Blur Studio scene assembler Simon Blanc takes us through his working practices, talking motivation, hardware, creativity and plug-ins...
Motivation! No matter what project I'm working on, I always find a way to make it fun. That's what school taught me, no matter what the subject is, turn it your way and have fun with it – you get good results when people can feel you loved working on it.
I usually start with the things that get me excited the most, and once these are done, I tend to focus on smaller details, trying to make that one detail awesome, that one model super-detailed. It's hard to keep up the motivation constantly, but I find that focusing on specific parts of the work that give you really helps to improve your productivity.
Up-to-date hardware encourages creativity
Once you get used to a program interface, the machine is the only thing slowing down the process of creation. Having a strong computer is essential to being able to work without interrupting the creative flow and losing motivation. On the render side, a farm is vital if you want to deal with animation; without it, it would take months to render sequences of high-quality renders, and in terms of production that's a no-no.
3D is a technical art, but the least you have to think technology the more you can concentrate on the art and the idea you want to express, in a way you need good hardware just so you can forget about it and produce more.
I use mainly 3ds Max
personally and at Blur Studio. I find V-Ray to be an excellent renderer; fast, good-looking and always evolving. The V-Ray people also have a great support and they are here if you ever encounter bugs or issues with the renders. After years of experience with these software, I feel extremely confident I can create anything a client could dream of, without the stress of an unstable or slow render.
ZBrush for high-res assets
I do a lot of environment modeling as part of my scene assembly job at Blur. We are often required to do huge and complex scenes in a few weeks, so I use ZBrush
a lot for high-res assets. A few years ago, we would have a pretty heavy pipeline that would require a lot of back and forth between 3ds Max, ZBrush, and Photoshop... a lot of displacement maps testing and fixing, mesh optimizing and so on.
These days, with better computers and 64-bit software, we are able to skip these steps completely. We simply export very high-res models, and 3ds Max handles them without a problem. My heart being on the lighting/shading/compositing side of things, I dreaded these long hours of testing just to transfer a model between two software and have them look the same!
Advanced Painter plug-in
When doing environments, we often have to duplicate things and make the arrangement look natural, organic. There's an old plug-in/script in 3ds Max that I use all the time; it's called Advanced Painter
. It is so old that I tend to forget about it from time to time, but it's extremely efficient in its simplicity, and allows you to scatter objects simply by painting on a surface. You get a lot of control AND a lot of speed creating complex scenes with that free tool!
To me, staying on top of my game means becoming a better artist. Software are tools; I learn to use them when the need arises, but I am not constantly running after the latest shiny toy. Especially in the CG industry, I think we tend to focus too much on technical gadgets, filters, plug-ins, when the artist eye and creativity are the things that make for greatness.
I teach myself about photography, lighting, real-life things that make my eye better, and evolve my artistic senses, all the way to taking on knife making as a hobby, which I have found helps me with a better understanding of materials and design. Art forms are interconnected on so many levels!
Relax and keep cool
I keep my head cool by taking a step back and remembering that I have already been in the same spot before and that every time it worked out fine. I actually enjoy the pressure of a deadline and working on short projects, as it never gets boring and pushes you to always find better ways to do the job.
We are in a very stressful business sometimes, but a good job in pre-production and a serious team will help a lot with the crazy deadlines. It's part of the fun working at Blur – we do our best beforehand, and we see deadlines as challenges we have to beat. There's a very high team spirit over here that makes handling the pressure a lot easier.
Check out Simon's personal site
Simon's 2014 demo reel
Grab a copy of 3ds Max Projects
Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection