An Interview with Professional Designer and Carrara Artist Mark Bremmer

As part of a continuing series of interviews with interesting and popular artists at Renderosity.com, I was fortunate to be able to speak with professional artist and designer, Mark Bremmer via Skype text chat recently.

Mark Bremmer has run his own design company for the last 16 years. His beautifully designed website lists “design, edesign, illustration, animation, fonts and tutorials” as the services his company provides from his home office in Denver, Colorado. He joined Renderosity in 2000 and has contributed some amazing images created primarily in Carrara. If you spend a half hour in his gallery, you'll see that he has a wide-ranging imagination along with a very high skill level. There is also a great sense of fun in his work that I also discovered in the person as well. Mark also moderates the Carrara Forum here at renderosity and has recently contributed an excellent review of “Photoshop Elements” for Renderosity's front page.

My thanks to Mark for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about his work and for answering several follow-up questions as well. I very much enjoyed learning about Mark, his work and his ideas about art and commerce.
 


How are you doing today?

Can't complain. Some insane deadlines lately, but that's the nature of deadlines!

What are you working on right now?

Wow, it's pretty varied. This week has seen me produce one animation, an interactive cross-platform CD and a couple of illustrations. And the week isn't done yet!

Is that a heavy load for you? Or typical of your work week?

A typical work week, like there is one, is usually about 50 to 60 hours. Can't complain when business is good.

Man, don't you get some time off?

In a couple of weeks. And the sad part is, I like what I do – most of the time. So, while I put in hours, they're usually not high stress.

Ah, got it. Is there a certain type of work you do mostly? Or a certain industry you serve more than others, like animation, web-design, etc.?

You know, I'm a bit of a chameleon. Business wise, I've got a bunch of agency types of experience and skills, but my target market is mid-sized corporate that doesn't want to pay agency rates. So they hire nuts like me.

To stay competitive, I've had to really become fairly multi-disciplined. That comes with a huge learning curve because you don't get a second chance with clients. Either it's pro or you go home. So, video, animation, illustration (that's' what I started with) design, web, electronic media, blah, blah, blah...

Indeed. How long have you had your own business (Mark Bremmer Creative)?

Been running my own shop for, hmmmmmm, 16 years now. It used to be pretty much pure illustration.

How has it grown for you? Are you the sole proprietor?

Yep, sole proprietor. I did start an agency with two other partners, but found that I really didn't like the evil dark side of management. I like making stuff too much.

Was it hard to move away from illustration?

Sold out. We're all still friends. No. Not hard. I actually started designing to feed my illustration habit. Illustration is not spec'd as much as it used to be because younger art directors are raised on stock. Concepting something fresh isn't as common as it once was. So, I concept in for my clients and create some fun stuff that sells their business. Definitely cultural at this point. So, It makes my solutions very unique.

That's something that you can take to the bank.

In a sense, then, you are doing the creative work for them, right?

Well, it depends.

On the particular job?

I'm very much an art mercenary and get hired by agencies for my hands. I'm told what to do. However, for my personal corporate clients, I am a mini agency and provide turnkey services.

Do you work out of an office or at home?

Out of my home office now. I did the office thing and got over that. It's nice not having a commute. It used to be a big deal. But now, it's a growing norm. In fact, it's esteemed by many folks. For clients that "need" an office for me to be legit, we're probably not a good fit.

You are located in Colorado, right?

Yep. Denver.

Did you grow up in Colorado? I see you graduated from Colorado State (in 1985).

I did. I worked out of state for awhile, but really have a lot of outdoor hobbies. Denver is kind to outdoor enthusiasts. Actually, one of the big draws for me to stay was flight instruction. I used to do a lot of flight training just for fun - especially teaching folks aerobatics. Nice weather most of the year.

But now, I've run out of time to teach. Saving for kids college takes a little effort.

How many are in your family?

Kay and my two boys - both in their teens, 17 and 15. And neither of them have any interest in art - which is probably a good thing. They'll be able to get a "real" job.

Ouch. I know what you mean. How does a typical job come to you?

I adore my work, but it's not for everybody - that's for sure. Illustration jobs abroad, come from advertising in directories like Black Book and Directory of Illustration. I buy pages for ads.

Design work is referral. And, I actually am getting quite a few illustration referrals now too. There isn't as much competition as there once was. Also, the tutorial series that I've done constantly puts me in contact with folks learning software for various businesses. They discover that 3D is a bit of a big animal to leash. So, I've gotten some nice projects through that as well.

Yes, I've noticed your tuts on several sites. For Carrara and what else... Poser?

Poser, Apple's Soundtrack Pro and a couple that I can't discuss at the moment. ;)

How did you happen to get interested in computer graphics and illustration? In College?

One of my early clients required a ton of airbrush retouching (remember, I'm old) and the art director I worked with started showing me Photoshop on a Mac SE.

I saw the future.

Airbrush looks great, but it kills brain cells.

Yes, indeed. So you work mostly with a Mac set up?

