Women on Sketchfab: Karen Ly

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About me

Ello! My name’s Karen Ly and I am a recent 3D Artist graduate based in Melbourne, Australia! Although I’m fairly new to the game development biz, I’m not new to the creative industry with 7 years in industrial and graphic design that eventually lead me to the magical world of 3D art.

My Journey

I have always known I wanted to do something artsy with my life from a very young age, to the point where I didn’t give myself an option to do anything else. I watched a LOT of cartoons as a child (and as an adult!) which steered me towards creating stylized characters and wanting a career that was fun and exciting.

However I was worried that creating characters wouldn’t support me financially so I applied for a bachelor of Industrial Design at Monash University. My first gig was as a junior product designer at a point of sale company where I designed shop fit outs and product displays. While excited to be in the industry, I soon felt artistically limited in the role.

After 3 years I jumped ship and got a job as a toy designer at Colorific! I designed anything from motorized kids toys to figurines. While making toys was hella fun, a majority of toy development is spent engineering, testing and marketing. I only wanted to do the fun 3D part and took the dive to pursue a career in 3D game art.

I had some anxiety going into a different industry so late but I believed in my skills and ambition, and after 2 years I completed an advanced diploma from AIE, while freelancing as a toy designer. I immediately fell in love with creating stylized 3D props and characters and felt like I reconnected with my kid self! I am now a 3D artist at SMG Studio creating prop assets for the game Moving Out and appreciating every moment my journey has taken to get me here.

My Work

The workflow for all my portfolio pieces is finding existing 2D art that can maintain my interest throughout the modeling and texturing process. For my first personal portfolio piece, ‘The Book of the Undead’ concept by Denis Mitin, I saw a lot of practice potential sculpting the hand and candles in ZBrush and modeling the remaining assets in Maya. I had initially planned to sculpt a static hand, then rig and pose to suit the concept, however I felt this could lose the tension and strain I wanted to portray in the fingers and wrist. I also wanted to challenge myself by applying a PBR workflow using Substance Painter and capture the same essence seen in the original hand-painted concept.

I started to get confident with hand-painted texturing and submitted this entry to the Sketchfab August 2021 challenge: Treasure Chest. Combined with simple animations, I wanted to convey a narrative behind the concept to give the prop life. I had less than a month to complete it outside my studies at AIE, which proved challenging at times but narrowed decision-making early on. Concept diorama art by Konstantin Kokkas.

I was a huge fan of Lois van Baarle’s work before making this bust and learnt a lot about how I wanted the end result to look in 3D. I had an internal battle between sculpting the model so it could look good from all angles but lose out on accuracy to the original concept, and sculpting the bust as close to the concept as possible. In the end my goal was to have a portfolio piece where you couldn’t tell it was 3D next to the original concept and decided on the latter.


The biggest challenge I faced was taking the financial risk of starting a new career at 30 years old. However, I have absolutely no regrets! I would have never known the confidence and inspiration I feel now being on this side of 3D art, and I have my mentors and peers to thank for their undying support and guidance. There is no age restriction when it comes to finding what you love and I hope this article solidifies that theory.


I’m impressed not only by how beginner-friendly Sketchfab is to use but also what an incredible resource it is to learn from other artists and their workflows. The Model Inspector is an amazing tool that I use frequently to gain insight on some of the most detailed and intricate models. I owe a lot of my 3D art learning process to the tools Sketchfab provides in showcasing work and the countless talented artists that make up the Sketchfab community.

Huge shoutout to Abby, Mieke and Jasmin for inviting me to be a part of this great movement! You can also see more of my work on my Sketchfab and ArtStation.

Thanks for reading and take care!

About the author

Karen Ly

Toy designer turned 3D game artist at SMG Studio with a passion for everything hand painted and stylized!

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