Chris Matthews: Interview with 3D artist

Hi everyone! We continue a series of short interviews with the best artists from Hum3D competitions.

Chris Matthews, author of the “The Lost Sanbar”, will answer six questions and give us a look behind the scenes of his work.

The Lost Sanbar

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do and how did you become a 3D artist?

I have been a 3D artist in the games industry for around 20 years now and have been making digital content since the late 90s. I originally trained as an Industrial engineer and designed parts for cars, aircraft, products, and clothing. I was using a lot of early CAD packages and workstations to do this work and the design studio I worked for at the time took on some supplementary 3D work for some European Konami arcade cabinets. I fell in love with the challenges of real-time 3D art and it was only a few months later I decided to take the plunge into video games.

From there it has been a continuous education – learning various packages and techniques. Keeping a running portfolio of both my personal work (That I always keep moving forward as a place to learn and improve) and professional work to mark the projects I have completed. I have been lucky enough to create 3D art and art direct for some of the most amazing IPs including Gears of War, Crysis, StarWars, Homefront, and Forza Motorsport.

I love being a lifelong student of the craft and being a 3D artist is one of the most wonderful jobs I can imagine.

What was the workflow behind your latest challenge image? Where did the idea come from?

For ‘The Lost Sanbar’, I evaluated the brief and focused on what vehicle I wanted to build. I currently work for a video game that makes almost every type of production race and road car so I had already decided I wanted to do something slightly different and quirky.

A few years ago on a reference hunting and location scouting trip in Japan, we discovered a Subaru Sanbar parked way out in the forest on a tiny trail. These vehicles have a long history in Japan of being customized using VW parts. This particular vehicle had some intentional graffiti markup ‘Camp 101’ and some cool features – so I did what any good artist would do and took around 200 photos for reference!

For this challenge – I went straight into modeling this vehicle as authentically as I could, using real-time techniques to bake down my high poly model onto lower resolution meshes. I had originally planned on replicating the forest that we had found the vehicle in, but then decided it would offer some interesting lighting opportunities if I build an old Japanese vehicle shop.

After consulting with some Japanese, car enthusiasts, friends I had a written description of some of the tropes of a Japanese workshop and went about high and low poly modeling around 45 props to build out the space. As I worked, the space evolved as I thought about environmental storytelling and I added elements such as creeping vines and torn window coverings – eventually detailing the space with cobwebs and even coffee mugs and a radio!

What’s the biggest challenge you faced while modeling? Did you learn something new?

I really indexed on lighting for this challenge. After modeling the space out I created around 12 different lighting scenarios. I actually had a really hard time landing on my favorite. Building something photo-realistic can demand super realistic lighting but I also wanted to explore Japanese themes. I wanted to avoid falling into tropes of contemporary Japanese lighting but at the same time wanted some strong, striking plays in the space. I opted for Neon vs. daylight and tried everything from Acid yellows to Hot pinks.

I think it is fun to use new pieces of work to explore areas that you have studied less and really try and improve in new areas and for me – Lighting was that area in this challenge.


How often do you do personal projects and keep your portfolio up-to-date? Which one is your favorite?

I try and complete 4-5 pieces of personal work each year. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I try out new styles, subject matter, and techniques with almost every project and roll the best parts of these techniques back into my professional work. I love doing competitions and group challenges as I find I work better when I have some responsibility to a community or group of artists to show up!

This year I am planning on putting almost all my personal work into a single bigger project just to see what is possible. I am trying a whole host of new techniques and a new (to me) stylized rendering technique that will give the whole piece a hand-drawn look.

I love riffing on old designs and coming up with new stuff and anything to do with cars, robots, spaceships, and aircraft.

What or who inspires you today? Are you a member of any art communities? Any favorite hashtags you check on a daily basis?

As I mentioned before, I like to think of myself as a lifelong student of art. I look at Artstation daily and am constantly following artists from around the world. I love Behance as a broader place to discover design and art as it also encompasses produce, graphic and industrial designers. I am a member of multiple Discord groups and spend time hanging out with creature, concept, and game artists all the time. Sometimes just share ideas or sound out thoughts about things I want to explore.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded in my professional life by some of the world’s best 3D artists so I am constantly exposed with work that challenges me and inspires me to do more and continue my learning journey. By far, I am most often surprised and inspired when visit universities to do talks and get to do portfolio reviews. Some of the highest quality work comes from students and there are always fresh ideas.

Please tell us your five short tips for creating 3D art.

  1. 1: Consistency – Do something every day! Learn a new script, watch a tutorial on YouTube, draw something or just spend a little time working on a personal project. I do this even when I am exhausted! Knowledge and experience are cumulative and this is much more valuable over time than doing ‘one big thing’ every now and then!

  2. 2: Share and share again! – Get your work on forums and in communities where you can get feedback. You might not always like what you hear but listen and see what you can take from others. There are nuggets of gold in there and try and form connections with those that give you good constructive insights and thoughts. One word of warning – Don’t forget why you are posting. Getting ‘likes’ is nice but unless you are engaging with people and learning – the exercise is kinda fruitless!

  3. 3: Measure Twice, Cut once! – A good old engineering tip! Do your research, draw, ideate and keep your vision pure but also evolve your thoughts and look at lots of references. Don’t start pushing polygons until you are happy you understand your idea and try to sketch even if you aren’t confident drawing – or it is all too easy to create design and visual problems that are hard to design your way out of.

  4. 4: Sleep on it! – When you are working on stuff and it feels like it gets too hard to problem solve, sleep on your work and come back to it! Sometimes you can become too close and saturate yourself with an idea and your brain needs space to resolve it. I often art books, watch films, hike, work out, listen to music – do whatever works for you – but I often find that the answer comes to me when I have just acknowledged I am struggling with something and have given myself a little space.

  5. 5: Shipped is better than perfect! – This is important – and what brings together all my other tips. I think that knowing when you are done is one of the most difficult lessons to learn for any artist. I have ruined more pieces of art, not submitted entrees to competitions, and have many older pieces languishing in my data storage because I didn’t know when to quit! An art director who I was lucky to work under many years ago gave me this advice and I believe it is the most useful advice I have ever been given. “Form your idea, set yourself a time frame, and go for it. As soon as you have achieved what you set out to – Stop, post/submit/turn in your work, and move on to the next thing because shipped is better than perfect!”.

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