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Image of a Sony Walkman illustration in Sketch by Tiago.

A new dimension: How Tiago Alexandrino makes epic 3D illustrations in Sketch

“3D will always be in my heart because it helped me learn so much on a visual level.”

Design is a matter of perspective and that’s especially true for 3D illustrations. Working on 3D shapes and photorealistic objects from scratch is no small feat. We sat down with our very own designer, Tiago Alexandrino, to talk to us about his journey into design and his interest in 3D design.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? How did you get started in your career?

I never thought about pursuing a career as a designer when I was younger, because I also didn’t have any kind of influence around me that pulled me towards it. All I remember is that I always have been super curious about anything that included some kind of logic or technology and I was addicted to video games. However, during my teenage years, I started to discover a little more about contemporary art and architecture which led to a huge interest in industrial design.

My career began while I was still studying. I was attending a professional multimedia course where I learned the basics of design, video, photography and 3D/CGI. From that moment on, I developed a huge passion for 3D architectural visualization. At 17, I started doing my first freelance jobs during my weekends in a small studio in Lisbon to help the team with 3D modeling and post-production. From that moment on, I realized that this was what I wanted for my career.

We know you’re a big 3D design enthusiast. What first drew you to working with 3D illustrations, and what do you find most fascinating about it today?

3D design will always be in my heart because it helped me learn so much on a visual level. I had a feeling of wanting to go back to my roots, and that helped me start working on 3D illustrations, but without using traditional software and tools. It was also fascinating because I could now understand what was going on behind the scenes in the video games I had played over the years.

3D design will always be in my heart because it helped me learn so much on a visual level.

What fascinates me the most today is seeing how this industry has evolved and is now integrated into everything. For example, NFTs’ otherworldly graphics are often made entirely in 3D. It’s an almost infinite area where it’s difficult to imagine the complexity and applicability that exists within it.

Why is Sketch your go-to tool for creating detailed 3D images? Can you share some tips?

The first projects I did in Sketch were essentially UX/UI design for websites and mobile apps. But the simplicity of the UI made me curious during my free time — it felt like I had unlimited potential and that challenged me to think outside the box. I wanted to prove to myself that I could replicate photorealistic images from scratch, given that I already had the experience to apply it. As soon as I visualized my first project, I loved how easily and quickly I was able to execute it using Sketch. I felt, and still feel today, that you have all the tools necessary to create these photorealistic images inside Sketch.

The simplicity of the (Sketch) UI made me curious during my free time — it felt like I had unlimited potential and that challenged me to think outside the box.

For those who want to learn how to create detailed 3D images, there are some concepts they need to understand first such as basic lighting theory, color theory and perspectives. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either. Another tip that helps me a lot these days is to look at a photograph of an object and know how to visually separate and deconstruct all the elements and colors present in it. It’s what I call having a “clinical eye” and it’s something you can develop with training.

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about design?

My favorite thing about design is the fact that you can really be free. Free to create, learn, share, and get inside a bubble of creativity that makes you feel immensely fulfilled and happy with the career choice you made. That’s how I feel about design. It’s been 14 years since my first project, and even though I’ve changed a lot as a designer, I still love what I do.

The thing I like least about design, I think, is how unappreciated and undervalued it still is. Most people have no notion of what it takes to create a good app, website, or photo, among so many other things. Design has a huge impact on our daily lives as it had all throughout history. I actually love deconstructing designs and ideas for people around me — when I do so, people gain perspective on what goes into a good design. From that moment on, unconsciously they’re already appreciating design a lot more.

You’re an active member of the design community. What’s your favorite thing about engaging with other designers — especially those starting out?

I love engaging with people who are just starting to take their first steps in design because I can share my knowledge and help them improve and learn new things. I do exactly what other designers have done with me over the years which is share knowledge. At the same time, it makes me feel nostalgic for that time in my life. It’s great because some of these designers have the same intense feelings about design as I did at the beginning — it’s addictive!

What do you do to get inspiration for your 3D designs and other projects?

Actually, I don’t think I have an exact process for getting inspiration for my 3D illustrations. I usually go with the flow and get inspiration from objects from my childhood, the music I listen to (I love to associate sound and images), my collections (I have a retro consoles one!), or just browsing the internet.

Image showing a mockup of Maneki Neko

A Maneki Neko designed by Tiago.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

I always remember the same story when it comes to the biggest challenge in my career. I had a freelance project many years ago that consisted of post-producing about 100 3D images based on matte painting techniques within 5 days. I remember wondering if I would be able to get so much done in so little time, I was extremely anxious about it.

The request came from an important international client, so I didn’t want to reject it. I remember spending those 5 days doing nothing but sleep about 3 hours a night and work. I had lunch and dinner at the computer and drank an absurd amount of coffee, but in the end, I managed to do it successfully. Once the project was over, I was able to relax and I remember sleeping almost 24 hours straight.

If you could give your past self one piece of design advice, what would it be and why?

Now I could probably give my young self a ton of design advice — I feel it would’ve made a huge difference in my career.

If I had to choose one, I think the most important one would be to ask everything, explore more, and test more. Most importantly, don’t give up if you can’t achieve what you want — have some rest and try again. I always think I could’ve done more. On some projects, just because I felt frustrated and wasn’t able to think and get something done — I would stop there and not strive to deliver something better. I also didn’t know how to step back and rest — I didn’t know how great it is to return to the design process with a clear mind.

Ask everything, explore more, and test more. Most importantly, don’t give up if you can’t achieve what you want — have some rest and try again.

I feel that nowadays I work in a completely different way. If I feel blocked in the designs I’m working on, I simply stop and come back after resting and clearing my head. But you also have to keep in mind that sometimes you might try and try with no results because you really can’t get more out of it. It’s a matter of knowing how and when to stop and evaluate.

Image showing a mockup of Revolut Glass concept

Revolut Glass concept by Tiago, showcasing how he implemented 3D design in products.

What’s the next challenge you’re excited to overcome?

This is a tricky one because there is so much that I still want to learn in my career and life in general!

Since I’ve joined Sketch, I’ve been tasked with awesome challenges and fortunately, I think I’ve been able to successfully accomplish them. But at the same time, I feel like I still have so much ahead of me — and that’s a good thing.

Right now, the challenge that I’m most excited about overcoming is really getting my tutorials and educational content out to the widest possible audience. I’m also excited to learn more about how to build successful communities and overall marketing techniques. I’m aware that it’s a long-term job but I want to believe that consistency is the trick.

On a design level, I’m looking forward to learning about augmented reality and video game design. It’s something that has always fascinated me!


Have you developed an awesome product in Sketch? Used Sketch to create an artistic masterpiece? Share it with us and we might feature you in our next #MadeWithSketch post.