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Designing Spectacular Spaceships

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Web: http://www.gurmukhbhasin.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 15th November 2016

Star Citizen concept artist Gurmukh Bhasin shares an insight into his 3D designs...



Gurmukh Bhasin is a concept artist based in Los Angeles, California, where his background in traditional art and architecture has stood him in good stead for a career in digital concept design. He's currently working on Star Citizen, the record-breaking crowd-funded sci-fi game by Cloud Imperium Games.

Hello, Gurmukh! Please could you tell us a little about yourself: who are you, where are you, and what do you do?
Gurmukh Bhasin: Hi, my name is Gurmukh Bhasin. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I still live in LA, and love calling this amazing city my home. I am currently a concept artist with a passion for architecture, environments, props and vehicles. I approach all of my concept designs as if I am creating something real, dissecting all of the details to make sure everything functions cohesively. Coming from an architecture background, I like to push the narrative behind my work, beyond the bounds of concept, constructing my pieces as elements that could be deployed as real vehicles, props and environments. I have found that designing in 3D is the closest you can get to building something in the real world, and it is why I like to do the majority of my concept designs in 3D.

Interior view of the Constellation Phoenix ship for Star Citizen

What's your artistic and educational background? Did you always aspire to learn 3D?
GB: When I first started my higher education back in 2000, I wasn't even aware that concept art existed as a profession. My educational and professional background is in architecture. I have my bachelor's degree from Arizona State University, my master's degree from Southern California Institute of Architecture, and I worked as an architectural designer for over seven years prior to becoming a concept artist.

When I first started my architecture education in 2000, I did most of my projects by hand. This meant doing drawings with a pencil and parallel bar, and building scaled basswood models of my designs. At that time I was actually intimidated by digital tools and 3D design. When I enrolled in graduate school in 2005, I started using Maya 6.0 as a way to explore architectural forms and design languages. Needless to say, I fell in love with the program and the digital practice of design. Ever since then, I have been teaching myself Maya through online tutorials and a class at Gnomon.

While challenging and even frustrating at times, being able to see the evolution of my modeling and digital design skills over the past 10 years has been incredibly rewarding, and I'm so grateful to all the friends and mentors who've taken the time to help me get to where I am today.

HEMTT-M1075, Gurmukh made this model in 2013 for the advanced hard-surface modeling class with Max Dayan at Gnomon

Who or what are your biggest creative inspirations?
GB: I have a wide variety of creative inspirations. Some of my biggest ones stem from architecture, because that's really where my affinity for design began. Growing up I was pretty hardcore into skateboarding and skated for over 15 years. In 2005 I went on a life-changing skateboarding trip to Barcelona, Spain. The architecture in Barcelona is amazing. Being able to tour the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudí was awe-inspiring. Standing in that space, you could really see the thought process behind the design of the building unfold, and the models he created to figure out the design were so intricate and incredible. That building, along with the whole city of Barcelona, probably tops my list of creative inspirations.

I am also deeply inspired by religious buildings around the world, especially in India, which is where my father is from. Churches and temples are so beautifully designed and clearly constructed with passion and care. I am personally not very religious, but when I visit one of these buildings I can't help but to feel inspired to create something new and beautiful.

My professor from graduate school, Tom Wiscombe is one of my favorite architectural designers. The aesthetic he's cultivated over the last decade and the visual representations of his designs are so unique and captivating. I reference his work often, especially when I'm feeling stuck on a sci-fi project. Another architect whose work I love is Zaha Hadid. The forms of her buildings are beautiful to see and experience and leave you with countless ideas flowing through your mind.

For digital art, I have a few select concept artists that I can't get enough of. One is David Hobbins, whom I met a concept art event; he eventually become a good friend who helped me get my first concept art job many years down the line. Daniel Simon and Ben Procter are also on the top of my list of artists that inspire me to keep pushing my designs and skills and getting better with every new project I take on. They give me something to keep striving for, like a carrot on the end of a stick. Every time I look at their work I feel inspired to get better at what I do, to keep studying and practicing so one day I can be as good as them. And of course I am inspired by Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie, but that should go without saying. I love getting lost in their art, almost like falling into a dream or creative meditation.

Lastly, I am always heavily inspired by the beauty of nature and the beauty of the built environment that surrounds us. A gorgeous sunset always gets my creative brain juices flowing, and so does seeing cracks in a sidewalk or graffiti in a sketchy alley. Seeing cities blend with nature as it evolves and changes, the layers that time brings to something, and admiring the patchwork history in anything is always inspiring.

