Interviewing Idols: David Ariew

Colorado-based 3D artist and educator, David Ariew, is a designer so many of us know. Known to the community affectionately as “Octane Jesus”, David has taught us so much about the software we use. From his free tutorials to his paid courses, and his website's directory of 3D content, he is an enormous asset to the 3D community, and it was great to chat with him!

When I look back on my previous work, from university until now, there’s so much knowledge that I learned from David that has been put into my work. As a junior designer, learning the ropes in the massive world that is the 3D industry, you can be swallowed up by the number of tutorials available. The best are clear, easy to follow, and also easy to refer back to. David’s tutorials are all amazing, and I’ve only heard great things about his Octane course too!

There’s something so ethereal and wonderous about David’s work. His imaginary landscapes are incredible, and his animation is so smooth. It’s clear that he has spent many years learning this craft, and his clients obviously can see this! He’s worked for the likes of Deadmau5, Zedd, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Excision, and his NFT’s have gone global. It’s clear he’s pretty good at this 3D thing!

Why does he inspire me?

Many of you will be familiar with David’s work, it’s top level stuff! I’m sure many of you have heard of him from his tutorials spread across the internet. He’s got loads of tutorials on youtube with School Of Motion, the official Mograph channel, EJ Hassenfratz's brilliant channel just some of the places his content is featured. David has a talent for teaching, so much so that he has developed his own Octane-based course for Cinema 4D over on School Of Motion called “Lights, Camera, Render!”. I’ve spoken to a few people who have completed the course, and all have mentioned how well-spoken David is, not to mention how much interesting content is worked through!

Along with the tutorials, David frequently is a guest on the podcasts, and as featured with the guys at Kitbash on their podcast. It’s amazing how much knowledge of the community David has, and you do wonder how these sorts of people remember it all! It’s clear that David immerses himself in the 3D space regularly and has become a great contributor to its growth and success.

Another way that David has helped the community grow, is through his incredible library of tutorials on his website. Normally on resource pages online, you’re lucky to find more than a few links (even then some can be incredibly niche to one skill). David’s page literally has hundreds, of entries. All are labeled with their creator and updated regularly. It’s wonderful to be able to scroll through that page, pick a tutorial that you fancy, and know that it’ll be top quality. The page also includes links to many paid courses, some of which David has completed himself (so you know they are worth it!)

The Interview part

I was lucky enough to be able to ask David some questions about himself and his career. I hope this’ll give you a little bit of an insight into his life, personal and commercial as well as his design process. It’s not every day you get to interview an idol!

1. Who are you, and how did you start your journey into the world of design?

Hey Charlie! My first venture into the industry was making some concert visuals for Dave Matthews Band in 2010. At first, like so many others, I soaked up everything like a sponge! I taught myself editing, color grading, DIT, VFX, 2D motion design, and 3D motion design. I was obsessed with tutorials by Nick Campbell and Andrew Kramer and I had so much fun doing any and all work in post. You could say I started as a generalist, and over the years I gradually honed in on 3D work as my passion,

but I don’t regret doing those other jobs at all. They trained my eye and taste, and all of those skills are extremely useful in 3D work!

Around 2014, I took a dive into freelance work and never looked back. It was scary at first, but well worth the nerves! In 2017, my buddy EJ Hassenfratz asked me to create some Octane tutorials for his channel, and I jumped at the opportunity. Especially since I’d learned so much from the generosity of other educators like EJ. It was extremely gratifying to see the reactions of students and how much they got out of the content. At one point, someone dropped a comment on one of my videos, calling me “Octane Jesus” because of my Jesus look, and it caught fire. From then on I was Octane Jesus to the community, and the joke took on new forms with friends and students of mine photoshopping my face onto Jesus’ body. The lesson here was that if the internet brands you, you just gotta roll with it! My education journey peaked in 2020 when I released my class, “Lights, Camera, Render” with School of Motion, and it really was my magnum opus because I worked on that course for a year straight and basically downloaded the content of my brain into it.

