Meet Laurent Châtellier, all-round illustrator

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Today we’re talking to community member Laurent Châtellier, a freelance illustrator who has been posting some impressive work on Sketchfab. His company, Kiwimage, has done a brilliant project showing the evolution of a 13th century castle. He describes its creation process in great detail in this interview.

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

I am french and I started to work as a freelancer in 2006. I currently live in Lorient, in Brittany, nearby the ocean, I am now 37.

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

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I don’t really want to become a specialist,  I’m more of Jack of all trades. ( 2d illustrations, websites and programming, creating maquettes for magazines, 3d films…) But the last couple of years, the most interesting projects I have been working on were about 3d historical reconstruction. That’s something I definitely want to continue working on, because I learn a lot about history, ancient techniques of building and craft… And it’s really rewarding to do something  for the knowledge and heritage.

How did you first get started? What was that ‘I want to do this’ moment?

I have always drawn, and played video games. One day, when I was 20 or so, I was hanging out at a friend’s and he let me try Photoshop on his computer. And that very first contact with computer graphics just blew my mind !

I decided to save money and go back to school and learn a profession related to infographics.  

Medieval Bed by Kiwimage on Sketchfab

Do you have any academic training or are you self-taught?
I went to the school of Fine Arts and I spent 3 years there, wich was really cool for acquiring some visual culture and learning to draw and paint differently, trying traditional medias too. But  there was only a little multimedia training and it wasn’t enough. So I took what i needed  from the school but I was training myself aside, fooling around with CG applications after the day. In my third year, I almost didn’t went in class because I was working on an animated short with a friend. So I finally left the school !

All that I know about CG I have learned with a lot of practicing, with the help of magazines, forums and communities on the web, and more recently with the development of tutorial videos.

Tell us a little bit more about your workflow/process ?

I use Blender for modeling, unwrapping UVs and starting the texturing. I work with Adobe Photoshop CS5.5 too, going back and forth between the 2 softwares, until I’m satisfied with the main textures.
For normal maps baking, I use either Blender or Xnormal.
I also have a license for Shadermap Pro, a little indie software, specialized and powerful for texture works, mainly normal maps.
I love Blender but I don’t like it’s renderers. I think they are not intuitive at all, so i usually export my scenes to Octane, then i can set up the materials and lighting, and render a .png sequence of the animation.

The last polish is done in  Adobe After Effects, for the things that are heavy for the 3d package and that I want to keep separated  for easier tweaking. It’s the case of particles, smoke, and all the additionnal effects.  (blur / sharpen, vignetting, sometimes I even fake the depth of field)

For  the real-time projects, I export from Blender as .fbx and import this into Unity3d.

What project(s) are you working on right now?

For the last 8 months, I’ve been working on a  historical reconstruction, of a French castle, “Le Château de la Hunaudaye”. I had to show its evolution, from the 13th century all the way to the French revolution.

The order consists of 3 projects :

  • A 5 minutes film with a focus on the architectural angle and  historical context and environment that explains it.
  • An augmented reality Android app (working with a picture marker, and displayed on a tablet)
  • On a kiosk, an application in 3 parts, for walking inside various interior scenes with some daily life objects and ornaments. The first “level” is a visit of the 13th century stately hall, the second represents the 15th century apartments, and the last one will be about the defensive architecture elements and the drawbridge.

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For this historical reconstruction project, the first thing to do is to collect materials and references. I went there and took photos for references and textures. I also was given by my client a detailed document, made by an architect specialized in this type of works. In that 180 pages pdf were included a combination of blueprints, level by level, straightened photographs of the walls, and the report itself. About 7 or 8 states were identified by this study, we later decided to simplify that to about  4 main states, so the public will not be too confused with a too long or too detailed movie.

A pointcloud, in 3d, taken with a laser pointer, allowed me to get more of a 3d vision of the current state of the building. I also had photo references of other castles of the same period and region, and old engravings copies, selected and provided by my client to help me in the reconstruction process. I completed that by some research on the web and in books.

To start the reconstruction, I used the straightened photos, combined with the 2d plans and the points to model the castle as it remains today. Processing from the bottom to the top. Then I used this a basis to go backwards in time and  model the more ancient states, adding or substracting buildings and walls in the enclosure.

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A few meetings with a scientific committee (composed of an architect an archeologist two historians), were necessary to get it historically right, along with a lot of mail exchanges

For the tricky or uncertain parts of the castle, I have made a few sketches by hand, to help the committee discuss, take decisions, and validate one choice or another.

Now the film part of the order is done, but I still have a month and a half of work on the kiosk applications. Currently I’m doing the apartments in the 15th century.

Aside from that big project, I also have short missions for a Parisian agency we work for their clients that are in the pharmaceutical sector.

Talk a little bit in detail about your favorite model you currently have posted on Sketchfab?


It’s a copy of an actual object, which is preserved at the Museum of the Middle Ages at Cluny, in France. The metallic motifs and decoration are quite complex, in a Gothic fashion. The windows motifs are enhanced by a red fabric. That object really is a beautiful example of medieval craft, it almost looks like it belongs to a fantasy book !

What would be your personal advice to someone getting started in 3D?

I think a good way to progress is to get involved into a little project of your own, as soon as you have some basics, either a short animation, a mini game, or whatever. 

When you do a complete project, you’ll probably encounter difficulties on the way and have to solve them, as you go. You’ll learn more this way than making random tutorials, and at the end, you’ll have created something personal. Much more rewarding than following tutorials for the sake of pure technique.

How did you come across Sketchfab and how has it helped with your project(s)?

I came across a video by Jonathan Williamson on the Blender Cookie website, and later I saw some  Google+ users who were linking to 3d models on Sketchfab.

The main reason why I’m using Sketchfab is that I can show models to my clients more effectively. We can discuss about the model on the phone, while we’re both looking at it in our browser.

Also it’s a nice solution for embedding 3d models in my portfolio on Kiwimage.com.

What inspires you?

It’s hard to say, inspiration is really something that come and goes randomly ! The inspiration source can be a landscape, a visit at the museum or gallery, a movie, the beauty of a woman, a discussion… anything really !

Thanks Laurent!

– Bart

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