Chemical Alia has a long history with Team Fortress 2; one of the original winners of the Polycount Contest with her Saharan Spy set, she’s also well-known for her female TF2 models and Dota 2 item submissions. She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us!

Picture by Gen. DeGroot.
Picture by Gen. DeGroot.

1. How did you first get into 3D modeling? Have you considered modeling professionally?
I come from a fine art background, and I didn’t learn to model until after I graduated from college.  After that, I went to grad school to learn how to model art for video games.
I’ve been working in the game industry as a 3d artist since 2010.  I got my start as intern at id Software, and spent the last three years at Gearbox Software working on Borderlands 2 content.  I left Gearbox this past October to work on Dota 2/Steam Workshop stuff full-time.

2. Are there any significant differences between your processes for creating items for Dota 2 vs. TF2?
The visual styles are obviously pretty different, as well as the overall tone of the two games.  While TF2 is first person, Dota 2 uses a top-down and zoomed-out camera, so that’s something to keep in mind with regards to your approach to item design.  Because of the poly budget difference between the two games, Dota 2 relies pretty heavily on the use of normal maps to fill in detail.  The Dota texturing style is also a bit more painterly than the character art of TF2.

3. Are there any funny stories surrounding something you’ve made or helped make? Do you have a favorite item out of all the ones you’ve made?
I’ve gotten a lot of personal insults and angry messages over the years (particularly over the Saharan Spy set), and sometimes the spelling on those is pretty funny.
My favorite submission is a Dota 2 courier, the Catakeets, which I worked on with my Dota art collaborator buddy Drysocket.
It was a pretty ambitious project consisting of four different versions, with modular pieces for the head, tail, and wings that could be interchanged with the main body for many different versions.  They also have 11 different textures for different colors.  It took us months to make, but I’m really proud of them.   They’re sitting in the game files, so we’ve got our fingers crossed that we’ll see them added soon.

4. Why do you think people enjoy playing as genderbent TF2 classes so much?
They’re a pretty big visual change from the original models, but aren’t divergent from the silhouette or outfits to the point that they’re confusing to recognize in-game.  Many of the people I’ve met who use them are women players themselves, or people who are interested in female characters that are both interesting and maintain the distinctiveness of the original characters.

5. From an insider’s perspective, how different has the creation/submission process become for community creators, from the early years to now?
The tools have gotten better, for both TF2 and Dota 2.  In TF2, we used to have to compile the models ourselves and test them out like mods by swapping them with existing weapons/items.  Now both games have in-game importer tools that compile the models for you and allow you to see them with the animations, materials, etc.  It makes testing and iterating on changes a lot more efficient.
As the workshop community gets more and more recognition, it also attracts a lot more people.  Dota 2 in particular has a lot of professional artists from the game industry who now contribute work.  And as a side effect of the industry being not the most stable, I see new professional artists going full-time with Dota 2 item creation each time there’s a big studio layoff.  So, the Workshop is definitely growing more and more competitive as time goes by.

6. What other projects do you work on besides item and character modeling?
Drawing and painting, whenever I get some spare time.  I keep myself pretty busy these days, so I don’t have as much time for side projects as I’d like right now.  I hope to eventually make time for more of that, as well as some personal 3d projects for my portfolio.

7. What advice do you have for TF2/Dota 2 community members who’d like to break into modeling and maybe someday submit content to Valve?
I hope you like modeling, because you’re going to be doing a lot of it.  c:  Study the work of other artists, both in the workshop, games, and art in general, to figure out what you like about their styles and what makes them successful.  Keep practicing your technical skills for modeling, painting, and sculpting, and as long as you think critically about your work and evaluate yourself, you will gradually improve.

8. Anything else you’d like to say?
If you have any other questions about the Workshop or art stuff in general, feel free to contact me on Steam and I’d be happy to talk about it.  Dry and I also post all our most recent submissions on our Facebook page if you’d like to see what I’m up to lately.

Chemical Alia has an amazing gallery of Workshop submissions; be sure to check them out! As she mentioned, you can converse with her or follow her work on Steam and Facebook. Thanks for chatting with us Alia!