Art Spotlight: Serendipity

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Hi, I’m Fatimeh, an animator from London and the artist behind the piece featured in this blog post. I have a huge interest in animation specifically, but I enjoy all types of 3D/2D art. Mostly I like to create things based on storytelling, games, and music.

Since graduating, I’ve mainly been working as a freelance 3D Artist and luckily had the opportunity to work long-term with some really lovely clients.

I predominantly use a mixture of Maya, Photoshop, Zbrush and 3D Coat for a lot of my personal work and have found a pretty comfortable work-flow using these together, despite not being too familiar with them as a student.

Sadly, due to health problems last year, I had to put a pause on freelancing, but thankfully, I’m back since recovering and am currently in the process of rebuilding my skills and putting together new work.

That brings me to the project I’ll be talking about in this blog post, which I started with those two goals in mind.


The idea for this piece came about after watching BTS’ ‘Serendipity’ Teaser music video. I was pleasantly surprised by the visuals and how they really worked with the sound to create a unique tone/feeling. Although it was nothing too ‘out-there’, the simple use of colour + composition in its cinematography really drew me in and I wanted to see if I could recreate that to some extent.

serendipity BTS inspiration

I drew largely from the shots above—in particular, using the window as a way to combine features from other shots into one composition and give myself a bit more creative freedom. Notably, I really wanted to use the imagery of a moon in the night sky, which ended up having a significant presence in the shot to really enhance the atmosphere and give it the ambience I think it needed.


After just putting a 2D illustration together, I thought it was time to try to bring this to life via the use of 3D models + animated elements, so I began blocking stuff out in Maya.

Quickly I decided that I wanted the piece to keep the illustrated/painterly aesthetic and tried to stick with simple, low-poly shapes, keeping clean silhouettes where possible, knowing that the textures would be doing most of the heavy lifting.

Using other visual references was extremely useful—even if I deviated often, they served as a good guide for the props I wasn’t very familiar with.

serendipity modeling

I recommend using shortcuts where appropriate to cut down on unnecessary modelling time, and utilising alpha maps properly is one good way to do this. The majority of my background elements, including all of the clouds, are all flat planes, saving me a lot of hassle modelling anything and possibly even reinforcing the overall illustrated style of the piece as they are flat images. There are lots of great YouTube videos demonstrating how to do this (for example).


Getting fairly accurate lighting information painted straight onto the model from scratch was tricky; the reference images I had could only get me so far, so I found it helpful to recreate the light in the scene as best I could in a separate file using Maya’s lights/appropriate materials, then baking that lighting information and using that as a guide when I needed to.

The only major light source this time around was the moon, so I set about creating a really strong point of contrast below the window and towards the centre of the room, i.e., the focal point, which worked out composition-wise. This contrast was further accentuated by the room’s doorway, which almost works as a sort of border, blending into the pure black background and drawing attention to the light pouring in from the window.

serendipity lighting

Software-wise, I had a lot of trouble with 3D-Coat initially, as is often the case when using a piece of software for the first time. I found that despite help from tutorials, it really just came down to trial-and-error to get the desired result. This phase slowly became the most time-consuming and tricky.

In the end, I’m really glad I stuck with it. Once I got the hang of using all the tools, things got faster and a lot more fun + I really found the value of 3D-Coat in being able to paint directly on to the model itself.

As for brushes, the 2-3 standard hard/soft brushes served me pretty well, but if I ever wanted to just bring stuff straight into Photoshop, I could use the ‘Edit Projections’ feature and have access to all my regular painting tools. Mikibencz has a pretty good tutorial on how to use projections effectively:

Again, references were a huge help here, even more so considering the fact that my models were relying on texture-detail pretty substantially. That being said, I made sure to keep with the painterly style by consistently checking my work and not sticking too closely to reference images.


When it comes to animation, I took a lot of inspiration from the work of other Artists on Sketchfab, in particular, this piece by emiliestabell:

Ultimately I went with the idea of using smaller animated props, etc, to breathe some life into the piece, instead of any huge activity. I had animated elements placed in the foreground, middle ground and background, even if they were just floating dust particles, and I think the subtle motion works to sell the vibe I was going for.

I gave special attention to the clouds, keeping optical flow in mind; I made sure that the frontmost clouds would move faster, progressively getting slower the further away they were positioned.

Featuring animated elements in an otherwise static model is something I’d definitely recommend others to consider, if possible!


Lastly, Sketchfab’s post-processing filters can be super useful in making the finishing touches to your work. It’s worth trying new things, playing around with the settings and ‘polishing’ until you’re happy with the results. I’ve found that the ‘bloom’ filter, in particular, can be extra effective when it comes to changing the mood of a piece, which held true in my case.

sketchfab 3d editor settings

Thank you for reading, really appreciate all the positive feedback and nice comments!

Fatimeh on Twitter


About the author

Fatimeh Najafi


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