Learn Squared Term 1 – My Notes and Insights From All Four Courses With Anthony Jones, Maciej Kuciara, Jama Jurabaev and Ash Thorp

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There are probably a lot of people out there wondering about the Learn Squared courses. Put together by some of the biggest names in the concept art industry – Anthony Jones, Maciej Kuciara, Jama Jurabaev and Ash Thorp – I jumped at the opportunity to learn from these guys immediately. So for those of you who are wondering about the courses – not sure if they’re right for them or maybe are not sure which one to take, or maybe just can’t afford it at the moment – these notes will hopefully serve to give you some insight into the work, techniques and thinking of some of the best in the industry. I have learned a tremendous amount from these guys, their Gumroads have been invaluable to me and Ash’s podcast has been a platform where I’ve gotten to hear about the mindsets of some of the best artists and their journeys. They have saved me months in learning time and I am extremely grateful for all of their work. I also have to say that I’m in no way affiliated and apart from annoying these people on Facebook to thank them for their work – we’ve never even spoken.

I will be posting my notes and insights from the lessons here, trying to share with you not necessarily just what’s covered in the lectures, but what principles or underlying themes I can find that the instructors cover. I will be updating this post weekly as new lectures become available. I’ll also post some of the work I’ve done for the courses

Notes on Term 2 can be found here.


Painting Fundamentals with Anthony Jones:

Being a conscious student, not a copy machine. Copying, once mastered, does not give you knowledge of underlying form or principles you could apply to your work. It becomes an exercise of accuracy and measurement – fundamental skills, but once you’ve gotten them under your belt it’s time to unlearn copy mode and become an art explorer or scientist.

Patterns – observing information and forming theories or patterns based on hypothesis – a requirement for scientific exploration. To not passively look at information, but to engage and actively form conclusions which can then be transferred to solving other problems .

Don’t go for big answers – Small epiphanies as AJ calls them. Do consistent studies and accumulate the small insights to get cumulative, huge results over time.

One thing I find in many of his Gumroad vids as well – being fascinated and appreciative of what he finds beautiful in paintings and praising it. Also being confident about his own work and saying things like “I have something good going” or “I have a pretty successful painting here” A lot of people undervalue their art, AJ has a much more positive attitude 🙂

Efficiency – spending time in the trenches and working on the basics to earn the privilege to communicate the higher level ideas you may have. 80/20 rule – you can get the majority of what you need from your painting in 15-20 minutes (At master level – you can just focus on the idea) Bad habits are preventing you from refining your painting – instead you spend all your time fixing your painting – profound idea there – you wrestle with problems instead of being able to focus on expressing ideas.

Thank you AJ!

UI and Data Design for Film with Ash Thorp:

From Ash’s podcast and just looking at his work spaces you can see he’s a person who values clarity of mind and focus. His layouts are all very clean, windows maximized to show images as much as possible, minimal interfaces – palettes gone from PS most of the time, bridge custom setup and manual sorting to facilitate mental connections.

Using a Mind Map app – this was something new to me, I didn’t know there were apps for that, though it shouldn’t be surprising… You could in a way say that all of Ash’s process so far is to facilitate connections and to have ideas germinate. The mind map is a thought process made visible with very wide, big picture connections – the ability to sort reference manually, no distractions by tech getting in the way – it’s all a way to get into the flow of creating. Ash’s course seems like it will be all about idea generation, so very much looking forward to seeing that develop over future lessons.

Clarity of understanding and communication – very thorough exploration of the brief. Painstaking effort to make sure the brief has been mined for any possible piece of important info, ambiguous words are marked and if possible discussed with the client. Very solid setup for purposeful investigation and goal oriented work. A very Hard/Soft approach to working – both rigid and driven in making sure that everything is analyzed, but also very soft in terms of allowing connections and serendipity to happen. Very interesting and looking forward to more.

Thank you Ash!

2D and 3D Concept Art Techniques with Jama Jurabaev:

This man is a powerhouse of software knowledge and techniques. I’ve seen his Gumroads and have been re-watching them periodically every few months… There is always something more to be extracted from this man’s words. The main takeaways for me are not just being exposed to new software and techniques, but Jama’s main Pajama is possibly his ability to connect various components together – from finding ways to connect various software packages and make them suit his workflow, to the contrast of his very gestural painting combined with the rigidity of 3D, the very way this man works is geared towards 100% efficiency. A huge eye-opener and AHA! moment for me was when he mentioned that we spend the majority of our time in 3D, making it look like it’s not 3D – his solution – he found a piece of software that already has built into it the possibility of not looking like 3D, the imperfections of edges, the artifacts that can be generated as you work. Very insightful. Don’t work around the limitations of the software, but find ways to combine with other techniques or tools that have built inside of them the capability to solve that problem, so you can focus on expressing ideas, not on pushing buttons.

I’m not going to spend time here going over the practical aspects of the course as a lot of it getting familiar with new software and how to combine it together. This is more of a big picture summary.

Very practical and very quick start to the whole series, with a very impressive end result after only a few hours of work. Incredible techniques for shortcutting laborious 3D processes. This course is going to be a treasure-trove  of practical advice and powerful techniques.

Thank you Jama!

Character Design for Film with Maciej Kuciara

Maciej is incredibly versatile. I’ve seen almost all his Gumroads already. His approach to photobashing and the way he generates his images has been such a tremendous eye opener for me, I changed the way I worked immediately after seeing his first videos. Not only that but it gave me a much more clear idea of how other people worked as well, so unrealistic expectations were dropped and it’s safe to say life was much easier after that 🙂 Thank you Maciej 🙂

On to the course now – Already some similarity with what I noticed in Ash’s class – Maciej keeps a clean layout in anticipation of the huge amount of data to soon come. He also mentioned flow – so seems like a  pattern of successful artists  to value not being distracted and getting in the right frame of mind to be able to create. Minimal distractions, less focus on tech. If you are interested in more about flow check out the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler.

Simplify – only 2 types of brushes – a clean brush to create clean edges with and good for silhouettes and texture brushes for the surface information they contain.

Characters as parts of a story – thumbnails as key frames – understanding how the character fits into the world – give the character a soul – This is definitely something that all beginning artists start with, that’s what we all want to do, but I think as we begin to understand just how much skill we have to develop we slowly drift away from the story and soul and get bogged down with technology, skills we need to acquire and being technically perfect. Maciej is making a full circle back here, after having internalized all the skill necessary to express ideas visually. A powerful reminder of what’s really important. It’s not just wardrobe or making something cool – it’s building a story with a soul.A small note though – if you are a complete novice – you still have to go through all the technical stages, just don’t forget to make it all the way back.

And finally – art as self development – which I resonate with very strongly. I always think that the right person can do anything, so art becomes more of a vehicle rather than an end goal – you’re using art to test yourself, your discipline, your endurance, your mental toughness. Key concept for me and easily the most beneficial aspect of deciding to become an artist… It’s a tough, long road, you will be tested many times and you will find out many things about yourself along the way. Commit to your practice and go as hard as you can… But do it in a smart way. You can check out more of my blog or YouTube channel for brain stuff, studying, sleep and a lot more info that I’ve found very useful for my own learning.

Thank you Maciej!


Painting in Grayscale – Anthony Jones

Values – Local Values and Lighting Values – The principle here seems to be to always break things down as much as possible. If you’re doing something complex, which involves multiple processes being carried out simultaneously like painting – which could include design, values, color, perspective, accuracy and a ton of other things having to be executed at the same time – it helps to separate processes as much as possible from each other. One of the bigger benefits of AJ’s method, to me, is that it allows you to be able to focus on design by just blocking in local values – no mental energy required to have to think about light sources, shadows, contrast, etc. Then doing a lighting pass over top of that to add a realistic finish.  Very strategic. This is especially useful if you’re new to design and  that in itself is already hard enough. It’s also extremely useful in painting – so you can focus on refining shapes.

The simplicity of AJ’s technique makes it seem like it’s almost self-evident. The degree to which establishing local value first, then layering the lighting on top  – simplifies the painting process is absolutely staggering. There is so much that can be done with this that I know I’ll be rewatching these demos for a while and processing the implications of what can be done if this is applied to different scenarios.

Final note – keep the value system consistent. Essentially you’re establishing the vocabulary of the painting, so if you’re throwing random values out there – you’re bound to confuse the viewer as they won’t be able to understand the pattern of light and dark. So keep it simple and be consistent. One step further – again – is the local + lighting technique – it’s keeping it as simple as possible and being consistent with how you render.

Tip – Go for the full expression of your idea as fast as possible, spend too much time in any one place and you won’t have much of a painting and you may lose the desire and momentum to carry out your concept.

Insight – Most people understand how to light, they just don’t understand the form.

Thank you AJ!

Mind Mapping – Ash Thorp

The second lecture definitely continues the theme of the first – what seems to be a continuous mind map – a huge canvas to work on in your preferred software so you can spread out ideas and see them all together at the same time & font explorer to quickly preview and spend the least amount of time searching for assets –  instead having them ready, easy to see and not having to jump through any hurdles to get to your materials.

Building Routines & Staying Organized – Getting lost and forgetting your goal is a common pitfall when tackling complexity. Not just in creative briefs, but if you compare that to your overall development as an artist – you’ll be encountering the same problem over and over again. The advice Ash gives and the workflow he uses is geared towards remaining focused and not drowning in the sea of possibilities within each project.

Usable Reference vs Muse Reference  – having a few key images, fonts or assets to bring you back and serve as your anchor for the project, something that in your mind you can use as an icon or a beacon to keep you on track. Setting that goal and intention before you begin is key so that you don’t end up somewhere you didn’t intend on going.

A small overview so far of the overall process – Deconstruct everything about the brief clearly, mine for resources ( reference, inspiration, etc), mind map to identify direction and connections, set the beacons of where you’d like to end up, organize and sort your assets so they’re ready, available and filtered as much as possible from the overall noise of all possible choices – all of this serves to prepare you for the more fluid work of being able to connect ideas and not have to worry about if you’re on the right path and frees up your mind to explore. Awesome.

Thank you Ash!


Hardsurface Sculpting – Jama Jurabaev

I have to say that I’ve become an absolute Jama fanboy. Anything that Jama puts out – I’m getting. I don’t care if it’s 2D, 3D or if it’s a pajama wearing yoga instructional video he puts together – I’m buying it. I’m definitely a convert to his 3D coat philosophy – just by introducing me to the software alone has probably shaved at least 6-12 months off of my 3D learning curve. Before seeing this I was just experimenting with trying to get high frequency detail from traditional 3D like Modo – using displacement maps or going backwards and forwards between ZBrush and other applications to sculpt it… Seeing Jama work and the speed with which he manages to get incredible detail, while also not having that sharp-edged look that everyone can recognize as 3D – it’s absolutely awesome.

I do have to say that I’m curious though about when Jama might consider going the more traditional approach, if ever. What would the use of Modo or 3DS Max or Maya be within his workflow, apart from maybe generating more precise geometry if ever necessary. Would he still find use for displacement or bump maps or would he use them as more of a scene-compositing method where he could combine different models to render together? And what about ZBrush too? Just curious about the potential integration of all these different tools.

For this week – I have to say that since the first lecture I tried to look up more tutorials on 3D coat – it’s easy to find interface lectures going over the different tools, but there doesn’t seem to be much about actual, practical use. The 2 lectures so far probably have more content than all the rest I was able to find so far combined. You get to see the tools, how they’re used, when and then a demo of putting it all together. Couldn’t ask for more than that. For the next few days I‘ll probably be going over everything a few more times, trying to learn and integrate the tools, then watching the demo video with no sound and deconstruct the techniques Jama uses. I find watching tutorials with no voice over sometimes is really helpful as I can get some info that’s not necessarily being discussed, but is present in the tutorial.

Very excited to see the organic modeling next week and also to find out more about Marmoset and whatever else Jama uses. Absolute gold.

Thank you Jama!