Carrack, Some views of the Carrack in context, with rendering help from Chris Olivia

What software and tools do you use for your concept work, and why?
GB: For 3D modeling, I love Maya over any other 3D software I have ever used. After having become fluent in its modeling tool set, it almost feels like an extension of my hand. The shortcut menus are set up to be highly intuitive and the program rarely gets in the way of my being able to design what I have envisioned in my mind. Being able to test out shapes, details and functionality in 3D as if what I am working on is a real thing is priceless to me. Knowing that my perspective and dimensions are always correct, designing things from all angles and figuring everything out is always my goal when designing.

I use V-Ray or KeyShot for rendering – lately it has been primarily KeyShot. It is just really easy to get beautiful images out of KeyShot in a short amount of time. Using KeyShot helps me stay focused on creating images that accurately represent my design concepts and the program doesn't technically get in the way of me staying in 'artist mode'.

Photoshop is such an amazing tool for post-processing. I use a Wacom Intuos Pro medium tablet with Photoshop and love being able to add a few paint strokes, scratches, dirt, atmosphere and more to my raw renderings to elevate them to the next level.

Those tools pretty much complete 99% of my daily workflow. I model the majority of my detail already, so my KeyShot renders are really far along and my Photoshop post-processing work is minimal with just a few minor tweaks.

Fantasy Mosque, Architecture inspired by the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Could you describe your general 3D workflow for us?
GB: My process is pretty simple. I usually start with some hand-drawn sketches to get ideas flowing and then quickly jump into Maya to start massing out and sketching concepts digitally in 3D. I love using Maya as my main design tool, because it's where I really get to explore ideas in multiple dimensions. I try to make sure that my designs actually work; making them in 3D is really the only way to ensure clipping doesn't happen, that there is enough room for things to open and players to walk through, and to make sure everything is being designed to the right size and fit.

I take my 3D designs to the highest detail I can through modeling. I model in cut lines, bolts, etc. All of these elements serve to make the final renderings that much more vivid. I usually don't worry too much about polygon count, as these are just concept models, and I often don't do much UV-unwrapping or 3D texturing. After I am done designing and modeling in Maya, I render out my designs in either V-Ray or KeyShot. Lastly I jump into Photoshop to integrate any final design details, composite my images together, add some wear and tear and do a few magical Photoshop tweaks to bring the image to life.

One really cool thing about doing concept design in 3D is handing off my full 3D model and final renders to the game modelers to get started on building the optimized game asset. This gives them a huge head start, as they already have my full design in 3D as a base to work from, and at the same time keeps the final asset looking as close to my design as I intended it to be (unless some major design change happens on their end).

Forgotten Church, This piece was inspired by the concept artist James Paick

You've been working on Star Citizen, an ambitious new space sim by Cloud Imperium Games. Could you tell us more about Star Citizen and what makes it such a special project?
GB: Star Citizen is such an amazing project to work on, and I feel truly blessed to have been a part of the team for over a year now. Star Citizen has many different aspects that make it so unique. For starters, we are the highest crowd-funded game, and as of now have raised over 85 million dollars towards development. We are even in the Guinness World Records for being the most crowd-funded project of all time.

Part of being fully crowd-funded is that we are an open-development project. This means that we share everything we are working on with the backers and fans of the game as each individual element is completed. This isn't the typical way games are developed, but I find it a lot more fun and satisfying, because my hard work is shown right away and the fans get to see it and react to it. I actually feel like I am contributing to the project when I see the things I work on bring in lots of money and attention to the game and help bring this project to life. Star Citizen has some of the best fans ever and I really enjoy being able to interact with them through our open development platform. I get to see their feedback and requests. It definitely informs my design process, and I love seeing if I can incorporate their suggestions into the ships I design.

Since Star Citizen is fully funded by its fans, we are able to create what we want instead of being told what we can and can't do if we were to have a traditional publisher. Our founder and CEO Chris Roberts isn't interested in making the same old game, following the same old process and doing things as they have been done for years. He is truly making Star Citizen the way he wants it, breaking all the rules, daring to dream big and making that dream a reality. He doesn't care about taking the easy road to make something that is good, he wants to take the hard road to make something beyond amazing, something that is going to change the gaming industry for the better. I often feel like working with Chris Roberts is a lot like working for Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg in their early days. It is definitely a wild ride, but you have a strong belief that what you are working on is going to be beyond amazing when it is complete.

