Molecule Profile: Martin Nebelong
Martin Nebelong (also known as Martinitydk in the Dreamiverse) specialises in Dreams - so much so that they gave him the job title of Dreams Specialist (yeah, we’re jealous too!). But it’s not just a title: Martin’s extensive Dreams skillset and knowledge have crafted some of the most impressive creations that DreamShaping has ever seen. Here, we chat to him about traditional drawing skills, freelancing alongside employment, and how creating in Dreams feels like jamming in a band.
Hi Martin! What do you do here at Media Molecule?
I'm actually a bit of a special Molecule in a way, because I only work part time for Media Molecule and have been doing so for a few years now. I work for Mm around a week per month give or take, as I'm also a freelance artist in my own time. But I'm a Dreams Specialist, which is part of the Outreach department of Mm. Outreach is the department where we talk with external clients, including different companies who want to use Dreams for advertising or a special event.
I've been working with a lot of different clients through this role, and I think it's quite an exciting part of Media Molecule actually, because I came into Dreams with the idea of using Dreams as a professional art tool. And not only as a tool in Dreams, but also as a tool that could be utilised in all the areas of work where you would normally go to other 3D tools or more traditional 2D tools instead.
So what Outreach projects have you worked on so far at Mm?
Currently I'm working on a movie project called A Winter’s Journey, and actually I started working on that project separately as a freelance artist, just working directly with the company behind the movie. We were using Dreams to create concept art for the new movie and some actual scenes for the movie as well, and at some point Media Molecule got involved in the project too. It’s very exciting, as the movie is based on a German musical piece by the classical composer Franz Schubert called Winterreise, and nothing like this has ever been done before. There have been some great animations made in Dreams, but nothing like a feature length movie, which really highlights the power of Dreams as a tool for creativity. Without spoiling too much, the song cycle is about a young poet who falls in love with a girl that he can’t be with, so he embarks on a long journey.
Tell us about the freelance side of your work! How did you become a professional artist?
I'm actually turning 40 this year and I've been doing professional art work for close to 20 years now. Here in Denmark I did some work for Lego, but I actually first started out doing traditional illustration. Then when I was around 23 I enrolled in the Danish design school for five and a half years, and got a bachelor's degree in digital design and also a master's degree. The digital design course I did was specifically design for interactive experiences like games and websites. So I'm traditionally schooled, and drew with pencil on paper for many years and then slowly transitioned into doing digital art with a Wacom tablet in tools like Photoshop. My interest in 3D art only started later on, but for the last six years or so, it's been the main part of my work. I design in 3D mostly, and used to work more in VR with an Oculus headset back in the day. And then eventually I found Dreams and slowly started transitioning to now doing all of my work in Dreams for a lot of different clients.
How do you think Dreams compares to the other design programs you've worked with?
I think the process of working in Dreams is actually fun, and freeing. It feels very creative compared to all the other tools I've used before. Even with more basic tools like Photoshop, you open the program and you start to draw. But still I feel like a lot of the more traditional tools are not really made with the artist in mind. When I work in other 3D programs or when I work in other drawing programs, I feel like there's a lot of unnecessary steps I have to go through to tell a story, whereas in Dreams when I start creating there I'm placed directly in the story, in a way. In another tool I would have to worry about things like polygon counts and dragging vertices around with my mouse, and that creates a disconnect for the artist. When I’m in Dreams, I'm using two motion controllers to build in 3D space, which to me feels a lot more natural because I'm making 3D worlds. So why should I do that on a flat surface when I can use both my hands in a 3D space, using Dreams?
Do you ever work in VR at all?
I think a lot of the people that follow me on social media(opens in new tab) are actually surprised when I say that I'm doing everything without the VR headset - most of the time at least - because when you look at a video of something being created in Dreams, it looks like a VR sculpting session, right? But I had a few years before working in Dreams where I basically worked full-time strapped into a VR headset. It was an Oculus Rift headset that I worked in, and while I loved the freedom of sculpting with both my hands, I didn't really enjoy having to put on that VR headset and be in there for like, 7 hours. It felt a little bit claustrophobic and especially on a hot summer day like we've had this year, it’s not really fun. So I really enjoyed that aspect of Dreams where it's not mandatory that you have to wear the headset. You can put on the VR headset if you need that extra sense of depth and then you can take it off again and be back in the real world. So I do enjoy working in VR, but it's not something that I do most of the time. I guess 5% of my work time is spent in VR now.
Your creations have had a fair bit of attention on Twitter(opens in new tab) and social media. How do you feel people respond when they see that something is made in Dreams compared to a specific professional games development tool?
