Concept designer Vitaly Bulgarov offers some top tips from his many years of experience working within the entertainment industry...
Clarity is the key to accomplishing anything on time. You have to be crystal clear about what is the goal, what is the deadline; be clear about what are the tools you will use, what are the reasonable approaches and what are exactly the steps you need to take to get to the finish line in the most effective way possible.
To ensure the most productive day, I usually plan my day in detail the night before. That way when you wake up there is already a mapped out path and you don't need to overthink what to do, so you can just jump into the action and start executing one item at a time without procrastinating. Usually, I make a list of most important items I need to hit during the day in order of importance, and give each item a challenging but realistic deadline, therefore leaving no room for some random incoming activity that may steal my day.
Each work item is usually split into sub-items with sub-deadlines, with the goal in mind. The main reason to be rigorous about the day schedule, at least for me, is the fact that if I don't have a clear vision and list of things to do with deadlines on them, my mind will eventually drift to some other activity whether it's web surfing, reading a book/article or even over-detailing a small part of a design. Basically, anything that might be fun but not necessarily contributing to achieving my goals for that specific day. So following a rigorous time management routine came out of necessity to get things done fast while ensuring the high quality and work/life/health balance.
Investing in hardware and software
A fast, responsive system is one of the critical components to the efficient workflow. Usually I get to upgrade my system every 18-20 months or so. I currently use a dual Xeon Boxx workstation with 192 Gb Ram to ensure fast CPU-based rendering, and support for multiple 3D applications with heavy scenes being open at the same time without performance loss.
A combination of Softimage
has been a proven combo in multiple projects with challenging deadlines. Softimage provides awesome toolsets for complex poly-modeling; ZBrush is irreplaceable for organic designs; KeyShot has a super-fast CPU-based rendering engine; and Photoshop is always a place to finish the final image. I also try to keep an eye on new software that comes out and trying to not get attached to anything I use. If there is a better way of doing things it's worth investing time in learning how to do it.
Research & development
I'm a strong believer in taking personal R & D time off. Usually when you work for a large organization it's hard to quickly implement new pipeline ideas, new software or to grow such skills that might not directly impact the quality of your task at hand, but will eventually help you to achieve your long-term professional goals. Therefore, taking some time off from work to re-invent your pipeline, learn new skills and try them within the field of your personal projects is absolutely one of the best ways to 'sharpen the saw' and keep your knowledge up to date.
The other effective way to absorb new knowledge is to stay within a team of super passionate people who always look for new ways to improve their performance and learn new skills. So ideally you want to work within such a team where you can all share the knowledge to help each other grow, to inspire and motive each other, but also take some time off once in a while to do some personal projects. Try new things that could potentially be useful, not just for you, but for the whole organization.
Besides that, a very good habit to have is to regularly read about the new techniques that your industry peers come up with. Also recording/writing your own tutorials, whether it's a training DVD or an article, helps you to organize your knowledge base into a cohesive structural form. In my personal experience, that was something that helped me understand the 3D modeling techniques better.
To ensure a high-intensity productive pace, especially in the long run, there is no simple trick. I think it's all about everything. It's what you eat, how well and how many hours you sleep, how many times a week and how hard you exercise, what books you read and what people you surround yourself with. There are hundreds of books and articles on effective time-management. The essence of high-pace productive performing lies with your personal capacity to tackle any given task with high enthusiasm, positive energy and clear vision for the final outcome. It is certainly a discipline of its own that is worth investing time in it.
Check out more of Vitaly's amazing work
Take a look at Vitaly's 10 days of mechs project
Create your own characters with the help of ZBrush Characters & Creatures