Vanguard, Illustrative renders of the Vanguard for Star Citizen, with thanks to Chris Olivia and Elwin Bachiller for their contributions

What's your involvement with the production of Star Citizen? Could you explain some of the aspects you've worked on?
GB: I am a concept artist for Star Citizen. More specifically I design spaceships for the game. We usually start with a couple of ideas for new ships that we want in the game and have our fans vote on which one we should add. Next we get our design team to come up with a list of things the ship needs based on its role in the universe we are creating, the rough dimensions of the ship and its manufacturer. Then the ship comes into my hands where I start to design three different options, quickly blocking them out in 3D, sketching over screenshots and keeping it pretty loose from the start. I present the different directions to Chris Roberts and he chooses which way we should take it to its finish. I go back and refine in high detail, create a bunch of renders and animations and finish the concept.

At this point we put the ship on a concept sale, using the concept art and animations I created for the ship, along with its stats and role in the universe. The concept sale lasts for 10 days, during which our fans can pre-purchase the ship at a lower price than future sales down the line, buying it with 'lifetime insurance' (LTI), and helping in the making of this ship and the building of the whole game. Concept sales of my work are really cool for me because they're the first time fans get to see what I have been working on for the past few months; I get to see if they love or hate the ship, and I get to see how much money the concept sale brings to the development of Star Citizen. So far I have designed the Constellation Phoenix Interior, the Mustang Variants, the Carrack Exterior and the Vanguard.

Windmills, This Image was created as an assignment for David Luong's 'Photoreal Matte Painting' course

What are some of the valuable things you've learned while working on this project?
GB: This is my first full-time job working in the videogame industry, so I have learned quite a bit so far. One of the most important things I have learned is that the industry as a whole is highly competitive. Once you're in, you have to work even harder to stay on top of your game and make sure that you are creating the best work you can; you are now a part of something that is of the highest quality and only the best will do. I remember when I was still working as an architect trying to switch to a concept artist in the entertainment industry, and I kept thinking to myself, "If I can only get my foot in the door!” To me my goal was just to get in and everything would be easy from there. But once I got in was when the real hard part started. Luckily for me I've had some great mentors and guides along the way, and thankfully everything I have created for Star Citizen so far has been really successful.

The videogame industry is a lot of fun to work in. I have never worked harder on something in my life, but I am lucky enough to work on something I love, so it doesn't really feel like work at all.

Vanguard, The ship Vanguard for Star Citizen, with the assistance of Elwin Bachiller

What goals are you hoping to pursue next? Are there any tools, techniques, or skills you'd like to improve on in your future work?
GB: My future goals are to eventually work as a concept artist for the film industry, and then many years down the line to create my own concept design firm that creates future concepts for everything from real-world buildings, large-scale developments, real-world vehicles, real-world products, fashion and more, along with concept art for games and films. I've already bridged the gap between architecture and entertainment as a designer, so why stop there? I can definitely see myself being able to design anything real or fictional in the future.

There are a few skills I need to improve on, but the one I will probably tackle next when I have some free time is to learn more ZBrush. I have a basic working knowledge of it, but I definitely need to spend more time in the program and actually do full projects in it to take it to the next level. I also really want to texture my 3D models more and will probably be learning MARI sometime soon.

The New Venice, A 3D piece combining modeled architecture with matte painting techniques

Finally, and most importantly: how do you spend your spare time?
GB: I love spending time with my family and my girlfriend. Most of my family is here in LA so I try to see them at least once a week, and I love hanging out with my girlfriend, watching soccer, being lazy and just relaxing. I have a few hobbies that I love doing when I am away from work as well. I play soccer on three different teams a week and have been playing pretty much since I was eight years old. I also love skateboarding and have been skating since I was 13. I recently took a few years off from skating but I am back at it again and try to skate with my friends once a week. These things keep me sane and happy when I get really stressed out with work, and they help a lot when I need to clear my head to come up with new ideas.

Thanks so much for the interview. It has been a lot of fun sharing a little about myself and Star Citizen, and I hope you all enjoyed the read.

Carrack, Three-quarter and front views of the Carrack ship for Star Citizen

Related links

To see more of GB's work check out his website
Looking for inspiration? Grab a copy of Sculpting from the Imagination: ZBrush today!
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