Along the way in my freelance journey, I got to work for artists like Beeple, Deadmau5, Zedd, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Excision, Mike Diva, and Corridor Digital. Along with this, I got to work for brands like Intel, KFC, and Magic Leap. I also got into a habit of taking on ambitious projects like full CG music videos and crafting my own style of tightly-synced concert visuals. In late 2020, NFTs absolutely exploded and I jumped in headfirst. I’ve been full-time in the space since then, and I’ve had the pleasure of creating NFTs with Beeple and Madonna, as well as for Pak, and doing a drop with Sotheby’s in collab with the famous Chinese artist Jia Aili.

It’s been a wild ride, and I have no clue where I’m going next, but to me, that’s exciting and energizing!

2. Could you give some insight into your creative process?

I have zero drawing skills. I absolutely wish I did, because nothing beats pencil and paper for drafting out ideas and compositions quickly. AI is becoming a very helpful assistant here, but if I need something very custom I’ll hire a traditional artist or just get my wife Chelsea to sketch something out quickly for me.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling like I want to experiment more, I’ll dive right into 3D and build a composition from scratch myself. Storyboards are great for getting clear on what you want, but sometimes I love to just find the composition and shot completely in 3D. Which I’m sure we all as 3D artists know, can create unexpected and awesome results. There’s no right answer here, and there are tons of options. Beyond that, I typically render playblasts and cut them together to make sure shots are working across the edit, then I’ll render low sample and low-resolution shots to get the lighting and texturing down, and check any other details for errors before committing to the final render.

3.​ Where do you get your inspiration for projects? Who inspires you!

It’s tempting to say that blockbuster films like those from the Marvel Comic Universe are the most inspiring, but often they’re such a cut above what we can do as solo artists and in small teams that it’s extremely overwhelming. It makes me feel like I’m a decade or more behind. At the same time, when I watch films like those, it’s always with an acute awareness that thousands of specialist artists created what I’m watching, which is so different from the generalist positions most of us are in right now.

The most inspiring pieces to me are from individual artists, whether that’s title sequences led by Raoul Marks, Ian Hubert’s insanely photorealistic cyberpunk work out of Blender, projects like Astartes, Woosung Kang’s recent concert visuals for Odesza, or the work of many NFT artists like NessGraphics, Ryan Talbot, Raf Grassetti, Gavin Shapiro, and Min Shi to name a few.

Often though, I don’t look for inspiration outside of myself. I love the process of experimentation and coming up with looks that are completely unique to myself, and pulling all the tools out of my belt to create something that’s original, almost like an inventor would but in partnership with these weird 3D apps we use.

To me, that’s the most satisfying feeling, when you look at your work and feel that you’re putting something totally new out into the world that was born directly from your imagination.

4. What are some of the largest challenges you had to overcome during your artmaking process?

I’d say that until recently, I didn’t have a style of art that was my own. Sure, I had developed my own workflow and specialized in things like camera movement and lighting, but each client's job was so different from the next that I never felt like I had a chance to really dive deep into a style of art that felt like something I’d pioneered.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though! You learn to become extremely versatile and great at problem-solving through that process, but you also miss the journey of becoming a true artist. NFTs allowed me to do just that, and I worked for a year and a half almost exclusively on creating psychedelic 3D mirror box art, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in my career. The challenge was overcoming that hurdle of discovering my own style and interests, rather than just doing what clients told me to do.

For anyone looking to venture out on their own as an artist,

the transition from client work to being a true artist can be pretty difficult, but it can also become the perfect time for self discovery and change.

5. ​Do you have any big designs/projects in the works or anything that excites you about the future of your career?

I’m always excited about my career because it’s unpredictable. There have been so many twists and turns and I have no clue what’s coming next. I’m working on a crazy NFT project at the moment that involves the first GIA-certified diamonds to originate from the blockchain. It’s a marriage between my 3D art and physical diamond pieces, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!

