DAL: What’s your background or interest in digital arts? Has your creativity in this area stemmed from photography or from arts in other traditional media?
Dave: My father used to be a freelance photographer before I was born, and where I was brought up as a kid there were always a lot of cameras around the house. I always loved taking pictures and got a camera for my eighteenth birthday.
When in College I took on a student job at the weekends and during the holidays at a local photography shop where I picked up a lot of skills along the way. My bedroom became the dark room as well.
When my eldest son was born I had less time to go out and photograph, and I was looking for something else to fulfil my creative needs. About the same time the first edition of Advanced Photoshop was released in Belgium, and Photoshop became my new focus, trying many different techniques.
I often lacked a good collection of stock photographs of specific items, 3D and Vue would offer a good solution for this.
DAL: Who were some of the earliest digital artists that inspired you? What did you like specifically about their work that enthused you?
Dave: In Advanced Photoshop nr. 2 was a demo disc of Vue and an article about Kerem Gogus. I was impressed with the scale of the scenes he was able to produce and the great amount of detail in it. He would later give me my first daily deviation on deviantart, which has put me in contact with him.
I remember being really impressed with works by Dax Pandhi, the realism he uses has had a serious impact on my work. He also got me addicted to World Machine 2, which has had a lot of impact on the quality of my landscapes.
Michel Rondberg and Andrea Horvath provided me with a lot of guidance when I started learning vue, pushing me further and further to get better results. As a lot of my skill derives from them and that knowledge is still a big source of inspiration. As for digital painters, I’m always impressed by Jonas De Ro’s lighting skills and watching his work and tutorials has provided me with many tools to improve my renders during postwork.
DAL: Were there any initial barriers as you started out with the learning curve in digital art? How did you overcome these difficulties?
Dave: The most difficult thing was believing I could do it. It’s sometimes too easy not to try anything because it looks too hard, or because you think you lack exceptional talent. Getting good results is usually not about being a natural talent, but about hard work and not being pleased too easily. I can’t remember the number of scenes I worked and reworked on, but with each version they came out better.
It’s a case of break down the process, and learn one step at a time.
When I first tried Dax Pandhi’s tutorial on a tropical beach scene it came out so well and I realized for the first time I could make such a scene with the soft-and hardware that I had available. I started breaking down the scene and played hours with it to see which items made the difference.
The most helpful part was having great people around you to help you, review your work and offer advice. There’s an active Vue community on Facebook called ‘Vue galleries’ where a lot of good artist hang out.
DAL: Was Vue the first 3D digital arts application that you used? What were your first impressions of it?
Dave: I used to do some classic box-modelling in Blender before starting with Vue.
Creating a model can be a long process, and making good renders proved even more difficult for me. That is what I liked so much about Vue when starting out. This is truly software you can enjoy from day one, chances are you will create a sunset scene of a palm-beach-island, but it will look nice, and create it in less than an hour. You hardly need any prior knowledge to start out.
Still interface has several tiers of complexity offering a beginner a clear and user friendly interface while offering the advanced artist the possibility to create the most daunting procedural functions.
Dave: What would you like to see developed in Vue to increase its potential?
The hardest part for me in Vue is to create great looking clouds, and they’re often pretty intensive to render as well. At the moment it’s often easier for me to add fog, atmospherics and background clouds during postwork.
For this reason I was very glad when Helios by Quadspinner was released. It provides such an improved interface over the atmosphere editor. The lighting on the clouds looks a lot better, while clouds look more soft and fluffy.
In the long run it would be great to see this fully integrated in Vue.
Overall I’m very happy with Vue as it is, and I’m really enjoying the improved photometric lighting model!
DAL: You’ve used World Machine to define your terrain for some of your Vue scenes (eg Mt Lucifer). What would you recommend about World Machine and has it helped you construct a scene a little more easily than from just using Vue’s own tools?
Dave: It definitely doesn’t make things easier, it’s often a lot more work. But World Machine provides your terrain with erosion and stunning details when used well. Imagine the scene “New-Mesa” without erosion. While the amount of detail you get is very high, render times are often considerably faster compared to rendering procedural terrains. Working in world machine is very comparable to working with the function editor in which makes it a natural instrument for any Vue artist.
Exporting a procedural stratified terrain and adding erosion to it can be such an easy process and it will look very good.
I especially love how World Machine allows me to combine several terrains together, scale them and putting them exactly where I want them. This allows me to create terrains based on reference pictures etc.
