Those animations look amazing!! Great job!
Very cool review of the making of Spellbreak. Would be even more cool to see some videos inside UE4 showing how they do a few very specific things unique to them.
This was so helpful for me. I'm hoping to adapt your tutorial to pull off something similar comparing modern satellite imagery with historical maps. No topo, so my steps should be simpler, but I'm a novice with Blender and you've really helped. Thanks!
Rodolfo Fanti talked about the way you should study and train art to achieve better results with your work.
First of all I’m really glad to be back, sharing some passion with our great creative tribe!
At the studio I also briefly worked on Project Argo.
In my previous interview we spoke about my story and change of career. This time I’d love to share some useful tips and ideas I discovered during the artistic journey. These simple ideas became part of my fundamental toolbag and I sincerely hope they’ll help somebody else along the way.
Why training your artistic sensitivity matters
Character creation and modeling can look like a very daunting craft to approach. This may be true from a technical point of view – tools and techniques are a constantly changing, ever-growing figure. But I have some good news: we’re not the tools.
We’re the hand, soul and intuition governing them. Training these three instruments is the most sacred duty of a creative professional and it’s the only way each one of us can do what matters most: connecting and telling the story.
By training our hand, soul and intuition we train our artistic sensitivity.
Artistic sensitivity encompasses all those eternal principles which contributes to art and creativity throughout the ages: design, harmony, intention, balance, rhythm, contrast, shape, construction, lighting, etc
Keeping my sensitivity open is the way I approach my sculpts. This allows me to feel the “why”, the gesture or intention of the piece. It can be very subtle or extremely bold. A simple wrinkle or a dramatic pose. A desperate expression or a subtle spark in the eyes.
Learn to paint, be curious about photography, study architecture, take a pottery class! In every discipline you’ll discover something new about design and art. In my case studying theatre and sculpture had a defining role for my career.
If you’re only source of inspiration is Artstation or game and film art, it’s not enough! You need to get out there! Widen your persperctive and fall in love with every form of art.
Coming back to Project Argo, I wanted to create a statue which embodied sacredeness and elevation counterbalanced by a sense of groundedness. The main inspiration comes from a real sculpture and we added our own twist to it.
As you can see this translated into verticality as the main design element.
Follow the “trailheads”
I’m in love with emotions. Emotions are the most powerful bridge we can walk upon.
As an artist you need to be constantly in touch with them and the only way to add emotion to a piece is to feel that emotion while you’re working. The big professional challenge is how to pour all this into something which at times needs to be neutral, standard or constrained to a particular style.
I’ll illustrate this with some work I did while prototyping the visual look of our characters.
What you see is a “standard” game head I created, rendered in UE4. It needed to have a neutral expression of course so that animators can work their magic. It’s inspired by a younger version of Daniel Day Lewis and the topology was co-created with my talented colleague David Vacek.
(Note: this was a visual prototype and we’re not gonna have Daniel D. Lewis in our game!)
If you try and feel the apparently neutral expression of the character you’ll notice (I hope!) that we can follow a certain contraction in the eye and mouth area. This contraction may suggest something: a dreamer, confidence, positivity or compassion. Or all of them!
I call them “trailheads”. When you find one, your work is to go after it!
Trailheads are way more interesting than technical accuracy and you wanna look for them in the earliest phase of your sculpt and never loose sight of them!
Trailheads are responsible for the main shape and rhythm of your work.
Feel those shapes!
You asked me about the importance of creating believable eyes in a character and how we can create the illusion of “feeling and thought” through them.
My answer may seem counterintuitive at first: don’t focus on the eyes!
What I really mean is: don’t focus on the eyes as a single, separate area.
The human face is an amazing display of forces struggling, playing and balancing between each other.
Anatomy will give you a clue about how to proceed but again your trained intuition will need to make sense of this clash of shapes. Feel those shapes! Don’t merely model them!
A personal iteration of the previous piece can show you how even by exploring unfamiliar colors and cold lighting we still have a sense of those “trailheads”. We can still connect to a little glimpse of humanity.
Learn principles, not methods
As a character artist you’re gonna have a lot of ownership on your texturing and shading process.
The way I approach it is very organic and fluid. In this sense we can gain much wisdom from the great teacher Glenn Vilppu. He claims that in the creative endeavour “there are no rules, only tools”.
In our particular case we usually end up specializing in a specific set of tools required by different studios.
Once your artistic antennas are up and running, texturing simply means telling a story.
Even in a fairly neutral phase of pre-production such as visual benchmarking I wanted to create a very subtle narrative throughout my work.
It’s not intrusive and doesn’t clash with artistic direction but if you’re curious it’s there…
To conclude allow me to borrow a quote from 19th century philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
By becoming a rigid, logically-oriented, method-based artist you’re at risk of becoming what Zig Ziglar defined as a “wandering generality”.
The world doesn’t need that. We don’t need that.
A wandering generality lacks the courage and resilience to do what needs to be done as an artist: tell your story and create powerful bridges.
“Wandering generality” or “Meaningful specific”?
When we are wandering generalities hiring “X” or “Y” becomes a simple matter of comparing data and skillsets.
When we are wandering generalities creating a game becomes a simple matter of making sense of statistics.
The world doesn’t need that. We don’t need that.
What we need is the courage and determination to become a “meaningful specific” by cultivating our own vision, artistry and story.
Good news: each one of us is a “meaningful specific”! We just need to hone that identity by finding our own journey as artists.
Something will make sense to you. This something won’t make any sense to somebody else. This something is your journey.
I will leave you by recommending two books which taught me many of the fundamental principles I mentioned.
These two books show you how differently we can approach our artistic journey.
They’re probably rarely mentioned as a standard training for sculptors or 3d artists but they teach something invaluable: how to feel, how to trust your guts and how to hone the craft.
I really hope this little interview will inspire some reader to trust their own instinct! The world needs your story!