Workshop spotlight: motenai - "I like how much freedom I have in my creation”
Hello, Andrea, let’s start at the very beginning. How did you get hooked on creating Dota 2 cosmetics?
A former colleague of mine introduced me to the game, and then told me that like TF2, Dota also had a workshop open for everyone to create items. Considering I’ve always been intrigued by the TF2 model, I decided to give it a try with a couple of simple items. My second item (Direstone Liferipper for Necrophos) got accepted pretty fast into the game, that's when I started seeing the potential of the workshop, and started planning to do more stuff for it. After about six months I started working on the Dota 2 workshop full time and that's what I've been doing since then.
Have you ever studied design/modeling?
Not really, I started "playing" with 3D art at the end of the 90s when I was about 17 (mostly because my cousin had an early version of 3D Studio on his computer), and that's when I got hooked into it, learning everything I could through books and the few tutorials you could find online back then.
Who encouraged you to continue with your passion? Was it difficult to justify the many hours spent doing what you like?
Mmm I didn't receive any particular push from anyone at the beginning, it seemed natural to me to get interested in 3D art, like a way to unify my strong love for both videogames and drawing. Maybe my parents weren't so happy about how much time I spent in front of the computer, but after all it paid off in the long run :)
Which was your first item and what have you felt when you first submitted it?
My very first item was the Flying Desolator for Bounty Hunter, it was mostly a small test done in a couple of days of spare time, to see how the workshop was and what feedback I would get. I got really excited when the day after I opened Steam and I had 70+ notifications from comments left by people. In retrospect that's one of the things that motivated me to create more items.
How did feedback affect your work?
Feedbacks from Dota 2 players are usually a good incentive to produce more models. For more artistic feedback though, I usually show my work at different stages to other 3D artists (not only from the workshop) and hear what they have to say about it.
How many hours have you invested in your work, and is it worth?
Usually a set takes me a very variable amount of time, depending on many factors. If I produce a set completely on my own it can take me more than a month to complete it. If I collaborate with a concept artist usually the time is much shorter. The hardest and most time consuming part for me is always to come up with a good idea and being able to translate it into a pleasing design.
Also making the loading-screen illustration takes me always more time than I would like to spend on it, mostly because I’m mainly a 3D artist, and making a good 2D illustration is quite a struggle for me.
What was the set that gave you the most trouble and why?
I wouldn't say trouble, but certainly the most controversial would be Vigilance of the Manticore for Skywrath Mage, aka the "red skywrath". Many players didn't like it because of the new take on the color scheme, although that was supposed to be an alternative version, with the main version being still blue, gold and white.
How about the most popular set you’ve created?
Hard to say, maybe the Dazzle for Vanskor, Darkclaw Emissary is worked on together with Robo and AbyssFX. It's probably the only set I’ve done that was a super-rare drop, soI guess that made it quite wanted by players.
I was about to ask you, how do you feel when you see your items used by pros or by the normal pub players?
It's always a nice surprise, but I got to say I don't see my items in game that often.
I got really excited when Puppey used my Divine Flame Lina during TI5 though, I went to thank him personally and gave him a print of the set artwork :)
Each and every set you create is truly amazing and a bit different from everything else we can find in the workshop. Where do all your ideas come from?
I think that like many other artists I get inspiration from lots of sides like video games, books, movies, master artists. Everything I find stimulating really. Recently for example, I fell in love with Peter Mohrbacher's Angelarium. I certainly take a lot of inspiration also from Dark Souls (which is my favorite game), and the mood of Dark Fantasy in general. For a future set i would like to do something in a Lovecraftian style.
From all your work we can find in the workshop, what’s your favorite?
I like most of the stuff I’ve produced in these years. Apostle of Decay for Necrophos is among my favorites if I really have to choose. Others favourites would be Divine Flame for Lina, and Echoes of the Eyrie for Vengeful Spirit, mostly because I used those heroes often. I also have a special feeling for the last set I worked on, Jorogumo for Broodmother.
Do you still have time to play? If so, do you often think about the cosmetics of a hero and the things that you can design for it?
I play Dota kind of rarely these days to be honest, but this doesn't affect much my choice to work on a specific hero. Usually I come up with some idea for a cool design I would like to create, and then I think how and on which hero I could make it work.
What do you like about your job and what do you hate?
I certainly like how much freedom I have in my creation. I think that's the number one reason why I got into Dota 2 workshop full time. That's also why I choose to work on my own idea most of the times, even if it takes me much longer to finish a project. Another very good part of this job is that I don't have time constraints or deadlines, but this aspect can also backfire in the long run so you need a great deal of self-discipline to keep producing at a good pace.
The downside of this job is that you might start feeling lonely after a while. In the game industry one of things I like the most is working with other people that share your own passion for games and art.
To be a workshop artist means you're probably going to sacrifice that part of social life you would have working in a gamedev studio.
How has the whole workshop thing changed during the last few years?
Well the workshop has become increasingly challenging and saturated with high quality sets through the years, but that's normal. With the increasing success of Dota 2 as a game, and it's "open to everyone" business model, a lot of professional game artists have their way in the workshop and found success, and this of course caused even more people to give it a go.
I think things are calming down a bit recently, and the "golden" time of the Dota 2 workshop is a bit behind our shoulders now, but who knows, maybe Valve will do something to revamp it in the future, like they did recently with TF2.
You worked with Arteezy for the EG Naga Siren set. What was the most challenging part when you created that? Was it difficult to communicate with him?
The Naga Siren set was created by myself and Pior, a very talented fellow artist, in collaboration with EG. We had planned it to be an evolving set, with new pieces of armor appearing at lvl 6 and lvl 11. That was certainly the hardest part we found in the development of it. Unfortunately due to EG policy, we never really had a chance to communicate with Arteezy.
Should we expect a new collaboration with a pro player anytime soon?
Probably not in the near future.
What plans do you have next? Do you ever think of doing something else?
For now I still have sets that I want to finish. I'm working on a Lich, Axe, and eventually I want to get my hands on Spectre. After that, I don't know really. I might consider moving on onto something new, maybe try indie game development.
Do you have a favorite workshop artist?
Many really, through the years I got to meet and be friend with a lot of workshop artists.
I wouldn't know how to express which one is my favourite, Anuxi, Ziedrich, Chiz, Organized Chaos, Danidem, Jeremy Klein, Katzeimsack these are all top notch artists who created spectacular sets for the workshop.
Do you have any tips or advice for beginners? What they should expect, how to practice, how to get started etc.
Well whenever someone asks me how to start being a 3D artists, the first thing one should have clear is the reason why. If it's to make money, or because from outside it seems a fun, easy job, it might be the wrong drive.
I think the reason why all the best 3D artists I’ve met are self-taught is because they have always been driven by an incredible passion and love for this art. Once you have the right motivation to drive you, learning will be part of the fun. Starting has never been easier as well. Unlike when I started, Internet is now full of tutorials and educational material for every possible software. You can also use free software like Blender 3D, Sculpris and Xnormal, and avoid to buy anything expensive. Learn the basics, practice, join forums and talk with people, ask them what you could improve, dissect the work of professional artists and learn from them. There are many things one can do to improve.
It will take time, but a lot less than when I started :)
Well that's all, thank you for taking the time to talk with us and hope we get to see your Broodmother set in game soon!