Modeling Realistic and Stylized Assets

Modeling Realistic and Stylized Assets

Jarrod Hasenjäger discussed his approach to creating realistic and stylized art in MODO, shared his workflow with both styles and talked about combining MODO and Arnold.

Introduction and Career

My name is Jarrod Hasenjäger, and I currently work as an independent contractor and lecturer in a variety of fields within the CG-pipeline. When I was in school, I was always interested in art, and the programs at the time catered mainly for graphic design, painting, and even industrial design. I was never really completely sold on any of them and always ended up pursuing subjects that contained a mixture of mediums, such as printmaking, where we would combine skills in drawing, painting, and even types of construction, including wood and various paper boards to create an artwork. I knew deep down inside that I was happiest when I could combine different skill sets to make something, but at the time, there wasn't an obvious path into a sustainable career that involved it and animation, and CG wasn't a thing. To give you an idea, this was around the time when the first Matrix movie came out, and again, we would all marvel at the visuals and wonder how they did it, but it just never seemed accessible or even relatable in many ways. The one thing though was that I was always interested in computers with games being the obvious introduction into it, but there was an immediate connection between the art and style of the visuals on the screen and that inner creative voice. So after a few years of pursuing a more graphic design orientated career, while slowly but surely absorbing the beginning stages of the Pixar golden era with films like Finding Nemo, my interest in CG grew, and I began to recognize how I could potentially combine my interests in art with my proclivity for computers and technology. Not to sound too cliched, but I quite literally gave up my current career path at the time and went back to school with absolutely no regrets whatsoever. 

As for being a jack of all trades and a master of none regarding my skill sets, that in many ways was a deliberate decision but with unplanned results. I was always interested in everything and I rarely saw a difference between creative and technical aspects regarding the pipeline. As an example, a VFX element and a character asset is surprisingly similar in my mind as I understand both as a series of problem-solving moments that lead to the desired result. So based off of this, I have continuously absorbed and become involved in most areas of the pipeline, which at some point pays off in the sense that you may not necessarily be the best there is at any one thing, but you suddenly find yourself with this perspective on the entire, or at least the majority of, production pipeline, which is incredibly useful when challenging projects to arrive that require solutions that benefit not only one area of the pipeline but the entire process. As I already mentioned, this position of R&D Supervisor wasn't a deliberate goal, instead, it is what my actual goal is, which is to gain a deep understanding of the entire process as possible, continuously refining skills and chasing the most efficient procedures. A great example of that was when I was trying to understand materials and shading, I started building my own 'library' of results, which became the Material Studies that I very infrequently post online. It serves as a good example of how I will mentally latch onto something and develop this deep craving for unpacking and understanding it. For any artist wanting to do something similar, I would have to say that apart from any courses you may study or degrees you attain, it is that drive and motivation to be better and to understand your subject matter that I believe puts you in this position.

Working in Two Opposite Styles

This is once again just such a great example of how weird and 'opposite' my mind works, which for many artists doesn't make sense, and I don't blame them. So, again this comes down to that pursuit of understanding and pursuing the idea of appeal in everything. Growing up on cartoons like most kids, I continue to love the simple shape language and gentle combination of simplistic forms that make up stylized characters and there is such beauty in that. There is this misconception that stylized is easier than realistic, and for characters, that is arguably not the case. The unique challenges and time taken may be very different, but if anybody could just make a successful stylized character, then everybody would be doing it, and there is a reason why you don't see that. Every time you bring a creation to life, there is this personality that you have brought into the world, and it is incredibly addictive because as the artist you can tell anybody quite literally everything there is to know about that character; their personality and what they would like and how they would behave. I think from how I am answering you can immediately tell that there is this inner passion for this kind of work! But then, on the other hand, you have realism, and to recreate it, you first have to study it and understand all the things that go into making it the way it is. It is mostly 'easy' to get 80% - 90% of the way there these days with the kind of information available; photogrammetry is fast becoming a preferred method of capturing realistic assets and are available to most artists through popular online vendors, but it goes about more than just the model or texture because, at some point, you have to represent it to your audience, which means that you need to have a firm grasp of light and understanding of how that works. So as you can tell, the way I explained my interest in both of these aspects is quite similar in that it all goes about having a fascination for the 'how' and 'why' it works. 

