An interview with Ettienne Vorster

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Ettienne Vorster (a.k.a Xelus on Sketchfab) is a Blender 3D designer specialist in vehicle modeling. You may have read the tutorial he wrote on how to model the Lamborghini Egoista or his recent Honda NSX concept car. He kindly accepted to take part in our interview series to share some of his knowledge.

Honda NSX Concept 2013/14 from Xelus on Sketchfab.

Could you introduce yourself to our readers: Who are you and where are you from?

Hi there, my name is Ettienne Vorster, I’m a South African based 3D designer and avid gamer.

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Can you tell us about what aspects of 3D you specialise in?  

Since I started doing 3D work, I’ve always had a very big fascination with vehicles in general, ranging from old school classics, to sci-fi futuristic vehicles. I’m constantly working on expanding my specialization to characters, architecture, weapons and all types of modeling. My modeling abilities are at a satisfactory point for me, so in the last few years I’ve been focusing more on the rendering and texturing side of things, as I’ve fallen short of my own expectations one too many times.

How did you first get started in 3D? What attracted you to it as a career?

What originally caught my attention was that I’ve always had a fascination with the third dimension. Back in the day, we didn’t have anything like internet, so I’d settle for drawing freehand 3D environments and cars. A few years later, my brother came home one day with an application called “GMAX”. As with many things, when I opened GMAX I did not have an idea where to begin, but through trial and error I systematically started picking up on how this whole new world works.

GMAX was a great starting point for me back then, I’ve learned a lot of how the basics of 3D works. Together with GMAX, I also got Photoshop 7, where my “Graphic Design” background started from.

For the past 9 years I’ve been using Blender 3D as my main design application. In the last 6 years or so I’ve had the chance of interacting with folks all around the world. Learning as much as I can from them is key.

What initially got me interested in 3D was gaming. It has always taken up a lot of my time, so with this in mind, what drove me to becoming a 3D modeler, was the fact that I initially wanted to become a game developer. Though later I realized there is a lot more I can do with 3D design and had a lot more options to choose from.

To this day however, the need to become a game developer is still running in me, I’ve started various small-time game projects of my own using UDK, Blender’s Game Engine, and the Gamebryo engine, all of which gave me even more knowledge of how I could bend my 3D abilities to whatever game engine or universe I wanted.

Do you have any academic training or are you self-taught?

I wish I had some academic education for 3D design, the most I have is a 2 year graphic design course that isn’t really helping at all with what I am doing as of right now. I’ve learned the best way to learn anything : through trial and error and many cups of coffee!

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How did you come across Sketchfab and how does it help you in your career?

When I saw the ad originally on BlenderArtists.org, I never thought it would become such an important part of how I present my models to potential clients, friends and family. My curiosity led me doing a lot of research to find out what “Sketchfab” was all about, and once I saw what it was capable of, I was mind-blown.

Having a “Youtube” for 3D designers was just the best thing ever. Having the chance to share 3D models with people in a safe and interactive environment was something I’ve always hoped to see one day.

Many people around the world like to have a “hands-on” demo of the models. With that said, one can only do so much with a 2D image, having the aid of a real-time engine that can give 3D interactivity helps a lot with understanding more of how the model’s character and overall ideas feels like. Many mistakes can be hidden with post-work and still images but I do think making something look good in real-time is a bigger challenge, as there is the possibility of being able to walk around the full model.

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

It all depends on the type of model I’m building, obviously building a real-world object I would try to get as many images of the said object as possible, as this becomes the main source of information about how I would model the object.

During this process, there is a lot of things I consider. I’ve always forced myself to try to keep a clean topology of my models as much as possible. Together with this process, I build the model in a few phases, starting off with a simple object, and adding systematically more detail to it until I’m at a point where I’m satisfied with the model or my system decides to stop working haha!

I’ve recently started working with a tablet, so most of my work is done digitally with sketches and then I move over to simple models, and build from there.

Of all your current pieces currently on Sketchfab, which one are you the most proud of and why? Your favorite one ?

Wow, that is actually a very difficult question to answer. I’m never satisfied with any of my work as I know I will definitely be able to do better job the next time around (even though at that time, it was the best I could do.) For many folks it would just seem as normal “models”, however, each of these have their own story, and have more sentimental value, as they all had their fair share of trouble.

If I have to choose one it would be the BMW X6 Custom.

Apart from the fact that I built this model for a very amazing cosplayer, this car also serves as a milestone for me. The BMW X6 was the 2nd vehicle I’ve ever built that had a fully detailed interior. As I’ve always focused mostly on the exterior, doing the interior was a different challenge and also a new area for me to test my abilities.

I have way too many favorites, but above all on Sketchfab, it has to be the Shelby GT 500.

Ford Shelby GT 500 1967 Custom from Xelus on Sketchfab.

