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Scott Denton from The Mill talked about the character production and his Sagart from Street Fighter fanart.
My name is Scott Denton. I’m currently a Senior Modeler at The Mill NYC. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and attended school at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. I’ve worked at many studios and on many projects over the last 11 years during which I was a freelance contractor before joining The Mill: Shilo, Magnetic Dreams, Superfad, Charlex, MPC, Hornet, BNS, Laika, Microsoft, and Dreamworks to name a few. I love to travel and meet new people, so being a freelance contractor all those years allowed me to always work on new things and learn new ways of doing things under the different direction of numerous creative people. I feel extremely fortunate to have the career I’ve had so far and to be surrounded by so many talented people.
The way I got into VFX began with being obsessed with all forms of film trickery since I was a child. My family and I went to lots of movies like Star Wars and all the old stop motion films by Ray Harryhausen as well as Jim Henson, but I especially remember Jurassic Park and the show Movie Magic sparking my interest in Computer Graphics. The fact that you could put information in a computer and render something that could completely fool an audience or bring them along for the ride so convincingly really changed my life.
My career kind of started out as an intern at Magnetic Dreams in Nashville, where I came on Mondays and Tuesdays to learn LightWave 3D back in 2001. That led me to go to Full Sail in Orlando. I will forever be in debt to the amazing people at that studio.
Working at The Mill
It’s been a great honor to be part of the team at the Mill NYC. The people I am surrounded by on a daily basis are both extremely humble and talented and make me enjoy coming to work. I’m not really sure if I can explain how I got there, honestly, other than I made it a goal and it’s been in my sight for years. I think all the experience I’ve gathered as a freelancer and my determination to improve myself as an artist are probably the main reasons. I also think meeting Adam Dewhirst and Dave Fleet, two of the most amazing dudes around, was a big factor. I guess they saw in me the caliber and work ethic that the Mill seeks out. I think many of our careers depend on how we treat those around us and the way we put our head down in our work to get the job done. They both allowed me to shine there. I owe them both a great debt.
How to Master Character Sculpting?
I’ll be a broken record here and say anatomy, anatomy, anatomy! By far, I am no master and constantly study. I just have tons of references including the ones showing how the Street Fighter series handled characters, books on books around me as well as maquettes. You mostly just need to have a love for forms, modeling, and characters in general. Programs like ZBrush have changed the field and really made it about being an artist and just expressing your art. I think that any tool that allows you to express yourself and lets you make art is a tool worth using. It’s really up to the artist to find that. I have tons of tricks but it all comes down to a general knowledge of anatomy when hitting forms. If you have a library of anatomy pieces you’ve done well, it can make a huge difference in crunch times which the commercials have taught me. We don’t get near as much time as film VFX crews do, so the speed is the ruling force.
The project Sagat was mostly done for fun and started as part of our weekly Lunch Crunch which focused on Street Fighter. On the first day, I took in a very base model of a male body and just started going to town on Sagat’s proportions, size, and look to get an appealing character. I’ve always loved stylized 3D art, and he’s kind of a mix between a lot of references from the series and other references I had gathered. I also think that part of him is me trying to find my own style which has and will always be an ongoing thing.
We have a base model at the Mill we use to retopo all of our characters with Wrap from RussianScanner. I can’t tell you how much these tools changed my life. After the Dyanmesh model is done I Wrap the geo to the body. I also had an intail albedo I could work from that came with the Base mesh. Then I worked more closely on the finer detail of the model and exported it out to Substance Painter. I’ve always liked the look of the stuff from DOTA and had found a smart material by 3dex on Gumroad I wanted to try out and take in a more stylized direction. After this, it was really just adjusting the things in Substance and adding some more paint here and there to get the look I wanted. All of my approaches are justified by the fact that it’s a personal project. I don’t get a lot of time, so during my free time projects, I always look for the ways that can eventually speed up my day-to-day work. For me, every personal project should be about growth and finding things that can make you better, faster, and more useful as a CG artist.
- Animation & Posing
It depends on the project whether the character should be animation-ready or not. Sometimes, I leave it in the Dynamesh phase of the process, but in case of Sagat, I really wanted to find some dynamic poses and try out the web app Mixamo to find amazing dynamic poses with little cost in time. I think I’ll be using it a lot in the future.
For rendering Sagat, I used Arnold. Nothing fancy here other than aiStandard and the maps kicked out from Substance. The lighting is the courtesy of Andrew Silkes from Create3dCharacters and their amazing plugin Zoo Tools Pro. I just found one of his lighting presets I liked and adjusted a few things. I had no real plan other than getting the character into Maya and start seeing what was going on in the scene. Then, it just developed naturally.
Scott Denton, Senior Modeler at The Mill
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev