Welcome to Beyond Extent Jasmin, so excited to have you, first off tell us a bit more about yourself?
Hello! Thank you for having me. I am Jasmin Habezai-Fekri and I’m a 3D Environment Artist from Cologne, Germany. Currently, I am in my last year of university, pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Game Development and preparing for my graduation in 2021.
I previously interned at Square Enix Montréal and have freelanced for games, such as Slime Rancher by Monomi park and some other unannounced-projects. I am also working within the Sketchfab community as a “Sketchfab Master”, where I co-organized and run the Women on Sketchfab blog series. We focus on highlighting 3D works of female artists and encourage them to share their career paths, experiences, and advice with the rest of the 3D Art community. Another little highlight of mine has been participating in The Legend of King Arthur Artstation Challenge, in which I placed 1st in the Prop Art Category. I was also very excited to win the Google WTM Gaming Scholarship, which will support me during my university studies.
I am in love with anything colourful, fantasy- and nature-related, which I mostly focus my 3D works on. Throughout my childhood and teens, I always had an interest in video games, being heavily inspired by Animal Crossing or The Sims. However, I did not know until a couple of years after finishing High School, that it is a possibility to create 3D visuals or let alone work on a Game as a profession. This then grew into researching how to get into Game programs in late 2016 and initially planned to study in the UK since the sheer amount of game-related university courses seemed a lot more promising compared to Germany. However, thanks to Brexit and the uncertainty it brought upon me, I started my research for courses inside Germany and stumbled across a pretty new game course offered by my local university in Cologne.
Soon after that, in early 2017, my partner and I decided to apply for the Game Art track and try our luck, initially thinking our chances were slim due to the low numbers of students being admitted to the course. During that time, I also discovered Blender and started to self-study 3D with the help of endless Youtube videos and analysing models on Sketchfab. I also started to reach out to online communities on Discord and Twitter for feedback, which helped me immensely, even up until this day, to expand my skill set and improving my craft.
Through these places, I got to know other 3D artists, expanded my network and made so many amazing friends, that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. And in the end, we got admitted to our university and started our game development journey.
At the start of my 3D journey until not too long ago, I have been very focused on hand-painted texturing, relying mostly on honing my painting skills over time. This year, however, I started to venture into stylized PBR approaches. I noticed that my prior hand-painting knowledge has been very helpful in conveying a stylized look into a new rendering Pipeline. Generally, I feel like a strong understanding of art fundamentals such as colour theory, shape language and painting are beneficial and in my opinion almost crucial in other areas too since these rules apply universally to art.
How does a normal project start for you, how much planning do you do and where do you get your inspiration from?
At the start of every new project, I take a look at my portfolio and try to find visual themes that I haven’t explored yet. It’s important to me to have the opportunity to learn and grow with every piece. This doesn’t mean, however, that I pressure myself to have “the” perfect portfolio piece by the end since I also want to leave room for myself to explore and learn without the thought of having to “perform”. Of course, the pressure of creating a good portfolio piece will always hover in my thoughts but with every project, I got a bit better at focusing on the process than fixating too much on the final outcome. Another thing I pay attention to whenever I start a new project is something that I feel like I’d truly enjoy creating. I always say this, and it sounds almost cheesy, but I think it truly shows in someones work if they are passionate about what they are creating.
If I decide to work with a concept piece created by another artist, I always make sure to get the artist’s permission beforehand, checking in if I am allowed to work with their concept. I really recommend this to any environment artist out there who would like to work with concept art. First, it’s a great practise and skill to show off that you are able to work with given design ideas and can expand on those with functionality and usability within a game context. Second, it’s great connecting with the person who created this inspiring piece of art that you like so much and are willing to spend weeks on recreating in 3D. I sometimes get good pointers and feedback from the concept artist themselves, with further explanations about their designs.
With the artist’s blessing, I start planning out what I need to tackle to get the project started and put together a little list with my goals, which usually include:
- Getting more comfortable with a specific pipeline/workflow/program
- Practise stylized approaches inspired by other Games or IPs while retaining my own style and give the concept piece my own flair in 3D
- Be consistent across the project visually and workflow-wise
With most of my projects, I can say that I wanted to try out a new workflow or software, that I wasn’t as familiar with yet. It really inspires me seeing others doing amazing work with those tools, pushing me to try the same. For example, over the years, I’ve seen my partner using Unreal and Substance, always making me curious to try it someday too. When the new Animal Crossing: New Horizons game was released earlier this year, I was in the midst of my Sunny Market project. Seeing how well the PBR rendering worked with my favourite IP, also inspired me to try my hand at such a style and learn from their visual choices. The final goal of every project I have is staying in the chosen style across a whole scene so that everything follows the same rules. Keeping consistency is a challenge and increases by the size of an environment. Having these learning objectives has been a great motivational factor for me. In our industry, with new tools being released so frequently, it’s inevitable to constantly learn and expand your skillset. Being open to that from the start really helps to be more receptive to it.
A tool I use with every project is Miro, where I create a huge mood board with all my inspirations, tutorial and resource links and progress shots, all gathered in one spot. Here, I create little mind-maps, where I break down the concept into manageable chunks and categories. Generally, I have three categories or main questions I ask myself when doing this:
What tiling materials will I need? What can be modularized?
