switching to another activity. 🙂

I like nearly any kind of machinery, it can be vehicles, trains, airplanes…

But recently I have concentrated more on car design because we are surrounded by cars, it’s something that you see every day. In each car I see first of all the result of a designer’s work. It’s interesting for me why he (or she) decided to use this element rather than that, could it be done in another way and so on.

Regarding Geely, people usually like to recreate premium or luxury vehicles from different manufacturers but these cars are already a piece of art. I wanted to choose something more ‘ordinary’, but still a pretty one. As a result I chose my own car for reproduction, so that it would be very convenient to gather all the necessary information, to take measurements, to get access to any place of the vehicle.

A facelift concept of the Emgrand 7. The idea was to leave metal parts of the body as they are, but revise bumper and headlights.

 

Since you’re already in education, have you ever thought about making a video tutorial?

When I taught students at university, I led classes related to 3D graphics. One of them included some development (creation of small game engines), another one was entirely dedicated to learning different 3D modelling techniques, texturing, rendering etc. I had the chance to modify educational programs of both disciplines and shortly after that Blender was first introduced there. Now students of that university have an opportunity to get familiar with open software solutions for 3D graphics.
Of course, those materials can not be shared with the wide audience as they are the property of the university.

But I believe it would be great to create several tutorials on 3D modelling based on my several years’ experience in teaching.

VL-80 Locomotive

Is there anything you want to say to people who are just starting to learn 3D modelling?

3D modelling is a very wide area of knowledge. If we are talking about getting skills in polygonal modelling – the simplest way to get started is to model any object you see around. Try to imagine which primitive would be the best starting point for this object. Then try different extrusions, insets, subdivisions, etc that would result in the desired shape. First meshes are rarely perfect, so don’t stop trying. When you feel more confident with modeling of simple objects, try some more complex ones. Any complex object is a combination of simple shapes.

As always, practice is the key to success. The more practice you have, the faster you’ll get your desired skills. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated and continue working on a project. As far as I know, many artists face this thing sometimes. In such cases I usually try to switch to another activity for some time, or try to reconsider the goal of the project.

But what is really important if you want to have your big project ever done, is to find bits of your spare time to work on it, even if to just move some vertices around. You’ll be surprised how much work can be done within these small periods of time. Usually people postpone the work till some good time in the future which for some strange reason never comes.

M14P Engine – A nine-cylinder, four-stroke, air-cooled, petrol-powered radial engine.

 

Was there any particular resource that you found very helpful when learning Blender?

I can’t say that there is one particular resource, instead there is a bunch of such resources that I found to be very helpful in learning Blender. For example: blenderguru.com, blenderartists.org, cgcookie.com, creativeshrimp.com, chocofur.com and many others.

On the other hand, it is hard to use Blender efficiently without understanding fundamental principles of computer graphics, color theory, photography and so on. Therefore even non-Blender resources can potentially help in learning it.

 

Do you think about attending the Blender conference next month?

I wish I could attend the conference this year. It’s a great event in the Blender world and many talented artists and developers attend the conference. It would be a good opportunity for me to talk with them and exchange experiences. I look forward to attend the conference next year.

 

More of Roman’s work here:

blenderartists thread
https://www.artstation.com/roman-volkov

Bogdan Hunter
Passionate about technology and science, always finding ways to improve processes and technologies.