Martin is a (mostly) self-taught artist that has been working across a variety of industries including Research and Development, TV, Film, Commercial, and Games to keep things fresh. A few projects that he has participated in are 300, Underworld 3, The Messengers, and The Last Mimzy. Martins’ focus is mostly modelling and texturing but every now and then the odd generalist job will come by where some lighting, rendering and basic animation are also involved.
Can you give us a recap of where you started in the industry and what your specific passion for cg art is?
I started over at Bee Vision in Toronto as an intern back in the year 2000. I spent about 5 months there learning Houdini, Maya, Photoshop, and getting adjusted to the studio environment. It was a small studio with only a few people in it, but that’s a good thing because it allowed you to wear many hats. Back then Maya was new, and NURBS were still king. Finding a job doing poly modelling was rare. It wasn’t until after I finished school that I really got my start though. I had stumbled on Mirai, Learned the demo to it’s as much as I could, and landed a job with AT&T doing research type stuff. My passion in CG is learning more about the tools I use. I actually like discovering the hidden gems that programmers have hidden away for us to find; and learning how to use tools in new ways.
It’s fun to create these small videos where I can demonstrate ideas. Most of my videos have been demonstrations to inspire people rather than do step-by-step learning videos. That is about to change though, starting with these Online Master Classes. I like teaching people how to do stuff. Sometimes it forces me to learn the stuff I teach a bit more thoroughly, and think up of multiple applications on the spot, which is always a good thing. About the online communities, I have been a huge supporter of them in the past, and still am to some extent, but nowadays I take a step back a bit. I lurk a lot more than before. This last half year I have been soo busy with work and beta testing that I haven’t really had much time for much else.
What are some of the traits that help define a well produced environment?
This would depend on the environment. You can create a new architectural piece that is perfectly fresh or some fantasy environment, and each would have need something different to be successful. I think a few things that come up time and time again is atmosphere, some sense of history, and thinking about how its inhabitants would have affected the area. In the case of an architectural piece, its important to think of people that walk the streets, and how the building is integrated into its surroundings. Selling the piece usually requires defining a good scale comparison, a good camera angle, and lighting. For example, On Underworld 3, most of the shots looked really small until we had foreground elements, some atmosphere between the foreground elements and the background. This allowed us to set some sense of scale, and hint at distance. In another shot we added small birds, and Lycans rushing toward the fortress. These sorts of things are really important because otherwise it all ends up looking like a miniature set. Scale is very important, so defining it should never be overlooked.
Having worked on several films in the past few years why do you feel we see so many animated features for adults focusing on topics like Anne Frank or Beowulf?
I don’t think there are enough to be honest. Anne Frank never made it to the finish line. Because of how realistic ( at the time ) Anne Frank tried to look, I think it would have made more sense ( budget wise ) to just build the sets, hire actors and let them do their thing. If the movie was more stylized it would have made sense to build it all in 3D, but at the end of the day, the movie took too long to develop and investors pulled out. I think Pixar does a superb job of bringing adults content that they can appreciate. The Incredibles tackled family issues beautifully. Up dealt with death and moving on. Even Wall-E had a very simple way of showing love that was a whole lot of fun. Adults don’t really need to have realistic renditions.
Anne Frank posed several character hurdles at the time to achieve a visual style fitting for the film. What were some of the chalenges for you?
One of the challenges was making characters that have a similar likability to the photos we were provided with. In most new productions we get scans, high resolution references with good lighting, but when you are given 200×200 pixel pictures from 1940, that had poor lighting with tons of contrast, creating a similar likeness becomes exponentially harder. A lot of photos weren’t time stamped either, so it all becomes confusing. “Is that a simple dimple, or a wrinkle that the person has due to age?” I spent a lot of time with Mauro Gandini interpreting photos, and moving vertices by mere millimeters.
Do you have any outside hobbies that contribute to your creation of successful environments?
Yeah, the ever expensive photography hobby. I’m hoping to buy a Nikon D3 when its price comes down to about $1500-2000. It’s probably my own fault for it being expensive, but I like high quality/reliable tools. As a result it allows me to learn about the way cameras work. How to achieve a certain feel in an image by setting the aperture low or high, etc. Meanwhile I take a lot of texture references of things like stone, buildings, etc. It’s always useful.
What’s important to show in your reel to get your foot in the door as an environment artist?