I've had quite a lot of reactions from people who thought that I was doing all of this in a competing game engine like Unreal or Unity. I've always tried to view Dreams as a very open-ended tool where everything is possible. So whenever I see something really impressive online posted by an artist, working with other tools, I get this urge to try and do the same thing in Dreams because I want to prove that it's possible to make these things in a fun environment where you don't have to rely on very complex processes.
What led you to working in the games industry?
For the first few years of my professional career, I mostly did advertising work. So I did storyboards and illustrations for companies like Lego, where I would basically just get a brief and I would create something in Photoshop. During those first years I had a growing interest in learning about 3D tools as well, because it was maybe 16 or 17 years ago that I started experimenting with using 3D in my work. Back then, there was a slow movement from illustrators towards using 3D as part of their workflows, because if you have to draw a city, for instance, it's very useful to make a simple 3D mockup of that city and then just draw over that. I felt like I needed to learn how to use 3D tools as well just to improve my 2D work.
What tips or advice do you have for anyone who is looking to get into digital art?
The one thing that I find is most important - and I think that everybody should work on even if they are aiming to become a 3D artist - is to work on their basic art skills. Don’t shy away from having a pencil and a piece of paper and actually learning how to draw. There are so many different options in art software; different tools and plugins and resources etc that you can use in your work that you tend to get lost in all the options you have. I think it's important to go back to the basics, learn how to draw anatomy, attend life drawing classes, study the old Masters, study colour theory, composition: all of those things will help your 3D work, so I wouldn't advise anybody to jump straight into the world of doing 3D art first.
In terms of portfolio and trying to get a start in the industry, I would advise people to go with what they think is the most fun. I've always strived to have fun when I'm working. So try to direct your portfolio and your body of work into doing what you find interesting, because that's gonna show in the quality of the work as well. If you do things that you think are interesting and fun, there's a good chance that, at some point, you're gonna start doing that professionally.
Mm staff seem to have a lot of interesting items on their desks. What's on your desk at the moment?
At the moment it’s a bit of a mess. I have a lot of devices and weird things lying around, I have my Move controllers lying right next to me. Of course I have my Wacom tablet in front of me, and then I have two anatomy figures that I'm really fond of. These are pretty large actually and a little bit grim-looking. Figures of a man and a woman with the muscles showing and bones showing and everything. Then I also have a very small synthesiser that I always feel like I should use more, but I don't get time for it because I'm sculpting and drawing instead. And I have some toys from the kids as well. I have three kids so they usually put things on my desk, like Lego characters.
To wrap up, what are your favourite Dreams, and are there any that you'd like to recommend?
It's so difficult after a few years of Dreams being out in the wild, there's so much good stuff in there. The first one I want to mention is Haus of Bevis, by bevis2. It’s a very large museum-like setting where you walk through these holes and have different weird experiences. That experience really impressed me in terms of how much you can actually make in a scene in Dreams. I think prior to playing, I felt like Dreams would only be good for small spaces or pretty simple scenes. But that scene really opened my eyes to the potential of building quite extensive sets in Dreams, and I've come to learn that you can make very large and very detailed scenes and Dreams without hitting any limits.
Another scene that also I think is from the early days of Dreams is called The Encounter, by bigsurf77 and marcilein98, which is a sci-fi experience. And it's one of those experiences that you look at and you feel like there’s no way this could be made in Dreams on a gaming console. Since this scene, there's been a lot of experiences like that in Dreams where you feel like 'How the hell is this possible?', especially considering that Dreams is PlayStation 4 software even when it's running on a PlayStation 5. The Encounter was the sci-fi experience that made me so inspired to try and make something like that myself.
Then there’s a more recent experience, which I guess is all of this creator's experiences, but it's a creator called solid1156. And they’ve made some very impressive scenes and Dreams, mostly still images, or at least scenes with a fixed camera with a bit of movement. They make these sci-fi scenes, that look a lot like traditional concept paintings. And I love when Dreams is used in that painterly fashion as well, because it's something Dreams does really well compared to other 3D tools out there.
And then I also have to mention a user here called Parkderk. The first one of their creations that I saw was called Burger and Fries, which was very, very nicely done. So this creator moves in the realm of the more realistic creations usually and you know, a lot of my own creations are in this category, so I always enjoy seeing others working in that same style. There are some really good examples here I've seen of scenes that just really look incredible, I think.
The last one I want to mention here, of course, is John Beech. Everybody knows John, and I think actually one of the first videos I saw of Dreams was of John sculpting a mech in Dreams and walking around with that in a sci-fi environment that I was just blown away by. The potential of a tool like that on a gaming console was a huge inspiration and to this day seeing the stuff that he's working on internally at Media Molecule is always exciting.
The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.