Some artists dream of bringing life to their creations. Anders Kjellberg (better known on Renderosity as cartesius) transcends imagination. His attention to detail, composition and lighting qualifies Anders for the title of Master 3D Artist!
Although he resides in Sweden, he is easily at home with Renderosity’s global community. From the moment Anders discovered Renderosity (in 1999) he has been a well-respected and vital member of the community. Not just for his artistic talent (which is remarkable), but even more so for his willingness to interact with artists—professional and novice alike.
So, what motivates Anders (cartesius) Kjellberg? I was excited to sit down with him to find out the mystery that makes up the man, the moderator, the artist ...
Anders, in college, your interests varied; from literature to historical studies. With your intuitive artistic talent, was formal art training or computer science also part of your university experience?
Actually I never got around to getting a degree in Literature (although I’ve studied it) but I do have a B.A. degree in Art or rather History of Art. I’ve always been interested in art so when I got the chance to study its history I took it and it resulted in a paper on Albrecht Durer’s Melencolia I. One of my favorite pieces of art ever.
Melencolia I © Albrecht Durer
I’m also enrolled as a doctoral student with the Department of Historical Studies, Umea University, where I’m working on a dissertation in the field of History of Ideas. The dissertation is very biased towards history of science and deals with how Nordic scientists during primarily the 1800s attempted to explain the aurora borealis: what was it, where was its origin to be found (did it emanate from the earth or from space), and where in the atmosphere was it located? Hopefully I’ll finish it one of these days!
Computer Science was never really on the agenda for me. I’m a humanist at heart and although I enjoy computers very much (I still remember my first Macintosh Classic) I’ve never taken a greater interest in them apart from what you can do with them. How you can use them as an extension of your personal creativity. Of course you can study those aspects as well in Computer Science but I preferred to sit home and play with the machines instead of studying them.
Although you do not have formal traditional art training … your attention to detail is flawless. Does your creative eye come to you naturally? Where did you gain such an incredible grasp for lighting, composition?
I’m a firm believer of details! There is a saying attributed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; God is in the details. I believe that as well. For me detail is what makes something “real,” that plants this something within a framework I can relate to. Details might not always be seen but they are always there, and helps the viewer to—consciously or unconsciously—believe that what they are viewing might be, if not real than, at least plausible.
I think it also has a lot to do with my fascination for reality. Every now and then there are discussions on the CG forum on reality versus fantasy: which genre should CG be used for? Some believe that if you have these powerful 3D tools at your disposal, why re-create something that you theoretically, just as easily, could snap a photo of? For me this discussion is like discussing what you should cook with your brand new oven: should you cook fancy meals all the time or should you stay with the not so fancy.
In my eyes it doesn’t matter, cook or create whatever you want! Reality with all its beauty and flaws is what fascinates me, but if you are into magical creatures, futuristic spaceships or the Orcs of Moria, then create those!
So much of a final render depends upon good lighting and I can’t really say I know 100% what I’m doing when I set up the lights for a scene. I go with instinct and feeling. If an area is too dark I try to lighten it up with a low level Omni or perhaps an area light. Too bright and I try to fix it by adjusting existing lights combined with perhaps negative light sources. If I can’t get the desired look in the render I’m no stranger to render several passes of the same scene and composite them in Photoshop.
Composition is something that probably comes very natural for me as I rarely need to focus much on it. I arrange the scene the way I want and like it and apparently I hit something universal once in a while as I often get good criticisms for the composition of my images.
Without question you have mastered lighting and composition within your Cinema 4D creations. What other artistic programs do you use in your works of art?
I cannot do anything without Photoshop. I use it for creating textures and for post-processing my renders. I know many of the older CG artists might have a certain aversion to using any 2D application for enhancing renders. When I started in 3D around 1998 there were certain purists that voiced the opinion that; if you can’t accomplish the desired result within your 3D application, then don’t bother at all. For me they all work together—if you can’t get the shade just right in 3D then fix it in Photoshop!
Another application I use frequently is Maxon’s amazingly powerful BodyPaint 3D. Virtually every scene I do today in C4D utilizes BodyPaint in some way. Once you get over the initial threshold it’s a very powerful piece of 2D software for postwork—frowned upon by purists.
At work I use Autodesk Maya, another very powerful (albeit more difficult) application. I’ve been using Maya for about a year now and although the [learning] hill isn’t as steep now as it was 10 months ago it’s still pointing up.
I also have ZBrush but shamefully I haven’t used that for quite some time now. I had to reformat my computer last year and the process for re-registering ZBrush was so complicated that I never got around to it. Speaking of ZBrush, I’ve had my eyes on Mudbox for the last couple of months and if I can somehow justify the cost (and that I actually already have Zbrush), I will most likely get a copy soon.
The CG programs that you use are very complex. How many years have you been modeling? Do you create your images on a Mac or a PC?
I believe I started with Bryce around 1998, or 1999, and I was hooked immediately. I’ve always been a doodler but as the doodles I scribbled on paper never resembled the vision I had in my mind I never really started to draw or paint seriously. When I discovered Bryce it was like a whole new world opened up for me. Finally I had a tool with which I could transfer the ideas from my mind onto a canvas, even though it was a virtual one. I used Bryce for perhaps two years before I started looking for additional 3D software.
