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Vendor Spotlight: Chris Schell

1) Please tell us a little something about yourself.
For example: where are you from, where do you live, do you have any formal education or are you self-taught, etc.

I was born in East Oxford County, just out side of Woodstock Ontario and moved around a lot as a kid. I grew up in the country and moved into the city for school and then work. I excelled in Art and History while in school, receiving recognition from local art galleries and winning international awards for fine arts by the time I'd gone into the 11th grade. I attended Mohawk College for Graphic design and have also done freelance design work for various organizations and groups. I've also worked in Military museums and held numerous volunteer positions, but my actual career was as a Security Officer, which lasted over 15 years until I was retired due to injuries in the line of duty. I now live in Hamilton Ontario and am enjoying my retirement, and the chance to work at my hobbies.

2) What software or tools do you use?

I use a number of tools for fine arts, but prefer working in water-colours or acrylics, and also enjoy sketching and writing. In my 3D work I use Hexagon for modelling, DAZ Studio for Figure set-up and Rigging, Poser for additional testing and tweaks, and Photo-Impressions 4 for texturing. I map the models in UV Mapper Pro so that I can save out templates for each item I make.

3) How did you get started making digital models?

After being retired due to injuries from work, I was left drifting for what to do with myself for a while. Eventually a friend of mine introduced me to DAZ Studio and I was hooked. I started out by learning the program and how to create scenes, then moved on to trying to make basic items using DAZ's primitives. Then my friend showed me Hexagon and I tried it out. It took me a while to get the basics down, and I've really had to work at it to learn how to use the tools and features, but after much experimenting I finally figured out how to do basics. The rest of my accomplishments have been made by trial and error, and I've taken great effort to learn the tricks that make a good model.

4) What experiences influenced your models or products? Where do you get your ideas for your products? Did you do any market analysis or did you make something that you thought people would enjoy?

My models started as freebies, and were inspired by my love of history. I started out by making small prop items like fuel drums and airfield extras and then moved in to more complex items, eventually releasing several Tanks, and Ships. My later freebie works were featured as part of the cover disc for 3D Artist Magazine a number of times. Once I opened my own store I knew that there was a market for Military and Historical items in the 3D community so that's where I started.

Since then I've also branched out and have been releasing items based on my own sketches for sci-fi and fantasy items and have regularly run WIP threads for product development in various forums so that I can get feed-back from my potential customers. WIP threads are a great way to get a feel for the market when planning and working on a new item or product... They give your customers a chance to tell you what features they like or don't like, and can be very valuable as a source of constructive feed-back for improvements.

The big trick to 3D modelling is to make items that you enjoy as well as things the community will like. If you don't enjoy the work then quality suffers and so will sales once the item is released.

5) What kind of challenges have you faced in your career?

The biggest hurdle I've had to over-come was learning 3D modelling and how to rig and set up figures. When I was in school computers hadn't yet become main-stream in Graphic Design and so I had no formal training in computer modelling at all. It's much easier now than it was back in my school days.

Fortunately I met some very good people in the 3D community who were willing to donate time and effort to helping me learn, and were willing to provide insight from their own experience to help me grow as an artist. In particular BeyondVR, who acted as a sort of mentor to help me figure out how to get past problems and issues with the items I was making. He was very generous with his time, and was willing to test models for me so that we could sort through any parts that didn't work. he would also take the time to show me what I'd done wrong and walk me through the fixes so that I would know for myself what to do the next time around.

6) You've been involved in the digital artist community for a while now. Do you have any thoughts or opinions about how the community has changed?

Over the years it's become easier for new users to learn 3D modelling. There are now school programs in most every school for courses on the subject, and the community itself has built up a large data base of tutorials and how-to manuals that weren't really available when I got in to this. The programs have also gotten better at what they do, and the tools have become more readily available for people to use and learn.

One thing I think is important is community spirit. By sharing our ideas and skills we all win and can grow as a community. I strongly believe that the 3D community as a whole gains the benefits when we are wiling to work together, and that sharing the information around promotes the best in all of us. Perhaps others would disagree, but without the help of others, it would be impossible to learn new things.

I wouldn't have gotten any where close to where I am now had that community co-operation and spirit not been there when I was getting started and I think it's important for us to foster that spirit of sharing to keep our community growing. Fortunately there are still some good people out there, and some good sites where artists can learn and develop their skills. Seek out those places and learn everything you can, it's important to your growth as an artist.

7) What advice do you have for new merchants who want to improve their artwork?

I have two pieces of advice;

Start small and work your way up. Don't rush in to anything before you're ready, and make sure that you practice, practice and practice some more! Always look for ways you can improve your works, and always be willing to push yourself a bit to try new things.

Don't be afraid to go looking for information or to ask questions. Look for people willing to help out, and talk to your peers and the community in general. Take the good feed-back and use it to improve where you can, and take the bad with a grain of salt... don't let it stop you from enjoying what you do. Use forums, and WIP threads to learn new skills and to gain insights on improvements you can make and features that your customers want to see. I cannot stress enough, how important it is to have a good working relationship with your potential customers and WIP threads can be a very valuable tool for you to foster that relationship.

8) Is there anything else you'd like to share with the readers? Do you have any thoughts or ideas about models or products or anything else in the digital world?

One of the hardest parts you'll face when working in 3D is the trolling. People will try and discourage you, don't let them... it's your work, not theirs, and it often comes from people who don't have the skills to do the work themselves, or feel threatened by the work you're doing. If you are truly happy with your work then go with it and don't worry about what other people have to say. Take the good parts of the advice you get, but don't let people ruin the fun you're having for yourself.

If you really want to do what you are doing, and really enjoy the work, then go for it and enjoy yourself!

My other piece of advice is simple, be willing to work with people and they'll work with you... it's a win-win for everyone and we will do all the better for it.

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