Usually, I ask these two questions simultaneously. Here I look for repeating patterns, textures and colours. I also evaluate if there is a way to make a trim sheet for the scene that I can efficiently use. For example, the Bird House has one trim sheet, which includes trims for the wooden beams on the house and pathway, painted wood for the balcony and metal for the chimney, storage and other miscellaneous parts. Having a trim sheet on hand early on in the project is helpful since you might realise after some modelling that you have to expand or remove some parts. Same goes for the tiling textures, having a rough blockout of the main colours and textures together in the early stages of a project gives me time to do some visual development and experimentation, with both model and textures being present. This way, I don’t lose track of how colours and shapes work together within the scene. I personally prefer having these quickly textured blockouts than playing around too long with grey boxing.
During that process, I also realised that for a lot of the different wood and metal colourations I can simply use vertex painting, without adding additional colours to my trim sheet. The only part that needed a unique trim was the balcony, due to the painted wood look.
What needs to be part of a uniquely textured prop set?
Here, I start looking for the small details and objects that cannot be textured with my tile-texture sets or adjusted through vertex paint. In the case of the Birdhouse, I grouped these assets into 4 texture sets: the Door (since it takes up a significant amount of space on the front of the house), the stone pillar for the sides of the house (I also reused it for the stairs leading up to the house), the fabrics and all the smaller props, that are scattered across the scene. Here, I still try to work with optimization in mind where I mirror most of the props.
From there, I work from big to small: start reworking my Blockout textures, move onto the trim sheets and block out the scene with these basic elements. Then I slowly work my way through smaller props and organically swap between different parts of the projects whenever I feel like I hit a wall with something else. I remember how I was feeling a bit stuck with the overall composition of the scene because I focused too much on creating all my tilables. At the same time, I also felt intimidated by the huge rock, since it’s such a crucial part of the scene. Once I started blocking it out however, I could finally see the scene coming together and getting closer to the vision of the original concept by Arturo Serrano.
Even though it was just a rough blockout of the shapes and colours, I felt inspired to continue pushing the scene to its fullest potential. If you ever feel stuck on something, try to switch things up! It really helps to keep the productivity going while having time to rest from other aspects of a scene.
I had an old rock asset as a placeholder for a very long time throughout the project and I realised that it’s hindering me from progressing. Once I did the proper rock Blockout and faced my “big fear”, everything started to fall into place much faster! Overcoming these little roadblocks helps to stay on track and see how tackling these tasks result in meaningful changes, even if they aren’t completely “there” yet.
You have an amazing drive and passion that radiates from your scene, how do you achieve this?
"... Having this strong appreciation for 2D gives me the energy to channel that energy into 3D."
One of the main things that drive me is the reason that got me into 3D initially. Being able to create immersive and engaging pieces of art, that are explorable from different angles and viewports is the most magical part of 3D to me and always excites me from anew. Creating 3D spaces basically brings us one step closer to bringing art to life, making it interactive and almost real in its own way.
On top of that, I enjoy it, even more, when I am able to create pieces in 3D that have a painterly 2D look to them, making me want to push that aesthetic further with every piece I make while utilizing the technical possibilities offered through 3D. This motivation is also partly due to the fact that 2D was not always my strongest suit. I used to paint a lot as a teen but I knew that it’s not something I would want to pursue seriously. However, I always admired the visual quality of painted concepts, landscapes and environment pieces, no matter if they were game-related or old renaissance paintings. Having this strong appreciation for 2D gives me the energy to channel that energy into 3D.
And how do your learnings evolve from one project to the next one?
"... it’s important to reflect on our own work and start to understand the thought process behind it."
Since I have project-specific goals for each environment, I make sure to somehow bundle all the newly gained information in text-form. Writing breakdowns for 80 Level or Experience Points have been a great help with that. Even if I initially don’t plan to write a breakdown, I started the habit of putting together my biggest learnings, realizations or resources anyhow. I think it’s important to reflect on our own work and start to understand the thought process behind it. It can be pretty abstract, because a lot of things we do are mostly done unconsciously, intuitively almost.
The difficult part is putting these practices into words and being able to explain them in a structured and comprehensive way so that not only yourself but others can understand it. I think I fully realized the challenge of this when I created my small Artstation Learning course. I remember how I recorded chunks of my process to edit later on. Watching them back almost felt alien to me. It was so difficult summarizing my process for someone else to fully follow and understand but throughout the making, I learned a lot of things about myself and the way I work too.
How and what do you do to get inspired and stay motivated during a project?
Generally speaking, I have always been very self-driven and follow through with anything I set myself to do. I partly put this to my upbringing, seeing how independent and hard-working my mom was in her own career. Another thing I noticed is, (and this might seem unusual), but I don’t seem to belong to the group of people who have numerous work-in-progress projects in their folders. Whenever I start a project, I have the urge to finish it, otherwise, I have no peace of mind to start a new one.