I’m also going to be starting another round of concert visuals for Zedd in the near future, which is one of the most creatively fulfilling and rewarding jobs I’ve done. I have tons of freedom to create what I enjoy and get super OCD about syncing my visuals to the music and seeing all of Zedd’s fans trip out to my work at a live show is an amazing feeling.

I’ve also got an upcoming Nifty Gateway drop in December where I’m going to create a series of futuristic car races with wild energy. Finally, early next year, my wife and I are going to resurrect this character we created named Bumblemouse, and partner with an amazing concept artist and sculptor, N8Main, to bring him and his universe to life. I’ll be deep in the weeds learning character animation and rigging, and I can’t wait!

6.​ I’m sure most of us know you through your tutorials on Youtube and School of Motion. Have you always enjoyed teaching, or is it something that has grown through your career?

Funnily enough, I grew up around teachers! My dad is a philosophy professor and my mom is an education librarian, so teaching always seemed valuable and important to me, but I didn’t have any opportunities to practice teaching. For many years I was extremely into swing dancing, and that was one of the first things I taught, and I absolutely loved sharing my passion for it with everyone. About five years into my career, I started teaching high school students for several summers in a row at a little business in Charlottesville, VA called Light House Studio. It was so rewarding sharing my skills with those kids and seeing their creativity plus what I’d taught them bring their ideas to life. I got to teach VFX, editing, color grading, and 3D classes to them, and I had a blast.

Fast forward a few years, and my buddy EJ Hassenfratz approached me to create an octane tutorial for his YouTube channel. I jumped at the opportunity and the rest is history! It’s such a great feeling because I learned everything I know from other educators online like Nick Campbell and Andrew Kramer, and though I never expected to be in a teaching position myself, I’m stoked to give back to the community and it feeds my soul. It’s one aspect of my career that I very much want to get back to, as soon as things settle down a bit!

7.​ What is your passion besides Animation/CGI work?

I have a bunch! As I mentioned earlier, swing dancing is one of my absolute favorites, because it’s amazing exercise, social, and creative all in one. I stopped for many years because I put my career front and center, and the pandemic pretty much killed dancing for everyone for a while, but thankfully my family has recently started back again and it’s the best! My wife and I actually met swing dancing, and thanks to NFTs we’ve been able to finish our basement, complete with a dance studio with mirrors floor-to-ceiling!

As for other passions, I live in Colorado now, so hiking is a huge one for me. Whether that’s charging up a mountain for exercise or just chilling in nature and meditating, I’m happy, and it feels like a necessary part of my life now. The same goes for stargazing on my porch every night with my wife and smoking a joint. The two of us have recently taken up horseback riding as well! We go twice a week and it’s seriously what we look forward to more than anything else. Horses are basically giant puppies that somehow let humans hop on their backs and ride them, and it blows my mind every time I’m up there.

In general, I love learning, and riding horses isn’t something I ever imagined myself doing, but it’s so mentally stimulating. It seriously feels like conducting an orchestra with all the things to keep in mind, and there’s a bond that develops between you and your horse if you’re doing it right. At this point I trust the horses I ride not to buck me off and they’re trusting me more each time as I’m getting more comfortable and confident.

Finally, I’ve gotten deep into climbing recently, and my stepson Cyrus and his dad Nate and I go constantly together, like four or five times a week for several hours at a time. It’s great because we all encourage each other and stay motivated. It’s crazy how fast we’re all developing at climbing, and it’s a constant mental and physical challenge. We’ve been trolling around all of Denver, trying out different gyms and hitting up dope restaurants afterward. All in all, life is so great right now, and work is finally taking a back seat to my physical and mental health, which was so needed!

Charlie here! Is climbing a frequent hobby in the designer community? So many of us are climbers, and you love to see it!

8.​ The resources page on your website is probably the best-hidden gem in the 3D community. Any creators whose tutorials are must-watches?

