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Interview with Ken Toney

By 3dtotal staff

Web: http://k-rider.cghub.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 22nd October 2013


Do you ever get the urge to spend some time digitally painting again and creating some of your own concepts? Is the ability to do this kind of thing appealing to potential employers?

Oh yeah all the time. It's one of those things that I know I need to do more of and plan on pursuing in the near future. It's important for character artists to have some ability to concept. It comes in handy quite often at work. During game development not every asset gets a concept, so at times you may have to step in and do your own. It's quite appealing to have concepts in your 3D portfolio and it shows diversity.

In the footnotes to many of your images you mention that you use Marmoset to render your characters. Can you tell us a little about the benefits of doing things this way and why you use this method over the other software available?

Developing real-time characters is what I do for a living. So for me it's natural to display characters through a game engine.

You know it didn't seem that long ago that 3D engines just weren't accessible to regular consumers. These days, with Marmoset and Unreal, anyone can show off their work in real-time. The reason why I use Marmoset is because it's so easy to use. In fact, when it comes to my personal work I use it in my pipeline during the texturing stage. In the past I would paint my textures in Photoshop and render out small test images afterwards in Maya to see how the character was progressing. Unfortunately these test images would take roughly 5-10 minutes to render. Nowadays I just toggle between Marmoset and Photoshop and see updates within seconds.

Another reason why I use Marmoset is because more and more character artists are using it to display their 3D artwork. For the time being it does look like it's becoming a standard in our industry. All you have to do is visit any CG art forums and you'll start to see more and more 3D artists displaying their work using Marmoset.

Can you tell us a little bit about using ZBrush in your pipeline? How long do you spend in ZBrush and is it hard to know when to stop sculpting there and rely on the textures on your final model for detail?

Using ZBrush can vary depending on the project. I used to just use it for general sculpting and to extract Normal maps, but over the years I've also learned to use it for general 3D concepts,

UV mapping, and texture painting. For example, on the Captain America model (my most recent project) I used ZBrush at the very beginning to quickly concept the silhouette of the character. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted him to look and with ZBrush I was able to sculpt the main shape of the body within a few hours. After the concept sculpt was complete, I retopologized the mesh and GoZ'd back into Maya. For UVs I exclusively use the ZBrush UV Master tool. I like how it unwraps UVs perfectly and on top of that I can paint in areas that require extra density.

In terms of how long I spend in ZBrush, I would say somewhere between 30-40% of the full pipeline. In the next 2-3 years I do wonder if that number will increase as ZBrush keeps adding new features.

As for knowing when to sculpt and when to rely on textures, I primarily sculpt a majority of the tertiary details. The only ones that I texture in Photoshop are the very fine details, such as skin pores and cloth textures.

We are always amazed at what the ZBrush team manages to achieve with each new update of their software. What developments would you like to see in future updates?

It looks like with each update the Pixologic team somehow reads my mind. In the past I wanted to be able to set up UVs in ZBrush and they came out with UV Master. Then I wanted better retopology tools and they came out with the Topology brush and QRemesher.

The only thing I can think of that I would like to see added in future updates is the option to change the user interface (UI), so that it closely resembles Maya/Max. Personally having used ZBrush for years I don't have a problem with the UI, but it is the most common complaint I hear from other CG artists new to ZBrush.

I always like to ask people I interview what they do in their spare time and often their answers vary hugely. What do you like to do when you get chance to relax and do you find that this influences the way you work and the type of projects you are inspired to tackle in the future?

I did go through a serious motorcycle phase, but it has been winding down lately. There's nothing like hitting 130mph and then swooping into a fast left turn, dragging your knee on the asphalt. I still own a Honda CBR 600RR (sports bike), but I don't take it to the racetrack anymore. Now I just use it to commute to work once in awhile.

These days in my spare time I've been dabbling more and more with game development tools such as Stencyl and Construct 2. These tools are artist friendly, so you really don't need any hardcore programming skills. Having grown up playing classic 8-bit games, I thought it might be fun to try to develop my own 2D game. For now just getting a character to move around on screen has been a struggle, but you've got to start somewhere.

Thanks for letting me ask you a few questions, Ken, and good luck for the future!

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Nyxhei on Tue, 22 October 2013 10:40am
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