Andrea Lazzarotti talked about his journey into the 3D world and recent work on his racing car animation tests. To follow the project development and keep an eye on other Andrea's works, check out his Patreon page.
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Hello, I'm Andrea Lazzarotti, from Italy. In the last 20 years, I've worked in lots of fields like architectural previz, industrial previz animations, automotive, video games for console (PlayStation, Xbox, Wii ), movies, and any kind of advertising for Italian and international televisions. After 17 years of continuous work at TaxFreeFilm, I decided to start a freelance adventure. Recently, I collaborated with a private academy as a teacher.
I came from an artistic background. I went to an art high school and continued the studies at an academy of fine arts. For me, the computer graphics was just a new creative tool, with 3D I was able to create worlds, experiment with lighting, and so much more. I was very enthusiastic about discovering this new digital world.
Even though I started doing computer graphics almost 20 years ago or more, I don't remember the exact moment when it happened. I remember it began as a hobby, like for almost all 3D artists from the older generation I suppose. Initially, I tried lots of 3D applications starting with trueSpace, then Bryce 4, then Lightwave 7, and 3ds Max.
The first complex thing I modeled and rendered was a cigarette pocket made in Bryce 4. And yes, I know that Bryce is not 3D modeling software, just a 3D environment editor, but I pushed it to model very complex figures just using nested boolean operations and simple primitives like cubes, cylinders, etc.
In the 2000s, the power of computers and 3D applications was very limited and the old 3D artists like me had to rack their brains trying to produce something usable or good to show to others. Looking back at those times, I really think we had some super crazy workflows... but it was not easy to find the necessary software 20 years ago. Several times, I installed demo versions from CDs found in computer shops, and now you can find everything just with one mouse click.
I don't have a stable and organized pipeline, and I think that as 3D artists we must stay flexible, not just stick to one way of doing something. Sometimes, I stop working only because I don't get good results and start again from scratch using another method. Someone might consider this approach a bit chaotic but I usually complete my tasks in a desirable way without too many headaches.
I try to use free or low-cost tools, - for example, I exchanged Photoshop for Affinity Photo. I will probably switch to Blender when I find the time to learn it. When I face some difficulties I usually buy scripts that can help, for example, the great Drive Simulator script helped to rig a lot of cars in my last animations. I'm a 3D generalist, but I'm not a master in all fields. I still lack knowledge in scripting, particles, and everything that involves complex math.
Lancia 037 Animation Tests
Recently, I've uploaded some test animations from a lot of projects in progress. I am not a fan of publishing WIPs but in this case, I decided to share them to get some reaction from people and see if after 20 years of experience I still have "something to say" in this field.
This series of videos is just a little part of a long showreel called "Old Style Reel". I consider myself a "vintage" man and a lot of stuff from this showreel (cars, motorcycles, music systems, etc.) is taken from the '70s-'2000s world. It's a collection of many personal works done in my free time over the years. All the sequences were done using the render farm at my previous workplace when it was free. My idea is to glue all those works into one showreel with a good flow of sequence and music.
To tell the truth, I personally don't like the way of presenting work through showreels nowadays, I think they are rather cold and impersonal. Usually, people skip quickly to see what's inside, and I'm sure nobody watches one's showreel from start to end without skipping. I think it's not enough to demonstrate your technical skills and call it a day, we also need to show some creativity, something you cannot learn by studying guides or manuals. Maybe it's connected with the fact that I prefer the role of a generalist - I like to play a big role in a project and not just take a small part of the work. Luckily, in personal works, it's possible 100%.
By the way, I admit that when I started working on this series, I never animated anything realistic and anything at that level at all. It was an experiment (as well as the clothes for the driver) and I took it as a challenge. I was quite tired of producing just still frames. In 2020, a lot of 3D artists can produce good stills so, in an attempt to be more competitive, I decided to move to the next level and try animation.
As for the clothes, I saw some of the workflows at my previous workplace but that job had always been given to other artists, more skilled in this field. However, when I became a freelancer I learned quickly how to fill all the roles in the autonomous production of CG shots. If you need to learn how to do something nowadays, you can find a guide for it very easily.
Working on the Car
I am a true fan of Lancia Rally cars, the old glorious vehicles. I started to model one of those cars years ago, then stopped the project and returned to it every now and then (that's my approach to every personal 3D project I do; I start many projects at the same time and then finish them sooner or later).
When I was working on Lancia 037, I managed to get a lot of detailed pictures from a lucky owner of this historical car found on the web. He carefully took many pictures from numerous angles of view.
Initially, I like to reproduce the real model as precisely as possible and when it's finished, I start to make it "personal". I love making original and personal versions. In fact, the version of Lancia I built doesn't exist in the real world (the same goes for the Benelli Sei motorcycle). For the car interiors, I simply follow my creative vision taking inspiration from a lot of references. The finished result does not always look good, so I delete and rebuild several parts until I am satisfied.
When I work on projects like this one, I usually don't have a precise picture in mind, I just build it brick by brick as new ideas come. Everything starts with a little idea and finishes with a big project... it always happens like that - you start with a simple thing, a simple idea of a short animation... and then end up rendering a more-than-1-minute sequence.
Working on Renders
I remember that my favorite render engine was Brazil R/S initially. Then, I moved to finalRender, Mental Ray (years and years ago) and for the last 10 years, I switched to V-Ray. I used V-Ray in the advertising studio where I worked for 17 years, and lots of my showreel shots were produced with it. I think it is very awesome. V-Ray is a monster that can "eat" millions of polygons, light, 8k textures, and more without too many problems and produce great renders.
Speaking of the final shots, there's no recipe for "correct" renders. I always make a lot of tests choosing the best points of view, angles, models to include in the scene, and the final result always comes from testing various solutions. Sometimes, I re-render shots that were already finalized and composited just because I am not 100% happy with the angle of view.
To composite and color correct renders, I use Blackmagic Fusion inside DaVinci Resolve.
Advice for Novice Artists
For anyone out there who wants to approach the 3D field, I'd advise first of all to understand what you really desire. If you want to learn CG just in order to have a good job and get a good salary, then I think nowadays it's better to study and apply for one favorite area of the production and focus just on that, for example, modeling, rigging, texturing, lighting, etc. Just choose and develop your skills specifically for that. It's kind of contrary to the original idea of a 3D artist in my mind because, for me, an artist is a complete figure. But in this world, we also need to survive and it's not always possible to do what we have in mind.
In our spare time, however, we are totally free to let out our creativity and build new worlds where nobody can say you what to do and what not, where you can express yourself and be appreciated outside the marketing rules.
To follow the project development and keep an eye on other Andrea's works, check out his Patreon page.