Wisdom Gained on His Own: The Art of Mr. Tanel Vaik

by Joshua Diokno   

Mr. Tann Olen is a man who fends for his own in the highly-competitive landscape of the 3D industry. Sure, every artist becomes an artist primarily because of his or her own hard work, but when you see Mr. Olen’s works, you’d be amazed as to how he came up with them only with Google and YouTube as guides.

Mr. Olen was not coy in saying what he believes in upon praise of his talent:

Somehow I do not believe in talent. I believe in hard work.

When asked about how ZBrush had aided him in the betterment of his craft, Mr. Olen furthers his credibility as not only a hardworking but also as a sensible artist:

ZBrush is only a tool. Understanding certain software is one thing. Creating something on the other hand requires way more than just skill to use software.

Indeed, every aspiring artist can learn a great deal from Mr. Olen. Xeno Creatives is more than fortunate to have had the opportunity to conduct an interview. You can read the exciting details through this feature.

Xeno Creatives (XC): ZBrush technology brought a lot to the industry. What processes did you have to learn to be skilled in it?

Tann Olen (TO): ZBrush updates regularly. As such, there are always new methods and interesting tricks I can learn.

To learn the functionalities of the software, I simply Googled and watched tutorials on YouTube.

XC: What are specific ZBrush features do you employ in the production of your art? Has it helped you in improving your art better?

TO: Dynamesh and ZRemesh (only in some cases as ZBrush tends to be poor in Retopology). ZRemesh is NOT an animation supportive Retopology tool. But can be used in cases where object is static and does not need animation. I also do a lot of texturing methods in ZBrush for displacements, polygroups masking, and more.

I do not use ZBrush for modeling—for that I prefer Houdini or Modo.

TO: ZBrush is only a tool.  Understanding certain software is one thing. Creating something on the other hand requires way more than just skill to use software. For example, in character design you need to understand human anatomy. For creature design understanding animal anatomy is also required. A grasp of sizes or how big something should be rendered is also essential (of course that also depends on the concept and the design). All of these require constant study of the craft.

 I used Adobe Photoshop in the past and then discovered Adobe After Effects.

I also found out about this: https://www.videocopilot.net/ They have a plugin named Element 3D. That is a 3D plugin for After Effects. But as this was very limited, I decided to investigate further.

At one point, I discovered Cinema 4D. Created also one project there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOby6S2KOvk

But before investing  more time in to this program, I decided to do market research and see what other options there are out there for creating 3D. And this is how I discovered Houdini—thanks to Simon Holmedal who was talking about Cinema 4D and Houdini.

 He recommended Houdini as I wanted more control over 3D model.

So I started learning Houdini.  Below are links to all the works I created using Houdini. (Keep in mind that many of these were recorded with my potato mobile phone because screen recording or any direct recording on my PC at that time did not work. My PC had only 6 gigabyte RAM and Houdini is very heavy on usage so it was not able to record).


XC: How did you start being involved in the digital craft?

TO: One day, when I was looking at a Houdini tutorial, l noticed they also used ZBrush.  So this is how I discovered ZBrush and my fantasy started to fly. Later of course, I learned what Retopology, texturing, and more.

XC: We got the chance to see your projects online. We gotta tell, you have got a good eye for detail and an awesome sense of anatomy. Apart from your obvious talent, what do you think is your edge as a 3D artist? What do you think makes you stand out from the rest?

TO: Somehow I do not believe in talent. I believe in hard work. When I was working as IT support, my work started at 09:00 and ended at 17:30

This is my typical day:
1. Wake up at 07:00am
2. Drive to work and work starts at 09:00 and ends at 17:30
3. At 18:00 I am already at the gym and at 20:00 my workout is finished.
4. At 20:30, I am at the shop and 21:00 I am already at home
5. Food prep and all that starts afterward. It is only after 22:00 that I begin my 3D study.
6. I often go to bed at 01:30am.
The next day, I get to repeat this. And in the day after that.

In average, I was able to invest 45 to 60 hours every week to my 3D craft. And I have done it from the day I discovered 3D. I do this because I like 3D. Since I like it, I have to have the passion for it.  I believe skills come in time. Skill has to be earned and only way to earn it is to do it as much as possible.

I try to think of it this way: If I invest 50% less time in 3D in a day that often means that it is 50% less in a week, month, and a year. So the result that you would get in 1 year you get it now in 2 years.

But time is ticking. I have already done 3D works for a total 1 year and 6 months.

I think the result I have achieved in this time is above average. But all boils down how many hours a person is willing to invest and improve.

I already have some experience with VFX, modeling, sculpting, texturing, a bit of animation (not character animation), and photogrammetry. And I am planning to craft and increase my skill of level more and more.

I love details and I am patient. Rome was not built in a day same goes with quality 3D.

I’d rather do one model that takes me three months then ten models that look very bad.
There is very good gif that I think to be a truth:


I think what makes me stand out is my passion for details. I have a specific style (I like realistic + stylized mix). I can but try to do less simplified stylized models and I aim for cinematic quality characters and assets. (Cinematic and game trailer quality models).

Not many are willing to do it as it takes more time and needs more passion.

Many try to think of more ways of how to make more money and pump-out more models. I, on the other try to ponder on how think how to make models  to look better. How to improve on what is already I think is good. Of course money is important, but I try to avoid making something fast but bad.

XC: Whom do you do you consider your influence(s)?

TO: I think my influences are Weta, Blizzard, Blurr, Jonathan Berube, and Simon Holmedal.

And of course, I also have haters. There are people who dislike you no matter  who you are or what you do. When someone tells me I can’t do something. That motivates me even more to prove them wrong. It was the same with my anatomy sculpts.

They told me I can’t do it. I proved them wrong.
They told me I can’t do a model of Kerrigan in great likeness. I am proving them wrong.

Kerrigan is a work in progress.

XC: So far, what were the challenges that you had encountered working in the 3D industry?

TO: I have not worked in the 3D industry. Not a single job. I tried to apply for Upwork. However, the often pay is too low for the amount of job that is required so I often have decided to do just my own stuff.

XC: What is your most exciting project to date?

TO: All of projects I have created were exciting for me. Hard to pick one I like most. Somehow I always see flaws in my own work. I am never happy with my stuff. Trying to improve and make the next one better.

XC: Do you have any advice to aspiring artists?

TO: Practice. Practice and learn. Try to understand the pipeline. Do not rush and try to understand why something is done in a specific way. This will open up world for you and you are able to think outside of the box. Remember, if you do 50% less in a day huge possibility is you do 50% less in a week, month and a year. So your competitor who will do 50% more than you will be in a year, a year ahead of you.

Want to see more of Mr. Tann Olen’s works? Check these out!




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