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We’ve talked with Florian Malchow – 3d artist from Unit Image. Florian manages to build clean and cinematic scenes in short periods of time. All he uses is 3ds Max, Vray and some Substance Painter.
My name is Florian Malchow. I am a character artist. I come from the Netherlands (I’m 50% Dutch, 25% French and 25% German). Three years ago after I graduated high school I went to Paris to study Animation & VFX in a school called New3dge. Aside from school I work at Unit Image. I worked on a number of projects, mostly VFX and film: For Honor Trailer (E3 2016),- Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter Trailer, Assassin’s Creed – Jack the Ripper Trailer and some other unannounced projects.
I started doing digital paintings and studies about three years ago without classical artistic background. I did a lot of studies of traditional artists and movie screenshots. You can find some of them on my blog.
Pursuing Realism in 3D
When I started school I wanted to be a concept artist and kind of hated 3D. But I had a love for cinematic trailers so I knew that If I wanted to help making these trailers I had to learn 3D. And I loved the realistic style of these trailers so that kind of influenced me.
I usually start my projects just with an idea. Simple as that. Then I gather a lot of references on Google (it’s your best friend). Then I start to think about basic composition. I might do a quick sketch in Photoshop. Then I jump into 3ds Max and start with simple geometry to block out my composition. Then I set up base lighting and start to detail the pieces that are close to the camera. If an object is far away, I don’t bother spending time on it. I try to reuse a lot of models from my library to do things faster. After modeling, I’ll begin with basic Vray materials without textures. Then I’ll texture and shade objects according to the distance from the camera, and finally render the final image and do some grading in After Effects.
Saving Time on Production
Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time modeling. I try to keep things very basic and don’t go full detail on a rock that is 10 pixels wide on the final image. You have to look at the big picture and only spend time on the most important things. I usually start with a box, plane, or cylinder, then convert to editable poly and model using basic polygon modeling tools (shell, bend, symmetry, bridge, swift loop, cut, weld). Sometimes I’ll put my reference on a plane and model on top of it. I knew I had some cars in my library so I used them for this particular scene because it would’ve taken forever if I modeled all the cars!
I try to stay in 3ds Max/Vray and just import bitmaps and use them in a mix. For characters, I use a lot of Substance Painter and I started using Substance Designer. And I use Photoshop of course. Most of the time I create a simple shader and then put a bitmap in the reflection/glossiness/bump slots.
I spend a lot of time finding the right HDR for the scene. For Dancing Cowboy, I found the HDR here (http://noemotionhdrs.net/hdrevening.html) I try to match the reference as good as possible. For all the physical lights, I mainly use sphere lights or create a cylinder and convert it to a mesh light. For the day version, I used another HDR from NoEmotion and added a VraySun.
Actually it’s the only render engine I use – my school uses it and my work as well. I don’t really know all the technical stuff about Vray. The only advice I can give is to keep your textures at low size if they are not close to the camera (512-2048 pixels) and keep the number of textures low. So instead of using a separate bitmap for every slot, use one bitmap and then 4 mixes for example. Also keep the polygon number as low as possible, but that counts for every render engine, I think.
I think the hardest part is to think about the big picture and not to focus on a small detail in the bottom right corner of your image (which I still do sometimes). Look at references of real life, analyze them and then try to simplify them in 3ds Max. Make some movie screenshot studies! You’ll learn composition/modeling/texturing/shading/lighting at the same time.
Make sure to check out Florian’s portfolio. It’s got some pretty amazing 3d visualizations.