Artist Spotlight: Riccardo Zema

Lovely inspirations form this LightWave 3D artist

Posted: Fri 15 Apr 2016

The LightWave artist Riccardo Zema possesses incredible talent when it comes to creating lovely 3D characters and impressive environments! Expressing his creativity through the power of LightWave 3D, Zema reveals in this great interview the keys of his success: passion and originality. Journey to Riccardo’s rich and unique fantasy world and get ready to discover his inspiring artwork.

"Breakfast" - Full version available here

Hi Riccardo and thank you for joining us for this interview! We have heard about you quite recently and have really enjoyed your artwork! Can you tell us a little more about yourself, your background and the origins of being a 3D Artist?

I'm a 33 years old digital artist living in Faenza, a small city near Bologna - North Italy. My love for street art led me to create and experiment pretty early in my life. Thanks to the fantastic people I’ve had the good luck to meet (which are now some of my best friends), my interest in Art expanded to other fields like Painting, Graphics and Sculpture. As a self-taught artist, I’ve learned Photoshop and other 2D software to create Digital Artwork while I was doing odd jobs to maintain myself.

About 10 years ago I bought a computer from a friend. He told me that I should definitely take a look to a nice 3D software demo that was already installed on it. This is how I began using LightWave (version 7 at that time). At that time there were many more technical limitations such as the 400-point limit per layer and memory limitations in general which seem silly today but after sticking with it and creating hours of terrible experiments I was certain that 3D was what I wanted to do!

"Within The Woods" - Full version available here

Are you a Freelancer or do you work in a Studio or an Agency? What type of 3D productions, projects or visual effects do you specialize in? What kind of clients do you work with?

I'm a freelance digital artist/3D generalist (even if I like to say that my major skills are modeling and rendering). When I’m not working on my personal or collateral projects, I mainly collaborate with the Italian Studio Engram, based on Faenza too, where I do architectural visualization. This was also an important step in my career: even if I love doing character/environment design and animation, ArchViz is really a great battleground to learn how to model in a smart way and survive the harsh deadlines while studying the composition and color combinations, which are very important in this area. I also work for some indie developers to create some low poly characters’ models for games and commissioned concept/illustrations.

"Within The Woods" and "The Bridge"- Full version available here and here

Could you tell us a little bit about your creative process and how you go about starting a project?

I always start sketching on paper. Then I create scenes in LightWave with super low poly models for the single elements. Then I work on the composition and set up the main colors and lights. This is the longest part of the creative process. Only after this part is completed do I move to the next phase. My next step is to model single elements. At the same time, I try to keep them as minimal as possible, because a strong composition and color scheme can totally trick the eye and single elements in the image could be almost put in second place. I like for people who view my work to perceive a nice and pleasant image at first glance. After that the real details become essential.

LightWave 3D seems to play a very important part in your job: how have you come to use this software and how long have you been using LightWave 3D? What is your experience with the software?

LightWave was my first 3D software; I’ve put my hands on the LightWave 7 demo almost 10 years ago. Since then, I have tried and used other software too... but actually 90% of my work is done with LightWave. I would say that LightWave is more than important, it's just essential for my job.

"Within The Woods" - Full version available here

Why would you choose this software over any other?

LightWave is user-friendly! The learning curve is smooth and also the no-icon interface that uses actual words is a simple difference but it really does help speed up the workflow.  I mean who can remember what hundreds of tiny icons all mean and LightWave doesn’t have this issue.  You can just simply read the words in the interface and know exactly what something does. An experienced user can create high-level images (model to final render) even in very tight deadlines. And I think, from the previews that I’ve seen, this factor will be implemented even more in the next versions.

Which are your best plugins to use with LightWave 3D? Is there any plugin that you cannot live without?

There are many! Denis Pontonnier’s plugins (Sunsky overall), LWCad (that I use for everything, even outside the architectural stuff), lots from Mike Green and many others! I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all as well as all the other great LightWave plugin developers!

"Secret Place" - Full version available here

What do you enjoy the most in LightWave 3D?

Modeling, the Instancing system and VPR.

If you were asked tomorrow to choose 3 functions/improvements of which you would dream of for the next version of LightWave 3D, what would you opt for?

A texture and UV painting mode with (customizable) brushes and everything “painting” related, a physical camera and, even if this can seem trivial, an improved schematic view with groups, sub groups, options, etc. The schematic view is very important to keep everything in order. If well-organized, this can really give an instant reading and understanding of all the scene elements.

"The Hideout" Mood & Light experiment

Are there any particular techniques in LightWave 3D that you use often?

Always do a clean check of the 3D objects, especially in the imported ones. Unify polygons, delete unused UV and 2 point polys. LWCad tool “fix polygon” also works great and this can really make the difference in more complex scenes.

Along with LightWave 3D, which other software are you using in your pipeline?

Mainly Photoshop and Unity

Could you tell us more about your latest project you've made with LightWave 3D? Could you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

The most recent project was honestly more technical than artistic: I had to convert and adapt some 3D characters for Unity with pretty old messy rigs and in a very short time. Usually for simple characters I always prefer to create the rig from scratch or start with a simple setup just to have more control on it when adding extra controllers. But in that case, I didn't have enough time so I tried to experiment with Genoma: in just a couple of test, I’ve found a smooth workflow to redo everything. Genoma was really important for the success of this step of this project!

"Desert Haven" - Full version available here

Looking back over your career, what have been the highlights and struggle points, and how do those experiences combined keep you motivated for the future?

At the beginning and as a self-taught artist I was wondering if it was worth it to invest so much time studying a 3D software, since this could be something that is not easy and very overwhelming at the start. But I kept going on and years later, when I started working and supporting myself with graphics related jobs, 3D was really a satisfaction and became an incentive to keep going on.

Since a lot of changes happened in the industry over the last couple of years, in your opinion, what makes a successful 3D artist in the current climate?

I think is just a matter of style. By now, polygon number or detail level aren’t a limit anymore but unfortunately, since we're bombarded by hundreds of digital images every day, “super 3D images” are becoming easily forgotten. It's hard to find something that it's fresh, new or “never seen”. By saying this, I think it’s essential for a 3D artist to study and work hard on a defined and recognizable style. The artwork must reveal the artist and not vice versa. I can recognize the works of my favorite 3D artists, so to me this is why they are successful 3D artists!

"The Orange"
"Robot 1 & 2"

What inspires you? And how do you keep your creativity going?

Sci-fi narrative, movies, music and situations are my main inspirations. I also like to collaborate with other artists, even outside the 3D world. It’s always a great way to get your creativity powers up!

Do you have any new projects that you’re presently working on? Could you tell us a little more about it?

I'm actually working on a full 3D illustration for a collective artist project titled “Kreative Haus”. Without limits to the fantasy, the concept represents the ideal house/workspace where creativity can be stimulated.

Are you involved in any other projects?

In the long term, probably the most important project that I’m involved in is a personal game project done in LightWave and Unity with the help of a small team. Making it is actually a bit tortuous but I’m still positive about it.

Character rig in LightWave

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

I would love to complete my game project!

Can you offer any advice to those interested in becoming a 3D artist?

At the beginning be patient! Probably you'll need to redo the same thing many times before creating something you'll like. But keep going on, find your style, be original and creative.

A last word or tips to share with the LightWave community?

A simple but always useful one: You can copy/paste any color value by simply right-clicking on the small square with the color preview and paste it where you need with ctrl + right click.

Learn more about Riccardo Zema: Website, Behance, Twitter or Vimeo.