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Interview with Mark Soon

Friday, January 17th, 2003 | Article by Jean-Eric Henault

Digital Artist Extraordinaire!

We have seen some of his work around the web lately. We thought it was about time we shed some light on this artist from the other end of the world (really, he’s from Australia!)

CGC: What is your background?

MS: I am studying Architecture and Visual Arts at the moment. I do a lot of model building, drafting and design on the architectural side, and painting, drawing, and studying art theory/history in the Visual Arts. I loved drawing since I was a kid and I’ve always been doodling on paper for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to bring my drawings and designs to life, and 3D makes it possible now.

CGC: What is the DNA Project you are working on?

MS: DNA is a self-funded, solo effort short movie attempt. I’m doing it as part of a college project in my final year at the University Of South Australia. Before I go on, I would just like to acknowledge my lecturer, Dr. Dean Bruton for giving me the support that I needed to do this film. Also Mark Brown and Evasion3D for their sponsorships in terms of plugins ( Keytrak & XDOF2 ). I consider them a must-have in my production pipeline.
The movie is a sci-fi flick and is set in the very near future, in a parallel universe to ours. The world the movie is set in is similar to ours but yet different. Without giving too much away, the movie is about human genetic enhancements and biological weapons and why we shouldn’t play God.

CGC: Could you tell us how you did the modeling on these human characters?

MS: Sure. It’s all subdivision modeling for me. It really makes organic forms very easy to achieve. Depending on the shape of the body part that I’m modeling, sometimes I’d start with a box and subdivide it a few times, then start spinning polygons in the direction I want the geometry to flow. This makes it a heck of a lot easier to define the shape of the object and also reduces the polygon count severely. With my anatomy book right beside me, I try to get the polys flowing in the same direction that human muscle fibres grow, this in term creates easier and more realistic mesh deformation during animation.

CGC: What is the secret behind the great skin and clothing you do?

MS: There is no secret really. Most important is attention to detail. I guess you hear that a lot, but I can’t stress enough how important it really is. I usually work with a mirror and also a lot of photographs of different people’s faces under different lighting conditions beside me. I try and pick out the subtle skin color variations in people’s skin and apply that to my texture painting. I try to avoid using photographs for textures, because it just takes too much time to manipulate and get looking right. Unless of course I had a studio with some nice diffuse lights to create the the ultimately even lighting condition, then yeah, I’d use photographs.

I also think that the diffuse channel in Lightwave is a real important function that is often overlooked by many people. It really helps scatters light and softens shading, especially useful for skins of all sorts. I put a lot of effort in painting this map in particular for it makes a big difference in my renders.

CGC: How important is lighting in a project like this?

MS: Lighting…is the catalyst between the model/textures, and the viewer’s eyes. Important? Vital is more the word to describe it. You can hide or show whatever you want, with lighting. You can enhance a good model and make it look great, or kill it completely. Because I’m on such a tight deadline to complete this film, I usually try to hide the lack of details with lighting.
I try to also watch a lot of movies and pay attention especially to the shots taken indoors, and try to figure out how they lit the set in the studio, and what kind of mood the director was trying to achieve in the shot. I then try my best to interpret this in my own shots.

CGC: What is the most difficult part of this project?

MS: The most difficult part? Wow, that’s got to be rigging characters. It’s time consuming and there’s a lot of things to set up with these sorts of characters. The more hyper-real the model, the more you got to compliment it with good animation and good rigging. Otherwise the look just falls apart as soon as your character starts moving. I’m constantly going back and forth between the model and the rig to tweak the mesh, making sure everything deforms right.
(Project Messiah screenshot)

I currently use PMG’s new Messiah Animate 3.2 and it’s a great program. It makes my rigging life alot easier and gives me a lot of controls to add to my character for better deformation/animation, but even with these cool tools, character rigging is one aspect I really do not enjoy doing.

CGC: Why are you using LightWave and not something like Maya or XSI for something like this?

MS: Tajino, introduced me to Lightwave about 2 years ago. That guy’s a freak. The stuff he does in Lightwave is so cool, I just had to try it! ( Btw – his stuff still rocks ). Lightwave does what I want, for the price I can afford. The renderer is great, and the tools are easy to use, easy to learn and give me the results that I want. Newtek are constantly adding new tools to Lightwave to make it better and faster, and for it’s price, it’s very hard to beat. The best thing about Lightwave though, is the work flow. It’s efficient and fast to get around. Sure, I can achieve the same results in other packages too, but in Lightwave, I do it faster.

CGC: What would be your dream project?

MS: DNA is my dream project. :) I just wish I had more time to make things better though. Unfortunately the deadline is looming near and I just have to fudge what I can get away with.

CGC: What are your career objectives for the next 5 years?

MS: Well, I’m a freelance artist at the moment, and plan to keep freelancing it if I can. Unless of course I get a job offer from Squaresoft. That would be my dream to be part of the team. Those guys do fantastic things with their characters and are constantly breaking barriers in realism. I take my hat off to them…

Related Links:

Mark Soon Email: msoon2k@ihug.com.au


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