Yeah, a big mac workstation with several computers and a network. I have my own little render farm. What a geek. I never thought that I'd end up this way. What will I tell the children?

I was going to ask about that. What kind of rig do you have?

Well, it's something like this: Four multiprocessors boxes and an iMac. Dual monitors, color corrected to match each other. Dweeb stuff like that. 3d animation exacts a toll.

Caribbean voyage

I got it. Are you mostly self taught, or did you find instruction in class?

Self taught, but I do use tutorials myself when I need to. I was just slightly on the wrong side of the curve to have any relevant classes in my schooling years. And, clients want the latest. They don't teach the latest. You really kind of have to go out and figure out how it's done. At a certain point, you kind of reach critical mass and the knowledge becomes relational. Methods began transferring between disciplines and softwares.

I think you are right there. Tell me a bit about the work you have on Renderosity. What kind of work is that? Mostly fun, creative stuff?

It's really mostly just hobby stuff which is why there isn't much up. I just don't have the time, and posting 'work' is kind of crass. It's a hobby site with hobby users. Nothing wrong with that. I don't have any bikini clad women with swords though! :D

 

Morning Dew

In looking through your gallery images here on Renderosity, I was struck by the craft that went into creating such detailed, imaginative images: do you find that there is a difference between your "creative" work like "Morning Dew" and the commercial work you do on a daily basis?

The biggest difference between professional and personal work is agenda. Commercial and personal work can both have an extremely high level of craft, so one isn't better than the other in that regard. However, my personal work is typically to emphasize beauty or drama - typical story-telling types of things. Whereas, commercial work typically has a very specific list of needs for advertising or instructional purposes. I'll have to say that working professionally has dramatically improved my ability to produce personal work that I'm actually happy with. You can't really "control" your images until you master the tools that you're using, whether it's a pencil or a 3D application. Professional work has forced me to become very proficient with a wide range of digital tools.

What is the working process for images like your “Retro Space Man” avatar? How much time do you spend on a piece like "Morning Dew?".

Believe it or not, I'll usually quickly sketch out something with Painter X or a pencil and paper. It's simply faster and easier to capture the feel of what I'm wanting to visualize. Then I'll do the modeling, texturing, lighting and finally, rendering. I'll usually spend about 20 percent of my time working on models, 40 percent on texturing and 40 percent on lighting. Regarding my avatar and Morning Dew, I actually spent more time on my avatar! Morning Dew was a breeze to create using some of the new landscape and replicating tools in Carrrara. A few simple models, then distribution and voila - a couple of hours later it was done. My avatar actually took about 4.5 hours simply because I was fussing with the helmet and collar model to get it where I wanted it. On personal work, I'm not constrained to the timelines of the pro world, so I tend to tweak things ad nauseum.

What is particularly impressive in “Morning Dew” (aside from the wonderful detail) is the light in the scene. How did you create that effect?

Carrara is starting to knock on Vue's door I think. Seriously, there is only one distant light in the scene. The rest is the global illumination feature with the sky.

Why do you use Carrara so much? Was Carrara your first 3d program?

Carrara is really a great Swiss Army knife. It does so much, so well and is inexpensive to maintain. It's not a perfect solution. But there's not a perfect solution out there.

Is Carrara part of your professional work flow?

I do use it a ton because most of my client base doesn't need some of the cinematic features that come with spendier packages. So, yes, it's part of my pro work flow. But, so are other softwares: Vue 6, Poser 7, Poser Pro, Hexagon, Modo 302, Blender, Anime Pro. Just going through the list.

I was all set to buy my first 3d package (Cinema 4D) and now you come along and mess it all up?

C4D is a great package.

(sarcastically) Thanks a lot, mark!

Ha! Always check out the cost of plug-ins. And whether you really need to get an additional render engine.

But, you make Carrara 6 sound so great for what I have in mind (my own animated films).

I can tell you from personal experience that Carrara is used in a bunch of TV. More than you might suspect. Carrara is pretty tidy for what you're describing.

The price point is certainly very good for what you get.

Digital Carvers Guild makes a shader tool called Enhance C for Carrara - $95. The comparable package for Maya is $800.

I've noticed you do a lot of instructional videos for Carrara, etc, what's it like putting those together? How much time do you spend on them? Do you enjoy the process?

Carrara is a pretty deep program - easy to use, but deep. So my series on that could only touch on the basic and some intermediate levels the program, and I still wound up with about 18 hours of instruction. It took about 60 hours to put together because I'd prepare files, do some recordings and then re-record stuff that I didn't think went well. Production time was around 60 hours.

Making the tutorials is actually a blast. I kind of have a certain range-of-use that I'll work within any given program because of client requirements. Doing the tutorials let's me get out and fully use the program. And, of course, it always helps clear the cobwebs from my mind and keeps the full tool set at hand for use on assignments!

Sometimes, thanks to deadlines and new software, I use tutorials myself and have some pretty strong opinions about what makes a good one and a bad one. I've tried to address that and not "under-teach" the software.

