Sony Pictures Animation visual development artist Zac Retz talks about his chapter in The Ultimate Concept Art Career Guide, offering advice and sharing work from his portfolio...
3dtotal: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
I am a painter and designer working mostly in feature animation. My main job is to create inspirational artwork for movies. I work with a small team of artists to develop a look and feel for the film. This includes environment designs, story moment paintings, prop designs and more. I also develop color scripts and paint lighting keys to help direct the lighting, mood and colors for the movie. I live in Los Angeles, CA and work at Sony Pictures Animation.
A painting based on a photo I took when I was in San Francisco visiting
3dt: What are your favorite projects you have worked on?
So far I have been fortunate to have worked on many animated projects; it's hard to pick a favorite. I will have to pick the animated "Spiderman” feature film because it has been announced so I can say a few things about it and it's the first movie I have worked on that has made it past pre-production. It has been a really rewarding experience to see my designs and lighting keys implemented into the final movie. This movie has also pushed me way outside my comfort zone. I have had to adapt my style of painting and think about design in a slightly different way than I was used to. This has been great for me and has made me a better artist.
Interior of a 7-Eleven just before closing
3dt: Thank you for your contribution to The Ultimate Concept Art Career Guide. What was your section about, and what do you hope readers take away from it?
It was about how to always keep learning as an artist, social media and networking, landing jobs, how to keep your job, a general workday, managing time, a balanced life, and much more. When I wanted to get into animation I had no idea what to expect at a studio job and I didn't know what was expected of me. I hope that my article shines some light into these topics for people looking to get into animation. I also hope that my article can help those who maybe feel like they are in a rut artistically.
A visdev painting I did for a "Knack 2” cinematic
3dt: What software and hardware do you normally use when creating your artwork?
I manly use Photoshop. All my sketching and final painting is all done right on the computer in Photoshop. I use an Intuos 4 and a Mac Pro. On the go, if I'm not using traditional mediums I will paint on my iPad using Procreate. This is only for studying natural light and sketching what's around me. I never do any professional work on my iPad. As for 3D, I use Blender, it's something I am currently learning and trying to get better at. It's great for blocking in my environments or for modeling, texturing and lighting.
A couple crossing the street to go to a street food market
3dt: How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?
Animation takes so long, you may not be able to post any artwork you do for years after. That's why it's so important to keep up the personal work. I have learned that when you get your first job you need to keep making work and posting it online. Whether you do a new painting every week or do a quick sketch every night, these things keep your online presence up to date. This keeps you on the radar of these studios. The portfolio I made during my first job helped me to get my second job. I find it helpful to make a story and to keep making artwork for it. Always have a sketch going outside of your day job. Recently I started doing a quick painting during my lunch breaks. I try to do one every day and post it online. This is a low stress and fun way to keep up with the daily paintings.
A painting of the Pier when I was in Santa Monica
3dt: Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
Some of my all time favorite artists are traditional landscape painters like Richard Schmid, Daneil Volkov, Edgar Payne, C W Mundy, Sorolla, Chien Chung Wei, and many more. It's so hard to pick! You may be able to see how these artists have influenced my work a bit; they have inspired my color choices, compositions, and edge control. It's so hard to pick my favorite artists but a couple of my favorite digital artists are John Park, Craig Mullins, Theo Prins, Carlose Felipe Leon, Dice Tsutsumi, Robert Kondo, and Peter Chan.
Something that all these artists have in common is how they paint light and use color. They paint looking for light, shadow, and use their knowledge of how real light and color actually work in nature. You can see in their work how they focused on capturing a mood and feeling in their work. This is what I like about their work. It's not about replicating an exact photo texture or a finished rendering or something. It's about using their knowledge of real lighting, color, and mood to tell a story.
A visdev piece for my short film
3dt: What can we expect to see from you next?
You will continue to see my lunch paintings because these keep me learning every day. Something else I am working on is a little CG animated short based on a story I created. It's going to take some time to do because I am learning a lot of new skills along the way and working with some friends. I hope to put out more concept art from this project in the near future though. Thanks so much for the support and watching my art online!
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Grab a copy of The Ultimate Concept Art Career Guide