 Minimum Viable Concept – Maciej Kuciara

Straight from the business world and extensively tested, the minimum viable product or concept idea has been extensively implemented in order to save time, money and open up discussion to maximize iterations. Awesome implementation here of a great idea to speed up the design process. Here’s some info on the term from wikipedia:

A minimum viable product has just those core features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more. The product is typically deployed to a subset of possible customers, such as early adopters that are thought to be more forgiving, more likely to give feedback, and able to grasp a product vision from an early prototype or marketing information. It is a strategy targeted at avoiding building products that customers do not want, that seeks to maximize the information learned about the customer per dollar spent. “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

“You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries, not everyone.”

Essentially – you’re not delivering a final, not working on something that may not be headed in the right direction. For a design you’re delivering the vision, the idea – is this what you’re after… and no more. Keeping the more illustrative qualities for last. It speeds up the entire process, lets the client know you’re working on their product and that their input will make a difference, which then makes them more likely to trust you more in the future.

This feeds right into the next chapter of Maciej’s lecture, which is about handling feedback. In short – take it like a champ, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it, it is someone else’s product ultimately and go one step beyond and build on what they give you, challenge yourself to make what you don’t think would work – work even better so that ultimately you end up liking it again. As Bruce Lee would say –  “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Be water, my friend.”

In terms of technique – I’ve seen many of Maciej’s Gumroads, so am pretty familiar with his photobashing technique, which in the same way that Jama’s work has saved me at least 6 months of learning 3D, so has Maciej’s for 2D. I’m extremely grateful for that. If you haven’t seen Maciej work before – be prepared to have your mind blown at the speed and efficiency you’ll see in his demo.

Final note – it was great to see an incredibly saturated color being used in the background and not on the focal point and in fact turning it into a sub-dominant element by using more subdued colors on the character and using lighting to guide the eye. It was pretty much another proof of the fact that you can make anything work and that there are no rules – anything could ultimately be worked into a piece and justified somehow.

Awesome lecture and looking forward to see how Maciej integrates 2D with 3D and also curious about why he’d use 3D after the concept stage has been refined. I’ve seen him use 3D at the beginning stages, but am not sure why he’d go back to 3D after developing the concept, since he is more than capable of doing everything in 2D. Hoping that future videos may shed some light on that.

Thank you Maciej!


Design Principles – Anthony Jones

We are all pretty rigid when we start any new activity. We like rules, we like doing things by the rules and we stick very rigidly to what we think is correct or to what we’ve been shown. This is a learning step in absolutely any field, you have to go through the rigid stage to become more fluid. It’s essentially shedding a lot of preconceptions, refining your techniques and speeding up.

AJ’s emphasis on contrast in design is what brought this to mind. When I first started out I remember just telling myself to try to sketch. All that came out were a bunch of squares and rectangles. Nothing else. I tried to tell myself to push it, to try something different, but really – it was just more rectangles and squares. Some time later I was learning about lighting and materials. Any time there were any very bright direct reflections though with hard edges – I’d decrease the contrast and soften the edges… Always reducing the contrast.

Uniformity or not using contrast is safe – if you don’t exaggerate a shape – it seems like there’s less risk of it standing out. When your work is still bad, when you’re still learning – there’s nothing worse than standing out. So we try our best to keep our heads down and just make things as uniform as possible. This is so built-in it’s completely unconscious. Look at your own work from when you started and you’ll see inhibition everywhere. The sign of becoming proficient is that you’re willing to take more risks (it becomes fun), you push things often until they break and you seek to stand out – reversal of strategy here.

AJ mentions that his beginner students often make everything the same size or a very similar shape – that’s the exact same phenomenon. Not being familiar with the real rules – that contrast is the norm and that nature is very dynamic. I recommend having a look at reference for deep sea creatures or really any variety of lizards, fish, insects especially or plants… These things are absolutely crazy. From the shapes to the colors, to the insane complexity of layering detail on top of detail. Nothing is symmetrical, nothing is rectangular, everything is repeated but with variation and these are essentially the design principles we look to, to guide our work.

To summarize – if you’re a beginner – challenge yourself to be more dynamic, seek to break rather than constrain. Start with a rectangle and stretch it, bevel it, add facets to it, add extreme contrast between sides – try and go the extreme opposite to what seems natural to you. And also have reference around you to feed your mind ideas for shapes, otherwise we quickly sink back into automatic constraint mode. The principles are easy enough to understand, but they’re not intellectual ideas, they’re meant to be executed. So don’t confuse the two. A simple idea can be very hard to put into practice. And AJ is an absolute master at designing and painting, and doing it simultaneously. Lots of value in just looking at his demo videos  over and over with no audio and slowed down to analyze what’s going on.

Thank you AJ!

Organizing Your Assets – Ash Thorp

Start Simple – No Pressure and no Expectations- Trying to think of the underlying principles behind Ash’s methods of work, he begins with very simple sketches and just lets go, not judging the work prematurely or expecting anything earth shattering at the beginning. This is a huge mindset shift from a beginner artist (picturing myself here not too long ago), who may be expecting everything to have to be perfect, amazing, stunning, dazzling and never before seen every single time they put pen to paper and always being disappointed and aborting the work. Ash begins with ultimate simplicity – photoshop sketches or a more traditional approach – doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you let go and let your brain do its thing. When you expect too much and judge your work constantly you keep interfering in the brain’s ability to form bigger picture and more abstract connections. Your constant verbalizing of what’s going on and rigid left-brain dominant thinking don’t allow the right hemisphere to just play and look around for things that you can’t possibly come up with by thinking about them. Ash seems to be very comfortable just relaxing and letting it go. I would have to admit here that I wouldn’t have the guts to show rough sketches on video, I just wouldn’t have the confidence to know that I can pull something off in the end, but obviously Ash knows his stuff and he knows how to create complexity from simplicity, which is our next point here.

Build Complexity Using the Right Tools – Ash’s sketches may start rough and as very simple ideas, but he knows how to realize their potential. Use the right tool for the job, that’s the main takeaway here. Use simple means to brainstorm and get ideas down as fast as possible. No need to overcomplicate everything by introducing software and technicalities at a stage where they’ll only get in the way. But once you’re clear about what you’ll be investigating – jumping into the right software is what’ll allow you to then speed up.

It goes like this – at first one tool is faster, another may be a hurdle. Then the tables turn and the initial tool becomes slow and laborious, while the second one becomes your catalyst for incredible performance. You have to stay on your toes, you can’t form rigid ideas about what to use and what tool does what, everything is subjective and is the right tool only at certain times. Imagine being a surgeon that only uses a scalpel all the time – sometimes it’s the absolute best tool, other times it’s a really, really bad idea…

And final note here – something that stuck with me – Ash’s use of grids. In the lecture he points out how the reference images he uses are based off a grid. Mechanical components, a lot of tech items – they’re all constructed from very precise and organized measurements. So it makes sense if you’re emulating a structure to then construct your image using that same structure. This seems very simplistic perhaps as you read it, but it’s a really powerful idea with so many implications. Using the right tool, again, could just mean that you originate your artwork in the same way that the object you’re referencing was constructed. They form a basic connection of origination. They both are based on the same system. So then every next step takes you closer and closer and forms even more connections with the image referenced. I suppose this very same idea is why sculptors for instance use an armature – they emulate the skeleton that everything is built upon. Find the skeleton of your reference, how can your image be created with the same structure as the physical object? Powerful stuff, many implications for an idea that unless you pause to reflect, could easily miss. Will definitely be thinking about this and exploring further.

Thank you Ash!

Advanced Hardsurfaces – Jama Jurabaev

I think this lecture was initially meant to be organic sculpting – I would still love to see that as all 3 lectures so far have introduced 3D Coat and have been oriented towards hard surface, I think it would be great to see a different application for the software and one that might also prove very useful if applied back to hard surface – blending organic and hard forms as 3D Coat seems to excel at just that. I know there are only that many lessons in the course… but maybe a second course then Jama? 😉

The principle for the use of the tools here seems to be creating complexity from simplicity. Very much related to Ash’s course this week, so it seems like a recurring theme and one that is the way to go it seems. Don’t overcomplicate, instead seek to simplify and use that simplicity to replicate it and create something insanely complex. It’s how nature works, look at a plant or animal – simple shapes and details but multiplied and altered ever so slightly so many times it becomes a new structure with an infinite amount of complexity.

First few lessons this week deal with just that – different ways to create complexity from simplicity and not just that, but how to make the simple object be super easy to work on, while the complex form is instanced and positioned in such a way that it would be unworkable if not for the proxy. Absolutely incredible idea. This is something that needs to be thought about and reflected on, it has so many benefits and implications. This could be applied in photoshop with smart objects or in any number of other applications. The principle is what’s important – find ways to work as simply and easily as possible and don’t constrain yourself by positioning or density of objects, then use the software to generate that immense complexity you can get by leveraging the calculation abilities of the software. Seemingly small strategies like these that can be applied to any workflow and accumulate to huge game changers. They can alter the way you work not just in a particular software, but how you do things in general and Jama is absolutely full of little tweaks like that…Awesome as always… One more course please Jama? 🙂

Thank you Jama!

Simplicity of Complexity – Maciej Kuciara

Picking up from where we left off last week – I definitely got my questions answered – Maciej explains how working in 3D, even though slower to begin with and build assets out, ultimately ends up being much faster if your client requests an alternate view or really for you to just test the design of the objects you create – whether they work in 3D or if they’re only good for illustration. I remember a quote, I think maybe from Gavriil Klimov, he said that a lot of designers are concept illustrators, not concept designers. Going the 3D route leaves you no room to hide and it’s probably why it’s the tool of choice for professional designers, but I can see how a beginner may want to shy away from it because it will expose all their weak points… aaand when I say that I definitely picture myself here, it’s also the root of my previous question. I had the idea of the design as design illustration, not the more hardcore – “may be actually printed from the model and used directly in production” approach that seems more realistic. Definitely some food for thought for me here, there are a lot of things I have to work on. You can hide things in illustration, but not so much in design. And you have to be honest about it… It either works or you just haven’t thought through it enough.

Maciej’s insights and thoughts are definitely very much appreciated. The homework videos where he shares his thoughts and approaches to work and studying are some of my favourite parts, would love to see more of these as Maciej is self-taught, so he must have spent quite a lot of time refining his process and his thinking, so any bit of insight that he shares is absolutely priceless. It’s also extremely practical advice and even the idea of investing money into assets (or learning) and how this can save you time and money over the long-haul demonstrates his very realistic, pragmatic approach to how he works. Money is just another tool that you can leverage. He also touches on how learning is a long term investment and results are exponential over time. There’s a book you can check out called the Compound Effect by Darren Hardy that illustrates this idea. Would definitely like to hear more about Maciej’s approaches to learning and just general thoughts about design, tools, work, problem solving, life, whatever it may be.

One more thing – Maciej’s accumulated a huge amount of knowledge of 3D, painting, design and all the sub-skills that go into those. He paints with seemingly no effort, goes into all kinds of detail in the 3D packages he uses, designs on the fly, it’s daunting the amount of information he’s managed to accumulate. I would definitely appreciate very much if he could share more about how he’s learned all of these different things, how he thinks about his learning, what his approach is, what his learning curve was, what he’d recommend as the sequence of learning for a beginner- let’s say basic painting fundamentals + 3D  + more fundamentals + software – so interleaving your learning or focusing more on one thing at a time and over what time period you could expect what to develop. Maciej is a very, VERY knowledgeable guy. Jama is the Wizard in Pajamas, but Maciej is the Technique Ninja that’s started sharing his tricks, which seem to be just as unlimited as Jama’s.

And a final thing to mention – I’ve already covered it, but can’t help but find it here too and if the same pattern emerges so very often then you seriously need to consider implementing it into your work. Again it’s ways to simplify complexity and then to make something simple complex. Maciej starts with sketching in the first lecture, then goes to 3D, the sketches again over that. Using fast and slow approaches combined that ultimately lead to maximum efficiency. He sets a direction, explores possibilities, then begins to make things more concrete in 3D, minimum viable model here, takes a screenshot and overpaints, then back to 3D after that. I’ve seen Vitaly Bulgarov use the same approach in one of his DVDs. If some of the biggest, baddest guys out there are using it, no need to say that you should be using it too. In essence it’s using simple, fast tools to explore, then sending in the heavy machinery that’s slower, but ultimately more efficient, as 3D will greatly accelerate your rendering and ability to quickly generate very complex imagery once everything has been modelled.  Again more things here that I need to think more about and will be coming back to repeatedly and I can definitely see myself re-watching the entire course once it finishes so I can see the big picture better and not get lost in details. Awesome stuff.

