Hasan Göktepe shared the working process behind the Spirited Away project, discussed the benefits and limitations of MagicaVoxel, and talked about the importance of details.
Hello, my name is Hasan Göktepe. I have been drawing since I was little. I started as a computer science teacher and got a computer science PhD. When I became interested in 3D, I first made architectural visualizations and then slowly stepped into the gaming world. I developed myself in the field of environment and character design. I have worked with many game and movie companies. There are many areas I'm experienced in, including modeling, texturing, sculpting, and a little rigging. I have worked on many different kinds of projects: games, movies, animations, AR projects, Roblox projects, etc. Also, now I am working as a visual design specialist for art and history books.
As a 90s game console fan, I love pixels. I discovered that for a 3D guy, pixels equal voxels. While I was completely immersed in the game and 3D world, I saw a few works on voxel art, and they really impressed me. Those details and the sense of subtlety were very impressive, so I started by saying it wouldn't hurt to try. First of all, I watched many online tutorials and did tons of exercises. I completed a reproduction of one of my favorite paintings "The Isle of the Dead" by Arnold Böcklin, and the result was truly incredible. I use MagicaVoxel for my voxel works – at first, I was very surprised that such a small program could produce such huge results.
But voxel has its limits. The biggest one is the stage: you have a limited area and you cannot go out of this area and do larger projects. So you have to work mostly isometrically. In perspective work, empty areas of the scene appear, and your ability to fill those parts is weakened. Another weakness might be that you need to have a very powerful monster computer for a big project.
MagicaVoxel is a voxel program. In general terms, you are working with 3D pixels, namely cubes. A large area consists of a maximum of 256*256*256 small cubes. When you create a certain object, you may need to make calculations. Sometimes, you need to create and draw objects by placing cubes one by one or use modeling software. I use ZBrush, which is a sculpting program for complex models that I can import from outside. There is also the possibility of importing .obj into MV.
I usually make textures by hand. If you have used Substance 3D Painter before, learning this stage will be easy because you only need to paint the cubes. After the painting part, you need to adjust material settings, like metal, light, smoke, etc.
There are tools that provide convenience, which we call shaders. You can make some basic objects with these in a short time. You can find a lot of information about this on MV's website.
The Spirited Away Project
Spirited Away is one of my favorite animated movies. I wanted to start with this piece after “The Isle of the Dead” but later changed my mind because there was a lot of detail I wanted to give in this work and I needed to become a little better at MV, so I saved it for later.
First, I must say that if you are going to make voxel art, what you want to highlight and what details you want to give are very important because your space is limited. Even if we assume that it is not limited, if you zoom out too much, the voxel effect in your work will lose its effect and turn into an ordinary 3D work. Because of that, planning is very important.
I watched the movie a few more times before starting the Spirited Away piece. I tried to find the most important scenes. Miyazaki fans will know, there are a lot of really hot spots in that movie, and the hardest part of the piece is choosing the ones that should be in the work.
This was the hardest point for me: selecting these parts and placing them in certain areas on the stage and providing the connection of these areas with each other.
In the second step, it is important to give the odds ratio regularly, I use my characters for this. I use the character I call “Wanderer” in almost every work of mine, and they become part of the stories in my general works. At the same time, the proportion in the works is shaped according to their height and dimensions. First, I sketch the general area and what will happen with the cubes. After this part pleases me, I move on to the next stage.
This stage is my favorite: details. Models are detailed, and the overall impact of the environment is determined: windows, doors, building details, and many more buildings. Then texture and painting. Which color is where? Where will there be more sun and where will there be moss? I build this using lots of real-life references because the most important effect of being able to give realism is hidden in the details.
A few adjustments can be made to permeable objects such as water glass. You can easily prepare the reflection of its permeability, even its depth. But I must state that the material you prepare may not have the same effect in another scene because the impact of the environment on the water is too much. So you may need to make minor adjustments in a new scene.
Rendering in MV is simple. It is not difficult if you have used the right colors and lighting in your cubes. Of course, it may take a lot of experimentation beforehand. But if you are a little familiar with 3D, it will not take much of your time because the settings are really simple. You can adjust the color of the light with a few clicks and use daylight for general stage lighting as well as HDR lighting, and I would definitely recommend HDR for realistic works.
Just like with daylight, you can determine the overall strength and position of HDR. My recommendation would be this. Don't leave a light as soon as you try it just because it didn't work. Rotate it, reduce its effect, increase it, and try to mix it with daylight because catching the right light is very important. I generally don’t use much post-production in my works. Some exposure to lights is enough.
Frankly, the most time-consuming part for me is planning and getting the work in my head. For this, I first open a file on my PC and store references in it. It usually goes up to 30-40 references. I then scroll through these references for hours. Sometimes on the computer, sometimes in my dreams and in real life. Consuming the references is the key. This process usually takes 2 weeks. After the hardest part is done in my mind, the next parts are planning and sketching. After these, there is only one thing to do: release the consumed ones. Detail, detail, detail.
In general, it takes me one month to finish a project in total. But I can't say anything in terms of hours because it is a little difficult for me to calculate.
If you want to become a voxel artist, you need to start with simple models and learn the basics. For example, I first tried to build a sweet little house, it is an ideal model for a start. You can see how the general structure is created, how the gaps are opened, and how the details are given, all in a small model. And you don't need to imagine a very detailed house, it will be enough to make two windows, a door, and a smoking chimney, as we all did when we were little. You will see that you are gradually accelerating. You can find many tutorials for this on YouTube. There are many training videos on MV's own site as well, and these tutorials are more than enough.
After a little development, you can already model everything in your head. Then, practice is the way. Model something new in every spare moment. Try to discover new things. If you are patient and practice properly, I am sure everyone will achieve the result they want.
Become adept at consuming references and constantly browse places such as ArtStation and Pinterest. One of my greatest pleasures is to take my coffee and stroll around ArtStation. There are amazing artists who really pay attention to details. Also, look for references in real life. One time I was out with my wife and she found me looking at a wall. I was immersed in studying how moss started from the bottom and spread upward. But now she's used to it and doesn't react much.
To summarize, I can suggest 3 things: references, patience, and practice.
Hasan Göktepe, Voxel Artist
Interview conducted by Gloria Levine
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