A 3D scarecrow character created by 3D artist Roger Gerzner.

Artist Spotlight: Roger Gerzner

Larissa Mori Artists, Featured Artists

Roger Gerzner took his first steps into the world of 3D art more than two decades ago. Since then he’s developed a unique art style that blends 2D designs with 3D modeling. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to chat with Roger about his long career, developing a retro style all of his own, the workflow behind his best characters, artistic inspiration, and more.

Read on to learn about all of the above as well as how Roger uses 3D software to render art with a traditional feel.

TurboSquid: Can you tell us more about yourself and what got you interested in 3D art? 

Roger Gerzner: I’m a self-taught 3D artist from Switzerland. I took baby steps into 3D back in the summer of 1996. Since my teenage years, I’ve been interested in computer graphics, video games, classic art, and comics. After I got my first computer I immediately started fiddling around with programs like Deluxe Paint and Corel Draw

When I first heard about 3D Studio (DOS), I was hooked. I learned to use it the hard way, by trial and error. Video tutorials and the internet weren’t such a big thing back then. It was time-consuming, but I wasn’t in a hurry and this was still just a rather expensive hobby. It would take years for me to get to the point where I could sell my work on TurboSquid.

A 3D spider created by Roger Gerzner.
3D model via Roger Gerzner

How did you develop your style? 

At the beginning of my career as a 3D artist, I limited myself to photorealistic models and textures. I’ve always been interested in world history and archeology, therefore many of my models were based on that. In total contrast to the stylized fantasy worlds and characters I drew as a kid. It’s only in the last few years that these styles have flowed together and I’ve started to implement my 2D visions into 3D models.

It’s serendipitous that mobile phone games have become more and more prevalent in that time and as a result, the demand for my stylized art has continued to grow.

What other artists inspire you?

I’ve always been interested in comics and was a big fan of Tintin, Asterix, and Lucky Luke, as well as the superheroes of the Bronze Age. Besides Hergé and Morris, I was mostly influenced by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. But also, the works of Bernie Wrightson, Don Lawrence, and Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri inspired my drawings. Later on, for my CG work, it was artists like Chris Scheurer, Neil Blevins, Aaron Blaise, and Thomas Smith who provided me with the most inspiration.

A 3D tin man character by Roger Gerzner.
3D model via Roger Gerzner

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

Usually, I start with a cup of black coffee while reading the news. I have a fully equipped home office and I work from there, using a self-built PC with a 24 Core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X CPU, 32 GB Ram and an AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics card. I have a 3x 32″ monitor setup and of course I also have a graphics tablet. Doing my research, modeling, sculpting, texturing, UV-unwrapping, and everything else that makes up my workflow. Sometimes I’ll also do some skinning and rigging, but they’re not my preferred fields.

How do you come up with new ideas?

When it comes to my personal projects or TurboSquid content, I’m usually struck suddenly by an idea related to a particular interest I have at the time. It could be art, history, something seasonal, or even current events. For example, while working on my Stylized snowman, I was in a wintery, Christmas mood, inspired by a snowman that I’d built in the garden.

Alternatively, my ideas can arise from childhood fantasies or old ideas that I haven’t had the time or skill to finish before. In the case of a creative block, there are plenty of old 3D models for me to renew, adapting them to my current standards. I don’t always have high hopes for success when I upload a model to TurboSquid, but sometimes an asset won’t sell for months or even years and then all of a sudden it’ll pick up sales in some other part of the world. It’s super rewarding when that happens.

A 3D stylized droid by Roger Gerzner.
3D model via Roger Gerzner

Could you describe the workflow behind your favorite TurboSquid creation? 

One of my favorite models I created for TurboSquid is the Stylized Droid. The basic idea of the character is pretty old, but I couldn’t think of a good body design or color palette until two years ago. I knew from the start that I wanted him to be rigged so I had to refresh my skills during the process.

After I got the idea, I did some research, gathered reference images of all kinds of robots, studied the anatomy of similar characters, and pondered the history of the character. My idea was that this robot was built to do very dangerous jobs, be it in ore mines, on distant asteroids, harsh planets, or deep sea rescue operations. I wanted it to look like it’s been in dangerous situations, while retaining a gentle, melancholic look.

Next, I did some simple pen and paper sketches to get a feeling for the droid before blocking out a base mesh in 3ds Max. After creating the basic shapes I sculpted the high-res model in ZBrush, incorporating all the details. During the sculpting process, I switched parts around or got rid of them altogether, something I always do. Sometimes less is more.

After finishing the high-res sculpt it was time to create the low poly version using TopoGun 2. I did the UV unwrapping in 3ds Max and used the high and low poly models for the mesh map baking in Substance Painter. During this phase, I also created maps for the basic PBR materials in Substance Painter. The baked maps (Normal, Curvature, AO, etc.) together with the base material maps serve as the basis for my texture work. From then on I did all the texturing and hand painting in Photoshop. I also did color variations, painted dirt and grunge layers, amplified the cavities, created decals and scratches, added bumps and rivets, and a ton of other detail. After I finished the model I did the rigging in 3ds Max using the CAT system.

A 3D wireframe by Roger Gerzner.
3D model via Roger Gerzner

What software did you use to create this?

I always use 3ds Max, ZBrush, Substance Painter, and Photoshop in my projects. Sometimes I also utilize Marvelous Designer or 3D Coat, depending on the specific requirements of the project.

What’s your favorite hack/trick/tip that makes you feel like a 3D superhero?

I think I have a good eye for detail and I know how to use it to give life to my models, especially when texturing. I’m not good at scripting or programming, so in the end, it comes down to me going the extra mile and paying attention to little things that the viewer can probably only see subconsciously. I always think carefully about where dirt and dust would accumulate, where the model’s been handled, whether this causes scratches, and how that affects the reflections or coloring. Often these details are hardly recognizable and only by comparison with a cleaner model would you notice them, but in the end, they make all the difference.

What advice would you give new artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Firstly, my advice would be to learn the basics of not only 3D but also traditional art. It helped me a lot. Some study of anatomy is always helpful. You have to understand reality in order to make good stylized content.

Secondly, never underestimate the importance of good research and reference material. It’s amazing how much trouble you can avoid if you invest enough time in planning.

And thirdly, I often see young artists sharing material on social media that isn’t ready yet, then getting frustrated when they don’t get the feedback they were hoping for. Many just want to make money but to become a great artist you have to love what you do, not because of the money but because it’s fun and gives you satisfaction. Work on yourself and learn new things. Don’t compare your work to that of artists who have been doing it for years. Patience is the key.

A 3D viking ship by Roger Gerzner.
3D model via Roger Gerzner

What is most exciting about the 3D industry’s future?

The digital world presents a huge opportunity and with the implementation of AI, the tools we use to create 3D content will improve even further and hopefully rid us of the more tedious tasks. Personally, I hope AI can take care of UV mapping and skinning for me one day.

Of course, it’s also a big challenge. Technology is constantly changing and it takes a lot of effort and money not to lose touch. But one thing is for sure, the demand for 3D content continues to increase. Even if AI grows to the point it can take work away from us, I believe there will always be a lot of opportunities for 3D artists with creative minds.

If you’re an artist who is interested in being featured on the TurboSquid blog, email our content team at marketing@turbosquid.com.