“It’s the Best Creative Playground You’ve Never Heard Of:” Devon Ko on Doing 3D Graphic Design
Austin-based video artist Devon Ko adores designing in 3D, and she wants to share the love. Her trippy gifs evoke a kind of neverending-1980s-neon-fever-dream, and in the span of a few short years she’s established herself as an enthusiastic evangelist for this new digital frontier. Her most recent passion project has been developing 3D for Designers, an online self-study course for graphic design pros who have “strong visual chops” and a desire to take their work into a brand new dimension.
We caught up with Ko to talk about why 3D and Project Felix are so expressive, so accessible, and so damn fun.
Devon, your work is totally mesmerizing; how did you get your start doing 3D design projects.
My background is in product design. About two years ago I left my job at a tech company, and decided it was my time to try other stuff—essentially, I grabbed a (metaphorical) shovel and began digging myself out of what had built up as a really structured way of thinking. I took a basic introductory tutorial on 3D modeling, animation, and rendering, and realized quickly that 3D was “the one.” You know when you’ve done something successfully, and you’ve clearly met your goal and expressed yourself really well? I started out small, producing at least one gif or a two-second animation every day, and the process gave me that fundamental, deep-down, super connected, oh-f**k-I-did-it kind of feeling—the kind of thing we chase down all the time.
So working in 3D has enabled you to creatively express yourself in a way you never could before?
Yes! I just really like to play in 3D; I want to show graphic designers that 3D is a place you can have fun. It’s the best playground you’ve never heard of yet, where you get to explore all the things you’re familiar with—form, repetition, color—in this whole new realm of visual problem solving.
What kind of impact do the tools you’re using have on the way you work?
Well… 3D is an imitation of real life. So, designing in 3D means trying to pack every possible thing that can happen in real life, at least visually or physically, into software: it’s gravity and simulation and modeling; it’s geometric stuff and organic stuff and rigging (how people move); it involves so many layers, which is why it is extremely hard to put it into a condensed, understandable interface. One of the best things about Project Felix is that the program isn’t too technical.
Why do you feel that accessibility is so important?
I’ve done a lot of research and have learned that people don’t necessarily want to learn how to model a character, or a person, or a bust, or any of these more “classic” assignments you might have to complete to understand a traditional 3D application. People want to do all the graphic design things they already know and love, and then impose them in the third dimension, in 3D space.
How has experimenting with Felix impacted your approach to creating and compositing?
Felix comes with tons of stock assets—I kind of wanted to cry tears of joy when I saw them.
How does access to those assets affect your workflow, and the ideas you’re able to realize?
Something I might do is pull in a palm tree (everything could always use a palm tree). That palm tree doesn’t actually even have to be in the scene; it can just be casting a shadow to give me some vibes; give me some atmosphere; really take me somewhere. With Felix, I don’t have to model every single leaf; I don’t have to think: ‘How big are these damn coconuts?’ I can just grab an asset and compose it the way I want to.
Then you can throw down a sphere, or a couple of cubes, maybe make one semi-transparent, or change the camera angle, set it up with it with a different type of projection. You can try so many different things so quickly. Once you start to find the grooves—the steps that will make your work beautiful—you can play in a more skilled way. It’s a really freeing way to make stuff.
Want to learn more about how you too can get creative with compositing in Project Felix? Check out the homepage, and stay tuned for more stories from cool folks like Devon who are discovering the graphic design possibilities that exist in 3D.