Besides it being my most viewed model on Sketchfab, I’m an absolutely fanatic of this car, partially the reason why I built it. It has a story of his own, and knowing that there is thousands of folks who admire this model, gives me a sense of motivation to carry on doing what I love.

Vehicles are your specialty, on average how much time do you spend modeling one ?

When building these cars, it all depends on the type of idea I’m planning on going with, and/or the complexity of the car model. On average I would spend about 1-2 months of constant work per model. This includes building from scratch to final rendering and compositing of the car. The car at this point took the most time ever was my Lamborghini Aventador XS. This specific vehicle I’ve been working on for a bit more than 2 months in logged work time. This specific model also started the immense fascination with building custom vehicles, and is also the original inspiration for the personal Series I started called “XS SuperCar Series”.

TRON Lamborghini Aventador from Xelus on Sketchfab.

A quick overview of my models on Sketchfab currently, these are the times I’ve worked on them:

BMW X6 Custom – 6 weeks, 4 of which were modeling and the rest was textures and rendering

BMW M3 E92 Custom – 3 weeks

Nissan Skyline R35 GT XS – 7 weeks

Aprilia RSV4 XS SuperBike – 5 weeks

Ford Fiesta XS – This car was actually a rush job to get a poster printed – 3 weeks

Koenigsegg CCXS – 4 weeks and a few days or so

Dodge RAM 3500 – 6 weeks and a few days, this car was also another milestone for rendering

Ford Shelby GT 500 – 8 weeks, classic cars are always a bit more complex than modern day cars, found that out soon enough with this specific model.

Dodge Viper GTS – Requested model – 4 – 5 weeks

Do you have any hobbies that help influence your work?

The second biggest hobby runs alongside my 3D design and this directly related to game development and game modding. I’ve been working on various game projects like a Dungeon Keeper 1 remake and many more. I also do a lot of game modding, mostly known for the ElderScrolls Oblivion and Unreal Tournament series.

Zinyak Logo from Xelus on Sketchfab.

Do you have any hobbies that allow you to get away from the computer screen?

Haha, not that I can think, after getting a tablet to do digital painting with my old school way of drawing on a piece of paper was left at the door. Most of the day I’m usually in front of my screen, avid gamer, and work-a-holic.

Apart from Sketchfab which tools are you using frequently?

I work a lot between Sketchfab, BlenderArtists, DeviantArt and my Blender3D Facebook page, as well as working from time to time with my own website updating it with recent works and news. Many times I would visit places like CGSociety, and websites that are directly using Blender 3D.

Charged Trolley from Xelus on Sketchfab.

Have you received any great pieces of advice or inspiration from anyone to help you in your career? And, what would be your personal advice to someone getting started in 3D modeling?

In the time I’ve been working in the 3D industry, I’ve met hundreds upon thousands of folks, and from all of them I have taken bits and pieces and formed my own personal motivation. One advice that stands out above all is to never forget where you came from.

Many times, people expect or believe that you just started out being good at what you do, but very few realize that someone like me also started with just a cube in a 3D world, and eventually sculpted a new world out of it. It’s always good to do a constant throwback to older works and see how you’ve progressed. Above all, I believe one should never compare your work to another as we are all different, we see the world different, and we have each our own styles of how we do things.

For new comers to 3D modeling the hardest thing to train yourself is clean topology, when you’re done with a model, it should be easy for you to come back to later and know exactly what is going with your model. Make it easy for yourself when modeling things you’re the one that has to work with the model. Think of it as a form of “modeler’s discipline”.

Would you be willing to share a trick/tip for 3D modeling beginners ?

#1: There is more than one way to do the same thing. Don’t ever think there is only one way to model a character, or object, find the one that best suits you, and what can give you the most free roam.

#2: When modeling at first, keep things simple. Many folks want to start off modeling everything at full detail and quality, bad idea. Think of it as building a building in real life, first you have to lay down the foundation, and then start building.

#3: Don’t be satisfied for the rest of your life with what you can model now, always try a new challenge, model something different, model something you have never tried before.

#4: Keep your models clean! By this I mean, if a vertices does not contribute to the overall look and feel of a model, it is not necessary to have, remember, always try to optimize your models/scenes to your hardware spec, don’t model something you will never see!

#5: Remember, there is hundreds of 3D applications out there, but remember, if you want to work in the industry, keep in mind that the industry has a specific set of applications that is required, these can also vary depending on what you wish to do and also how technology changes and new programs enter the industry.

#6: Most Importantly, experiment! It is good to always go through tutorials and books that teach new things, but a tutorial can’t teach you creativity, that comes from experimenting with things.

Hope these few tips help you guys out that want to start getting into 3D modeling, animation and many more.


Thanks again to Ettienne for taking part in our interview series. There will be more featured artists from the community and 3D industry over the coming weeks, stay tuned in the meantime be sure to check out Ettienne’s Sketchfab profile and personal Facebook page.

Want more interviews ? Check out our entire series here.

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