Awe-Inspiring and Empowering: The Art and Discipline of Ms. Alena Dubrovina

by Joshua Diokno   

  Ms. Alena Dubrovina is the very example of an artist who mixes her passion with discipline—and we sure are in awe of the pieces she had produced.

Empowering in her command of the craft, we can learn much from Ms. Dubrovina of how one could excel in an industry that often sees men in the forefront. Indeed there is no comparison, there is only the recognition of her dedication and mastery of the discipline.

Her style is highly-versatile and her concepts invite curiosity–the visuals speak of rich stories that make our imaginations run to what is limitless. To be romantic, Ms. Dubrovina has a certain brand of magic. But of course, it is not. It is something that can be grasped and that is something so much better.

It is evident that she has a bright future ahead of her. So let us learn a thing or two about how an artist should conduct him/herself if success and excellence in 3D art is to be had from Ms. Alena Ms. Dubrovina!

Xeno Creatives (XC): ZBrush is an innovation that brought a lot to the industry. And as with any other new development, it does require a lot of work to get used to. What technical processes did you have to learn to be skilled in ZBrush?

Alena Dubrovina (AD): To get started with ZBrush, or any other 3D program, you’ll need to learn the basics: UI and navigation. Learn how to model simple things before you proceed to character modelling, After you learn the basics it’s just a matter of time and practice.

As far as technical processes are concerned, I can say that it really depends on the character or prop you’re making. For each problem there is always a unique solution. My advice here would be to try out Zmodeler brush, nanomesh, create your own IMM brushes and make a custom UI with tools you use most.

XC: How did this help you in your art?

AD: ZBrush is a tool, even if you know it well, nobody can guarantee that you’ll produce high quality art pieces. But what it can do is save your time. Things that a classical sculptor would spend weeks on can be done in ZBrush within hours. And time and deadlines is very important in this industry.

XC: When did you realize that ZBrush is the medium you want to use to produce 3D art? Are there other media you want to learn or do you just want to focus on ZBrush?

AD: I knew that I needed to learn ZBrush, when I learned how the art for games and films is produced. But ZBrush is only a small part of the pipeline, after high poly you need to do retopo, unwrap and texturing of your mesh and I usually use different programs for each step.

I never focused just on ZBrush, frankly if you just know how to sculpt it won’t get you far in the industry. Making characters for games is quite complicated and technical process and one program, even such an amazing one, like ZBrush, simply can’t cope with all aspects of the pipeline. So after I make a high poly mesh in ZBrush I use at least 4 different programs to make my character game-ready.

As far as what media I would still want to learn, I think I would love to master Marvelous Designer. I already use it a lot, but I usually make very simple things there. I still need to invest time and learn how to make advanced realistic outfits.

XC: Is having a good hand in human anatomy a must for working with ZBrush?

AD: Not necessarily. You can sculpt all kinds of things from vegetation and rocks to small props. Of course, if you want to be a character artist and make humanoids and creatures, then yes, you need to know and practice anatomy. This is not unlike a 2D artist needing to master perspective, cause, otherwise, the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to your art.

XC: Were there other media that you used before or are still using? What are these?

AD: Sculpting-wise there is currently no good alternative for ZBrush, so generally everybody in the industry uses Zbrush to make high poly meshes. But for me Zbrush is actually only 50% of work that I need to do to make a game-ready character. I use 3D coat and 3ds Max for UVs and Retopo, Substance Painter for texturing, and Maya for skinning. Apart from that I use Marvelous Designer to do the blockout for cloth while Keyshot and Marmoset to make fancy renders.

On top of that of course I work with game engines. If you work in-house, after you make a character you are going to be the person to set it up correctly in the editor and make sure it works in the game.

There is a lot of technical work involved and a lot of software to master.

XC: In the beginning, was producing 3D art a real interest or just plain work?

AD: 3D was always a real interest, that’s why I chose a career of a character artist. I really enjoy the entire pipeline and challenges that we face working closely with game designers and writers.

XC: Seeing your works through Art Station and Facebook was such a visual treat! Your creatures and concepts are exciting, completely original and awe-inspiring. Do you have any favorites? What are they and why?

AD: I think I do have some favorites, yes. Usually that’s the characters that have some story behind them. A great example would be Malady from Divinity Original Sin 2, it’s one of my favorite characters in the game personally and story-wise. I’m really happy that I got to work on her appearance. But I gotta say I fell in love with most of the characters I model; all of them have something unique.

XC: Who are your influences? What attracted you to them?

AD: From artists? Well there are a lot of them and this list just keeps growing. Despite being a character artist I’m a big fan of John Avon and his environments. Another great inspiration is Will Murray. Last year I made a fanart of Gideon, a planeswalker from MTG, from his concept. I’m usually attracted by Fantasy art and Stylized art, but there is no certain criteria. There is so many inspiring artists that whenever I check ArtStation or my Facebook feed I just feel that I need to get back to work.

XC: What was it like working on Divinity Original Sin 2? What were the things that you learned from the experience?

AD: It was a great experience. I think the main thing I learned is the value of communication and collaboration between the departments. If you would work solely on your own you will face a lot of problems later in the production and you might end up making a lot of changes and fixes. Some things, sometimes, would need to be just scraped completely if you did them wrong. So my advice here would be that if you work in house try to always double-check with designers and writers and get some additional info on the character or props you’re working on. Also be sure to check with animators or tech artists if you’re unsure that your mesh will fit on the rig or if some parts on your character will work with the animation at all. Focus on making the game better and not just making some nice art for your own pleasure. Sometimes you’ll have to do boring tasks but if it will make the game better–go for it! It’s always worth it.

XC: Are there other pieces you still want to create?

AD: Yes! I actually have a Pinterest board filled with concept art of characters that I want to make–at some point–as personal projects.

XC: With the nature of your works, do you also see yourself being immersed completely in Game Character Design?

AD: Yes, in-house character artists sometimes have to do character design too. It happens that for some characters there are simply no concepts and, in this case, the modeller needs to come up with the design too. One good example is the Lizards female heads that I did for Divinity Original Sin 2. I really enjoyed it!

XC: How about working for television and film, is that a prospect you see yourself pursuing?

AD: I’m really enjoying my work at the game studio but you never know where the industry would take you. So as long I’m doing what I like, why not?

XC: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what do you think you’d be specializing in instead?

AD: I think eventually I would still end up with a job related to art. Maybe as a 2D concept artist.

XC:  What advice or message can you give young aspirants wanting to enter the craft/industry?

AD: You need to work as much as you can. No excuses. If you want to improve, you need to invest all you time in practicing your art. Do personal projects, do competitions. Post your work and ask for feedback. Tryout new pipelines and new software, don’t be afraid to do things you’ve never done before.

Ms. Dubrovina, we thank you not just for the opportunity of an interview, but your dedication to the craft. We will definitely be looking forward to your future works and all the success to “Divinity Original Sin 2”!

Want to see more of Ms. Alena Dubrovina’s works? Click here!

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