I'm Neil Stratford, 3D artist and graphic designer, and this is how I work.

Location:

I live in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

 

 

Current Gig:

Currently, I work full time as a Graphic Designer at a small company called iQuest Media, based in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. At iQuest Media, my main roll is to design visual assets for webpages, as well as updating and maintaining these visuals for these sites. Besides webpage design, I also work on logo design as well as brochures, cards, social media visuals, photo touch ups, and company branding. My tools for making these graphics are Corel Draw X5 (logo, branding, production artwork), and Adobe Photoshop CC (website design, social media covers, photo touch-ups).

Additionally, I also do freelance work. Currently on my freelance plate, I am doing contract work for HOK Canada - providing 3D renders and models for the architecture department. I am also doing graphics, filming/editing for Holmes Athletics Canada, a sports clothing company.

 


How Neil got started with design:


Drawing came to me at a pretty early age. It wasn't necessarily design, but it was a part of the process I believe. Before Kindergarten, I was doing lots of painting - mostly just finger painting, drawings, arts and crafts. I think design came to me when my parents introduced me to Duplo and eventually Lego. I designed and created large buildings, cars, boats, spaceships, printers, and anything that inspired me to build. I didn't just build from kits; I would build my own creations entirely. Alongside building with Lego, I would also draw out cross sections of buildings, boats, spaceships, trains and medieval castles. My dad (who inspired me with his architectural knowledge and background) would often bring home large plots of CAD paper spanning several feet (sometimes 7' x7') - I would then draw out these large but detailed cross sections, filling the entire sheet. When I look at these drawings today, I notice that they are relatively accurate in terms of structure and how it went together. This is where I started design - not graphic design, but design in general. I had a general interest in how things were put together and worked.

This drawing/building stayed with me up until the end of grade 6, and then I stopped. I came to some kind of artist's block from grade 7 until grade 12. During that time period I did draw, but very minimally. I stopped building with Lego entirely. I found that not too many people inspired me to draw or motivated me. In grade 9, a senior grade 12 motivated me to draw, which helped in giving me some direction.

I also participated in wood working and metal work, which I enjoyed quite a bit. High school was an improvement, but I didn't get serious about it until grade 12 when I realized that I had to do something after high school, and it was either going to be university/college or work. I chose college and applied to Industrial Design at Humber College - I got into it four times in a row (every year I applied), but never took it because I wasn't committed to it. Instead, I took two years of Visual & Creative Arts at Sheridan College, and an additional four years in Technical & Scientific Illustration. This is where I believe my professional career in design started.

 


Neil's personal favorite pieces:


General Process Description: For most of my 365 project pieces, I believe in using certain programs to do specific things. I use anywhere from two to eight programs sometimes. I usually don't do any conceptualization or iterations (for 365); for most pieces, I go straight to modelling. Initially, I use Form Z 7 SE, which is an architectural 3D program - I use it for creating simple objects like houses, props, simple cars, spaceships, simple trees, and various other buildings. Sometimes, I use Zbrush to create organic or mechanical-organic shapes.

Once I have the model complete, I export it as a 3DS file and import it into Cinema 4D. Once in Cinema 4D, I create the landscape, use displacers, compile the model, and then render. I end up rendering three to eight different renders so that I have outputs with different lighting, layers, and render effects, which I can play around in Photoshop. I usually export as .tiff file from C4D and import into Photoshop where I then do touchups and final output. I usually utilize the filter effects that Photoshop has to provide. I also use Illustrator for line renders and line render touchups - which are then put into Photoshop. Once done, it goes up on Instagram.


THE MAGICAL WORK OF NEIL STRATFORD

Shire

Click for full size.

Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator


Description: Shire is one of my personal bests and favourites out of the 365. I wanted to go for a semi-drawn but 3D look - a 'tradigital' look. I didn't have to conceptualize this project mainly because, when I first thought of The Shire in my style, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted and followed through. Overall, this was probably my most enjoyable to create of the 365.


Mount Doom

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Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator


Description: What I liked most about this project was working with the scale - Sauron's Tower, seen on the right, is 2x the size of the Burj Khalifa Building in Dubai - which is one of the tallest buildings in the world. With that in mind, Mount Doom is huge in comparison. Scale aside, this render was also the most taxing on my computer, with a total render time of 47 hours due to the realistic fire/lava. I also just love the displacer detail on this.


Hagrid's Hut

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Programs used: Cinema 4D, Z brush, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator

Description: Another "tradigital" project. I fell in love with the vision I had of this project. [I saw] it before it was even created. Once again, no conceptualizing - straight from memory to modelling. If you can't tell, I'm very fond of the details in this piece as well.