Thank you Maciej!


Building The Asset Army – Ash Thorp

Lots of content from Ash this week, huge vids, lots of tools, lots of techniques, thank you sir 🙂

Cinema 4D – hadn’t tested it before seeing Ash use it. I’ve tried Maya and Modo in the past, I’ve stuck with Modo primarily, it all comes down to where you decide to invest the most time to develop speed and efficiency. Cinema 4D seems to offer some very interesting effects to generate random geometry that I hadn’t seen before. Some of these things you could probably accomplish with replicators in modo, but Cinema 4D just seems to make it more intuitive. Ash generates a huge amount of complexity in 3D which he then uses for 2D images, this will be the next point we cover, very interesting stuff.

Using 3D to generate 2D – Leveraging the strength of the tools, really important point here. In contrast to Maciej’s class, where he is building out his design as though it will be physically replicated after, having a look at it from all angles, making sure it all works, essentially the comparison here is that Ash’s design is more abstract, the idea being conveyed is abstract, so this is Abstract Idea Design vs Functional Design. I think this is a really important thing to think on. You have to develop different workflows that suit the desired end result. Ash’s method is very open, very fluid, heavy on brainstorming and creativity and finding ways to visualize an idea, to create a physical form for a non-physical concept. Maciej still does the same thing to some degree, but he also then considers physical limitations and manufacturing processes. In data and abstract design there are no limitations in terms of production, your ideas become the constraints and information is your main asset. So Ash doesn’t dwell on the tools too much, he goes for the creative side of things and he uses the tools to generate the visual feel he needs. He uses 3D not so much for geometry generation, but for the incredible complexity that the software can generate for you, it expedites the creation of visual effects that through traditional means would take insane amounts of time or would just be impossible or unfeasible to attempt.

Simple Assets – Complex Layering – Here is another thing I got from this class – the appreciation for simplicity that Ash has. He doesn’t go for an uber complex rendering, full of nodes and all kinds of displacements and effects. Some of the assets he generates are incredibly simple objects, with just a few tweaks, that create a completely different final effect if you’re just willing to look for it. A sphere with a light on it is a sphere with a light on it… or it’s a cosmic object representing information interrelationships and sources of energy present but unseen… It’s still a sphere, it’s still a 5 minute process to generate the asset, but it’s what you look for. It’s that ability to look beyond and suspend your disbelief and also know that one step is not the final and you will be adding more layers of complexity with more assets being generated. Awesome idea, really powerful, huge implications for workflow and thinking.

What You See is Not What You Get – this one is a huge one. As the creator you’re always privy to how something was created. You know what in the scene means what and you interpret what you see based on what you know. This could be a huge limitation. One of the biggest things that I see Ash demonstrating in this lecture is that every element you generate and every part of it is not only one thing. It’s all in how you choose to view it. Going back to the previous point – a sphere is a physical object or it could be an abstract idea. But the elements on that sphere – the reflections, the surface, any part of it is also subject to the same rule. You could just use the reflection of something, without even considering the object it’s on. This is an incredible way to generate assets. It literally expands your library by an infinite amount. The simplest object gains the potential to become any amount of other things. Lighting a reflective sphere with non-uniform, strangely shaped lights and only being interested in the shape of the reflections and using that as its own object – genius. Duplicating the sphere several times, shrinking it and making it transparent to see the spheres inside of it, along with all the other effects applied on top… mad scientist level genius.

So now we have AJ the Master, Jama the Wizard, Maciej the Ninja and Ash the Mad Scientist 🙂

Tip – If you don’t show everything, if you leave something to the viewer – usually the image will be much more successful.

Thank you Ash!

Applying Your Knowledge – Anthony Jones

Combining Painting & Design – I’m sure it’s just me and it’s because I look at all 4 classes at the same time I try and find patterns between them, but it seems like every week there’s almost like a theme that goes through the classes. With AJ I’m finding the same idea as with Ash – objects are not necessarily anchored to the first interpretation you have of them… at all. There are multitudes of design iterations for each and every shape, which is exactly the exercise that Anthony demos here first. Creating flat, solid 2D shapes, then over and over creating a new design over them. It’s a good habit to start building – suspension of initial ideas that anchor meaning. The more iterations you do, the higher the likelihood that the final piece will be better. You also get to practice your values, form and design sense.

Scrap Your Tools – I remember George Carlin, the famous comedian, saying how he abandons his material every year and starts from scratch. A parallel here with AJ’s work – scrap your brushes from time to time. Get rid of everything, start completely fresh, try a whole new bunch of brushes, presets, actions – whatever it may be. Just throw everything old out and try out some new stuff. It will keep your work fresh and keep your brain engaged since you’ll have to be figuring out all these new tools. They’ll also invite serendipity into your work, since you’ll inevitably end up doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

Constraints Help Creativity – There will always be limits on what you design, whether creatively or from a physical standpoint. Constraints though often act as catalysts for creativity rather than inhibitors. Earlier we mentioned how AJ uses solid 2D shapes to practice form. Another thing he shows is sketching within a very abstract shape. Create some sort of crazy shape, select a theme for your design and try to fill that shape with it. Really creative exercise and it forces you to have to think outside of the box. You can come up with some crazy designs using this method. AJ sure did.

Be Effective, Not Busy – AJ is adamant about being effective, efficient, fast and doing the right things rather than focusing on details, noodling and wasting time. This happens to all of us and not just in painting, it definitely translates to life. A lot of people are often very busy, but they’re not focused on the right things. It’s very hard to have to balance all the things we all have to do. Same with a painting, it’s sometimes pleasurable to get stuck in the small stuff, work on problems you’ve solved or can easily get through and neglect to go for the things that actually need attention. AJ applies all the good rules that will keep you on track – reassess your progress over meaningful time periods, he does 5 minutes, but for people painting slower this could easily go up to about 15-20. Whatever a meaningful period is for your pace of work. Go from big to small, establish the big relationships, solve the big problems, then add information on top of that to clarify the design. Focus on the big picture, ask yourself often whether what you’re doing is getting you closer to where you need to get to and time yourself. The last one is a big one. Make sure you’re not wasting time, because we’re all very good at that.

Tip – Don’t have your designs be too abstract, they have to be recognizable – both to yourself as you’re designing and for the viewer once you’re done. You have to know where it’s going, they have to understand what it is.

Thank you AJ!

Organic Sculpting – Jama Jurabaev

Awesome, I really wanted to see Jama’s approach to organic sculpting and this lecture seemed like it was missing last week. Very happy about it making a comeback since 3D Coat seems like the perfect tool for both hard surface and organic modelling / sculpting and making a bridge between the two is definitely something that makes it unique. Thanks Jama for including this.

Exaggerate – Jama’s image looked amazing for this week’s lecture. I was excited about what was coming just by seeing the thumbnail for the video… Super dynamic, very gritty and very detailed image. One of the first things Jama mentions this week is his tendency to exaggerate his sculpts or paintings. For anyone that’s ever ended up with a drawing of a stiff figure or animal that looks like it’s just come back from the taxidermist – this is Jama’s cure for that. Start with an exaggerated pose, don’t work from a t-pose and push things beyond what you see. It’s what helps you inject life into your work.

A very important point here – you can always refine your work with a variety of tools, but you can’t get rid of the stiffness. So begin by pushing limits first, then afterwards it’s just a matter of time to detail things out. But always begin with the dynamics of your sculpt or painting in mind first.

Jama’s Choice of Tools – Choosing the right tool saves you a tremendous amount of time. Knowing the essential features and what makes each tool suitable for a particular job makes even more of a difference. Jama’s choice of software and his use of techniques is mind blowing when you consider the speed with which he generates imagery. I’ve been blown away by the usefulness of 3D Coat. It’s an absolute game changer for me. If it wasn’t for this course I feel like I would have been working away in 3D using tools that just feel clunky compared to what I would like to be able to do. Manipulating verts, polygons, etc – this stuff can be very cumbersome if you’re only after what Jama calls 3D sketching. It’s not that 3D Coat is the ultimate or best, it’s that it offers a blend and flexibility that no other software has. The point that I’m trying to make here is that you have to spend time researching your tools and you have to look for alternatives and options. The tools are evolving faster than ever and new things are popping up all the time. The days of the one or two Go-To-Tools like Photoshop and Maya, 1 for 2D and 1 for 3D, are gone.

I don’t know how Jama’s come across this particular piece of software, but I would absolutely love it if he could at least mention what else he uses, it would be of huge benefit to many people, I’m sure of that.

Focus on Essentials – I love Jama’s use of 3D. It’s essentially the equivalent to a loose painting style. Everyone loves a loose painting, right? Visible brushstrokes, suggested shapes, implied materials and textures… Who doesn’t love that stuff? Jama’s found a way to do the same, but in 3D. His emphasis that not perfection is important, but visual density and the effect of light on a surface… Pure genius. This is exactly how a painter can execute a painting that looks loose, but at the same time there is obviously control there. Same idea, I love the parallel that he’s managed to create. Using 3D not as a perfection machine, which normally makes things look too perfect, but only exploiting its strengths and keeping the whole process loose and fluid. This feeds right back into the first idea – being dynamic. This is a very dynamic way to use your tools. Be dynamic in your work and with your tools. They feed each other.

Speed Up – Final idea for this week’s notes – This is very reminiscent of AJ’s advice to time yourself and to be very conscious of what you’re doing, to observe your process and always try to be more efficient. I find that every time there is any overlap between ideas in the different lectures – it’s probably an idea that’s worth revisiting multiple times and implementing as soon as possible, since these people have discovered their knowledge separately and with huge time investments involved.

This is the first time I’ve even considered the idea that reference could be a detriment  sometimes. Jama makes the point that in certain cases trying to be too accurate with details, using too much research and trying to be very precise could stiffen up your work, take away its dynamic quality, slow you down and you may end up with a poorer result. This makes great sense considering that the brain is a pattern matching and making machine, so if you have already had enough input so that you can get the gist of your subject, your brain will probably be more efficient if you just leave its diffuse mode to do its work and combine ideas for you and leave things more gestural. If you have too much information you’re trying to match you may end up sacrificing a lot of other aspects of your work. I’d have to say here though that experience definitely matters. Once you’ve done tons of research and studies you may benefit from having less guidance, less reference and letting your brain riff off of shapes and ideas. If there’s nothing for it to work with though you will be stiffer than if you’d used reference simply because the reference will provide more ideas than you could come up with.

This is a great example of how everything is flexible. Nothing is set in stone. The same things could be great advantages or disadvantages. The process constantly changes and you need to be aware of it. Constantly experiment and don’t subscribe to an idea as “always” or “never” true. You will most likely have to reassess everything you’ve ever learned at some point. Very illuminating ideas here from Jama and definitely a great benefit to all of his students to be privy to his flexible ways of thinking.

Thank you Jama!

Power of Fusion – Maciej Kuciara

Super knowledge packed class from Maciej as well, more new software too. The amount of tools available and the diversity of workflows is pretty much limitless it seems. I’d never seen Fusion 360 before or used CAD software or understood the difference between CAD and traditional 3D. I remember seeing some incredibly complex 3D forms from Maciej on Facebook and in his portfolio and thought he must be spending insane amounts of time pushing polygons around. Thankfully Maciej has found a smarter way and I’m very grateful that he’s sharing it here. CAD software combined with 3D – more of Maciej’s Ninja tricks…

It’s only been 4 weeks and there has already been a ton of software to go through. Awesome. The tool bag gets deeper and deeper.

Before we start some good news about Fusion 360 – you can actually get it for free. It’s free for students and hobbyists, so for those of you wanting to jump in and test it out, links are below. Lots of free tutorials and the software is the second link. Just register an account as a student and you’ll be good for 3 years.