Working in MODO

At the time, I was familiar and comfortable with Maya and becoming more and more deeply entrenched within the asset production side of things. Always keeping one ear to the ground and actively seeking out new software 'solutions', I heard about this little program called MODO, and the thing that picked my interest was when I read how somebody was describing the modeling toolkit it had at the time in a magazine, 3D Artist, if my memory serves, which had these accompanying images. I immediately wanted to try it out and after downloading a copy of it from Luxology (original creators and owners), I started messing around with it and it instantly grew on me - intuitive, simple and focused. I believe that this was MODO 301, which as you can imagine was some time ago. Learning it properly actually came from actively working within it; I would deliberately force myself to create things using it and never giving in to the temptation of using more familiar software. In all honesty, I think it is fair to say that I felt comfortable enough to model something properly after the first 2 or 3 days of usage, but my learning path continues today.

Combining MODO and Arnold 

Both of these software represent high levels of efficiency that complement my approach and workflow, ultimately making my process that much more effective and simpler. If I were to think of shared adjectives for both of them, words like simplicity and performance come to mind. Arnold has no bridge into MODO yet, although I have heard rumors that it may or may not be in the works, at some point, so where the marriage occurs between the two is passing off the work from MODO into a framework such as Houdini in which further development can occur. I always say the best tool for the job is the one you know best, and MODO is my absolute go-to for hard-surface modeling and design iterations. On a less glamorous note, but one that I highly appreciate, MODO's ability (when compared to other similar software) to clean up 'bad' geometry and unnecessary attributes associated with it are fantastic!

Creating Stylized Art in MODO

I think it is important to make a very big distinction here that hard surface can also obviously be stylized - so anything hard surface is where MODO has paid attention to developing optimized workflows - whether they obey more real-world architectural designs or look like something from a Dr. Seuss book. I feel as though its strengths still lie safely within this arena, with exceptional developments over the last few years in tools such as Mesh Fusion. Instead of trying to challenge the King of organic modeling, MODO has instead always kept its user base in mind and developed new and faster ways of achieving results. Small things make a difference, from its incredibly robust interface with easily accessible tools and viewports to the way that it allows you to build your library of meshes that can then easily be snapped onto existing meshes within the scene. Organic modeling...being a big ZBrush user it is very hard to compare the two in this regard, but that being said, since I work on productions requiring production-ready assets, at some point those sculpts need to be turned into something that the rest of the team can work with, and that is where MODO comes straight back into play with its retopology toolkit.

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Creating Customized Tools in MODO 

In all honesty, it's still the more commonly occurring tools that I use the most. I have never tried to 'experiment' with too many other approaches, rather preferring to stick to what makes sense to me, so in this way, the purpose of the tool is not necessarily unique when compared to other software, but rather how it intuitively functions inside of MODO. In no particular order, the pie menus are easy to understand methods of accessing tools and functions without breaking your momentum and taking you out of the moment. The beloved Action Centre with easily adjustable options for gimble placements concerning selections that have been made saves so much time when having to manipulate the geometry. The adjustable work plane allows you to easily create geometry from any selected area that you set it to, essentially redefining the origin point which ends up saving so much time when performing your day-to-day modeling tasks. The easy-to-guess hotkeys for many of the most commonly occurring tools make MODO immediately more inviting, and the extremely unglamorous world of UV's is presented in a controllable way inside of the UV editor, with powerful tools that other software has since adopted that make this process go as quickly as possible.

So my approach doesn't have any special techniques, instead, it benefits from what makes MODO as a whole so special, its own logic.

Tips for Beginners

Do it! You won't regret learning it. My tips would be to have patience because the program is richly rewarding. Don't try to learn everything at once and spend time mastering the basics as you need that foundation to move forward properly in anything. I already mentioned that it is quite easy to pick up and learn MODO with no outside help, but the patience part relates to keeping even those expectations realistic. Incorporate deliberate practice into your routine. If you want to be great at character development then it won't help you to spend your time modeling vehicles. Practice what you actually want to be good at. Although I might be comfortable with a few areas of the pipeline, I have spent an incredible amount of time and made many sacrifices along the way in order to get there. We often tend to associate things visually, and what I mean by that is we will see a great model online and then read what software the artist used, at that moment, we instantly create this association with the two and tell ourselves that we will never be able to create something so incredible unless we use that tool specifically. Rather consider the fact that the reason the model looks great is because of the artist, not the tool. So MODO won't make you amazing simply by using it, but it is an amazing tool that will allow you to do your best more efficiently once you are familiar with it.

Jarrod Hasenjäger, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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    Modeling Realistic and Stylized Assets