Hello, Blender users and geeks! My name is Martin Klekner and for the past few years I have been working as a CG Artist and Cinematic Artist based in Prague, Czech Republic.
Ever since I can remember, I have loved history. It was my favorite subject at school and above all, I loved watching historical movies. Anything connected with either the Middle Ages or ancient times, I was game. I loved everything: Henry V, Spartacus, Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven, even 300 and Troy. Of course, my favorite film was Gladiator, I can’t even tell you how many times I have watched Ridley Scott’s masterpiece… even with all its historical inaccuracies.
I guess that this passion for movies brought me to my early film-making tests. I actually started with making Star Wars fan films, which I focused on for several years and which taught me a lot about making visual effects. Thanks to that experience, I even got my first studio work in a Prague VFX company called Universal Production Partners.
However, I still wanted to work on something more connected to history. So after a while, I left UPP and together with a few of my friends, I worked on their student project, an iPhone app combined with a stylized historical film called Chronicles: Prague. I focused on creating the videos for the app... and really, this team experience, creating something on our own, was a dream come true for me.
Another dream-come-true event came some time after we released the app. I was approached by a Prague company called Warhorse Studios, who just successfully finished their Kickstarter campaign for a game called Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I was to help them with making trailers for this upcoming historical RPG title. I had no idea what I was in for :-)
Initially, it was supposed to take two years before the game came out. It turned out to be four years, actually. Long story short - throughout that time, I somehow ended up being not just the “trailer guy” but also the Cinematic Director. I had the awesome opportunity to lead a team of a few talented artists, direct actors, use motion capture technology and, together with awesome editors, graphic artists and animators, put together four hours of cutscenes for the game. It was challenging, nerve-wracking and deeply satisfying, to be working on a huge project like this, having such an enormous responsibility. However, I dare say all ended well - and below you can see the final story trailer for KCD, showcasing some of our work. The trailer was actually the last thing I created for Warhorse after we finished the cutscenes. I still get quite emotional watching it :-)
Getting into Blender
I decided, however, that my journey with Warhorse Studios would eventually end. Mainly, I wanted to focus on my own projects. So somewhere around this time, I started preparing for my freelance career, thinking about the software I would choose for this part of my journey. Freelancing is hard and - at least when starting - it’s better to focus on saving money. I was a long time Autodesk Maya user, but I knew I could not afford it just yet, so I started looking for alternatives. Right around that time, Agent 327, the 9th Blender open movie came out and I was completely blown away by how much Blender had improved throughout the years. So I decided to give this 3D tool a try. I have been hooked ever since.
Really, it wasn’t just that the software was free - I actually had no problem getting from Maya into Blender. Starting with Blender 2.78 version, I realized that this software could actually help me create all of the projects I dreamed of creating, as well as allow me to do my freelance work. I got a ton of tutorials from all sorts of sources, BlenderGuru, CreativeShrimp, Zacharias Reinhardt, CG Geek, and I devoured the content of BlenderCloud and CGCookie. It took me probably a year to handle the basics, but there’s so much stuff to learn about Blender and I think this process will never stop for me. Besides, I love new challenges and try to constantly improve my B3D skill, especially with the new features 2.8 provides.
Heroes of Bronze
Throughout my career, I always focused on making personal projects with a goal of making a short film as a final product, rather than a single artwork. Soon after I left Warhorse, adopted Blender and went freelance, I started to think of a new project such as this. And I realized that I always had this passion for ancient history, especially the world of Ancient Greece, which most of the readers probably know only from the movie 300 and maybe from Oliver Stone’s Alexander. I decided that this era would be the topic of my next project, which I called Heroes of Bronze.
As usual with my projects, I started by writing a script and then created a storyboard based on it. That gave me an idea of what assets I would need to create for the project as well as what techniques I would need to learn. I also decided to dig a bit deeper and, in order to make the project historically accurate, started by researching a lot of books and image references. Studying reference is the key, in my opinion - without it, one often slides into the realm of mediocre ideas, and creating artwork one has seen million times somewhere else. Not that I’m not guilty of that as well :-D
In the meantime, I also experimented with a variety of other affordable software tools. In the end I settled on a completely new workflow pipeline - I started modeling, UVing, lighting and rendering all my scenes in Blender, texturing the assets in Substance Painter, making clothing in Marvelous designer, doing some enviro work in WorldCreator and, of course, using Photoshop and After Effects for concepting and compositing.
After I finished several online courses and was confident enough with asset creation in Blender, in early 2018 I started making my first models for Heroes of Bronze. I made a few videos about it and this gave me the idea that I could actually connect my Heroes of Bronze project with showing others how I do stuff. This way, I could help fans to make their own projects and maybe even start earning some money by selling some courses, to help me fund HoB. This idea stuck and whenever I can, these days, I try to make behind the scenes videos and tuts, showing my techniques... You can watch them here. Recently, for example, I made a tutorial series on how I make a simple architectural asset for my project.
Growing and Improving
Part of my journey is also the struggle to be as efficient as possible. In the last few years, apart from reading historical literature I study for my project, I’ve actually started reading a lot of self-dev books. Some of them totally transformed the way I work and live my everyday life. One that I simply must mention is Deep Work by Cal Newport. Thanks to it, I realized I need to handle my focus much better and cut down on social media use. That was actually my biggest problem, I kept switching between my work and Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, not even realizing it’s a really bad habit! So I divided my workday into several chunks, each evening deciding on what I will do the next day in each chunk. I bought a desktop App called Freedom and for the duration of these chunks, I blocked my social media, only enabling it in the short breaks in-between. That helped my focus and efficiency immensely!
Apart from that, there are several other titles that have changed my way of thinking and that can help you in your journey as well: War of Art (S. Pressfield), Art and Fear (David Bayles), Extreme Ownership (J. Willink) and 12 Rules for Life (J. Peterson).
About the Author
Martin Klekner, CG Artist