Fusion 360 – First impressions – Similar to traditional 3D modelling so anyone jumping in from a 3D background will recognize most of the operations, they’re just performed in a different way. And this is huge. When you get better and improve as an artist, there aren’t very many huge game-changers. It becomes more a game of 1-10% improvements, which accumulated over time translate into huge results. This is the case here. Anyone will recognize the bevels, booleans, etc. All the things possible in regular 3D, but just made more intuitive, more flexible, with more options. So a lot of this becomes a game of – which tool is right for which segment of the project and jumping from software to software for that 1-10% improvement. Maciej is an absolute Ninja, I can only wonder what other tricks he has up his belt. It’s like they say – I’ve taught you everything you know, but I haven’t taught you everything I know 🙂 I’ve definitely walked away with at least a 10% improvement from each and every class and if this were my first ever exposure to Maciej’s way of working it would easily have been game-changer after game-changer. No illusions here though, integrating this stuff into a workflow, especially with all the other classes – it would take months to become fluent and develop the intuitive understanding necessary to focus on the project and not worry about the buttons.

Big thanks to Maciej for sharing so much of his techniques. I’d love it if he could list, just as I asked Jama – all of the software and tools he uses. Even if there’s no time to cover them, just a mention of all the different tools would be a huge benefit to many people so they could explore more options off the beaten path.

Precise vs Loose – I can’t help but compare Jama’s and Maciej’s ways of work. Jama strongly emphasises sketching, looseness, being gestural and going for the impression rather than the precision that 3D can give you. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s very much like loose painting. Maciej’s tools on the other hand are very precise. The CAD software, the all quad meshes, the precision of the geometry he creates and even the ability to manufacture it afterwards right from the software. I love the fact that they both create stunning work, the tools and techniques they use may be very diverse, but they are not opposed. Control and looseness go hand in hand. There is right time and a wrong time for each and every tool. Nothing is “always” correct. Everything is dependent upon context and the outcome needed. But it also depends on your personality. It’s like Jama said in his class – find what suits your personality. When I saw Jama use 3D Coat it immediately clicked with me. I loved the potential it offered. But I feel the same when I look at Maciej’s super precise, machined geometry – I love the thinking that goes into that and I love the potential that it offers. And let me just be clear here that both Jama and Maciej move between both ways of working. Maciej may begin loose and move to more precise software and same goes for Jama. It’s just a comparison of what’s presented in the courses.

The point I’m trying to make here is that even though these approaches may seem almost opposed – loose vs tight, precise vs impressionistic – they’re not. They are just different ways of thinking. Each and every project will rely on your ability to problem solve. Some will require precision, others a more diffuse way of thinking. Might as well throw Ash’s class in here too and we could say that Ash’s approach to thinking – Mindmapping and seeking flow goes very well with Jama’s use of 3D. And we can put Anthony here with his emphasis on precision, efficiency and speed and combine it with Maciej’s use of 3D. All different approaches, different thinking modes, all very much in support of one another and never in opposition… Unless you’re trying to force your tools to do things that they are not meant to do. Find what suits you and find tools that align with that.

Build a Kitbash Library – Another great point here from Maciej. 3D may take longer to construct, but you are creating assets for yourself to be able to use in the future. Each project not only improves your skill in modelling, but you are left with parts of objects which you can reuse and you can begin to build complexity much faster. I’d love it if Maciej could show his system of how he organizes and uses his library as you can easily end up overwhelmed with the amount of pieces you can store.

Evaluate your Reference & Don’t be Stuck with First Ideas – Parallel here with the big idea I took away from Jama’s class – don’t be tied down to your reference, even if it’s a design that you, yourself, have created. Just because a 2D sketch works, doesn’t mean it’ll translate well to 3D. So treat your preliminary designs as inspiration and don’t be afraid to change and modify what doesn’t work in 3D

Again, very much appreciate Maciej explaining the thinking behind his decisions and tools, it gives great insight into why it’s worth investing the time to learn all these different things and how they complement each other.

Thank you Maciej!


Smart Materials and Textures – Jama Jurabaev

Ok… Mind blown… As with every single week so far. It’s as if Jama just keeps pulling rabbit after rabbit out of a hat that seems perfectly flat. As soon as you think – “ok, this was cool, a few new tricks I can use” – Jama comes around the following week and shows you even more implications, even more uses of all the new tools, even more great stuff that I wouldn’t have ever discovered on my own, simply because I wouldn’t have had the curiosity to go deeper than what I thought the tools had to offer. It’s no tricks at all, this class has been a solid workflow changer.

I think this is a great first takeaway – Go Deeper, Be Curious , Be Patient– If Jama didn’t show me, specifically, what it is about the tool that is amazing and that there is layer under layer of more amazing things waiting to be found, I don’t think I would have found them, or it would have taken me much longer to get there because I would only use what I know and would stay away from everything else, choosing to use other tools that I know better that can do the same jobs. There is obviously time involved as a key factor in the equation though. There are getting to be too many tools and even the most curious person can’t spend as long as they would wish digging into menus and testing buttons out. It’s just unfeasible. Having said that, the one thing that I want to impress on you (and try and engrave on my brain) is that we’re all sitting on far more than we realize. We already have tremendous potential in all of our tools and in what we can do even with very little (paper and pencil come to mind…). I would have skipped over 80% of what I could have gotten out of this tool. Which ,I realize all too well, there are at least 80% waiting to be gained from almost every single other tool or technique I use (or from life for that matter…). Depth over breadth. Like Bruce Lee says – I don’t fear the man who practices 10 000 kicks once, I fear the man who practices 1 kick 10 000 times.

Dirty Texturing – Love the idea and the term Jama’s coined for it. Again, a further reinforcement of the idea that you can use 3D in a very loose way, getting your textures done with straight painting and photo bashing right over the model, using Auto UVs instead of UV mapping things meticulously ( Thanks Jama… I’d just spent the previous 3 months learning how to unwrap models in various ways… 🙂 ) Very fast, fluid way to work. You also end up with a normal/displacement/bump and color map that you can then plug in to your preferred renderer. Awesome as always. And it brings up another 3D hack from Jama to get everything even faster – when do you sculpt and when do you texture? Not everything needs to be modelled and if the final is a 2D image, and if the resolution or distance from camera permits, you have quite a lot of freedom to imply detail and not necessarily have to create it… Getting closer and closer to painting… 🙂

Keep Asking Questions – Awesome segment close to the end of the lecture. Jama talks about how he develops all the techniques and unique workflows that he uses. His answer – to keep asking questions and to not accept the status quo. Keep questioning and pushing for a new way of doing things. Then with a little bit of thought, experimentation and continued testing – you will probably find a way to do what you want to do. Follow your own opinion, don’t listen to naysayers and don’t be afraid to try something different. Jama dropping some hard won wisdom.

Thank you Jama!

The Golden Frame – Ash Thorp

This is one of those classes that I think would benefit from re-watching, but doing so with no sound. Watching Ash come up with designs and form them into organized, cohesive wholes, that so much surpass each individual piece – it’s pretty mindboggling to watch. I struggle a lot with design so watching this a few more times with no sound and trying to figure out how Ash creates the visual language he uses and how he organizes everything would add a ton of value.

Heavy Lifters vs Sprinters – First underlying big idea for this class, essentially it can be summed up as production vs post processing, but since we don’t really view our work divided like that, we think of a piece as a whole, this may be a good distinction to make. Heavy Lifter software – 3D- generating tons of complexity that would be hard to make in any other way, vs Sprinter software – super fast and easy to make adjustments with.

Using the 3D geometry for its 2D quality – we’ve talked about this in previous notes above. The idea with this point is to be conscious of the opportunities coming down the road. In other words – don’t try and get everything done in one step or with one tool. Our work goes through stages and iterations with each and every new phase. Ash’s approach here is very reminiscent of what AJ did in one of his first classes – separating local value from lighting. Doing everything in passes and stages and simplifying everything to the smallest step. Same thing happens here. Ash originates all reference in a monochromatic palette, generating the geometry, then leaving all the color options for later. It’s so much easier to iterate  and try things out in Photoshop than it would be in 3D. I couldn’t see this in earlier lessons, but this makes total sense now. It could be phrased a different way – it would be to use each tool for its inherent strength. 3D creates precise geometry, but is clunky. Photoshop can only give you flat shapes if you use its tools to generate imagery (disregarding its 3D built-in function here), but it can give you a huge amount of variety once the imagery is created. Awesome tool combo here.

Chaos to Order – I’ve mentioned this earlier, about watching the lecture with no sound, I’ve been trying to figure out how the design emerges. It’s obviously a series of interactions, rules need to be created and a pattern formed. But it doesn’t emerge all as one mastermind idea, it’s a series of small steps, each building upon the previous one, many iterations and a lot of it is flow, just sticking with the task, playing with whatever comes, testing and implementing. Finding something that works, replicating it, creating a pattern, rule or relationship and also starting minor, side ideas that spring up from pieces of the task you’re currently engaged in, that can be further developed and have their own life… Kind of seems like what life is when you think about it. Great process to explore further.

Exploit Machine Mistakes – This fits into the design note above, I find this to be very true for me too. I can get very rigid with how I think something should go and can force my shapes into the most stiff form possible. It’s a lot easier for me when I can work with software, since I can distort, cut and change stuff in such a way as to originate something that I never would have made on my own. Ash mentions in the lecture how the computer will sometimes make a mistake – a control that’s not properly executed or a transform that goes weird or gives you a different result to the expected one – use these and implement them. There are no mistakes for you or for the process, everything can be transformed into something useful. Use the tool’s unpredictable qualities to inject something new into your work. You don’t want to be the master that knows everything, more like a kid playing in the sand. Remember Bruce Lee – be like water, my friend

Ever Expanding Complexity – More design goodness. This is the idea to start very small and very simple, with a corner or a detail, then have that idea expand, inflate and be reused in so many forms and iterations that it becomes an entire new whole. If you’ve read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – there’s a story there of a student who couldn’t write an essay about her town no matter how hard she tried. Couldn’t come up with anything. Town was too small, too boring, nothing there. Her tutor asked her to write the entire paper about a brick used to build one of the buildings in the town. Same principle, start small and with a definite idea in mind, then expand. The girl couldn’t stop writing. If I have an idea about a design that’s too grand – I’ll probably fail. But if I start at the corner and am content to be working on it – I’ll probably have something I can work with. Awesome to see that principle in action -small wins.

No Answers – quick note here – there are no definite, concrete answers to be found. Everything is in the process and in the experience of doing something. There are always a million more solutions, always many other ways you could go in, just be content with doing the task and that is all the answers you need really. There is no perfect solution.

10% Error Time – This one jumped out at me too. It’s about building a buffer, be prepared that no matter how long you think a task will take – there will be at least 10% of that time that is taken up by error messages, something not working as it should and dealing with behind the scenes stuff, software & tools mostly. So just factor that time in when you’re doing whatever you’re doing. If it’s fixing your car – increase to 95% at least.

Awesome as always.

Thank you Ash!

Painting in Color – Anthony Jones

Getting more advanced with painting and going deeper with the next step – color. Which brings us full circle back to what’s really important – and those are the previous steps. Great reminder here by Anthony that everything must be built on a solid foundation, the final steps are mostly polish. Focus on what’s important.

Color as Part of Design – Great point here and a big distinction. I think a lot of us think of painting in color as an improvement over being able to paint in values only. This is how we normally approach our learning. First we tackle values, then color. So it seems like it’s a more advanced tool to use and also a work method that a more advanced painter would use – doing everything in color. Going back again to Anthony’s idea of simplifying everything as much as possible and building from that, color doesn’t become the new advanced step, it’s only a thin layer applied over a very substantially developed base. If your design or values are not at the level you’d want them to be, they need to be practiced separately, then integrated with color. Painting in color isn’t a different way to work, it’s not the distinction we normally make between values and color, they’re not separate concepts, they’re layers integrated together. Good values will give you a good base for color and there are many decisions which are handles much better in earlier stages of the painting, such as design and composition. Adding color only complicates everything and that’s why it’s the polish, it adds a final touch once everything else is already established. You could work directly in color, but that will still involve design and values, they will all be compressed all into one action – building the foundation and the design along with the polish, so if you’re less experienced be wary of doing too much at the same time. Remember the tendency of all classes so far – seek to simplify, not to overcomplicate. Complexity is the result of layering many simple steps together.

