Can you first of all tell us a little about your current job and what you are doing at the moment?
Okay, I'm Kenichi Nishida, born in Tokyo, Japan. I'm currently working for Weta Digital as a modeler and have been fortunate enough to work on some assets for The Hobbit project – I can't wait to watch the film in the theater with my family!
Having recently started clay sculpting, can you describe how it compares to the digital medium and the benefits of working in a traditional manner for someone in your line of work?
I've just recently started clay sculpting in my spare time, so it's difficult to describe the differences exactly. Of course you can't use "undo”, "mirror copy” or other tools on traditional works and, as you know, these features are definitely helpful in digital work. We learn anatomy, which is very important as a digital modeler, but clay sculpting should also be just as important. Learning these traditional skills will help improve your digital work. These days, I'm examining traditional works more than digital works.
Which of your models are you most proud of and why?
Of course, it's my latest work, A Little Warrior, which I was awarded first place for. In addition, I received some complimentary comments from legendry judges, which was a great honor. I have never been awarded first place before, so I was really proud when I heard the news. I think I'll try again when I find a good modeling challenge.
What was the inspiration behind A Little Warrior?
I wanted to try to create a unique character for that challenge. I didn't want to create an ordinary muscular warrior so I tried drawing many sketches to find a unique style. And, of course, there is also a story that goes with the character. When I was sketching I gathered many examples of fantasy artwork and photos. Within those references, I was particularly inspired by Jean-Baptiste Monge, who is one of my favorite artists.
I was intending to make a small frog as the warrior's buddy instead of a crab, but I wanted to include different materials in the image such as organic parts and hard surface components such as shells. As for the warrior design, I used many photos of bush-men, who are the indigenous people of southern Africa. They don't have muscular bodies, but I felt they demonstrated a powerful culture and lifestyle.
What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing a character artist these days and what tips would you give to someone wishing to pursue such a career?
I have occasionally thought about this topic lately and feel that the greatest challenge facing a character artist is in learning more traditional methods like clay sculpting etc. We character artists usually prefer to use powerful digital sculpting software and can make detailed models easily and quickly. I think the software is really useful and helpful for our work, but if possible we should dedicate more time to traditional arts or basic modeling without the software.
Some people may argue that a digital artist does not need to study traditional methods. What would you say in response to this?
It's kind of difficult to answer this question, because I think there are some other ways to improve your skills. If you're a character modeler, you may need to learn character rigging and animation, but I think traditional art really helps towards modeling and I believe it is one of the best ways to improve.
For example, in another department an animator may need to learn about drawing a pose or a lighting artist may need to understand real lighting with a camera. We're just using digital tools instead of pencil, paper and clay etc. I think that both digital and traditional work share similar fundamentals. Of course, I'm still learning the fundamentals of these traditional arts in order to become a talented artist.
If you could summarize the things that have had the biggest impact on your artistic development so far, what would they be?
Definitely my friends and great artists. It's easy to meet a lot of artists on the CG forums and I can also discuss my work. One of my favorite forums is CG Feedback, and thanks to this, I can discover my problems and weak points, and address them in my work by fixing them.
Are there any films that you have seen and thought you would love to have been involved with, particularly from the perspective of character modelling?
I have some favorite CG characters: Na'vi, King Kong, Yoda, Davy Jones and so on. They are already well-known and popular characters. If possible, I'd love to be involved with these major projects as a character modeler.
What, if anything, do you particularly strive towards when modeling your creatures and characters?
When I do modeling work, I'm always striving to achieve a compelling form. For that reason I usually start to try and look into primary form and structures. Of course, I need to know about the background of the characters/creatures, such as what kind of personality do they have? Or what kind of environment do they live in? I strive to share the story of the character through the work as much as possible.