Quality work that is well thought out, with a sense of history, successful show of scale, lighting, atmosphere, and good placement of detail where it needs to be seen. Lots of polish is always nice to see. But really it all depends on what you want to apply for. Is it a modeling position? Or lighting? Or texturing? Showing that you are capable of doing multiple tasks always helps too. If you have an environment created entirely by yourself thats nice to look at, all the better.
How relevant is it to an aspiring artist to give back or participate in such communities?
It should be important for every artist to join the community. You can create all the work you want. Maybe your school mates and parents can comment on the stuff, but if you intend on joining the work force then networking and online exposure will be very important. Nowadays we have these wonderful challenges where the winners get a ton of exposure. People like Krishnamurti Martins Costa that have won challenges and eventually made their way to places like Industrial Light and Magic, Or Brett Briley who participated in the Dominance War III competition and landed a job over at Id Software.
It’s not all about working though, when I started 10 years ago we had a few artists sharing knowledge and inspiration like Steven Stahlberg, David Komorowski (the hobbit guy), and a lot of artists back on Spiraloid like Bay Raitt, Tamas Varga, Travis Bourbeau
That was before Gnomon had the huge lineup of artists teaching that they have now. It is important for the current generation of artists that are learning, to give back to the communities for the future generations. Everyone benefits as a result. We get fresh new inspiring work to look at that hasn’t been filtered through the commercial pipeline, and hopefully some new ideas to approaching our work.
There are few artists that are as willing as you are to pick up a new app and jump right in. What is the attraction in tackling new software?
New possibilities. I am always on the lookout for software that will make the creation process easier than it was in the past. I learned Mirai because it was probably the most streamlined poly modeling solution back in the day. However, managing and splitting polygons got boring and the results weren’t as high quality as I was hoping for; so Zbrush fit the bill perfectly. Sure it was alien at the time, but the huge community, the guys at pixologic like Ryan Kingslein, Ofer and Paul Gaboury helped a lot with sharing information and teaching me some tricks.
Modo and Cinema 4D play a big part in your environment asset creation and layout. What are some of the things these apps are doing right or differently from apps like xsi and maya? Is it personal preference?
I choose my packages based on how intuitive they are to use. Modo has a great grid and work plane setup so it makes the creation of accurate environments a breeze. It’s navigation is very very smooth and it doesn’t break apart when working on small objects like Maya or XSI would. It also has a huge lineup of selection tools that are very accessible. Considering that modelers navigate and select more than anything else, these two aspects should be solid. Cinema 4D however doesn’t navigate as well as modo unfortunately, but it has other attractions like Body Paint, and the ability to paint projections onto your environments right within the package, simple scene management, a great hair toolset, etc.
What is the most important area software companies can improve for artists?
I would love for texturing to become even simpler. Zbrush can be a great tool, but poly painting can often get in the way when all you want is to work on the texture, especially when the object that you are working on hasn’t been built with subdivision in mind (think background elements). Maxon is really in a great position to provide artists with a great painting package. I just feel that the brushes could be expanded a bit, and the management side of things (materials and textures) could be heavily improved. Personally, right now I would want for the developers to jump onto the technology that Disney developed: Ptex. If this were to become more common, and integrated into packages like Zbrush, Body Paint, modo, etc it would make life sooo much easier. However I feel that the tools and workflow will still take a few years to mature, much in the same way the normal mapping, displacement, and retopology workflows have matured since their inception.
Any advice on where aspiring 3D artists can start? Any Short cuts (without on the cheating fundamentals) that might give a competitive edge
Focus on the art, and making things look the best they can. For environments especially, if you know how to paint well, you will be able to get away with painting mattes and covering up areas of your scenes with a simple brush stroke rather than working on every individual object. Today Gnomon has a huge library of learning material, where even if you pick one DVD you can learn a huge plethora of information.
Most recently I bought the James Hawkins and Josh Nizzy DVDs even though I know a lot of what they present, seeing the way they approach their material can be very helpful. It’s an investment I make for myself. I could spend 60 dollars on a DVD, but later I will make thousands with that knowledge. Sometimes I even like to review my own demo material that I made in the past. Even though its old, dated and looks bad, there’s usually stuff that I completely forget about. I almost feel that making these sorts of videos can be great, not only inspire others, but as a way to document ideas that you knew way back…only to go back to them again in the future to remind yourself what you once knew
Last but not least what would you like artist to walk away with from your masterclass presentation?
My class is more of an introduction to modo, Cinema 4D, and putting down ideas on the table. I really want to remind people that keeping things simple is always important, though sometimes it is fun to over complicate things just for the extra challenge
For more information check out Martin Krol’s website