Game Of Thrones - King's Landing Castle

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Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator

Description: This piece, to me, was what got me hooked on creating more and more detail in my pieces. The castle, as simple as it looks, was actually quite detailed. Combining a low-poly landscape with a semi-high-detailed building was a good mix. Plus, I love Game of Thrones.


Mustafar

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Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator

Description: I really enjoyed modelling the details of this structure from Star Wars - it reminded me of some of the cross-sectional pieces I did when I was younger, plus it's Star Wars - that's a winning combination. I referenced a Lego model when I was modelling this. Because the render had a lava texture to render, it took close to two days to render - transparency, reflectivity, and glow are very taxing on a render.


Gundam (Mobile Suit Gundam)

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Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator

Description: First off, Gundam Wing was [mine] and my brother's favourite anime. After that show, I was obsessed with Mechas. I drew them, collected action figures, and now I'm 3D modelling them. This was a very difficult 3D model mainly because of creating organic-mechanical shapes.


Minecraft Landscape


Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator

Description: When I started playing Minecraft at the age of 24, I was instantly hooked. Creating anything - mining materials to create buildings, low-poly/pixel environments - reminded me so much of the days when I played anything on the Nintendo 64 and built with Legos as a kid. Obviously, I couldn't pass on a game that spoke to my inner child. This piece just feels like Minecraft to me.


Protoss Nexus

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Programs used: Cinema 4D, Form Z 7 SE, Photoshop, & Illustrator

Description: The reason why I like this piece so much is not just because it's something from the game Starcraft (a game I played fanatically as a kid), but the modelling process was challenging. Originally, I was going to model everything as a whole, but realized that I could model a quarter of the structure and duplicate it. It was one of those learning-how-to-3D-model moments.


 


Inspiration for your work?


This is going to sound kind of cheesy, but I kind of owe it all to my parents. My mom and my dad have inspired me, motivated me, and kept me going with the arts. I almost fell out of college a few times, mainly because I wasn't sure if I would actually stay with the arts. I often contemplated becoming a police officer, firefighter, or a gym instructor (aquatics instructor, or personal trainer). But, they always reassured me, even when I was in complete doubt about my skills and talent. Also, I owe them a big thanks for all the art materials as a kid - Lego and the CAD paper from my dad's office.

Besides [my] parents, I am inspired heavily by video games - which is odd. I have only a few favourite video games that I'll play (right now, Kerbal Space Program, Minecraft, and Super Smash Bros for 3DS), but I would much rather watch someone play a video game than actually play it.

The most inspiring movies to me are Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. These two movies got me hooked on anything sci-fi related, which is often seen in a lot of my works.

2001: A Space Odyssey
$2.99
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter
Blade Runner
$2.99
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos

I owe a big inspiration shout out to Chris Hebert. His vector-based artwork inspired me to start the 365. I also owe a huge inspiration credit to Jesse Bray - a video game/pixel artist who also shares a similar passion for all things geeky. Another person who inspires me and pitches ideas to me, and keeps me motivated/inspired is a man by the name of Strike Boogie.

Some of the most inspiring trips I took was when I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Waters (Pennsylvania), the Fogo Island Inn (Newfoundland), and the Goetheanum in Switzerland. These places felt so picture-perfect that it didn't seem real - I actually felt like I was in a movie it was so unreal. It made me want to draw.

 
 
 

One word that best describes how Neil works:


Versatile.

I love experimenting with media. The best is when I combine media. I have a passion to be versatile, but to be strong in my versatility instead of being spread thin. I have a passion for filming/editing, photography, drawing, digital art, and music sequencing.

 

Current mobile device:


Motorola Moto G Android 4.4.4


Current computer:


I have three apple computers that I use. Each one has its own purpose:

The 27" AKA 'The Powerhouse' iMac is used soley for 3D modelling, video editing, graphics, and Minecraft. It's the powerhouse behind any of my 365 works. With 32 GB Ram, 3.5 GHz Intel i7 Processor, Nvidia graphics card, I thought it would be impossible to max this computer out in terms of its resources, but I've maxed it out in After Effects and Cinema 4D many times.

My MacBook Pro is more of an experimental computer - I have windows, Linux Ubuntu and Mac OS on it so I can play around with different software on each OS.

The other iMac (white) is used for graphic design and printing only.

