Are you working on a personal project? How do you find the time, energy and drive to complete them? Mahendra Naidoo, a 3D illustrator and educator with over a decade of experience, believes personal projects are a serious challenge artists should pursue passionately. Following his recent talk at an AnimationXchange event in Johannesburg, Mahendra shares his experience of working on personal projects and highlights some of the pitfalls to mind along the way…
Q: Why are personal projects important yet so hard to commit to?
I think their vital purpose is about moving people towards fulfilling personal dreams. The closer you are to that dream the closer you are to a better quality of life.
Personal projects/aims/goals tend to have indefinite deadlines. That’s why, generally speaking, it takes time to get that fit body, or stop smoking, or create that game character that’s been potting around in your head.
If you have a full-time job in the world of 3D the priority of these goals can take a backseat. A normal day’s work can become exhausting, not to mention the great trek most of us endure day-in and day-out. It’s easy to go home and succumb to…well having a life! Having family time, seeing friends, playing video games, binge watching Game of Thrones, even primary job crunch times will definitely influence the time you spend on pet projects.
Q: What obstacles have you observed in your own habits towards following through on pet projects?
The work vs reward ratio is a problem for me. 3D projects are difficult because the rewards are not always immediate. I have to put in a lot of work before I feel rewarded, which is generally upon completion of a piece. No wonder I procrastinate! I’m not sure if all artists have this problem, but my personality type is prone to this type of behaviour.
Poor character planning can also send me down several futile paths while I’m in the middle of a piece/design.
Q: How do you make deadlines for personal projects more meaningful and less arbitrary?
The answer, for me, is quite simple. Make the work accountable somehow (e.g. Enroll in an online course; you will be pushed to submit homework to a mentor you want to impress. Enter an art challenge; you will be forced to deliver on the milestones.)
I am sure that there are some great motivational tools out there—and I’m not saying anything is wrong with them—but they don’t work for me. I just want a tangible method/habits that help me produce consistently, outside of work hours.
Q: In terms of 3D illustration, how do you avoid letting your software and hardware impede your creative flow and output pace?
I use ZBrush, Maya and Photoshop. I would like to introduce Keyshot into my workflow however my sloth of a computer refuses! This doesn’t faze me; I tend to work around this to achieve the desired result. I don’t want these “tools” to make me lesser of an artist.
However, upgrading is inevitable as software demands are getting more severe. If my primary software tool is hindering my process, working around it is pointless. Time to upgrade.
Q: When it comes to personal projects, we often either procrastinate or waste time getting stuck on unnecessary details—how do you avoid these two pitfalls?
Know your output’s purpose. An illustration with 3D elements can be quite forgiving, compared to a video game model that is stringent on good mesh topology and an optimised UV layout. With a 3D illustration you can let those processes slip.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in 3D illustration who has so many personal projects in mind they don’t know where to start?
Start where your passion resides. If there’s an idea that resonates strongly, chase it. Getting it right is hard enough when you working on a passion project.
Follow up with research and planning. Narrative & character is king. If it’s an environment concept/illustration create a backstory. If you are working on a character write down the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why). It will extract you character’s purpose and assist the design development.
Other options include taking part in Sculptember (a sculpt a day for the entire month of September) or Inktober (a drawing a day for the entire month of October).
Q: Where do you think good ideas come from?
Everywhere. Everything is borrowed, nothing is new. Personally, listening to musical score and audio books helps me generate ideas. If I want a direct burst of ideas I get onto ArtStation. There are a lot of great artists with a range of styles and subject matter publishing there.
Q: What personal projects are you currently working on and what do you hope will come from your efforts?
What are you talking about? “Sculptember” is here! My personal project will just have to wait……… 0_0
Mahendra Naidoo is the Head of Department of 3D Animation at Boston Media House in Sandton, Johannesburg. You can enjoy more of his creations on ArtStation and DeviantArt and he’s also on LinkedIn. If you have any questions for Mahendra you can contact him directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org