The low-poly landscape: a conversation with BIGO

Rodrigo Oliveira Cerci is BIGO, a low-poly illustration artist from São Paulo, Brazil. We got to know Rodrigo personally at 3D Basecamp 2018: aside from being a friend of SketchUp, he’s also an incredibly talented illustrator and game artist. We suggest you pair this read with a perusal of BIGO’s Behance. It’s more than a little bit of fun.

BIGO's Hoth Hanger
 

Let’s begin at the beginning: what video games did you play growing up?
Well, video games were a big deal for me and my brother. We grew up playing SuperNES and PC games. I think Ultima Online and the series really got to me and got me interested in doing art for games, Fallout 2and Little Big Adventure (a French game) are important to me too. And Morrowind really changed my view about games. It changed my view about a lot of things, actually; it was mind-blowing at the time. :)

Ultima Online, courtesy of OUjournal.com
Ultima Online: isometric universes like this one inspired a generation of pixel artists (Image courtesy of UOJournal.com)

Okay, now let’s fast forward to the very end. Tell us about the work you are doing now?

Right now I’m working at Pixodust Games, we are a small team based in São Paulo working on a (super secret) mobile game project. It’s been a blast working full time as a game artist. I’m really enjoying, and putting SketchUp to stress here, pushing it to the limits and learning a bunch of new ways to use it.

Back to the beginning again: how did you get into 3D modeling, and what were your first impressions of SketchUp?

Well, I graduated with an architecture degree from the State University of Londrina, in Paraná my home state <3. At college, I got in contact with SketchUp and a bunch of other softwares. But SketchUp always got to me the most because it was easy-to-use and also just the looks of it. I could model looking at what I would get on screen, instead of looking at a bunch of wireframes and four little screens (Front View, Top View, et cetera). The simplicity of it really drew me in. I like simple stuff. And please, don’t misunderstand simple for lack of depth.

Architectural concept precursing BIGO's low-poly work
A concept from Rodrigo’s architecture studies. More and more, we are fascinated by the alternate career paths that architecture students travel.

What attracted you to low-poly modeling and illustration?

I admit that I always wanted to do pixel art. I love eBoy illustrations, I spent hours at Pixel Jointcontemplating the marvelous artists that post work there and I tried some pixel art stuff. But I’m not a good 2D artist: it’s hard for me to understand shadow and lighting in a 2D space…  So I started doing “pixel art” in 3D in SketchUp! And I really loved doing that. :D

BIGO's city scene
BIGO dials down SketchUp's camera focal length to near zero, taking a little bit of math out of the pixel art illustrations.

There are lots of 3D modeling options out there. Why is SketchUp a good fit for you?

It’s good because it’s simple, and despite the “simple” aspect it has a lot of depth once you customize the software for your use and workflow. There are a bunch of plugins that really make your life better, and you can shortcut everything for convenience. I set up shortcuts for almost every single command I use. The other important thing is the visuals -- may be the most important thing. I model in SketchUp seeing the final result that I want to get. Some part of that has to do with a style that I am constantly proposing to myself while working in SketchUp. Even when I worked with architecture illustrations, I could show great images with just what I had in the viewport, no need to render and all that stuff. That is a really important thing to me and SketchUp does it pretty well.

The Blue Sorcerer
It’s not hard to trace the SketchUp DNA in BIGO’s characters

A lot of people reading this don’t know much about these kinds of illustrations: what can you tell us about the Low Poly community. Are there lots of people working in this medium?

Sure there is! Nowadays it’s way easier to publish games than it was in the past. You can make and publish your games yourself: there are a lot of people doing great games single handed. And low poly art is growing in a way because it’s way less time consuming to do than the AAA textures models -- the ones you see in Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Low poly is not worse or better; it’s different and it draws in a lot of people.

There are amazing low polygon artists doing great stuff out there. Check out Kentucky Route Zero, by CardBoard Computer. It’s one of the most beautiful games I ever saw (both in graphics and story) and the art is very “simple”. There is a charm in that. PixelJoint.com is the best place to go to see more inspiring works, and eBoy are the grandfathers of pixel art. Pedro Medeiros is a suuuper great pixel artist too (and Brazilian!).

Ed note: BIGO is one of many talented artists using SketchUp in low-poly illustration and game development: TarikTolunay, Studio Oleomingus, and KenneyNL are others we follow.

What are the core different types of projects you create?

Right now I’m really deep into game development, doing characters, environments, and art ( 99% done in SketchUp). But over the past few years, I also worked with Illustrations for magazines, educational books, cards for board games, and created art for video games. All with SketchUp by my side.

Warrior Princesses
BIGO’s warrior princesses, a project designed to improve the female form factors of his template characters

Walk us through how you think and work on character development. What are your favorite parts of bringing your low poly people to life?

Well, normally, I gather some reference images of the character I want to create, or a bunch of references of stuff that I want to have on hand: a helmet from one source, a gun from another, Sometimes I sketch up something up before creating, even if it’s a very simple sketch. That guides the modeling process: if you start from nowhere, you’ll get a little lost along the way.

BIGO's character template
Rodrigo’s template models are character studies from which evolve along with his artistic curiosity.

From there I pick my character template model (which I’m constantly updating and tweaking) and start to create clothing and objects on it. There is no secret, you just keep modeling things, always balancing details and proportions. When I have my character ready I study a way to pose him, with photos and references, and pose the character rotating and moving limbs and body. I really like the entire process, especially adding details to it! That's what breathes life and character to the piece I think :)

The barbershop model
The barbershop: where Rodrigo begins to infuse character templates with distinct personalities

If you were master of the universe, what extensions would be part of SketchUp tomorrow?

Wooow! That’s a cool question. CleanUp from thomthom definitely: can't live without it anymore, so that’s a must. Round Corner would be awesome too, and let’s not forget Joint PushPull both from Fredo. Material Tools is a great tool that saves me a lot of time, too, and CompoScene.


ompoScene is an extension originally created to speed the compositing of 3D models for comic book, manga, and video game art. It’s particularly handy for generating visualization styles (and corresponding export scenes) for work in Photoshop.

What keyboard shortcuts would you be crippled without?

Well, most, if not all, of my shortcuts are customized. There is even a custom shortcut that I found a custom way to make! ‘Zoom Selection’ is a way of zooming to the extents of the object you have selected. I don’t know if it’s a bug, but you can only set this shortcut if you actually have an object selected. If you have nothing selected it will not appear in the shortcut list. It’s because when you select it, the command appears on the Context Menu on Edit. I found this by chance :D

Follow BIGO on Behance or Instagram, or watch his 3D Basecamp 2018 session below for a more detailed look at his workflow. Happy sketching!

About the Author

Mark Harrison

A product manager on the SketchUp team, Mark is also an avid Colorado outdoorsman. You’re likely to find him roaming Boulder's mountain bike trails, scaring up marmots, pikas, and black bears.

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