Moving on to your art itself, can you tell our readers a little bit about how you use ZBrush to create your stunning creature concepts? And what are your thoughts on ZBrush as a modeling software package in general and the way the approach to character creation is evolving?
Thank you for calling them stunning. I remember hearing about ZBrush when version 2 came out. It got me very excited with what you could do, as 3D software at the time had been very technical and less conceptual. ZBrush was a big game changer; with some of the new features now, the sky is the limit and you don't really need all that much time to create a really nice sculpture, or even a scene. I marvelled a lot at the techniques of Aaron Sims, who was somewhat of a pioneer for this kind of artwork.
There are so many different ways to use the software available these days that it's great to see digital imagery being considered as art now and not just photo compositing. The ability to sculpt a character in ZBrush, light it, create props, background, color/texture them, take it into Photoshop and put in the final touches... It's like being the writer, actor and director of your own play. You're in control of everything from initial concept to the final render. Technology has been really liberating for me as an artist.
We're so used to grouping art into either 2D or 3D, whereas your work seems to bridge the gap a little. Would you consider yourself a 3D artist or a concept artist who makes the most of both worlds?
A concept artist that makes the most of both, I would say. Generally some digital artists are true to either 3D or 2D, but the software used to create either are just tools and I find that some exciting results can happen when you use both to create an image. Sometimes I use Photoshop to paint over a sculpture to visualize where I might take it next and
even when the end result is 3D, I still use 2D to solve some issues. Whatever gets you there faster and with the best result!
You mentioned earlier that you got to work on one of 2012's most anticipated films: The Hobbit. What was your involvement and how long does an epic project like that take to complete?
Wow, that's a big question! I worked on The Hobbit from the beginning and it was a very long, but exciting, journey. We went "there and back again", you could say. It was the first film I designed on, and I was privileged to be involved with pretty much all the creatures, ethereal beings and some of the characters. This film really has it all and a number of talented designers contributed to the amazing wealth of visual information this story has. John Howe and Alan Lee are always inspiring to work with as well, and a bit of a dream come true for me.
John Howe and Alan Lee - now there are two colossal names from the film industry and amazing artists! As their traditional approach is far removed from your mix of 3D and Photoshop, how do they react to your art?
They absolutely hate me! (Laughs) No, they react very respectfully in my experience. Alan leaned forward in a meeting once and commented on how nice he thought a particular image was that I'd done. I'll never forget how I suddenly lost the power of speech and all that came out of my mouth was a load of nonsensical words! But I think both of them embrace digital art and have started using Photoshop in their illustrations on The Hobbit as well. And yes, they are amazing!
I have spoken to a few guys that work over at Weta before and a lot of them seem to have huge personalities (Greg Broadmore springs to mind). Is it a fun place to work and do you get to spend much time to interact with the other artists?
Yes, it definitely is. We often work together on projects so a fair bit of interaction happens, especially when we're refining something down to a finish. It can often be a couple of artists that take it there to the end and you end up working quite closely with some of the team. But we're all a little crazy in some way and it leads to a very interesting workplace with a lot of diversity!
When you're not working on blockbuster movies, what do you like to spend your time doing? Do you think it's important to find the time to unwind while you're working on such high-pressure projects?
It is very important to unwind when you do this for a living! My partner, Lindsey Crummett, is a super-talented artist at Weta as well, so both of us have to remind each other to take a break from it when it gets serious. We've got an awesome dog that forces us to get out for runs and walks; she also reminds you not to take it all too seriously! I also play guitar ,which is hugely relaxing, but sadly not so relaxing on the old hands! But they get over it quickly [Laughs]. I definitely make sure I'm not stuck to a desk 24/7 and that I get out and about.
Thanks for finding time to talk to us. It has been great to catch up and to be able to take a good look at some of your awesome work.
Thank you so much for the interview and I look forward to sharing more with you as I go. This is just the beginning!
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