 

apps, software, and tools Neil cannot live without:


I can't live without Adobe Suite - specifically Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro. These programs are just essential to any artist/designer. [For] 3D, I can't live without FormZ 7. My creative soul would probably wither up and die if these programs didn't exist. Also, my cameras are pretty key to my existence.

 

Neil's workspace setup:


At work, I use a PC - I mostly do graphic design in Corel Draw and Photoshop. It's pretty basic and straightforward - no fancy styluses or drawing apparatuses.

At home, I have my army of Macs and cameras.


Neil's best time-saving shortcut or life pro tip:


Everyday, you should be doing something you love or working towards what you love. Don't procrastinate from your goals - try to clear your mind when you work either through staying caffeinated or through positive means to stimulate the mind - like watching an inspiring movie, game, or reading a good book, going outdoors, [going on] social outings, or hitting the gym. As I see it, you can either live life uninterestingly, with no ambition, or you can give it your all. Never [allow] yourself a dull moment and always work on your goals. With that in mind, always check your attitude along the way.

The everyday thing that Neil is better at than everyone else:


I'm good at being a versatile artist. I'm good at proliferating my skills; learning something new, in terms of art, comes fairly easy to me. Even though it is good to focus on something specifically, it's good to experiment with other media before narrowing down what [a person] focuses on. My secret is to just do it and not be [too] stubborn to learn.

 

What do you listen to while you work?


I've been listening to lots of drum and bass, dubstep kind of stuff, and EDM. I also love classical music. Top tracks right now:

 

Neil's favorite to-do list manager:


When it comes to making a list, or a list manager, I don't have a program or any kind of software. I have a massive marker board at my apartment and a sketchbook devoted to writing to-do lists. At the end of every night, I write down what needs to be done - I have daily goals, weekly goals, and month goals that all relate to yearly goals. I'll also often brainstorm ideas on this marker board.

 

What are you currently reading?

Dune
$7.99
By Frank Herbert

 

the best advice Neil has ever received:


The best advice I received was given to me by my dad while I was writing a cover letter for a job. Basically he said, for any project you work on, you should always look at the details while always looking back on the bigger picture and making sure everything relates to the bigger picture. I applied this to everything else in life as well besides projects.

 

The Gadget(s) Neil cannot live without:


Nintendo 3DS & Netflix.

New Nintendo 3DS XL - Black
$224.00
Nintendo

 

Neil's Personality type:


I guess you could call me a silent extrovert. Calm on the surface, but a roaring current underneath. I'm a nerd who loves sports.

 

Neil's sleep routine:


I usually try to sleep for eight hours, but I often end up sleeping six or seven hours because I feel like there is simply not enough time in the day to get everything done, or I'll stay up thinking about concepts or drawing concepts out until 3 or 4 am sometimes. If I work with passion on a project, sleep will become last on the list of things I have to do, and before I know it, I'll be watching the sun rise.

 


How Neil recharges:


A lot of my friends unwind with partying, drinking, and going out for social gatherings.

The number one recharger for me is running laps. If I am frustrated, stressed out, or [have] an artist's block, I run it off. Maybe I sound like a sports-extremist, but it always works for me. I won't even be tired afterwards, but instead, I'll be super-charged to get things done. I'll know exactly what needs to be done and go do it without hesitation, feeling bored, or any procrastination [and then] have complete and total confidence in what I'm doing. It also helps get my sleep back on schedule.

Besides running, a casual drink also helps. But, I often find that gymnastics and weightlifting are essential for me to recharge. Physical exertion seems to clear my mind the best.

Long nature walks and being outdoors is something that also clears my mind and gets me recharged.


Fill in the blank: Neil would love to see _________ answer these same questions.

First choice:
Jesse Bray
http://mrbray.com/#/home
https://instagram.com/mrbray/

OR

Second choice:
Christopher Hebert
http://chebert.ca/
https://instagram.com/christopher.hebert/

OR

Third Choice:
Strike Boogie
https://instagram.com/strikeboogie/

 

Final thoughts:


I dare anyone who doesn't believe in themselves, or reads this, to do the 365 Challenge. Whether it's creating art like I do everyday, or researching something everyday, or being athletic for 365 days, or something positive that you'd like to do or want to get good at!

Before the 365 project, I was completely unmotivated to draw, had no confidence in my art, had no job or no school ambitions, and had nothing to look forward to. Taking on this project helped me regain my confidence as an artist. It helped me be creative everyday; helped me get a job, create goals, and follow through with them. I know I won't be able to complete 365 pieces in 365 days, but I know at least I was creative for those 365 days and that I made a positive impact on my life. Even when the 365 Challenge is done, I shall continue it until I have 365 pieces.

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