DAL: You’ve done some good scenes where you’ve carefully considered the lighting, including “The Lowest Point in the Valley” and “How the Light Falls In”. What’s one of the key points you’ve learned about lighting as you’ve progressed in your artwork?
Dave: “How the Light Falls In” really was an experiment. I remember a conversation with Michel Rondberg in which we said: “Hey, could we make thick pink god rays?”, and so we tried, and this is what came from it. Many of my scenes started out as a technical experiment, either in lighting, eco-system population , terrain construction etc. For lighting idea’s I often use reference pictures and I try to rebuild it. I often keep reworking the atmosphere until I get it perfect, and it’s a great way to learn. But I also learned that the lighting doesn’t have to be perfect in Vue, it can often be more easily perfected during postwork. For me the lighting techniques that Jonas de Ro uses in his digital paintings were an enormous contribution to my workflow. He has several good tutorials at digital tutors.
DAL: One of the most complex scenes you have done is “The Guardian”- which was your first in Vue 10, which includes a figure in the scene. What did you learn from putting together this scene?
Dave: I only had a core i5 laptop without a graphic card when I was creating this scene so I had to be very careful about my resources. I prepared the figure separately in an empty scene, set-up the materials and saved it as a vue object. Pre-creating items in an empty scene is often a great help, and when saved as vue-objects they can easily be re-used and imported in any scene. I created the scene with a lot of layers, carefully creating the scene from the front to the back, always hiding the objects and geometry from openGL preview when possible. This way of working still helps me when creating complex scenes and pushing my more modern hardware to it’s limits.
DAL: The Helios extension for Vue by Quadspinner helps construct atmospheres for Vue and you’ve done a tutorial document on using this. You’ve also used Helios to create “Tatooine Sunset” and “clouds”. Tell us about what you liked most in creating your Tatooine Sunset image.
Dave: I found it amazing to be able to recreate a famous scene that you have in mind. My early vue works were often lucky accidents or born out of experimentation. It’s not until very recent that I’m able to create a concept that I have in mind.
For me this scene and “Morning Lake” gave me a whole new level of control over Vue. You never stop learning.
Mostly it was fun doing a Star Wars scene and making it look close to the movie.
The Helios Skybuilder interface really helped this scene by easily creating the right atmosphere, lighting and mood for the scene. Adding the star wars models from scifi3d.com did the rest.
DAL: “The Passage” caught my eye, since I’ve very much liked the Quadwing spacecraft model available through Cornucopia3D .Tell us about this piece you created – you mentioned in your DeviantArt notes “This is the kind of image that drew me into 3D. I’m still chasing my dreams”
Dave: I always was fond of planes, spaceships etc. and I love miniature modelling as a teenager. I only wished that I could have created an environment for it back then and that’s exactly what I’m able to do now.
Models from Cornucopia3D are often inexpensive and will provide your scene with a great start.
For this scene I exported the spaceship model and imported it in Blender. I re-arranged the wings & missiles for a more faster and aggressive look. I also added the lightbender metanode by Quadspinner to the reflection and highlight of the spaceship material. These actions added a lot of value to the model, and I loved seeing the model reflecting the exhausts and the environment. It made them much more part of the scene.
Breaking the classic terrain geometry with the arch added a sense of speed and direction to the scene, leading the eye from the fighters to the city.
This scene is still one of my favourite ones.
DAL: Who would you like to mention that’s helped you along your journey so far in the 3D art world?
Dave: So many people were so helpful when I started to learn Vue and I learned so much form everyone at Vue Galleries (a facebook group), and in particular: Michel Rondberg, Andrea Horvath and Dax Pandhi. I had some of the best teachers.
The LA Masterclass and Realism in Vue by Quadspinner were such an incredible boost for me in terms of skill.
Creating your own content makes your scenes more unique and personal.
I often create extra content using 3D Coat. Which allows me to sculpt and paint models.
DAL: What three tips would give to those who are just starting out with digital art?
Dave: Nothing beats real-life reference, but when not possible books maps & pictures will help a lot.
Get in a group or get active in your community. There are often a lot of people around willing to help starting artists. You’ll see other work, or experiments and may often be inspired.
I often put a finished render as a desktop-background. Only after a couple of days I often see the things that are disturbing me or things I don’t like about the scene. Then I rework the scene.
Oh, and don’t be afraid to do postwork on your renders. It’s often a time-save and can give your render just that extra punch.
Dave De Kerf’s Gallery at Deviant Art
QuadSpinner’s Helios Extension for Vue
Facebook Vue Galleries Open Group
(originally printed in 3D Art Direct issue 37)