Märten Rääli, the legend of “Bad Normals”

Märten Rääli started a Youtube Channel called “Bad Normals”. In less than 2 years, he has grown the channel to over one hundred thousand subscribers. But Märten’s path is different than a lot of other artists, as he has never really worked for other studios. Join me as Märten shares his story.

(Josiah:) Tell me about your background before becoming a 3D artist, how you discovered your passion for 3D art, and do you pursue it as a full time career now?

(Märten:) I’m from Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people in the northeast part of Europe. From a small village of around 300 people. As a child I used to spend a lot of time in the forest with or without others, as Estonia is around 50% forest so why not be there? I wasn’t particularly into drawing or arts in general. I liked to read, and languages as well. So school was quite easy for me – I never really studied for tests or anything. And since all my grades were at the max, I got some suggestions from an early age that maybe I should become a doctor or an engineer – “because you are smart and this would suit you”. For a while I wanted to become a surgeon. 

My first experience with 3D software was in the eighth grade when one of my friends needed an intro for his YouTube video. I searched for templates, found some Blender ones and rendered them out with the text changed. A few weeks later I tried modeling a 

cup in Blender, tutorial from tutor4u. And for the next two years I was kinda all about 3D: some VFX, some modeling etc. But it was a hobby, I didn’t think of making it a career. When I got to high school after two years, I was sure I wanted this to be my career, so I thought about attending the ArtFX VFX school in France, since I loved 3D and French. However this was rather expensive for me at this time, so I didn’t continue this path. Instead I started doing music production for the rest of high school, got really deep into it and put a lot of effort into becoming a touring DJ. The 3D skill was sleeping in me and I only used it to make simple album covers from time to time. After high school it was time to select a university (in Estonia, universities are free by the way). I went to Estonia’s highest musical academy. From a few months already I understood that they can teach literally anything in universities and this might NOT be related to what the world needs. So I was slacking on lectures and had a really low motivation. This wasn’t taking me anywhere. 

So… I started making Blender tutorials. It was just a wild idea. I don’t even know why I decided to do it. Certainly not for career, rather just as a thing to test out. So I made my first one about Minecraft, it got around 40 views. I remember sitting in a café with a friend:

“7 subs, that’s pretty good”

“yeah, it’s pretty great”

Made a second video about Among Us, got 20 views. 

And a third one about Geometry Nodes, that just got released. This one got 10,000 views in two weeks. So from that moment I knew what people needed – geometry nodes! So I combined my lessons from my failed artist project and just started learning about procedural systems day and night! I took part in a YouTuber “academy” for 6 weeks by a YouTuber called Airrack. There were about a 100 participants who were doing vlogs and challenges, and other “normal” YouTube content. I was there to learn about the YouTube algorithm and social media business to make the best Blender tutorials! And it definitely worked out as in around 12 months I was officially on my own money and independent from parents. So I could now focus even more on the tutorials, and this improved me a lot in 3D, as I was constantly finishing and starting projects. And I still am. So yes, this is my full time career now, learning about Blender’s features and teaching them to people around me, and it feels great!

(Josiah:) What did your parents initially think of you doing Youtube fulltime? Did they even know what Youtube was?

(Märten:) My parents do use YouTube, and they were aware you could make a career there. I never really told out loud that I wanted this to be my career. It just happened rather naturally, I was still at school. When I said “I’m gonna quit the school to do YouTube” they were maybe a little hesitant and have asked many times if I still think this is the right decision, and I do think so, so they are okay with that.

(Josiah:) How long were you using blender and building up a portfolio before you got your first paying client? How did you find that first client, or did they find you?

(Märten:) I haven’t done too much client work and certainly don’t enjoy it too much. However, I did work for a studio here in Estonia for some months and it was a great experience since I got to know other people in the field and get feedback on my work which is super important in my opinion. When working on things alone I often feel like the king of the mountain, but usually someone else pulls me back to reality 🙂 I got the job as the owner of the studio subscribed to my channel, and since he had an Estonian name (not too much Estonians out there), I contacted him on Messenger, and he offered me to work with them. So essentially my channel acted as my portfolio. So in total around 4 years of Blender before that. Of which 6 months the channel buildup. 

(Josiah:) According to your Youtube channel, you started it January 18, 2021. You are almost at the 2 year mark and you’ve already gotten to 100k subscribers which is extremely impressive! How do you feel about your Youtube journey so far? Is that a good source of income for you? Do you recommend other artists have their own Youtube channels?

(Märten:) YouTube! We can talk about that 🙂 As a starter, I’m incredibly grateful to all the people who have been watching my videos. When I compare my numbers to the other people who were in the Airrack academy, it feels a bit unreal and that’s why I try to put as much effort into each video, as I don’t want to take things for granted. Huge thanks to you!

I feel good about my YouTube journey, it has really given me the life I want to have. Thanks to my channel I became financially independent, met this studio guy from before and also an angel investor from Estonia, who we are building a company with now. We are creating auto-generated procedural 3D assets and I’m hoping maybe this year we could demo something to the public.

As for the income question, YouTube definitely has shown me how scalable online software-based businesses are. And if you offer something valuable to people, which I try to do, it’s definitely over the average wage 🙂

Do I recommend YouTube to other artists?

I’d say it depends on your goals and the meaning and why behind the channel. I have seen some friends doing YouTube for money and I haven’t seen any of those to get far with it.
I’d say that it’s definitely a great experience to share your knowledge online, the thing is – you have to understand something to teach something, so it improves your skills quite a bit.
I cannot make a recommendation here, but try something out and see if having the channel is valuable to the audience and matches with your goals in life

(Josiah:) Tell me more about your new company! 

(Märten:) Our company actually uses proprietary software, our long term plan is to make objects as well, but currently we are doing textures and materials. So you could have a model and tell the software you want it to be textured “as a rusty scratched metal with some moss growing on it” and it would generate procedural textures for that model. As an OSL script, so the texture size in only a few kilobytes compared to the current 200MB-1GB PBR maps

(Josiah:) That’s so cool! We’ll have to talk again as your company matures, I’m really curious about it.

(Josiah:) What is an underrated or unheard of software or trick that you don’t think too many people know about that you use all the time?

(Märten:) Quite a bit of those, so I’ll abuse the blog space and give three:

  1. Adobe Podcast: great for post processing video dialogues with one click, saves a lot of time.
  2. Flowframes: Render half the frames, interpolate the other half. An RTX3090 turns into an RTX4090! Especially useful for preview renders.
  3. Instant Meshes: Instant quad topology maker for photogrammetry for example, made by a brilliant computer scientist Wenzel Jakob.

Thank you Märten for letting me interview you!

Check out his channel, Bad Normals, on Youtube!

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