Maarten Hof: "Talent is a just a tiny fraction of an artist's story"

Congratulations on getting hired by Massive! They made a good choice. How have you liked working with a big team so far compared to working on your own?

Thank you! Before I got hired by Massive I had an internship at a smaller studio while I was still at school.

So far I am having a blast at Massive! Working in a big team is very different but it has a lot of benefits. For instance, when something goes wrong there is an army of very skilled people to help you out, compared to working on my own or in a smaller studio where you have to fix a lot of these things yourself. In a bigger studio you can really focus on the thing you are hired for, e.g. environment art. I definitely feel I'm in the right place here. 

Grandpa's attic, rendered real-time in Unity 2017.3

How did you prepare for the hiring process/interview with Massive, and why do you think you ultimately got the job over the other applicants?

After winning the Artstation contest (note: Maarten won the 'Beyond Human' challenge) I got a lot of emails from different studios that wanted to talk about a potential position. During the challenge I saw many people from Massive participating so their studio already got my attention. I wondered if they would email me too and I was really happy when they did!

As far as preparation goes, I enjoy working on my personal projects so I got quite a few pieces on my portfolio that made me feel confident during the hiring process. Other than that I read many blog posts about game-studio interviews to prepare myself. I made a list of questions I wanted to ask and prepared myself for questions I could expect.

I think I got the job because I won the challenge and because I have a portfolio that reflects my passion for this craft. Besides that I really tried to show my production process during the challenge so potential employers could see the way I work.

Has your transition from Maya to Blender impacted your career path in any way? 

Definitely! I really think I wouldn't be where I am now if I didn't pick up Blender. That sounds weird because a tool is just a tool, but  by using Blender I've gotten a lot of opportunities. My work has improved and gotten faster, it all just clicked better. People also seem more interested in what you do when you don't use "conventional tools", or tools that are industry standard. To me, Blender just felt a lot more innovative. Plus, the open-source side of Blender really speaks to me. I firmly believe that better products can be made if people from different backgrounds work together with the sole purpose of making the product better.

'Beyond Human' Artstation challenge submission

Why do you take part in art challenges and what's your strategy for delivering a winning submission?

Honestly, just for fun! I try to work on my personal projects on a daily basis, so why not participate in a challenge if I am already working on stuff? It also helps boost my presence in the community. Combine that with using Blender and Unity and people start talking about you and remember you.

I didn’t really think I was going to win the Artstation contest since there were so many great artists participating - many of them are my colleagues now, which is still a bit surreal! 

As far as my strategy goes, it really just comes down to working on it everyday. Even though I was in it for fun I have to admit that being in the top 5 liked submissions is a good feeling and puts you in the spotlight. I tried to update my thread at least every other day to appear at the top again and more people could see what I was working on. It helps me stay motivated knowing that people are interacting with my work and perhaps even looking forward to my next post. Also a big thing is to choose a submission that you think you can finish in the given time. Losing motivation or starting over is not something you want to do when there is a deadline.

Do you have a 'strategy' for creating your online presence? Do you actively promote your art?

I try to be active within the 3D community. Being a member of various Facebook groups, discord servers and engaging with people through Artstation really helps get your name out there. But the number one tip I can give on this is: Keep making art. Only by making art you can stay relevant.  I look at my art as a “brand”, you got to stay on top of it to keep the “brand” alive.

You like to block out your scenes with very simple shapes before getting too far into the details. How long do you spend on this stage, and how has it improved the quality of your final results?

Like in many (if not all) artistic disciplines: always start with the big shapes. If your level layout, framing, topology etc. is off, you cannot fix it with smaller things like pretty set-dressing or nice bevels. I spend as long as I have to in this stage because when you get this right, everything else will be much easier. 

Working with big shapes and blocking out environments is not the most fun part of a project but you are going to save yourself a lot of headache down the line by working that way. I learned this the hard way and even now I sometimes get lost in the nice details because it is just so much fun. I also think this has a lot to do with planning and looking ahead in the production process. Something you can only really learn by just doing it. So keep making art!

Simon Stålenhag fanart

You mentioned elsewhere that UV unwrapping is one of your least favorite things. Have you found anything recently that makes the process faster?

I always try to UV map in Blender but for models that are more complex I use 3D-Coat which is absolutely amazing at UV mapping. The only downside of using another program is that you have to switch a lot when something is wrong with your model. Most of the time I let Blender do the layout of the UV map but If I want a specific layout, for instance for wood that is only in one direction, I do it manually. Once you get the hang of it you can anticipate where to put the seams and you will get a lot faster.

What part of the process do you enjoy the most?

Recently I've been enjoying lighting and level layout the most. Before that I really enjoyed modelling and texturing. The thing I like about level layout and lighting is that you can really tell a story with it and bring the piece to life. 

I feel like that lighting plus level layout is 60 to 70 percent of the end result. You can have masterly crafted models with top notch texturing but without good lighting or layout, it doesn’t matter. That’s why I try to really practice these skills in my own pieces.

What is the ultimate advice you would share with other artists?

If you want to make games for a living don’t let the idea of talent hold you back. You see guys on Artstation that are trending every time and working on the biggest titles but you have to remember that to get to that level they put in a lot of hard work to get there. I believe that talent (if it exists at all) is just a tiny fraction of someone's story. Try to look at their art and think to yourself: if they can do it, I can do it! At least that’s the way how I look at it. 

If I take my journey so far as an example: I started with 3D in February 2014 and got my first AAA job 4 years later. If you are willing to work for it, everything is possible.

Follow Maarten on CGCookie or check out his Artstation profile.

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