Focus on Fundamentals – This is directly related to the previous idea. If your color is looking bad, it’s possible that it has nothing to do with color. Troubleshoot the fundamentals first – are your values working, are your forms reading, is the design appropriate, is the composition reading. These are all things that are critical to the final result and will be your major factors for a successful work. Just because something is executed in color – it doesn’t make color the primary factor of the piece. This is primarily focused towards people who are just getting into painting and making these distinctions.

Improve the Base – And another link in the chain, directly related to the previous point –  This is a technique I hadn’t thought of before. To test the previous ideas and how values relate to color and how fundamentals will improve the overall piece – make a flattened copy of your color image, turn the layer off, then desaturate the piece, work on it and eliminate all problems you can find, improve the values, push the design and composition. Then go back to your color layer, turn it on and change its blending mode to color. Then see how your piece improves dramatically. This is a quick way to check whether it’s values or color that’s causing your issues and also to see how much you can improve your work by making your base stronger.

Very powerful ideas.

Thank you AJ!

Pushing the Limits – Maciej Kuciara

Maciej’s workflow, definitely stands out to me, as being the most complex, precise and exacting. Watching him design… on the fly… in 3D, that’s something that takes a serious time investment and deep internalization of the tool. He also strings together an incredible amount of software and he seems to have learned the ins and outs of everything… and he’s self-taught. So for people out there that are wondering if they could do it or are intimidated and complaining about the amount of work they need to do and they’re just learning the basics – all you have to do is to say to them  – Maciej Kuciara. That should be enough. You don’t have to explain it. If a classmate of yours is saying how they can’t get their essay done or learning Maya or whatever software is too complicated – Just look at them straight in the face for about 10 seconds. Say to them very slowly and deliberately – Maciej Kuciara. Than stand up, leave and slam the door… Even if it’s in the middle of a lecture, a wedding or a funeral… It’s that serious.

Having a Mentor – I think this one is obvious to most people, it also applies to all the classes here or any other learning you may be doing for that matter. Being privy to Maciej’s work and just being able to see what he does and getting information about what he chooses for his arsenal – to me that alone is worth the price of admission. It could have been a bullet point list with what he uses, that would have been enough. Having someone to follow and go through their trail is the fastest way to learn. I mention this point not only because of the huge game-changers that you may get from just seeing the big tools, but also because of the thousands of small problems that you’ll encounter that are spared you because you benefit from someone else’s time investment. I decided to include this in the note only because Maciej mentioned a function in a piece of software that works fine, but sometimes breaks. Then he just gives you a way to fix it, because he’s had to research it and solve it himself. That could have cost you 5-6 hours maybe to find out on your own. You’d have to try all kinds of functions, all the buttons, all the menus, read online, import and export all kinds of files – instead you get a 10 second solution. That’s 5 hours compressed into 10 seconds. I don’t think I have to explain any further why that just makes sense as an investment. I’m self-taught too. It would have taken me at least 10 lifetimes if I had to figure every single thing out on my own. The most powerful shortcut to improving is to find people that are doing what you want to do and find out everything you can about how they do their work. On to the course now.

Being Efficient – More new tools this week… Marvelous Designer. Awesome tool for cloth and getting realistic 3D simulations that you can use in other packages to render. A huge eye opener and time saver are also all the techniques Maciej shares about combining Daz 3D and Marvelous Designer, getting posed characters and using animations within the program so that the clothing can conform to your character. This is exactly what I was referring to in the first note. The only difference being that this is a time saving of let’s say… 100 hours maybe. And that’s only if you ever came up with the idea to combine these tools in the first place. So actual price – probably invaluable. And this doesn’t just apply to this particular technique, it goes for absolutely every idea that someone offers that provides connections that are not intuitive or are likely to not be made at all. Art is not only the final product, but is in the entire process. You get to be just as creative with the means as you do with the end.

Ecology & Economy – This is another theme that runs through Maciej’s course. It’s creating assets that are reusable, posable and solve a multitude of problems that are not just current, but will arise in the future. That’s an incredible idea to think about. You’re not only delivering what’s necessary now, but you’re also providing a solution to a future problem that’s not even arisen yet… That’s a person you definitely want to have on your team. That’s next level thinking. Not just what’s required of me, but what’s the best thing I could possibly provide. This refers to his use of Fusion 360, the ability to generate designs that can literally be manufactured once they’re approved and thus saving the client the hassle of having to worry about translating the design once it’s finished – that’s already done. It’s also very economic since it can be done over existing, real world designs. This means that a real prop can just be modified into the final design, saving money and effort. This is what I mean by ecology. Maciej has found ways to work, which for every problem solved gives you a piece that you can use in future projects and what you deliver can also be used for multiple purposes. That’s a great way to think. Problem solving of a huge magnitude. Very deep lessons there.

Thank you Maciej!


Designing the Shot – Jama Jurabaev

I’ve started having this feeling on Wednesdays, which is when the courses get released, I call it the Jama Effect – it’s that feeling of excitement you get before receiving something, which you’re absolutely sure will be amazingly cool, new and super useful. It’s basically the opposite of the Socks for Christmas effect. Every single time before a Jama lecture I just know something great is coming, that I can apply right away, that I’ve never thought of before and it will markedly improve my work. So, no surprises this week – feeling is 100% justified.

Good is not Enough – Doing one thing great – is good. But good is not enough. What I mean by this is that your best skill will be downgraded by at least one level, depending on what peripheral skills are required that you are not that good at. I think this is a huge idea. Jama refers to this as being unable to present your work properly. This is crucial. We all need to sell our ideas as best as possible, particularly in a world full of messages pouring down from everywhere. Your milk carton probably has more information on it than could be found in an entire village a few hundred years ago. Your modelling may be excellent, you may be the best at what you do, but you could still end up downgrading that skill because of your presentation. Art is a confluence of many skills from different branches, I think of it as a skill tree like in an RPG game. You can’t only do 1 thing anymore. Doing one thing great is good. But good is not enough. You have to learn to present your work as well and to have the composition reinforce your work. Rather than just trying to sell a model, think of it as presenting a story.

Cinematography, Photography & Visual Language – Fortunately for anyone that might be intimidated by having to think not only about how to create good work, but also how to present it – you are literally surrounded by great examples of visual storytelling and tons of different approaches. From old horror films to modern day music videos – every single piece of film or video you can find is a potent teacher. I recommend turning the sound off and just paying attention to the visual aspects of the frame. Get yourself a few cinematography books, check out some of the older directors, contrast them with the work of modern ones… Sounds like a great way to spend a weekend and you will come out armed with a huge arsenal of visual references. Anthony mentioned in his class last week about watching old, black and white movies and how crisp and well presented they were – people had to make do with grayscale only, they couldn’t rely on color contrast, everything had to be planned out, lit properly and shot from the best angle. I think I know what I’ll be doing for the next few days…

Doing 3D Studies – This was such an awesome idea from Jama. I’m assuming almost everyone reading this has probably done painting studies at some point – trying to match color, texture, shape etc. to recreate a scene. Jama’s taken this concept to an entirely new level. I don’t think I would have ever come up with this. It seems like such a simple idea when it’s presented to you, but it’s such a clever thing to come up with… I’ve always done lighting studies in 2D. I think I’ve just gotten in the habit of “this is how this is done and this tool is used for it”, that it didn’t allow me to think of the underlying principles. Working in 3D is probably the best way to study light, apart from having access to lights in the real world and being able to physically manipulate them. Understanding the relationship between light and form, how the positioning of light affects the read and changes the entire scene. There’s no faster way to iterate than 3D. We all do this to a certain extent if you use 3D, we all light our sculpts or models and find ways  to make them dramatic, but Jama’s next-levelness comes from the idea to take a frame from a movie, deconstruct the lighting and reconstruct it with the models, lighting, volumetrics and everything else that would go into a dynamic scene. It really forces you to be analytical and to appreciate the nuance of what is really happening, rather than the simplified notion you may get of the scene by just quickly looking at it and thinking to yourself that you’ve seen that 1000 times before and know exactly what it is. The 3D study forces you to have to explore the real dynamics going on in a physical scene. Amazing idea. Also carries with it a huge implication – translating 2D best learning practices into 3D. What else is out there that has been time tested in 2D by thousands of artists that is just waiting to make its ascent into 3D?… The Jama Effect is right here 🙂

3D Lighting – A lot of this stuff is very practical, so I won’t be covering that, just a quick mention that Jama’s mention of what is efficient and what renders faster is very much appreciated. Knowing what kinds of lights to use and when, what is expensive in terms of time and what is more efficient – hugely valuable. Also his demonstration of using a photo texture as lighting – the flames on the terminator – Jama Effect all over again. This thing alone, if it was in a bulletpoint text file with nothing else on it, would have been enough for me for this week. Another game changer and millions-of-possibilities-opener.

Camera – Really quick point here that I found incredibly valuable, as with everything else – be decisive and make a strong statement. In the lecture Jama explains how your camera angle can’t be between 2 extremes. For instance – there is a high angle, a low angle and they both make sense when used in storytelling, they both carry with them the stereotypes that have been created by being exposed to the language of cinematography many, many times. But place your camera in between those two angles and you have now muddied up your message. It’s no longer high enough to be looking down at something or low enough so that the figure feels imposing, you’ve robbed your scene of clarity and of its emotional impact. This is another huge idea that I wasn’t aware of. We all know the good camera angles, but chances are we never considered why so many other ones don’t work, which is just as important to understand if you are to create something new.

Thank you Jama, really powerful stuff!

Bringing it All Together –  Ash Thorp

It’s Not About the Tools –  it’s How You Use Them – Less than 1 minute in and there’s already something to write about… I definitely have a “software know-it-all arrogance” and this extends to other things 100% – the things I know and have been doing the longest – I rarely think there’s anything new there for me. And that’s just not true. There’s always a new combination of old tools possible or tweaks and techniques that none of us have thought about. Keep an open mind and always be looking out for the possibility of learning how to use an old tool in a new way.

Build For Connection – Thinking about Ash’s workflow and trying to find the thinking behind it – this idea really jumps out at me. The way he organizes his work makes it possible to reuse it the most amount of times. His assets are built to have flexibility. His entire workflow hinges on that very same principle – being able to get the most done for the least amount of inputs and exploring options in the easiest possible fashion. This extends across all different work scenarios – from working in high res files so you can change your mind and still have room to transform things around, to building assets out in vector – which then offers unlimited scaling, 3D extrusions to generate geometry and all of illustrator’s replication tools. A vector becomes a 3D curve or pixels. You could argue that you could also extrude pixels – but that would at some point lead to degeneration of the geometry. Vectors turn out to be the most flexible and multi-faceted of the building tools to begin with. That’s something that prior to this course I would not have considered at all, I would have seen vectors as clunky and slow to generate. Ash’s workflow leverages every single piece you create, for the most amount of benefit it can bring and gives the most amount of reusability. Last week’s point we made about Maciej’s Ecology – same exact principle, just different tools and scenarios. Incredibly powerful idea with tons of implications. That’s another thing I’ll be looking into this week – new and easy ways to generate 3D geometry and reuse assets. Really awesome stuff.

Second Level Reusability – An even further extension of the first point – second level reusability is taking that same asset that you could have used to generate a new component with, then reusing it again to enhance the new object on a micro level. For instance – a vector pattern becomes a 3D extrusion. Then that same vector pattern gets used as a bump map for the 3D object. First it becomes the object, then it plugs into the surface of the object. In essence this is a reminder to keep your mind open to the options available to you at all times with all your tools. Which is impossible. There are simply too many choices at all times. In last week’s notes on Jama’s course we mentioned how we are all sitting on potential that we can’t even see, to go deeper. For me – the second level reusal concept is just – the ability to go one level deeper and make a connection that is incredibly simple once pointed out, but digging into that next level and making the new connection is the real obstacle. So Ash’s lecture this week – definitely very eye opening in terms of giving me new things to look for.

