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BlenderNation Exclusive Interview - Improving As An Artist With Maarten Hof

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I recently did an article on Maarten's work "The Above Hideout Tree" and what was interesting is that he re-did that artwork 3 times during the years to show his improvement.


I thought it would be valuable for our beloved readers to have an interview with him, to share his thoughts on how to improve as an artist. I really think his answers are top notch, and you guys should take what he says into consideration for your journey as artists!

Give us an introduction, who are you, how old are you, what do you do, where do you do it?

Currently I’m still enrolled in school and I’ll be graduating this fall. I also work part-time at a game studio here in the Netherlands.

Right now I’m focusing on 3D environment art for games but in the future I'd love to work on game design and storytelling, since I’m very interested in that as well.


How long have you been creating art?

When I was a kid I drew a lot. As I got older I fell in love with the guitar and started practicing, it took up all my free time. Drawing took a backseat from then on. When I started studying Communication and Multimedia Design in 2013, I got in touch with 3D and I haven’t looked back since. It wasn’t until 2015 that I got very serious about it. I still play the guitar but as a hobby.


You had apparent improvements from 2015 to 2017, any tips to artists out there on how you got there?

You got to put in your hours. I know that every artist tells you this but it really is the way to go. What helps is looking up tips and tricks to learn fast and be efficient. Youtube is a great resource for this. If you don’t know how to do something you got to look it up. You also shouldn’t try and focus on a big project right away. Break it up in workable chunks. That way you stay more motivated and you can focus on learning one thing at a time. You won’t get overwhelmed this way. When you got that down and you’re getting a little more confident, you can move onto bigger projects. The techniques stay the same.

I love working on my own projects and I always choose to learn new things. That’s what keeps it interesting; you’re never done learning. Learn how to motivate yourself.

How long did each version of "The Above Hideout Tree" take you to finish?

I don’t know exactly how long the first and second versions took me, since it was quite a while ago. The first one took me the longest, since I was just starting out. It’s okay to take your time as a beginner. I’m guessing it took me about a month working in the evenings and some more during the weekend. For the second version I only updated the model and redid the textures. That took me about two evenings.

The newest version too me 2 weeks, working 3 evenings a week and one weekend. I did that one from scratch.

I noticed only your recent artwork was done in Blender on Artstation, did you recently start Blender, if so what made you change?

Correct. We were in the pre-production of a new game at work and we were discussing how the pipeline would look like. Our technical artist (who has been using Blender for a very long time) said we should build our pipeline around Blender since it’s just as good as any other 3D package and in many cases even better. He showed us some tips and tricks and it took us about a week or two to get the hang of the program. Now I prefer it above any other 3D package. I’m absolutely in love with the modifiers stack which isn’t even present in Maya. I also like the fact that there is an update every night. Besides that, it’s free!

Could you give us an in-depth (or a quick step to step) on how you created "The Above Hideout Tree"?

First of all I blocked out the hut with very simple geometry. Trying to get the shapes, size and mass right. After that I added the beams and at the same time I started to build the tree around it. I built the tree from just a cube with a Subdivision Surface modifier on it. When I finished the tree I added a Decimate modifier to clean up the geometry a bit. I could do this by hand but the amount of time that would take wasn’t worth it.

When I get everything in place and the shapes and sizes look correct next to one another, I start adding the little details such as the ropes and irregularity of the beams. After that I add the leaves which are just one plane rotated in every direction possible to resemble nature. For the flag I used the windsimulation in Blender which gave me some really convincing results.

I create the high poly model for baking in Blender by using a lot of bevels, extra edge loops and the Subdivison Surface modifier. I only needed this high poly model for the bevels in the normal map.

Then I bake everything in Xnormal, put it in 3D Coat and started texturing. I used built in materials in combination with handpainting.

At last everything was rendered in Marmoset Toolbag 3 with Global Ilumination turned on for a nice presentation.


What was the biggest difficulty you had with this art? How would you have done it differently now that you went though it?

Unwrapping always takes a lot of time and it’s quite a hassle to get right. It’s one of my least favorite things to do. Getting the proportions right was also challenging since my goal was to make it look exactly like the concept art.

Assuming you recently switch to Blender, what do you think of it as opposed to other 3D softwares?

I switched to Blender about half a year ago and I can say that I don’t understand why I didn’t pick it up sooner. Blender is free and in many cases better than other expensive 3D software. Things I love about Blender are the modifier stack, the fact that it is highly customizable, lots of free and very helpful add-ons and last but not least lots of innovative tools like beveling with the scroll wheel. As for the icing on the cake, Blender doesn’t have as many legacy issues as other more “traditional” 3D software, keeping it more up to date. I wished more studios used Blender.

What do you do to take a break from art? How do you refill your artistic energy?

I still play the guitar from time to time. I also love to walk my two dogs to get some fresh air, especially now as summer is right around the corner. I game, recently started playing Horizon Zero Dawn (which is absolutely amazing) and I hang out with my girlfriend. 

What do you do to keep your artistic skills sharp?

I always try to one-up my previous projects. I look up lots of breakdowns from other artists to try and learn from their workflows and pitfalls. Besides that I set a visual goal for every project that I do. I also learn from youtube videos.

What can we expect from you in the future, any big plans?

After graduating, I’ll be looking for a job. I’ll be climbing my way up the ladder so I’ll be doing more side-projects to build up a great portfolio. I’d love to work for a big company and a triple A title. This summer my plan is to make some fan-art for the game I’ve been playing, Horizon Zero Dawn, I’m curious to see where that takes me. I also have a long term plan to move abroad… Maybe Canada? 

Any tips to artists out there?

We all start somewhere. Don’t compare yourself, and your art to the big guys out there. They are that good because they already put in a lot of hours. If you’re just starting it’s best to compare your work to your previous work and always strive to have it be better. Don’t give up because there are already a lot of great artists out there, you can be one of them too. 

And last words?

If you’re not using Blender already, just give it a shot and maybe you’ll start to love it as much as I do! I’ll be solely using Blender in my future works. Just make sure you know the basics of the other packages as well, since you never know what your future studio might use.

Wow, a lot of valuable information here. How did you guys like this interview, do you agree with Maarten's answers? What are your own tips on improving as an artist? Leave a comment below!

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2 Comments

  1. This young man has his feet on the ground and he will for sure have success in his career.

    What I liked most and what I would love to see in a tutorial is a How to of "Break it up in workable chunks".

    Thanks to Yanal and Maarten!

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