Natalia Stolarz: Zealous Student, Promising Artist

by Joshua Diokno   

Ms. Natalia Stolarz, despite just starting out as a 3D artist as a student, has things going for her. She has talent, the resources, and the right attitude to excel in the industry.

Being given the chance to interview her is indeed a blast as she is able to articulate her experiences and insight regarding the craft in a most engaging and erudite manner.

Surely, Ms. Stolarz is an artist to watch out for. Xeno Creatives is honored to feature her so that students delving in the discipline of 3D creation would be inspired to push their craft further.

Xeno Creatives (XC): We understand that with just about any craft, passion takes precedence. In your case, how did it start becoming a passion? Would we be right in assuming that you consider it a “calling” as a lot of your contemporaries do?

Natalia Stolarz (NS): I think I’ve been passionate about creating art for as long as I can remember. Do you know these kids running around with a piece of chalk and drawing crooked ponies and rainbows on their neighbors’ houses walls? I was one of them. Even as a teenager I was taking painting classes, but it was always considered to be more like a hobby than anything that could become a real professional choice. Growing up in post-communist Poland wasn’t always pink and shiny and I remember the necessity to choose a more stable and ‘trustworthy’ profession than a whimsical question mark of being an artist.

So I chose landscape architecture which was meant to be a compromise. Then I drifted away even further into working in a financial department of IBM. All of these choices gave me the financial stability I needed, but at the same time made me feel constantly misplaced. Somewhere back in my head I always had this feeling that if I just give up and choose the most pragmatic of ways I’ll be regretting it in the end.

Somewhat around two years ago, I was incredibly lucky to get the opportunity to be able to spend some time on myself, reconsider my goals and follow what I always knew was the right path for me. I’m not sure if it falls under the precise definition of ‘calling’ but for me it definitely felt that way.

And why game-art? I’m a game addict since, I guess, forever. Even when I was a kid I can remember fighting with my brother over who’s going to play a game first and for how long. In the best-case scenario, we were fighting over who was going to control the mouse.

I spend so much time in Forgotten Realms that I probably know it better than my hometown.

XC: Was there ever an art piece (digital or otherwise) or artist who was a catalyst of your involvement in the craft? When did you get involved fully in the 3D industry?

NS: I’m not sure if there was ever just one piece of art that made me turn my life upside down.

There were rather thousands of little straws that one day just broke the camel’s back.

Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, and the Dragon Age series. Neverwinter Nights. Planescape Torment. Fallout, and Icewind Dale. Myst. Dishonored. Hellblade. God of War, Horizon, Detroit Become Human. But if I had to choose only one catalyst it’d probably be the Witcher series, especially the Wild Hunt expansion. I can very vividly recall that it was the moment of galloping on Roach through Toussaint when I decided that this is what I want to do. I want to create digital characters and give them life.

I focused most on the characters because for me the characters are the ones telling the stories and what make the created world even more colorful and intriguing.

I have to admit that even up to this moment, I had no idea what it takes to become a 3D Character Artist. I didn’t even know the term yet. But it felt so right and so obvious that it was simply impossible not to follow through.

Well, as it turned out, the process of becoming a serious character artist in this industry is long and bumpy and requires a lot of focus, effort, attention, and determination. I honestly don’t think that people realize how much work one needs to put in just to simply grasp the basics of the 3D Art World.

I’m doing my best to profoundly understand all the aspects of creating 3D characters, both on technical and artistic levels but the more I know the more I realize how much I don’t know yet. It is exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Having that in mind I have nothing else to do but admire the work of such amazing 3D artists as Frank Tzeng, Scott Eaton, Ian Spriggs, Jamie-Lee Lloyd and Georgian Avasilcutei.

Colorwise, I absolutely love James Gurney, the author of Dinotopia.

And as I am most interested in character art I cannot skip mentioning two of my favorite portrait photographers – Chris Knight and Haris Nukem.

XC: Now that you’re an active part of the industry, would you say you have already found a solid place in it?

NS: I don’t consider myself being an active part of the industry yet. I’m still a student working as hard as possible under a carefully chosen mentorship so that one day I could spread my wings and become a professional.

XC: How does your day look like in production?

NS: I’m more than fascinated to find out how it is going to be like in production😊

XC: What are the common challenges that a 3D artist like you encounters day-in, day-out in a project?

NS: I can give you only a student’s point of view here, someone’s who’s still on a rocky road to becoming a pro. At this point I think the biggest challenge is not to get overwhelmed and terrified by the amount of skills and knowledge one needs to gather to work in this industry.

I remember thinking that creating games would be pure fun and amusement. And of course – it is! That’s why we do it!

But at the same time, it is a long game, a never-ending highway of constant learning and self-improving. The amount of time and determination a person must dedicate to succeed here is truly tremendous. I can understand people who are getting discouraged on their ways. It’s very easy to settle for mediocrity once you see what it takes to really level your skills up. The real challenge is to remind yourself why you started this journey and just power through the hardest moments of despondency (and laziness and procrastination 😊). And of course, never give up!

The other challenge is to find a proper way to educate yourself. I started as an absolute self-learner, spending most of my time on Youtube and Gumroad.

Sometimes I read interviews given by the industry veterans talking about how they started – without any tutorials, barely with internet connection. For them the lack of access to the information was the biggest obstacle. For us–starting nowadays on our own, I’d say that the problem is that the sources of information are just everywhere in all shapes and forms. But which ones do you really need? Which ones are up to date? What kind of knowledge do you actually need to get your footing?

It’s very easy to get lost in the beginning.

Finding a trustworthy feedback or a mentor should be one of the biggest milestones in one’s self-learning journey to the top.

XC: We’ve seen your works online and may we just say that your attention to detail is just amazing; we can’t help but gawk at your anatomy concepts. But among your works, do you have favorite pieces? If so, what would these be and why? Also, what would you consider your biggest or most exciting project to date?

NS: The project I’m working on, remaking Dragons Age:Origin’s Morrigan, is my first real project ever.

I started it around one year ago with almost nonexistent knowledge. I had to learn all the steps on the way–software, pipelines, anatomy, color theory and so on.

Only going from sculpting potato-shaped aliens to sculpting believable human faces took me over 6 months of everyday work. I chose to approach creating the likeness of Natalie Portman whoml I had sculpted over 200 versions of before she even started to look like a human being. Thus I can honestly say that so far she is my biggest and most exciting project.

XC: If you were to market yourself what would you highlight as your edge?

NS: I have proven to myself that I don’t get discouraged easily and I can push almost any of my limits. On heels and with a smile 😊

XC: If you weren’t a 3D artist today, what would you be working as?

NS: If I for some reason couldn’t do anything art-related?

I’d be most likely running a rehab center for wild animals. Or become a confectioner. Or an equestrian. There are thousands of fascinating things to do in life… but I drifted away from art once and I have absolutely no intent to do it ever again! 😊

Want to know more about Natalia Stolarz? Be sure to visit her Facebook and ArtStation accounts.

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