Interview with Lea Kronenberger

Around 3 years ago I started working in the industry with a part time job during my studies.

Lea Kronenberger is a 3D Artist from Essen, Germany with 3 years of industry experience.
She likes to work with Substance Suite, 3ds Max and Modo

What led you into the CGI/2D? Tell us your story.

I discovered my passion for 3D art while working as a technical draftsman, which was the job I originally learned after graduating from school. I started with sketching some 3D buildings in AutoCAD during lunch breaks and then began to learn blender in my free time. It didn’t take long until I decided to change career and started studying Game Art in 2015 as a part time program.
I stayed at my old job a bit and then focused 100% on learning 3D.
About halfway through, I began to pick up some freelance work and finally started a part time job as 3D Artist for a local game company, where I then worked full time after graduating.
These days I’m working at Frictional Games as a 3D Art Lead for one of the projects and still do freelance work in the evenings some days.

Where do you go to get inspired? What/Who inspires you?

A bunch of different things inspire me! It works best for me to have a lot of variety in the things I do.
Sometimes I feel like actively browsing through Pinterest or Artstation, both 3D and 2D categories in different styles or photography. It’s inspiring to see other Artists handle things and I oftentimes feel engaged to try new techniques after this.
I also get excited about different topics by reading books and art books, watching movies, playing video and board games and traveling.
When working on a nature scene I really enjoy going for a walk in the park or forest.
Other than that, I’m always driven to find a matching idea for an artwork when I get excited to try out new software features.

How does a typical working day look like?

I recently started to have some breakfast before work, which helps me a lot to focus early in the morning. So, I get up at 8 AM and start working at around 9 with a fresh cup of coffee.
Like most people at Frictional Games, I work remote from home. I don’t have typical work to do, as there are a high variety of exciting tasks and it never gets boring. Sometimes I work on creating different kinds of props all day, other times I’m doing set dressing or lighting in the engine, setup objects with gameplay features, documenting workflows, giving feedback to the outsourcers and so on.
In between I usually only take one break, but I take as much time here as I feel is needed (which is mostly around one hour for lunch). I try to meet at least once a week for lunch with friends who work nearby. After eating and relaxing a bit, I continue to work until around 6 PM. Then I have another small break, before starting to work on freelance work or personal projects for another 2-4 hours.
Then I have dinner and do something else!

What does your workplace look like?

My office is full of plants and posters. I feel like the greener it gets, the more comfortable I feel.
Also, I always had a thingy for hardware and recently upgraded to a 3 screens setup.

How do you stay motivated?

There are always ups and downs, like many other artists experience. I think the best way to stay motivated is to work on personal projects, just create something you are passionate about in your own pace.
I try to go with my own flow for personal projects – whenever I feel inspired to create something, I just start working on it and whenever I don’t, I take the time to do something else and don’t force it. I think it is very important to take breaks from being creative to stay motivated and avoid frustration. There are a lot of personal projects that I started, but then abandoned and never finished. I used to feel bad about this, but I’ve recently realized that those experiments are actually helpful to learn and adapt new things for the projects I have more passion for. It’s bad to never finish anything, but I think there’s no need to force yourself through every project you started.
I usually have periods of a couple of weeks being very productive with personal projects and also being inspired and motivated for the professional work too in the process, followed by a few days or weeks doing nothing 3D related in my free time – until I catch something that inspires me to do more.
As for the work as a 3D Artist in general, I don’t really have anything that I feel not motivated to do. Most people hate UV mapping i.e., but even those tasks I kind of enjoy, since I can turn the music up a little louder and let the brain rest for a while.

What is your passion beside CGI/2D?

Mostly playing video games. I like a lot of different games, depending on my mood. For example, I love The Witcher games, Dark Souls, SOMA and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but also enjoy walking simulators, point&click or playing Co-Op games like Borderlands with my boyfriend.
Beside that I also like to meet to hang out and draw together with friends and playing board games.

How do you keep your portfolio up to date? Any tips?

I try to upload everything that I think turned out good. If it’s a finished project I upload it to Artstation and if I’m not going to finish it, but like it anyways, I use facebook, twitter or Instagram for that. I think it is very important to keep your portfolio up to date, even if you are not looking for a new job, because it feels so good to eventually see development in your skills over the time and it helps a lot to get valuable feedback from others!
In my experience the best you can do to keep your portfolio updated, especially if not that motivated with personal projects, is to participate in different community challenges.
Also, I like to remove / hide projects at Artstation that I feel are not reflecting my skill level anymore, so that the portfolio feels more up to date to me.

What Software do you use to create your artwork?

My engine of choice for most artworks is Unreal. If I have something that is not a game environment, I use Marmoset Toolbag for presentation.
I used to model with 3ds Max since I learned it in university but switched to Modo around 2 months ago and right now I’m very happy with it. If any organic highpoly work is needed I use Zbrush, but most of the time I model the bigger details for the highpoly in the same software as the lowpoly, then bake and bring in smaller details in Substance Designer or Painter.
I use the Substance Suite and for everything texture related. Designer for baking, creating materials and oftentimes even texturing. Sometimes I also create materials from photos, in which case I use Alchemist. I use Painter when an asset needs unique painted details.
For converting and editing texture resources, overpaints, concepts and the like I use Affinity Photo these days.
Then there’s some software I don’t use that often, but worth mentioning SpeedTree for vegetation assets, World Machine for terrain that can’t be created with the engine tools, Crazybump and xNormal for some baking stuff.

What Software do you want to learn in the future? And why?

I’m looking forward to learning the basics of Houdini and Marvelous Designer for my next personal project. I tried Marvelous before and think that it’s awesome for great looking and fast cloth simulation. I didn’t have a lot of cloth objects in my previous projects and intend to change that.
About Houdini I heard and saw so many great things and I’m just really excited to try procedural modeling with it. I think it can be useful for a lot of assets and speed up my workflow a lot in the long term.

Which books would you recommend to the read?

I can recommend art books by Simon Stålenhag, Zdzisław Beksiński and Alex Pardee, which are all very inspiring in their own way I think. The 3D Artist / 3D World magazine is also very good and helpful.

What music do you listen to while working?

Most of the time Downbeat and Chill, like Carbon Based Lifeforms, sometimes Psytrance. When I work on something that doesn’t need me to focus that much, I also like to listen to metal, alternative rock and punk.

Any advice for new Artists?

I think it is the most annoying and at the same time most important to learn are the fundamentals of whatever your focus is in the field of CGI. For example, I’ve seen a lot of new 3D Artists getting frustrated while trying to create a whole environment or full character with a concept they found online. It is much better to start in small steps, learn different modeling techniques first, before you even worry about how to create own materials (or the other way around). Learn about colors and composition before starting to create an environment from scratch and so on. It feels much more rewarding if you learn things step by step and challenge yourself from small things to bigger and bigger projects rather than taking on too much from the beginning and feel like you know nothing.
Find out whatever motivates you and keep going. And most importantly, keep in mind that all the great works you see on Artstation and other platforms also come only from hard work and a lot of time, so don’t panic if it feels like ages to get there!
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask for help. Feedback is the best way to improve!