Object or Environment – This is another great example of shifting your focus to obtain the same end result, but through different means. Another example of flexibility, this one – completely mental. Very briefly – if I wanted a particular color on an object, I’d think of changing the object’s color – logical, rational and straightforward. It’s the most direct solution to the problem. In certain instances though this becomes more laborious, it’s also per object and not global. Another solution would be to change the color of the light… It’s genius in its simplicity… 2 variables – surface and light. You could change one or the other. But I don’t see myself getting to that conclusion on my own. Obviously this is only useful in certain situations, but is incredibly powerful in terms of breaking out of rigid thinking and exploring multiple possibilities and could also be one of the heavy lifters in your arsenal, depending on suitability with the project. If you’re only after visual effects – this thing will be a great technique to have.

Artist vs Image Maker – Very quick point here, just watching Ash work at the end of the demo. This is an idea I originally got from Scott Robertson. It’s the idea that not everything has to be done in a certain way. Artists sometimes cling to everything having to be hand-drawn, made by the person who’s created the final piece, there are preconceptions that exist as to how the work has to be created. As with everything – there are pros and cons. What I’m interested in is that this mindset could ultimately become a huge constraint as to what you would consider exploring. You may be cutting yourself off from 90-95% of what you could potentially make, just because you may subscribe to an ideology of how things should be made. This point could essentially just be pinned above the entire post it doesn’t just apply to this particular lecture. An Image Maker is someone who is interested in the idea, a designer… or an artist. Someone who uses the image to communicate something, not necessarily entrenched in previous ideas of how things were made or should be made and thus creating entry barriers. This could open up the argument that people could claim anything as art or that it’s the tool and not the creator, so I’ll stop here. I’ll just add that there are no people who are using all these tools that are untrained and not artists… There may be a few exceptions, as with everything, that annoy everyone, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Don’t be constrained by how things were done or what you believe should be the norm for everyone. Just focus on doing the best you can.

Thank you Ash!

Clearly Communicated Design – Anthony Jones

Painting is Not About Painting – I remember some time ago, as I was getting better at painting, starting to feel as though I’ve been focusing on one corner of the bigger picture only. I think we all start with something we want to say or show when we begin learning how to paint, but finding out how huge of a task it is to learn all the different technical aspects of art and design could ultimately begin to turn into an end of its own. I distinctly remember processing this thought that painting is not about painting. We spend so much time improving, studying, always working to get just 1% better, but when all is said and done – painting is just the tool. It’s a super-complex tool. A tool that takes years to master and can always be pushed and refined more, but it’s still only a tool. No painting is perfect, no artist was ever the greatest and there is no one way to paint. So at some point, as you keep improving, you’ll begin to drift away from focusing on the tool and you’ll instead refocus on the idea that the tool enables for you to communicate. It may seem like I’m over-explaining something very simplistic, but for anyone who’s started out at the very bottom, with no previous training and not even knowing how to start – getting tunnel vision for improving is a very real phenomenon. You see people producing great work, you think you may never get there and you just work as hard as you can to improve. Then one day you look up and see that you may have drifted away from where you originally wanted to end up, so now it’s time to refocus.

Take Mental Breaks – Just a quick note on Anthony’s tendency to work on bigger problem, then focus on detailing or polishing – less demanding work to give his mind a rest. I’ve seen Feng Zhu do this as well, he very often refers to taking a break and switching to a lower intensity task, then refocusing and getting back to figuring out design and solving harder problems. Your brain does have limited energy and resources, Feng calls it burning brain cells I think – harder problems require more glucose, more mental energy to solve. So you can’t only be doing the heavy lifting in a piece, you need to combine it with frequent rest periods. Just like a tennis player – you play during the round, then during the break you tug on your racket strings, drink water, sit around, twirl the racket – you don’t think of problems, you just take a break. Focusing on lower level problems that are easy to solve is the same strategy, just used in a different context.

Looking Cool or Being Cool – If given the choice – I’d probably take the latter… Anthony makes the point that you need at least one of these to have a successful character. If you can get both – that’s obviously better, but probably a lot more rarer. You can have a cool looking character with not too much substance. Or someone who doesn’t necessarily look cool, but the story woven around them makes them be cool. Or a combination of both – The old Terminator comes to mind here (probably  Jama Inspired…), he probably only has about 10 lines in the entire movie. I don’t even have to say which movie, he always has about 10 lines. But he is cool. The visual effects at the time of release were amazing, the character seemed realistic. The blend of man and machine gave him substance, it also made him even cooler since it’s almost like having a real-world superpower… and it was Arnold… at a time when you couldn’t find too many bodybuilders in films. It was different on a lot of levels and it all contributed to the storytelling of the film. He looked cool and he was cool, what he got to do was cool and he had a cool attitude. So now, about 20 years later, people still remember it, it’s a classic and Jama just had his entire class focused on him too… You can’t beat that 🙂

Thank you AJ!

Lights, Camera, Action! – Maciej Kuciara

Speed – This has been an underlying idea since the beginning of Maciej’s course. This man’s pursuit of speed extends beyond workflow techniques, it translates all the way over to the physical world, where, apparently, in a room sized PC somewhere he has !3! GTX Titans working together in a GPU renderer… If this means nothing to you just imagine replacing your horse and buggy renderer for a Tesla spacecraft… I need to upgrade my PC now, thanks Maciej…

I’ve been looking into real-time rendering since the beginning of the course. Jama also emphasises this in his lectures – finding ways to preview your 3D work in real-time and not having to wait for lengthy renderers is becoming increasingly possible. I was still rendering away at a rate of a few hours per image, but with GPU rendering and a PC upgrade this time may shorten quite significantly. The implications of this are huge. If every single camera move takes you minutes to update, as your scenes grow in complexity you’re less likely to explore options. I know I am. If I rotate my camera and have to go make a coffee to just see where I ended up, I’m going to be happy with whatever looks ok, I’m not going to be going for optimal. There are obviously ways around this – using preview modes, disabling effects and tweaking everything before committing to a render – but using these you will inevitably be missing out on what some of the more complex material effects may be creating without you knowing it since you have to disable them to preview the scene. I’m not harping on GPU rendering, everything comes with its own set of problems, but what I am trying to say is that speed = options. Maciej frequently refers to the fact that in 3D a simple camera move is an entirely new scene. Having someone over your shoulder or a tight deadline – with the new technologies being developed for real-time preview 3D will be even more important. You can explore more in less time and come up with things, exploiting Ash’s idea of machine mistakes – the render can suggest to you ideas that you normally may not have had. To translate this over to machine-speak – Speed = Options = Exploration = Quality

For those of you not taking Jama’s class – you can also try Marmoset and Keyshot as alternative renderers.

WTF Learning – I keep being blown away every single time at what this man has managed to stuff inside his head. I can’t understand how so much information can live in 1 skull. Unless Maciej is somehow hooked up to a cloud feeding him software and render data in real time. I decided to call this WTF Learning as I’ve always had this idea of having to do uncommon things if you want to have uncommon results. But uncommon learning is not enough to label what Maciej is doing. It’s WTF Learning. Uncommon learning may be to do more than what you’re asked for, to overdeliver and always do a few more reps than expected. WTF Learning is when you look at another human being and feel this sneaking suspicion that somehow they’re not really from the same planet as you are. Then you slowly back away from them while maintaining eye contact to make sure they’re not about to transform into some crazy squid-like being. I’ve no idea how many hours Maciej has spent learning and working. I would like to know though. I’d also like to know how he approaches learning something new – how he partitions his time, how he decides what’s worth learning and what’s too much, because it just seems like there’s no too much when it comes to learning for Maciej. What prompted the wtf learning rant? After having gone through who knows how many different 3D packages this course alone and demonstrated all kinds of modelling, from SubD to Fusion 360 manufacture modelling,  while also designing on the fly… he now just randomly started quoting Refractive index numbers for different metals… how on earth and when do you decide, after designing, painting, modelling and exploring every single piece of software under the sun, to commit to memory different refractive indexes for materials? Why Maciej, why?? You make every single other human out there look bad… All because of your superior cranium… This is next level, wtf learning… Time to step it up. Wonder how many 3D packages you should work in? Whether Maya or Modo? How about 3DS, Maya, Modo, XSI, Silo, Fusion 360, 3DCoat, Zbrush, Cinema 4D, SketchUp and I’m sure I’m missing at least 7-10 others that he may have tried. Dude… How on earth do you get to learn all of these things?

Pulling Back – Ok, so after everything we said earlier about the advantages of using technology and how tools can speed you up and what’s optimal – a quick end note here to say that being optimal is not necessary and you certainly don’t need anything but the very basics to get started. Everything is a tool, everything is malleable and infinitely changeable, so you don’t have to be hung up on what you have or don’t have. The best rig will not improve your skills if you have not developed them to the point that you could benefit from the extra speed and options they afford you. So for 90% of us out there, what you already have is probably good enough.

Thank you Maciej!


Advanced Keyshot Techniques – Jama Jurabaev

The Tip of the Iceberg – I’ve had several questions recently from people asking if they should be learning 3D or if they should avoid it like the plague. I don’t think there’s ever a good reason to not explore a tool or option just because of a general opinion. Tim Ferriss’s learning method to get really good at something really fast to a large extend has to do with what people believe something should be like and what it is in reality. Jama’s demo from this week is absolutely mind blowing. The amount of complexity that can be generated within a few minutes is unbeatable. Traditional tools have their place and in fact – they may become even more powerful when used in a correct sequence of actions. But seeing what Jama can produce within a few minutes and comparing that to just straight painting, there is no doubt whatsoever that the new tools available to us have an immense power that can propel your results into outer space. This is where the tip of the iceberg effect comes in – if you just looked at an image, had a preconceived notion as to how it was created and stuck to that way of working – you might be holding yourself back by a tremendous amount just by not being aware or refusing to explore alternative options. No traditional tool can compare to the light speed of complexity generation that 3D affords.

The 80/20 Rule or Good is Good Enough – last week we had good is not enough, this week it’s good enough… what gives? It all has to do with focus. This week is another reminder of Jama’s gestural sculpting and modelling, and the dirty texturing approach he uses to suggest a lot of surface detail. Our brains will fill in most of the detail and we are quite forgiving when it comes to interpreting what something could be – so gestural and loose makes perfect sense. The way you present everything though and whether the composition is impactful and supports the story, that’s where you have to be demanding. So good is good enough and also good is not enough – it all depends on context and importance.

Doing a 2.5D Study – Another very creative study method this week from Jama. Most people incorporate 2D into 3D by photobashing or overpainting. This week Jama starts with a backplate photo and uses that as a mood, lighting and geometry guide to then integrate 3D in front of that, to create the whole scene. So we have far background and sky as a photo plate, then midground and foreground as 3D geometry. Then with some HDRI lighting the 3D and 2D get composited together. Really inventive practice method once again from Jama. This man turns everything around and whatever you thought you knew how to do, he probably has a method diametrically opposed that he can convince you makes more sense and works better. It’s small tweaks to huge concepts, but they are so numerous they make huge differences, not to mention that his inventiveness keeps you wondering what common practice you could try and reverse and see what novel results come of that.

To Be Efficient – Stop Fixing Everything – As with Anthony, Maciej and Ash, Jama really knows his subject matter, the effects he’s creating and what the intended outcome is of a particular tool or technique. All of the instructors don’t seem to use undo or at the very least don’t have to redo almost anything. As we observed with Anthony’s first lesson – just getting things right and not constantly having to fix something is your biggest productivity boost. Jama models, lights and paints very efficiently – which means he does just enough. No excessive need to modify shapes or glazing – sometimes it’s abrupt and more opaque, other times it may be more subtle, but it’s always done with great consideration ( which by now I’m sure is 100% automated and internalized) for the context of the element. It’s amazing seeing someone use so many different tools, all integrated into a fluid system. There truly is no separation between older and newer tools, they all are subject to the same general principles.

Thank you Jama!

