Edward Denton discussed his Volsunga Project, shared some information about workflow and tools, and his general approach to designs.
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My name is Edward Denton a.k.a. Edred online, I’m an Artist, Designer, and Art Director based in Wellington, New Zealand. I originally studied Industrial Design here in Wellington and last year I took time for myself to go back and study for my Masters in Entertainment Design.
While working in 3D modeling, manufacturing supervision, manufacturing art direction, and quality control, I worked on my own projects designing and 3D modeling guns and props. Then I got into Octane Render and I started to be able to produce these high-quality renders. I got such a buzz out of being able to make these beautiful images, that I knew that this was the direction I had to move my career towards. Until that point I had always been too scared to put myself forward as an artist or a designer, not having the confidence in my 2D illustration and design ability.
Luckily within Weta, I was able to move into a sort of supervision/art direction/design role for their Location-Based Experiences division which required a lot of technical knowledge but allowed me to push my creativity, design, and presentation skills. Part of this role involved a lot of one on one time with Richard Taylor where I got to witness his Creative Direction process and his amazing ability to brainstorm original and exciting new ideas. This role provided me with a lot of personal growth and leadership opportunities with multiple trips to China with formal presentations etc, but more importantly the experience in how to inspire people towards a creative vision and what it really means to be an Art Director, and how to work closely with a Creative Director.
At this point, I realized that I needed to go back to basics and take some time for myself to retrain and refocus on what sort of work I wanted to be doing. This led me to enroll in a Masters of Entertainment Design at Massey University run in collaboration with Weta Workshop and what would turn into my Volsunga project.
Sources of Inspiration
I grew up looking at the concept art of Vyle and Craig Mullens and watching a lot of the typical sci-fi anime but I’ve also always been captivated by the more whimsical artworks of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and the intricate details of the arts and crafts/ Art Nouveau movements, John William Waterhouse, William Morris and Alphonse Mucha have been major inspirations. I’d also add the fashion designer Alexander McQueen, I’m always in awe at how much beauty one person was able to bring into the world.
This project started off as an exploration into beauty and how beauty can give life meaning, but it evolved into an exploration of Apollonian and Dionysian character archetypes through the Norse myth of the Volsunga.
The Apollonian and Dionysian are characterizations described by Nietzsche of our logical and creative impulses. Nietzsche had argued that through the experience of powerful creative works of art humans can connect to a primordial unity that could balance out a tendency towards rational nihilism.
I reimagined the Volsunga saga as a modern science fiction film and explored the design of the characters through an Apollonian and Dionysian lens. The project was year-long and involved about 1/3rd of research and writing, 1/3rd of design, and 1/3rd of working on the presentation images.
The tools I use depend on the project but I have a history in a lot of NURBS modeling in Rhino, so that's always a fallback and my fastest modeling software. For my characters, I start in DAZ and define my pose, and then it's into ZBrush and Marvelous Designer for the blockout followed by a mix of Rhino, ZBrush, and Blender for the details, oh and Quixel Megascans, always Megascans. I love using nodes and building big crazy node graphs in Substance Designer but I hate UV’s so more and more I’m trying to just use Triplanar Mapping and Procedural Shaders within Octane, it just allows for so much more experimentation under final lighting conditions. So for simple props, I can take an export straight out of Rhino, chuck a couple of my premade shaders on, twirl an HDRI around until I like the lighting, and hit render, which can take under 10 minutes.
I think there is certainly a trend to over-detail designs that I certainly fall victim to. It is a kind of a crutch, if your design isn't super strong or you're not exactly sure how it functions, just add details until it looks cool! Having said that I’m a big fan of ornamentation and adding patterns to surfaces so I guess the main thing I would say is just to be careful to respect the hierarchy of importance in your image, if it is an unimportant part of the image gives the detail less contrast and more areas of calm, but for more important areas where you want to draw the eye pump up the detail intensity and contrast.
Lighting & Presentation
I have a lot to learn about lighting, I think with all design there are two approaches you can take, you can just experiment until you find something you like, or you can plan out a strategy using aesthetic principles and logic. Most of my lighting is done through experimentation which is why having GPU power that lets you iterate every few seconds is so valuable. I’m just starting to get a better understanding of the whys and hows when it comes to lighting and starting to plan out how I want the lighting to help tell the story of the image. But to anyone just starting, I’d recommend just sticking to HDRI’s, studio HDRI’s, and photographic ones, you get a long way just through experimentation. One quick tip, if you're rendering a shiny black object try having the most important or largest area reflecting the white light.
Advice for Aspiring Art Directors
Well, I guess I still consider myself to be an aspiring Art Director so it's always a journey of gradual self-improvement and learning new things. Everyone always says to focus on your design skill first, which is true but I would just say to focus equally on your presentation skills, no one is going to give your design the time of day if it's not nicely presented.
Another thing that's been pivotal for me recently is identifying heroes, people that you admire and wish to emulate. So for example I’ve been listening to Joe Rogan for years and he tells everyone to do Jujitsu and so I’ve recently started going to classes and it's amazing, so humbling but so fun, intellectual, and has given me a unique connection to my more primal self. As well as 3D and Art, I asked myself who are my heroes, who’s art inspires me and I want to create work in a similar style? For me right now that's Paul Chadeisson but then it's like why the hell have I not followed any of his tutorials and listened to his advice? So I guess I’m saying it's good to be humble, identify your heroes, and maybe it's a good idea to listen to their advice.