Staying motivated throughout a project can be tough, especially when creating big scoped environments. My strategy is (and I make use of this practice with everything in life) to take it step by step and look forward to finishing small milestones. I did this a lot during the creation of my market scene or when learning Unreal. I’d look forward to getting a prop’s sculpt done or learning how the “simple grass” node works, no matter how small the task might have been. Finishing these would give me small boosts of motivations and confidence, making me realise that everything is doable as long as I focus on my current task without thinking too much ahead. Patience is the key, which is easier said than done. But it is definitely that type of habit you can train yourself to become more comfortable with.
"... take it step by step and look forward to finishing small milestones."
I also take excessive amounts of screenshots of every small change I make to a scene. I learned that it’s better to take too many than too little progress shots. Even if the changes seem minuscule to outsiders, it matters to me to see that I added a small bunch of carrots to my scene, instantly making it feel more lived-in and giving me peace of mind that I made some progress.
Balancing University and Portfolio Work
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been a university student for the past 3 years. I’ve done some freelance and my internship at Square Enix in that time, but for the most part, I worked on learning 3D, new workflows and improving my Portfolio. Quickly into my studies, I noticed that our course is a lot less 3D heavy than I hoped. While I enjoyed our lectures about media/game studies or the times we created game prototypes in little development teams, I was slightly disappointed that I did not have a lot of resources from our university for learning and improving in 3D. I did not sulk about it for too long though, it actually sparked something in me to take matters into my own hands and start joining Twitter and other online communities. This way, I got to know so many other 3D artists, either working towards the same goals as me or already working in the industry.
Since then, I’ve been a strong advocate for investing most of your time into working towards your own goals and portfolio rather than worrying too much about university assignments or grades. In the end, a potential employer will not look at your certificates or what degree you have, but at your portfolio and the quality of the work you present in it. It is hard to have this realization in the first place, since we are taught to care about grades and such from an early age, with most of our school years being influenced by this mindset. However, fortunately in the domain of arts, grades are very subjective and do not determine how “job-ready” someone really is.
Over the years, I formed the habit of continuously working on portfolio pieces, pushing out several a year. At the start, I made more in quantity. In retrospect, I can tell they might lack in quality but it helped me to get more used to workflows, not being scared of starting/finishing projects and getting into the whole mindset of working on scenes over the course of several weeks/months. Looking back at them, it is rewarding to see that each year, I seemed to have had a different focus or interest, which reflects in the colours, themes and topics of the pieces.
I know that many students, including myself, need university to find what exactly they are interested in and it’s important to experiment. (In my case specifically, I also wanted to get my degree because it might make it easier for me in terms of visa applications for countries outside of Europe.) There are so many paths in Game Dev that are open to dive into and university can offer a glimpse into each of them. However, I do think that putting in that extra time outside of the boundaries set by our courses really pays off in the long run though and gives you a little head-start after graduating too.
You also always go the extra mile with your presentation, how important is that step to you and how much time do you spend here?
"... presenting my work takes me almost as long as the model itself"
I always joke that presenting my work takes me almost as long as the model itself. To be quite honest, I dread this part of creating a project the most, because the way you present a 3D scene can really make or break the entire piece. Being able to show off your work from its best side is a skill that needs to be developed in itself and even though it might be time-consuming and not very “hands-on” creative work, it is worth all the pain :).
I have a general little checklist of things I need to put together for every scene, making it easier to keep the presentation of everything in my portfolio more consistent (in chronological order):
- Beauty shots of the scene/prop from different angles
- Fly-through video if it’s a scene or animated prop
- Smaller breakdowns of Hero props, if possible showing wireframe/textures → here I try to break down the entire scene to show how it is put together while showing it is optimized for game usage.
- Tiling textures, Trim Sheets and Modularity
- Foliage breakdowns
- Sculpt renders
- Progress shots as a little video
Also make sure to put your email, name and little description of what each sheet is presenting in a reasonable size, that does not draw the attention away from the presented images (this mostly applies to the Prop Breakdowns, not necessary for Beauty Shots), so in case your image gets re-shared on Pinterest or other pages, people can track it back to you.
You've been pretty busy on the sidelines too with your new podcast "All Inclusive" which is a great initiative and we need more of that in our industry. Where can people find you and all the great stuff you've been putting out?
I am very excited that Ashley Wade and I have started the “All Inclusive” Podcast in September this year! We have been planning it on the sidelines and I am relieved and excited that it’s finally out there. We wanted to start this project because we saw a need for a different kind of podcast hosted by different kinds of people, with guests who have different backgrounds and passions. One of the main premises we had for this was to make it feel diverse and purposeful, however not in a preachy way. We want to include diversity in our podcast because that's how the world and our industry is. Normalizing diversity is the way to go while putting the topics that our guests are passionate about in the focus of each episode.
I also hope that it will serve to be a good source of information and a place where others can hear about experiences from people they might relate to on different levels. It can be so motivating to see that you are not completely by yourself working towards a goal with others similar to yourself doing the things you want to. Representation matters!
You can catch a new episode of All Inclusive on the first Tuesday of every month. We release them on various platforms such as:
We are also very open to suggestions for future guests, so to anyone reading this: feel free to email us at email@example.com!