Practice Makes Perfect – Ash Thorp

Order from Chaos – Another really amazing image from Ash this week, it’s such an insight to be able to see the elements he uses to composit the final from. The disparate, separate elements make absolutely no sense, there is no clear way of unifying them, much less end up with the final image he presents. What happens is a process of generation, then synthesis and of finding or creating the answer, rather than zeroing in on it, because there is just no concrete solution. This happens with all art, but with images that are more grounded in reality there are at least rules to follow. With an abstract image – you have to come up with the language, establish patterns and form an internal narrative that is cohesive, it’s a lot of very creative and non-rule based work, which makes it even more challenging to stay on task and fit within the brief. Ash’s workflow methods, the muse reference, staying organized, the mind mapping  and meticulous deconstruction of the brief make more and more sense as we get closer to the end of the course. These are all necessary components to be able to navigate the chaos of possible answers, as you struggle to establish the image’s internal relationships and narrative. It’s fascinating to watch and I’ll definitely be re-watching Ash’s course multiple times and going through many portions with no sound on to be able to get a better look at the choices being made.

Repetition – I thought this was a pretty gutsy move, considering that as content creators we always feel the need to have to be sharing something new and there is also an implied pressure that you have to be saying or doing something new each and every time. Repetition strengthens connections in your brain, it speeds up the signals travelling through neural networks and it’s essentially what solidifies a skill into something you’ve mastered and made automatic. It’s easily the best thing you could do. Yet we seem to fight it at every turn. We value breadth over depth in many cases and have the illusion that knowing of many things is the same as knowing how to use them. So, great move on 2 levels – for one it’s just efficient in terms of having to practice to improve and two – it never hurts to see more examples of a complex skill being used and how it changes based upon context. And lastly – it’s just cool to see someone go against the norm and repeat something, rather than submit to the pressure of always having to have something radically different to show.

Stop Mid-Sentence – There’s  an idea by Hemingway that’s very often quoted – he used to stop writing for the day when he still had something to write about. Sometimes even mid-sentence. Ash makes the point here, that assets are ready when they excite you about what could happen next, but it’s not all worked out or perfected. So this is stopping mid-sentence. You’re ready to integrate them into a larger whole once you think you’re on to something, but you’re not quite sure what it is. You have to learn to tread the water of uncertainty and spend quite a bit of time there, until that very thing starts to become exciting, which is when you begin to build mastery.

Have an Eye for Opportunity – Going back to our first note, and we mentioned this last week as well – there are no concrete answers. This whole concept applies to life really, it’s how everything works. There are no concrete answers, there is no definite yes-no or good-bad, it’s all subjective, it’s all dependent upon context and the best answer is really just the one you decide to use. It is likely to be stumbled upon rather than revealed in glorious white light with an angel choir for a background, as you’re trying things out. Don’t look for the perfect solution – look for potential and keep your mind a few steps down the road – what is the optimal answer that will translate into a good option and will play nicely with all other options available. If it’s too technical or too perfect – it may even stop you from exploring as you’ll stiffen up in an effort to preserve what you think is already there. Better to just take everything as it comes and integrate it as best you can with everything that will happen a few steps down the road. Awesome philosophy.

Thank you Ash!

Combining Skillsets – Anthony Jones

Set Yourself Up for Success – This concept could be described, in a way, as the driving force behind AJ’s painting strategy. A lot of emphasis again on efficiency – doing things right and doing that from the very beginning, rather than having to go back in, multiple times, to fix mistakes or polish areas that ultimately might get obliterated as you decide to change the design. This ties in perfectly with AJ’s emphasis on studies – this is where you get to learn your forms, the underlying structure of what you often paint, it’s where you get to perfect your methods, learn new techniques and then apply all that to your paintings. I remember watching a youtube video of Anthony, where he explained that even while at work, a lot of his time would be spent doing studies and this would even get him in trouble sometimes. But then he’d explain that this is what makes him better and it’s what ultimately drives his ability to deliver value. A painting demo is the result of hundreds or thousands of studies, each contributing a small, little piece to the overall process, so when it gets executed, the result is a direct reflection of what’s gone into your preparation.

Don’t Work Harder, Work Smarter – This is another underlying concept – it’s not the amount of hours you put it, though of course this could be a factor depending on skill level, but it’s the elimination of mistakes. With a lot of high level learning, most of the progress comes not from what you do, but from what you stop doing. In this class Anthony mentions that at least 1 to 2/3 of your painting time could be wasted time, time spent in unproductive work or at the very least – not targeted at your most important objectives for the image. And if you consider the 80/20 principle, it probably will ring true. We all have a lot of habitual mistakes or routines that we mindlessly go through, that could be substituted for much more productive ways of working. Have a strategy, have a goal, be conscious with the process. A lot of high performers, to get as far as they have, try in all kinds of ways to prevent automaticity – turning a skill into a habit and performing it with no conscious thought – making things automatic makes sense, it conserves energy in the brain, but it may also be premature, there are always improvements and tweaks that can be made. So be conscious of your process, develop strategies for painting smart and see what you can eliminate from your painting routine to convert that 1 to 2/3 of your time into more productive time… or a second or third concept maybe. The faster you get – the more practice you can get, the better you get, the more work you produce. Can’t go wrong with that.

Become A Scientist For Your Process – I remember mentioning in the very first week about scientific exploration, Anthony’s way of work has always struck me as very much researched and refined. A quick note here about his mention of the scientific process and how cool it is to see that he actually does see his process in a similar way. Treat your process as an experiment – form a hypothesis, test it, try and prove it wrong, then take those findings and incorporate them into the larger whole of your practice. Awesome way of thinking.

“If I Had 10 Hours to Do a Painting – I’d spend 5-6 of those hours studying, researching and analyzing. The research time would be far more valuable than just sitting there, mindlessly rendering a painting. ” – Nothing to add to that…

Thank you AJ!

Modular Compositing – Maciej Kuciara

Become A Layering Ninja – I think if there is one possible characteristic that goes through all of Maciej’s work, it will have to be the fact that everything is layered. I’m not too sure if he can fully appreciate how complex his scenes and workflow look to someone who’s not familiar with all the things he uses. A lot of this is due to layering. There is not a single thing that is used on its own. From the very, very basic to the most complex – everything is layered and combined and this creates a huge amount of variety, novelty and is certainly something that makes Maciej’s work unique. The sheer amount of effort and care he must put in every single piece to get that layering going is astounding. He layers images, materials, software – literally from the most basic photobashing element to a full-blown 3D package, everything is layered. A material gets made from 4-5-6 different materials. A scene gets established by 3-4-5 different pieces of software, by 3-4-5 different techniques. From straight sketching in value, to photobashing the concept, to generating the model in DAZ, layering the animation, lighting and establishing the shot in 3DS Max along with some modelling, over to Marvelous Designer for some clothing, over to Fusion 360 for some detailing, back to 3DS, over to Octane for materials – each material comprised of multiple materials. Everything is layered, complexity is accumulated very, very quickly, the output though is just as amazing. The amount of detail, the flexibility, the quality of the work, it all reflects the amount of work that’s gone in behind the scenes. This is truly what art is like in the digital age.

Being An Artist in The Digital Age – If Leonardo were alive today I’m sure he wouldn’t just be using a silverpoint, though he might just for eccentricity and to sketch his ideas, he’d be a full-blown layering ninja working in every software imaginable and exploring the complexity that is available to us right now. This note is meant mostly for those that might feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of knowledge they must possess in order to utilize all the tools available. I think this is the wrong way to look at it. Yes, there’s a serious time investment involved, but at the same time – you could be one of the people right at the forefront of what’s going on. There have never been tools as powerful as what he have right now and access has never been easier.

Art itself becomes layered. It’s not only about fundamentals, it’s also about tools, about how creative you are with your workflow. Every single instructor here has developed their own way of working. They are all extremely different. And they can work in tons of different ways. The images that come out though – they’re all very recognizable, very high quality. A single person can produce now, in their bedroom or in their mom’s basement, something that just 20 years ago would have been impossible for even a whole studio to create and with speed that would have been untouchable. Just think of making a cube and duplicating it 100 times. You couldn’t draw that in a month. A computer would struggle to calculate it, if there was even software that could do that 20-25 years ago. So yes, it is complex, there is a lot to take in, yes it does take time – but the payoff is huge and you could catch up to people that if tools were restricted to just traditional – you could never even hope of getting close to. Art diversifies, it’s not just about the fundamentals, it’s also about the tools and also about how you use them. Layer upon layer, upon layer.

Always very inspiring to watch Maciej’s work.

Thank you Maciej!


Professional Presentations – Ash Thorp

Transplant Knowledge – If you’ve gone through the course, I’m sure you can see a very strong connection between what Ash has been teaching and how he approaches the presentation. The strategies to get the work done and then do display it in the best possible way are virtually identical, even down to the tools used. My point being that the principles of good work are universal. The ability to focus and zero in on what’s important, to isolate it from the noise. To stay on task and not get swallowed up by complexity. To build something out layer by layer until you can’t possibly untangle it or recognize the origin because of its complexity, this stuff that we’ve been learning throughout the course gets woven right back into whatever other work you choose to do. Super important point – don’t just master a task. Master the principle and then find ways to transplant it in order to maximize all of your work in all areas of life.

Show Your Art – This is another underlying theme, but putting your work out there is the only way to enter the game. I tend to be more of a hermit and I’m happy as long as I’m improving and often don’t put anything out for months. I may be getting better – but no one else knows it. And if you’re after work – there’s no way to get it apart from making it known that this is what you do and of course having a good enough quality of work available so that you can serve more people. It’s obvious, but depending on your personality you could be like me and just neglect to show what you’ve been working on. Make it a habit to put your work out there.

Murdering Your Darlings – This goes for writing, for design, for art and for the work you present. You can’t be attached to what you’ve done. You can’t treat it as sacred or special just because you’ve produced it. Think of your work as a torrent of information that’s constantly changing and moving. It’s not static and you shouldn’t hold it as special because it’s always changing with you. So don’t be afraid to get rid of old portfolio pieces to make drastic changes to your presentations or website, you don’t lose anything. The work evolves as you do, no need to hold on to old ideas or pieces.

Get Rid of Bad Work – I’ve heard almost every single working artist out there reference this at some point, so I thought I’d throw it in there – don’t pad up your portfolio with bad work. Just get rid of it. It’s better to have less, but high quality, rather than tons, but most of it poor. People will just not be able to judge your skill level and won’t know what you could deliver to them, so it may be safer to just pass on your work if it’s not great. So be careful how you select the work you display.

Thank you Ash!

The Devil Is In The Details – Maciej Kuciara

Expect Imperfection – First crucial idea – after all that modelling, the different software, the animated poses, the lighting, the camera, the render passes – even after a ton of work, there will still be imperfections in the final product. In fact, because of the complexity, it would be impossible that everything along the pipeline has played nicely with every single other thing, so imperfections and mismatches of geometry would be expected at the end. So this is another chance to look over everything, zoom in and have a good look around. Expect to find things that need fixing, despite how much work you’ve put in so far. The refinement always continues… until you just decide to move on.

The Story Continues – This was an awesome idea, convert your assets into story pieces. This whole process, ultimately, has been about story telling. When I sometimes look at Maciej’s work and ask myself what the essence is, it’s not that he knows tons of software, it’s not just the knowledge, it’s not about the tools even though that’s what we focus on because we seek to improve, everything is subservient to the story. Maciej is a scene creator, a visual reality magician. He makes stuff that doesn’t exist look like it exists in the world.  He generates plausible, realistic geometry, with accurate, physical lighting, which is why tools are so important – they do a lot of the heavy lifting, but ultimately it’s about the goal all this stuff gets used for. So after the first step of looking into details and expecting a pass of refinement – now is your chance at a story pass as well. These elements you’ve put together – do they still read as 3D assets, are they too perfect, do they go together, do they portray the character or environment as they need to be seen or is there more that can be added that can tell the story better – do the current materials need some wear and tear, some texture, some more character and going back to the first lessons – some soul?

