Choosing Software For Your Own
Personal Art Pipeline
By Neil Blevins
Created On: May 28th 2015
Updated On: Mar 3rd 2017
Back in the day, there were plenty of all-in-one 3d
packages, 3dsmax, maya, softimage, etc, and you could potentially do a
lot of your work in a single piece of software. But these days, most
pipelines rely on a whole collection of different pieces of software to
get work done, everyone from a large vfx studio all the way to a single
artist making concept art. The advantage of this de-centralizing of
software is smaller software companies can specialize in making the
very best software that does X, rather than a big software company
producing something that's decent at everything but awesome in none.
The disadvantage is now you need to transfer your work between all
these different pieces of software, which causes headaches in terms of
incompatible features, data loss, and manual labor.
I've done a lot of reflecting on my concept art process, and have split
it up into a number of tasks, and then matches those tasks with a
specific piece of software. Sadly, concept art is a tiny, tiny market,
and no software is written specifically for the needs of a modern
concept artist (If you're a software developer and want to write apps
for concept artists, please contact me, I have so many ideas
<G>). So artists instead have to cobble together a pipeline from
a bunch of different pieces of software.
For example, a common one is modeling / sculpting in zbrush, then
materials and rendering in keyshot, then final 2d paint in Photoshop.
Here's a little more information about my personal software pipeline.
First, I have split my software needs into the following tasks:
Then I have matched up each task with a piece of software (3dsmax,
Medium, Filterforge, Vray in 3dsmax, Photoshop, Magic Bullet Looks,
- 3D General
- 3D Modeling
- 3D Sculpting
- 3D UV
- 2D Pattern Generation
- 3D Shading
- 3D Detail Paint
- 3D Render
- 2D Paint
- 2D Comp
- 2D Image Viewing
Here's a little more info on my choices. Remember, there is no right or
wrong, these are my choices and they're liable to be very different
from your own:
- 3D General -> 3dsmax
- 3D Modeling -> 3dsmax
- 3D Sculpting -> Medium
- 3D UV -> 3dsmax
- 2D Pattern Generation ->
- 3D Shading -> 3dsmax / vray
- 3D Detail Paint -> 3dsmax /
- 3D Render -> 3dsmax / vray
- 2D Paint -> Photoshop
- 2D Comp -> Magic Bullet Looks
- 2D Image Viewing -> ACDSee
1) 3D General -> 3dsmax
I started using 3dstudio DOS R2 back in the early 90s. So I use 3dsmax
partly out of habit, and partly because I feel it's a good middle
ground between a purely procedural program and a fast program that just
gets the job done.
2) 3D Modeling -> 3dsmax
I do all my hard surface modeling in 3dsmax, I tried switching over to
Modo at one point but discovered that I rely too heavily on max's
modifier stack, and so have decided to stick with max.
3) 3D Sculpting -> Medium
I was a big mudbox user, but since the program has stopped development,
I've been using medium in VR for a lot of my sculpting needs. Its so
fantastic being able to create in full 3d where I can walk around my
model and pull and push in full 3d space.
4) 3D UV -> 3dsmax
While I prefer to use uvless techniques, when I need to UV stuff, I use
3dsmax's unwrapping tools.
5) 2D Pattern Generation -> Filterforge
Filterforge is a great place for creating procedural patterns. I like
darktree too, but darktree hasn't seen an update in a decade, so when
it comes to an application with a future, Filterforge seems like the
6) 3D Shading -> 3dsmax / vray
I did all my shading and rendering in the Brazil Renderer years ago,
but when it got discontinued, I switched over to vray since I found it
had a pretty similar system. And it has a pretty big market share,
which means it has a lot of development money going into it, and its
not likely to get discontinued like Brazil did.
7) 3D Detail Paint -> 3dsmax / Photoshop
I don't do a lot of painting on organic models, so my pipeline for 3d
paint is mostly for hard surface models, and I use a combination of
projections in 3dsmax, and then painting the stuff to be projected
using photoshop. I may move myself to a full 3d paint package at some
point in the future when more of them have PTEX support.
8) 3D Render -> 3dsmax / vray
I use vray in 3dsmax for my lighting, camera work and rendering. While
many people use Keyshot to render, I find the software too limiting in
the material / texturing
department, causing a lot of artists to add texture in 2d in photoshop
on top of the final rendered image. This is fine, but I like to do more
of my texturing in 3d if I know I'm going to see the model from several
different angles. And with Vray RT (vray's realtime renderer),
keyshot's realtime advantage is less unique in the industry now.
9) 2D Paint -> Photoshop
Despite how limited Photoshop is, there's still nothing that's as good
at both hand painting and image manipulation in the same program. I'm
looking to eventually replace this with Affinity Photo, it just needs a
couple more features.
10) 2D Comp -> Magic Bullet Looks
Since Photoshop doesn't have much in the way of non-destructive
filters, I need a compositor as well. While something like Nuke would
be more full featured, its overkill for what I need to do (vignettes,
chromatic aberration, post blur, etc) so I've found the simple to use
Magic Bullet Looks by Red Giant is the perfect balance for me.
11) 2D Image Viewing -> ACDSee
There's a lot of image viewers out there, but ACDSee is one of the
originals for windows, and I use it mostly out of habit because it has
everything I need.
Every once in awhile I'll look at my tasks, my software choices, and
ask myself is it worth switching some part of it to new software. The
question is what features do I use all the time, and what am I willing
to give up to get new features that my current software doesn't have.
It's a constant evaluation. I have my favorites for sure, but it's best
never to become too dependent on one piece of software because...
Some people in fact change their software almost on an image by image
basis! This is fine too, but for myself I like having a bit more of a
standard pipeline as my tried and true fallback, and I'll add extra
software here or there if I want to try something out. But I always
have my default pipeline!
- the software industry changes fast, new features are added all
the time and new software is constantly coming out
- software gets discontinued all the time
- it's important to be able to switch quickly depending on your
needs, what's available, and if you're working at companies, what their
pipeline is built around
Anyways, hope you found this peak into my own personal pipeline
interesting. And I hope it gives you the incentive to take a look at
your own personal pipeline. As an exercise sometime, try and write down
the main tasks you perform, and what software you tend to use the most
for these tasks. Then consider some alternatives. It may help you find
something you hadn't considered and open you up to new possibilities.