Let's talk more about some of the work you have at Renderosity. You know, I've noticed in many of your illustrations there is a great sense of "fun" in them.  Also, almost all of them have a kind of "background story" going on. Like the scene is just part of on-going life in some way.

I try to always tell a story, or part of a story, with illustrations. That's what illustration does well, that and concepts.

Well, it separates your work from many others.

Imagination is pretty powerful. You only need to tell enough and let the viewer figure out the rest. It's like having sound effects off-screen in a movie.

Retro Space Man


I really like your “Retro Space Man”. How did that come about?

I'd seen a posting where someone had a saucer space ship. It started me thinking about Buck Rogers I watched as a kid where you could see the strings holding the ships, and the smoke from the back went straight up. And 50's hair for sure.

Oh, yeah. That's the kicker. That and the fact that there is someone off screen that he's got it in for. It's a very nice touch in conceiving of the design: a dramatic scene.

There's not enough good snarls in images at 'Rosity!

The reflections on the bubble look like hard work? Were they?

Ah, mon ami. This is where 3D makes life good. It's just an HDRI reflection map. No muss, no fuss.

Where did you find the image?

I think I came across that as a freebie. However, I make a bunch of my own. I do have a collection of Dosch HDRI outdoor maps that I use pretty regularly though. All I need is digital velvet.

Changing directions a bit now, you mentioned earlier in our conversation that perhaps younger designers might rely more on stock images/etc, is this a result of heavy workloads, or a wider cultural shift to quick/easy choices for graphic work?

I don't know that here is a perfect answer for this, but there are several common reasons I come across when talking to folks that have been in the business for over five years or so. The first reason is availability of stock, whether it's film, photo, 3D models or anything else. There are so many bad design and ad campaigns where it's obvious the folks in charge found a stock item and then built creative around it. It's supposed to go the other way if you want strong, original solutions. So, the solution created from the stock is always slightly forced, trite, and uninspired.

Another combination of reasons is lack of tool skills, knowledge of process and budget. It's a wicked threesome that makes mediocrity the final result. 3D and digital tools are essentially pretty easy to use on their most basic level. But, until you actually are fluent in the tools, you can't innovate, and instead become mastered by the tools instead of the other way around. Throw in a low budget, a demanding client that wants to look like a fortune 500 company but only wants to spend a very modest amount, plus doesn't understand that good creative and execution takes time and it's a problem. Stock image = $10, custom photo-shoot = $2,500. Unless there is a compelling reason for a custom solution, stock wins. But that leads me to my next point.

The final reason is many artists, and even whole design firms, simply don't know how to sell or present their ideas, and are easily cowed by clients that throw one of their competitor's ads in front of the designer/artist and says, "Make my ad look like this, but different." Either you're an image/visual expert, or you're the "Photoshop guy" who's a cog in the wheel. One's a pro and one's cheap. That's a huge difference, and clients pay accordingly. Some clients want cheap instead of performance, so Stock wins the day.

And finally, what are your future plans for your creative/commercial work? Do you have any personal projects currently underway?

I probably have about 150 personal projects written down and waiting for me to do something with. I'll probably have to take a "stay-cation" instead of a vacation to work on most of them. There are times that I have some free time and actually choose to not work on personal assignments because I spend all day with the same software and simply need a break. I can't argue when business is good, but it does tend to put a damper on my willingness to do personal work.

However, personal work is where I push the limits of the programs I use, and that usually translates back into a greater range of capabilities I can offer to clients. So, actually, doing personal work is essential to staying ahead of client demand for services. Many personal projects, even if completed, don't always get posted online though, especially if I've found an innovative way to use the programs. That's where a little professional propriety comes back into play. Besides, I need to use the walls in my house for displaying something.

Before we go, I did want to say how much I liked your website, markbremmer.com. Did you design it?

Yep, I did it myself. Aw, shucks. ;)

Beautiful work, Mark. Much better than most sites like it.

As much as I hate web work, sometimes it's fun. thanks for the props!

Alright. Thanks again for your time, my friend. Pleasure chatting with you. Take care, now!

Okey Dokey. Ciao!

We invite you to visit:
 


 

Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.

June 9, 2008

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Member Opinions:
By: StaceyG on 6/10/08
Great interview! Nice to get to know Mark a little better:)

By: evilkisses on 6/10/08
Great to meet the man, find out more about him and, learn.

Fab Interview!

By: SGT2005 on 6/10/08
Excellent interview ..and Mark Keep up such great work my friend.

By: evinrude on 6/11/08
Kudos, Mr. Grove for an outstanding interview. Mark Bremmer - Renaissance Man. You go, buddy!!!

By: 3Dillusions on 6/11/08
Great stuff Mark, love your work :)

By: Hawkins-GraFX on 6/12/08
Hey Mark,

Great interview. Really nice to see inside the life of someone I've known for a good long while.
All the best buddy!
Clint

By: UVDan on 6/18/08
Great interview! It's nice to get to know Mark a little.

By: lululee on 6/21/08
Great interview. Truly inspiring.


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