Expect Improvement – Maciej makes another incredible observation here – don’t give up on your new tools or fail to implement them into your workflow because they’re difficult and clunky. This awkwardness will pass and you will map them into your brain. You will become faster, you will internalize them, the clunkiness will go away, but you do have to spend the practice time. Otherwise we’re left with a great idea, with a solution that we have in mind, with just another thing that we know about, but don’t know well enough to use. So keep at it, work on your tools in the same way that you work on your art. It will take time, it is uncomfortable, awkward and slow, but this will pay off. Expect the improvement and put in the time to pay for it. And let’s not forget the 3D assets that you’ll end up creating, which will become a huge time saver when developed. Awesome.

Focus – Final note, another great connection between the business/productivity world and art. Something that we all need to look into more. Maciej urges everyone to shut off all notifications, create an environment that’s conducive to focus and deep work. Being distracted is a pretty expensive process for your brain as you have to constantly shift focus and exercise willpower. Then pretty soon you’ll find that you’re out of juice. There will be a book coming out very soon by Cal Newport, which is called Deep Work and is all about what it is and why it’s important. I highly recommend that you read as much as you can about how your brain works and what’s productive and what’s not. It’ll make you make better choices about your work and ultimately, over time, if you’re doing something good – it will be compounded into awesomness, if it’s bad – it will turn into pretty horrible, so be aware of what you’re cultivating in your brain, it is ultimately your one and only tool that makes everything else possible. Another book recommendation – Spark by John J. Ratey, the greatest accelerator of learning is exercise, so make sure to work that in as well. Don’t believe me? Check out the book or a podcast, this stuff is amazing.

Draw Your Worst- I was going to end the notes for this week 2 notes ago, but I just keep finding awesome stuff… Final note – if you’re on a deadline and you’re failing, and you don’t know what to do, and you only have a little bit of time left – just do something. Don’t surrender, don’t just do nothing. Like Steve Jobs said – real artists ship. So draw your worst, draw the stupidest, most awful idea you think you have and ship it. At least you’ll have something. Then next time you’ll do better. Iain McCaig said in an interview how once at an interview he did some work he thought was horrible. When he finished – the people there applauded him. They thought it was great. So shut your mouth and your negative inner voice and like Ash said – put your stuff out there, have something done even if it’s not great. But don’t surrender. Thank you Maciej, this was amazing.

Thank you Maciej!

The Power of Pracitce – Anthony Jones

Take Up The Challenge – The more people say it can’t be done or refuse to do it because it’s difficult, the more reasons there are for you to do it. What an absolutely amazing idea. It makes perfect sense, though it might seem illogical at first. Why would you do something that’s incredibly hard? Because there are only a handful of people doing it. Why would you even try if people say it’s impossible? Because it’s people that just haven’t tried it. Just like Jama says in his lectures, don’t listen to the naysayers, they’re just wasting time talking about how it can’t be done rather than putting in work. Find people that say yes to things and find something that really pushes you. For me it was art, because I knew nothing about it and I thought it’s impossible. At the end of 3 years, I’m a different person because of that challenge. Growth is only possible through pain and effort. So learn to love those, learn to find and stay with them as much as you can. Then also look for odds that are overwhelmingly against you and see what you can do with perseverance and consistency. You are capable of so much more than you can even imagine.

It’s Ok to Do it Over – I used to hate having to do something more than once. I used to have this internal resistance to even considering it. If it’s done – then why have to do it again? Obviously this is the worst possible mindset in terms of improvement. Paradoxically I had spent my life up to that point doing the same thing over and over – I’d workout at the gym and repeat the same routine ad infinitum. With painting it’s different because there is a product. You don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over, creating the same piece, it may feel like lost time. But this is the best possible opportunity to improve. I will deliberately do the same practice now, daily and do it in multiples of as many as I can get done. I won’t just do one thing, I’ll do it several times. As we’re finishing the course now – I’ve already watched the individual lectures several times to write about them, but I’ll also be rewatching the whole thing to see the bigger picture. Doing things over and over again is the best possible way to improve, provided that you’re looking for what you could be doing better. It’s an active repetition. You can’t just mindlessly plough through it.

Deliberate Practice – Another crucial brain concept, focusing not on what you’re good at, but on what you need to work on. A lot of people tend to repeat only what they’re comfortable with, in fact they’ll see doing work that they’re good at as beneficial, while doing something they may suck at horribly as something to be avoided at all costs. This is a static mindset, its aim is to pigeonhole you and keep you safe in your comfort zone. Flipside is of course that you sacrifice your improvement for the comfort of safety. So target what you suck at and work on that until it’s resolved or good enough to not hold you back.

Thank you AJ!

Final Composite in Photoshop – Jama Jurabaev

Free Yourself From the Tools – Ok, this may seem paradoxical, but really the only reason to learn so many tools and to internalize them so deeply is so that you can completely forget about the tools and only focus on your work. After so much tool learning it may seem like the tools are the goal, like we said in Maciej’s note – keep your eye on what’s really important, which is always the story and the image. Jama makes a great point here how 3D can liberate you from constraints of reference. This is another something I’d never thought of before. Aerial views hard to find good reference for? Well, no problem. Just make your environment in 3D, then pan and zoom around as much as you want. Having full control of the terrain may seem like a lot of work, but really with all the techniques from this course it’s a piece of cake and it gives you an immense amount of freedom and options. Tools are learned to liberate you from the tools. Once you internalize you never have to think of them again and you can focus on your work as the most important thing.

Become A Renaissance Learner  – I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, I couldn’t possibly have missed it, but I’ll go over it one more time. It’s no good to just learn techniques or to find quick ways to do something flashy. The principles of what you do are much more important. In creating images – the visual system and how we perceive the world is really what we’re striving to emulate. So learn all the tools you possibly can that replicate how the eye works. Don’t just learn to paint, combine that with photography. Or don’t just model, learn to render and light your work as well. Learn about lenses, learn about geometry, learn how to integrate all these things together. Seek to expand rather than to contract. And if something in your work doesn’t look right, don’t just luck your way into a solution by pushing sliders around, see if you can figure out what underlying fundamental principle is not being adhered to. Is your lighting off, or your lens, maybe your anatomy? Figure out the basic principles and always distil everything down to these as you’re troubleshooting your work.

Eye Towards the Future – Another strong reason to focus on fundamentals, on story, on design. 3D software has already made huge leaps and has invaded pretty much every single field that has to do with visual information. In 5 years time, Jama predicts, it would be easier to create amazing imagery as the tools will be even more powerful and more approachable. So learn everything that will support you for that coming future. Look to technology to help you and move with the times, don’t insist on working how you’ve always worked before, stubborn rigidity is never a good long-term strategy, though it is amusing to chase children off the lawn and reminisce about how it was better when everyone was doing x,y or z.

Practice What You’ve Learned – We already covered this in AJ and Maciej’s notes, but just a quick mention of the concept here as well, as the lecture is a recap also. Go over everything you learn, do it multiple times, streamline the process, look for how you can improve your techniques and practice until things become internalized, it’s when you know you have the tool mastered and you can move on to the next new thing to tackle, which there will always be something and it’s what makes this journey so rewarding.

Thank you Jama!

Wow… This was intense. Over 21 000 words as notes over 8 weeks, this is more writing than I had to do for my entire 3 years of university. Thank you so much to Jama, Anthony, Maciej and Ash, I’ve learned a ton from you guys and will definitely be spending the next few months in digesting, practicing and connecting what I’ve learned from you guys to my own workflow. Absolutely amazing info, great insights into very different work styles and 100% practical and immediately applicable. Whatever other courses you guys end up putting out there – I’ll definitely be a part of. Thank you so much once again.

To anyone having read this whole thing – you deserve a medal. So far we only have 1 confirmed survivor and that’s Maciej. Thank you for sticking with me and I hope you got some good value from this. Thank you 🙂


  1. I am saving this entire page as pdf and will go through it. You’ve done an amazing service to us learners. Thank you for this. And all the best for your future endeavours! 🙂

    • Volen says:

      Awesome, thank you very much, very happy to know that people are investing time in such a huge post. Thank you Satyaki, best of luck to you as well 🙂

  2. Max says:

    Fantastic post , Volen !!!!
    So you took only their “The power of 2” courses without mentorship? I’m wondering is this mentorship really helpful or you can watch reviews of other students works and learn from it? Because its a big difference in price…
    Thank you!

  3. Ann says:

    Hi! I’ve got questions about your notes, I hope you don’t mind!
    „You can get the majority of what you need from your painting in 15-20 minutes” – does it mean that it’s better to devote the biggest part of learning time to scetches and speedpainting? (though, I suppose, if you don’t understand something you might add some time for analyzing the matter and researching).
    „blocking in local values – no mental energy required to have to think about light sources, shadows, contrast, etc.” – I don’t get it how you can block in values without thinking about all this stuff if you paint from imagination, without a reference…
    I haven’t read your notes till the end yet, may I ask some more questions later, because I suppose they’ll arise 🙂

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Volen says:

      Hi Ann, thank you, you bring up some great points and implications that I hadn’t considered, always very insightful to see other people’s interpretation. Thank you 🙂
      Q1 – Skill level is a huge determinant for that statement. A beginner simply will not have the skills and tools necessary to carry out a painting to finish, so whether 20 minutes or 20 hours – the outcome is uncertain. So a beginner focuses more on finishing, each and every piece of a skill is paused upon, examined up close and then integrated. Learning is always slow. It’s never about time. When it comes to working though, once all basic components are mastered – you think differently. You consider story, ideas or design. When thinking of design you can know where something might go within 15-20 minutes. For a beginner though – they just don’t have the experience of how the later stages will go. Speedpainting and sketches I’d say are more design oriented as tools for practice. A beginner will benefit from a slow, methodical dissecting, practice and repetition of every single minute element. A pro will blast through something at light speed because so much of the process is internalized and unconscious.
      Q2 – Local values are essentially just flat shapes. That’s the beauty of the method 🙂 There is no lighting, no shading, nothing. It’s pure design, just flat light and dark shapes that make up a design. Once the pattern is established and you’re happy with the overall composition – you take those same shapes and apply lighting to them. It’s similar to using place-holders, that will be replaced with more complex elements, but for the purpose of quick idea generation you simplify everything, then you complicate it as you solve more and more of the puzzle. Very clever techniques 🙂 It’s always simplifying everything down so that you’re only doing 1 thing at a time. It’s how the brain works.
      Thank you, look forward to helping with whatever I can 🙂

      • Ann says:

        Great, the second issue never crossed my mind! But I found a relevant tutorial today, so I’ll keep practicing keeping in mind this new information!

  4. Dennis says:

    Amazing post! Only read your notes on Ash’s class and it sounds amazing.

  5. Ben says:

    I plan on taking AJ’s class and was having doubts if I should take it then I read your notes on his class. This is truly an amazing post. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. Jr says:

    Hey Volen I’ve seen a few of your videos on YouTube and they’ve been quite helpful, this however is amazing. You managed to summarize everything neatly so everyone knows what to expect.
    I was planning on taking AJ’s course but it’s no longer been offered. Have you encountered a similar course? Because even though AJ has plenty of tutorials I don’t think they’re quite as in depth as this one was.

    • Volen says:

      Thanks very much. I think you can definitely check out his gumroads as well as his youtube. He has a video on learning on YT, which is a huge topic in this course. Having a look at some of his gumroads, the design one and painting with confidence will also be a pretty good combo. It will get you a good portion of the course. I didn’t know it was no longer offered, hope everything is good with these guys… Hope this helps!

  7. Colin Leiker says:

    I can’t even f**king believe this whole thing exists, I could cry. Definitely going to earn that medal.

  8. Caitlin says:

    THIS SO AMAZING! Thank you for writing this! Super helpful

  9. Iyad Sabouni says:

    Amazing! I am definitely going to read this over and over again!

  10. This is a goldmine of knowledge Volen. First of all I thank you deeply for taking the time to document your entire term with these awesome artists. I’ve always been amazed how you take such a scientific and stoic approach to learning art since you started your journey. I was interested on taking courses on Learn Squared after countless hours of listening to the Art Cafe, and I’m glad your blogged popped up as one of the most complete reviews I have seen from this school. There are so many good lessons and insights here, I haven’t even finished reading it all XD. Keep up the good fight, you are an inspiration to so many. I wish you success on your current projects!

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