You've certainly learned a lot from your own experiences in the work environment. Do you have any industry tips on customizing and optimizing your workflow and render times?
Sure. In my opinion the most important thing is to always, and I mean always, ask for other people's opinions. I used to work on my own and rarely ask for opinions during work production. This was one of my greatest mistakes. Everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn! Usually when I'm starting to enjoy the overall result of my work, I start to ask for my workmates' opinions (and actually the TechnoImage staff is made up of awesome artists and great friends too). I also ask my wife. She doesn't work with CG so her point of view is completely different; she doesn't care about polygons, wireframes and all that technical stuff. Her feedback will be like, "Hmm... his sneakers... you have made a mistake with his shoelaces” and this is very helpful. Therefore the first and most important tip that I could give to anyone is to ask for people's opinions. You don't have to agree with everyone, because it's your work and you need to keep your goal in mind, but there's always something that can help your work.
When I used to work with ArchViz, our biggest goal was to overcome densely packed scenes with short deadlines. I developed a personal chart with three things to do before starting a panic attack!
1 - Optimize your models. It's always awesome to create a model full of details and impress everyone with your 2,000,000 vertices, but when you have a short deadline and your computer wasn't made for NASA, you will need to optimize your models. Try thinking about the whole process. What do you really need to model? What can you do with opacity maps? What can you solve with renderable splines? (splines in 3ds Max are awesome, but somewhat underrated). 3ds Max also has "build up” modifiers; you can save a lot of time if you know how to use them wisely.
2 - Know your render engine. I admit that I don't know every parameter in V-Ray, but now I am more familiar with it I know how to optimize the render time according to my needs. On the V-Ray help page they talk about global V-Ray parameters and it's awesome. But it is slow; too slow if you are working with a short deadline. One day I saw a guy bragging that his render (of a scene that wasn't complex) took 27 hours! It's beautiful, but when your boss is pushing you because the client is pushing him, you can't do this. I take time to try different parameters and lower some numbers and raise others to see what happens. Spend some time trying to achieve quick results. It's one of the boring parts, but it's useful when you are desperate.
3 - "Keep ‘em close”. This one is more preventive. You can optimize your workflow a lot if you make your tools more familiar and instinctive. To create an editable poly in 3ds Max you need to create a box > right-click > Convert to > Edit Poly > click in Edit Poly
on your modifier palette > choose the Move tool > move the vertex. This takes way too long! What if you just Create a box > press Ctrl+E > press 1 > press W > Move the vertex. This is much better! The Ctrl+E shortcut I've created to fit my needs; all the others are already set in 3ds Max. Every time I find myself using a tool regularly my first priority is to set a shortcut to it. By using shortcuts you can improve your speed. Always try to set a couple of essential shortcuts and also make your app interface more friendly, so you don't have to spend time searching for a tool and lose your focus. And one last tip: "Do it without care, and you will have to do it twice.”
A few of your recent images portray childhood in a great way. What plays the key role in their realistic toony look?
I think that the most important thing is what motivates the kids in the images! Kids don't have to concern themselves with politics, bills and adult stuff. To them the most important thing is the here and now. Therefore the Captain America kid truly believes that he can step in and face the bully and this is the most important thing in his whole life! If your characters don't express how much they believe in their motivations, your cartoon will never be believable. I can talk about proportions, styling and all that technical stuff, but I truly believe that those things aren't that important if you can tell a story with your artwork. You need to create a situation for your scene, not just develop a stylish character, put him in a pose and voilà. For example, one of the most interesting characters I saw in a cartoon was Syndrome from The Incredibles. Have you ever noticed how believable he is? When he reveals to Mr. Incredible his plan and says, "Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super, no-one will be” – that gave me the chills! (Laughs)! It wasn't only the render, or the shaders, or any technical stuff that gave Syndrome the realistic toony look; his belief and his acting made him awesome too.
Walt Disney once said, "Adults are just kids grown up”. I'm 26 now, but I still love to play Sonic 2 and laugh at the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote TV shows! It isn't too hard to see things through children's eyes.
We've covered the different aspects of your creative process, but which part do you like most and what takes up most of your time?
My favorite part is the lighting and shaders. In my opinion you can save or destroy your scene at this part of the process. I'm not saying that the other parts aren't important, but I see a lot of work around the web by artists with some awesome models which don't have the impact they should. Most of the time it is because they have used overcast lighting when it would have been better to use more dramatic lighting or some generic shaders. This is the part that takes up most of my time. I love spending time testing and thinking about the best way to get a good result in the quickest time possible! It's quite fun and can be very useful too!
The importance of using shaders well is clear when looking at CG artwork as you mentioned. How do you get started on this type of work, and how do you decide if you are happy with what you have?
I started to develop my shader skills in my first job. I noticed the relationship between light and shaders and how easy it was to notice the 3D in an image if the shaders weren't convincing. To create a good shader you have to fully understand what you are creating, and I'm not just talking about the glossiness parameters. You first need to understand how the material that you're going to create works. Does it have some kind of coat? Why it is so glossy? This is a big step in shader creation.
There are two more things you will need if you want to improve your shader skills and they are patience and time. If you have time to improve your shader, fight the laziness and do it! It is a curious thing, but when I'm stuck in a traffic jam I usually do two things. One is to play Tekken 6 on my PSP and the other is to start looking around for different lighting situations and observe how they affect the materials around them. I try to create the shader in my head, just like a render. It's a simple and very effective study.
If you find yourself thinking, "But I have already done all that and my shaders still aren't that good”, then Google it! Search for references on the web, or if you have the material near you then spend some time looking at it and see how it behaves in different lighting situations. This can really help you out!
You have done a lot of different jobs, and even some work out of your comfort zone. Will you be impressing us any time soon with, let's say, a photorealistic approach or something similar?
My job means I have to do a lot of photorealistic work, but it isn't something that I really enjoy doing. To me it's like working with a lack of options. One thing that I've never tried was to do something animated with cartoon characters and that's my next step. The idea came from a friend who said, "Dude, if I was the CEO of Capcom, I would hire you to do a Street Fighter short movie” and I thought, why not? We just finished the animatics and now we're already working on some animation and rendering!
You mentioned the importance of comments and criticisms once you have developed a piece. Do you enjoy correcting and improving your artwork or, after seeing it finished, is it difficult to go back to the beginning?
Sometimes it is hard to keep in the frustration when you know that the comments mean that you will have to go back and go through a load of boring steps. But if you keep in your mind that most comments are intended to improve your work you can always benefit from them. If you remember this it can be more enjoyable. When I was finishing Captain America my workmates made a lot of comments about things that my eyes were already accustomed to and so I wasn't seeing them as errors anymore. I think Captain America's pants were modeled three times and the bully's pants twice. I made two different versions of the grass and a lot of hair tests and changes in post-production. Like I've said before, you don't have to accept every comment, it's your work. This is the case for everyone except my wife – she is a little stubborn if she thinks she is right!
Thank you for all the insight and inspiring words, Victor. I hope to see more of your stunning artwork soon!
Thank you for the awesome opportunity to show a little more of my work and chat about it. The first question reminded me of some good times! I would also like to thank everyone who helped my progress in some way!