Interview with the Artist

José Alves Da Silva is an accomplished full-time freelance 3D character artist with a background in, you guessed it, architectural visualization. In fact, he holds a degree in architecture.  Breaking out of the proverbial box, he captures the attention of the CG realm with great lighting, composition, execution, and characters that scream “created by an expert.” He offers tutorials, kits, prints, and more online at  I am glad to share his comments, observations, and insights about life as a freelance 3D artist, the industry, and 3ds Max®.

Figure 1: Silva’s award-winning “Mouse Love”

Q: Can you describe your transition from architectural visualization to 3D art?

A: The transition was quite smooth. After finishing my degree in architecture I started a company dedicated to architectural visualization. It was the natural result of the fusion between my interest in 3D and the architecture degree. Even though my everyday job was related to Architecture, I loved character design, so my free time was spent developing those skills.

I always used 3ds Max for architectural visualization, but its toolset was also great for character creation. I could work in both worlds without changing my main software.

In 2009, I won the First Prize Master Award at CGSociety's XXIV Challenge, the biggest online contest for 3D illustration. As a result, I was under the spotlight for some time. It was a chance I had to grab, so I decided to dedicate myself full time to characters and that is what I have done since then.

Q: The world is saturated with incredible artists using 3ds Max, but you continue to stand out.  Is there a secret to your success, and if so, are you willing to share it?

A: I am not sure! One of the things that might help is the fact that I strive to be original in my creations. I try to avoid trends and develop my own aesthetic style. A certain uniqueness is very important to stand out from the crowd.
During my career I had the opportunity to work in almost every position of the 3D creation pipeline: concept, modeling, textures, materials, lighting, animation, hair, rendering, post production, editing. Maybe this experience shows when I develop something from start to finish.

Figure 2: Silva’s “Boxing Kangaroo”

Q: You’ve received numerous awards for publishing your work online. Can you explain how those awards help?

A: When you receive an award and are picked among all the submitted images, your image is highlighted and presented in a more visible place on these sites. This privileged visibility brings more views to your work and a higher probability of being seen by a potential client. However, the awards are just a side effect of a job well done. We have to focus on delivering the best possible work, and then good things happen!

Q: Can you describe your process for your creations?

A: In personal projects, the most important thing is to find a story worth telling. Creating 3D images can be a time-consuming task. If I am going to invest much of my time I want to be sure I stay motivated through the process and end up with a piece I can add to my portfolio.

After finding that idea, I usually start by sketching the main character and explore it in 2D. Then, I proceed to block the scene in 3ds Max with simple primitives, just to get the feeling of the overall composition. I also start working on the lighting and define the areas in which objects are more visible in order to make the composition stronger.

I will then start detailing the areas that are more important for the viewer. Then it's all about adding detail and making every element coherent with the story I want to tell. Despite being 3D, I tend to think like a 2D illustrator.

Figure 3: Silva’s “Lil’B!”

Q: Describe a typical workday as a 3d artist using 3ds Max.

A: During the character modeling stage I tend to jump a bit between software. As a character artist, I have to deal with a lot of organic modeling and in that case I use a sculpting software (like Mudbox or Zbrush). When I have to deal with hard surface or model a base for the sculpting software I use 3ds Max. I jump between the two often in order to use the best of both tools: the interactivity of sculpting with the precision and Polygon editing tools of 3ds Max.

When it comes to assembling the final scene and dealing with the cameras, lighting and materials, I use 3ds Max. For the rendering I can use the DirectX viewport if I am working in real time game characters, or a non-real time renderer like mental ray or Vray if I am working for a film or illustration.

Q: What improvements would you like to see in 3ds Max?

A: Actually some of the improvements I have wished in the past have already been implemented in 3ds Max like improved stability, faster viewport interaction (with Nitrous), improved modeling tools (Graphite modeling tools), and even the possibility of using vector images as textures have been included in 3DS Max 2014 (which I have wished for years!).

As a character artist, I would like to see the hair system improved. The Hair & Fur solution is a bit obsolete and very time consuming. There are new technical approaches to hair modeling which speed up the process that could be implemented. At the moment, I am using the Hairfarm plug-in for hair creation.

I also wish that Autodesk keeps refining the data transfer between applications. It is very useful to be able to share a model/scene between 3ds Max and Maya. It would be great if mental ray materials and its render settings could also be transferred. I use 3ds Max, but it is not unusual to work with teams that use Maya and it would be very handy.

Q: What are your favorite features in 3ds Max?

A: When I started using 3ds Max, no other software could import CAD drawings so easily, model with millimetric precision, and render with quality, all in one package. I guess that is why it is so widely used for Architectural Visualization.
My favorite features still have to do with these capabilities. The polygon modeling tools and the Graphite tool set provide plenty of options and solutions when it comes to modeling.

The modifier stack logic is very dear to me as it allows me to easily keep a model's history and go back and make changes that will propagate along the stack. It is extremely powerful.

The CAT rig system is another of my favorite features. It is highly versatile, as you can easily create a rig for very different creatures, no matter how many heads, limbs, or tails they have. Also love its animation layer capabilities that allow me to store different poses.

The speed of the Nitrous viewports was an immediate favorite as it handles a lot more polygons than the previous solution. It makes the task of handling heavy meshes a lot more comfortable.

Figure 4: Silva’s “The Hairy Old Guy”

Q: What do you believe the future will be like for 3d artists?

A: As a character artist, I guess that the main tendencies are the progressive reduction of technical barriers and interface interference, with the artist getting closer to his or her subject and having to spend less time dealing with technical parts. The artist will be able to dedicate more time to the art subject disregarding polygon limitations, UVs handling, or topology issues.

The other is the elimination of render time. With all this GPU power, the tendency will be for everything to be real time. No more waiting for Global Illumination, Subsurface Scattering, Caustics, Reflections, etc. We will be navigating, modeling, and animating directly on the final renders.

Q: Do you have any advice for artists who would like to follow in your footsteps?

A: With the tendency of software tools to become more user friendly and interactive, the technical barriers will fall and the artist will prevail. So it is very important to empower the artist, which means gaining/investing in art knowledge. Some art competences like color theory, composition, anatomy, or acting are timeless. Software will keep evolving and changing (and we have to learn it) but knowledge of art fundamentals will always be present in your work.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with AUGIWorld readers?

A:  In the last years I have written several tutorials and articles.  If you would like to read those tutorials, I have compiled them in a section of my website so that everyone can find them. Look in the “For You>Tutorials” menu at

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