Studio Wa Art director Gregory Stoffel offers insight into working for a design studio, getting into the 3D VFX industry and the value of a good portfolio...
My name is Gregory Stoffel, I'm originally from Belgium where I did my bachelors in 3D animation and VFX. I have been living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for almost 10 years.
Fan art of one of my first games on GameBoy. Sculpted in ZBrush and rendered in KeyShot
I currently work as a 3D art director in a Japanese company called Studio Wa Vietnam that specializes in creating 3D content for virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D animation and real-time applications. Most of this work is for governmental agencies on confidential projects which means I have to push myself to work on my personal projects as my professional work cannot be featured on my portfolio.
A tribute to Jean”Moebius”Giraud, from a concept by Brett Bean
I also do some freelance work, most of which is in advertising, but I'm working on specializing in character and creature design for video games, film, and the toys and collectibles industry. When I started working as lead artist a few years ago, I found myself really enjoying tutoring other artists. I'm now trying to share whatever work I can (tutorials, workshops) through my other website The Voodoo Workshop
Be passionate: I believe working in a creative field is not possible without passion. The amount of time and work we put into our creations and the need to be constantly learning new techniques and software requires real dedication.
How I got started
Like many people my age Jurassic Park
and Toy Story
had a big impact on me, although at the time I was too young to understand how these movies were made. It wasn't until years later that I made my decision to become a 3D artist. I was into science during high school and never really thought of becoming an artist until my brother brought home a copy of 3ds Max
and installed it on dad's very slow computer.
I was around 16 years old and was spending all my free time learning this software by myself and completely fell in love with it. Two years later, I entered an art school (HEAJ in Namur, Belgium) where I learned a bit of everything, before specializing in 3D to obtain my Bachelor's in 3D animation and VFX.
After my studies, I went on traveling for a few years and ended up in Vietnam which I liked and decided I wanted to spend a bit more time there. I quickly found a job as junior 3D artist in a post-production house for advertising. A couple of years later I wanted to try working for myself as a freelancer. For a few months I worked mostly for advertisers, before getting an offer in a simulation/real-time/VR/AR company where I still work today.
Inspired by a concept from Yoshitaka Amano, sculpted and textured in ZBrush and rendered in KeyShot
For every project, personal or professional, I give myself a deadline and use project management software to keep track of my projects. I personally prefer Asana but there are plenty of other ones online both free or with a subscription.
Qunari from the game Dragon Age. Created in ZBrush and 3ds Max, rendered in V-Ray
Advice for Artists
Starting out working as a generalist is good path to understand all of the workflow to create a project. For example: understanding how rigging and animation works, will make you think more about how to create your topology. It's also a good way to find out what you are really interested in. I always thought I was going to focus on learning effects when I started, but eventually became much more interested in sculpting and creating characters and creatures.
I started out by working in advertising. It was a great learning experience right after school because I was working on a variety of projects, each with different challenges and a fast paced environment. It allows you to quickly fill up your portfolio with professional works to replace your school projects.
Enutrof from the game Dofus and from a concept of Kim Ettinoff
Having a degree is by no means essential for working in 3D. If you have the ability to be serious and learn on your own you can get a job, the only thing that is important is the quality of your work. That being said, college can be good way to start networking, and a degree would be useful if you are planning on working in another country to apply for visas or a work permit. No companies have ever asked to see my diploma, but it would have been more much difficult to get my work permit in Vietnam without a bachelor's degree.
With regards to your portfolio, I think it's important that it reflects the work that you enjoy the most and the work you want to do. Also, be mindful to put only your best work in your portfolio - quality over quantity is always better.
Finally, it's important to exhibit your work on as many platforms as possible. Forums, blogs and social media are all great tools to get your work out there and get discovered by companies looking for new talent, or for potential clients looking for freelancers.
Patience: It can take a long time before you get to where you want to be, but with hard work and perseverance, it will come eventually.
Take a look at Gregory Stoffel's website
Gregory's tutorial site
Grab a copy of ZBrush Characters & Creatures from the store