Thank you so much! I’m really glad that page has been so helpful to you, and yes because my brain just naturally keeps a catalog of tutorials to refer back to. I obsessively scoured the internet for good octane tutorials back when it was very difficult to find information, I figured it would be helpful if I shared that list with the community. I need to update it more often and I’ve been more out of the loop lately but hopefully, it’s useful!

As for tutorials everyone should watch, I highly recommend anything from my buddy Thanos, aka Motionpunk. He’s my favorite teacher out there and an absurdly great artist. I also love anything by Daniel Danielsson, and his Process of Motion course, which is one of the best resources out there for dealing with big projects and tough clients. New Plastic is my other favorite Octane channel, and it goes insanely in-depth for things like texturing, lighting, and hair.

(Charlie here! Can absolutely agree with David, all of these are fantastic resources! New Plastic’s tutorials are just incredible!)

Another of my favorite sites is Learnsquared, especially the courses by Michael Rigley and Zaoeyo. Then there’s Mograph Mentor, and they’ve got some great content from my buddy Paul McMahon on stylistic modeling, as well as tons on character animation and rigging, and more from Thanos on dynamics. For digital nature, check out Josh Pierce’s and Calder Moore’s tutorials. I’d also recommend digging around on Patreon. Some of my faves include Vudumotion, MSedov, Ian Hubert, and Vincent Schwenk. Pwnisher’s YouTube channel is absolutely insane and one of the very best out there for burgeoning CG artists. Finally, I would check out all the courses on Coloso, as they’re adding courses from incredible artists like Gryun Kim, Taehoon Park, and Woosung Kang.

9.​ Have you got any advice for young people trying to get into the world of Animation or 3D Design?

My biggest piece of advice is to soak up as much as you can like a sponge in the first few years of your career and even past that. Constantly be willing to learn!

Say yes to random opportunities like 48 hour film contests (I did a ton when I first started out), contests like the epic ones put on by Clint (Pwnisher) and any and all events like NAB, Siggraph, Camp Mograph, and Half Rez. You never know what you’ll learn, who you’ll meet, and how certain connections will lead to more opportunities in the future.

Join Discord and Slack communities, and immerse yourself as much as possible, without burning out or sacrificing other activities and aspects of life that are important to you. Yes, at first it can be necessary to grind in order to a level of comfort and knowledge of the tools (confidence in yourself as an artist too) but know that’s short-term and not sustainable, and once you get into a groove you can start to relax and iron out your work/life balance. I would also say don’t be afraid to be a total generalist at first. Try everything and then you’ll find the aspects of 3D and post-production work that are most interesting to you, and you’ll gradually hone in on what you love doing the most.

All those skills will combine together in unpredictable ways, and you’ll be glad you didn’t over-specialize right away.

Another trap I’ve seen artists fall into is getting overly technical and chasing new software and trends, rather than learning the soft skills that tend to be way more important.

Learning how to create great compositions and designs, how to light and create satisfying animation and camera movement, and how to wield color and exposure will go so much further than learning the shiny new features in C4D or constantly learning new plugins and software. That’s not to say that keeping up to date with software isn’t important, but it won’t dramatically improve your work as those soft skills will!

Your taste, artistic sensibilities, and creativity are the things that will never get automated out when our work becomes directing AIs to do everything for us.

10.​ Thank you for taking part in this for me David! For the people who will read this interview, what are your social media links for people to follow your future work? (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Websites etc…!

Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure answering these questions!

I’m just on Twitter and Insta! I’m by far the most active on Twitter as I’ve been full time in the NFT space for a couple of years now!

Here are some of my NFT pages too, if you want to check out David’s work!
NiftyGateway & Opensea

Want to see more from me? Follow me on Medium, or my Instagram :)




Trying to make my way in the world of design. Nottingham Trent Graphic Design Student.

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Charlie Ellis

Trying to make my way in the world of design. Nottingham Trent Graphic Design Student.