I don’t really know where Bryce stands today regarding modeling capabilities, but back then you were restricted to either basic primitives, or you had to model your objects with another application and then import them. Displacement modeling in Bryce was however extremely powerful, but I never mastered that part of the software. In other words, modeling in Bryce was extremely limited. So, I decided to find an outside application and started browsing the market.
Back then I was on a Mac, and there were not that many 3D applications for Macs (for a couple of years I’ve been using a PC, but I still have four Mac’s lying around the apartment). I tried the demos of Lightwave, Strata 3D, and Pixels 3D but none of them suited me. When I finally got my hands on Cinema 4D, everything clicked—I knew immediately that it was the software for me! It was easy to use, intuitive, and overall it gave me the impression of being manufactured with creativity in mind.
In 2001 I got a student license for C4D R6, and I’ve stuck with that software ever since. The student license is a great way to get into 3D if you are still in school, by the way. With Maxon you get a fully functional version of the software, no restrictions whatsoever except that you are not allowed to use anything you create for commercial purposes. The idea is that you learn the application, create a killer reel, get hired as a CG artist and then purchase the commercial version.
With so many artistic awards, and your works of art featured in several magazines, do you still consider yourself a hobbyist?
I suppose I can no longer really call myself a hobbyist, no. However, I don’t consider myself a professional either. I love doing 3D but there’s still so much I don’t know. Every time I fire up C4D I learn something new. When moderating the Renderosity C4D forum; I learn a new trick or a new way of thinking every week. Someone who has been using the software for perhaps two months might describe how to accomplish something and I go, “Wow, I never thought about it that way!”
Your images tend to be photorealistic (Gauge and The Pilot), with an occasional dash of whimsy (Dad, is that you?). With your superior lighting skills, many of your images (although modernistic) have an Old Masters quality about them. Do you have a favorite artistic period, or an Old Masters’ artist (Caravaggio, Raphael, Jan van Eyck) that have inspired your works?
I’ve learned a lot from studying the history of art. The problems I struggle in regards to light and color were problems also for the old masters, and they all approached the problem from different directions. Caravaggio is, for example, the master of focused and tight light, much like placing Omnis of spotlights in a scene. Others, like say Vermeer, mastered the global illumination technique, where light appears to be surrounding and illuminating that scene in a very natural way.
© Anders (cartesius) Kjellberg
My favorite artist of all time must be Albrecht Durer, a German artist of the Northern Renaissance. I can’t really put my finger on what it is with Durer that makes him so brilliant, but he’s been my favorite artist since I was, perhaps, 10 years old and discovered his Bible illustrations. I’m also very fond of the Flemish artists of the 15th century—the Breughel’s, for instance, have a very special place on my wall.
I can see a lot of your favorite artist’s within your artwork. On the subject of inspiration, several of your images(At Least There’s Paper and The Beast … I especially love the drool) reveal a hint of dark humor. What inspired those images, and how does your wife and colleagues react to your sinister wit?
At Least There’s Paper was my reaction against all those shiny interior bathroom renders that are still very popular. Everything in those images is spotless and clean with not a hint of a smudge anywhere. With Paper I decided to do the worst I could so I fired up Bryce and went to work. It was great fun doing that image and I’ve actually thought about revisiting that scene and see what I could do with the same theme today.
The Beast started when I tried to model the nose of our dog! It’s a seemingly very simple shape but proved to be more difficult than I expected. Once I had the nose I continued doodling on the mouth, and it sort of grew from there. This image is in fact a prime example of what can happen if you just play around! I had no real idea of what I wanted to do when I started but slowly this head of a beast started to take shape. The blindfold was added as I wanted to see if I could model the folds. I modeled the helmet as I didn’t want the poor beast to be bald! All in all, the whole image is the result of me just playing with C4D.
My wife is actually one of my biggest critics. She always has opinions—especially on shadows. I can work on a scene for two weeks and when it’s finally done she takes one look and says, “Cool, but the shadows are all wrong.” She also has a very dark streak of humor; so we fit very well together. [laugher]
Usernames always fascinate me. I understand that your username is derived from the Latin version (Renatus Cartesius) of the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher (creator of the Cartesian coordinate system), Rene Descartes. What is the back story to your opting to use his name over others?
It started around 1998, I think. I had just discovered Quake II and online playing, and I needed a nickname. At the time I was reading a lot of literature on Western philosophy in the 1600s, and one of the philosophers was Rene Descartes. Like you mentioned the Latinized version of Descartes is Cartesius. So, I chose that name as my online Quake nickname (actually I was very close to choosing Leibnitz instead).
It was kind of fun since almost everyone else had names like Killer, MastahFragger, Owned, or something like that. I ran around with a nick from a French 17th century philosopher and mathematician—I Frag, therefore I am! [additional laughter]
The nick stayed when I started frequenting CG forums, and I suppose it’s so well established by now that I can’t change!
Are you strictly a CG artist, or have you dabbled with traditional mediums?
I’ve dabbled with both oils and water colors, but it was only in 3D that I found the creative freedom I needed to express myself. You need to be able to draw when you do traditional art, and I cannot draw to save my life. Not entirely true, but I’m truthfully not very skilled at drawing, so although I wanted to create I couldn’t. One might say that I had a sort of vision of what I wanted to create, an idea, so I created it and it didn’t look even close to what I had imagined.
I discovered CG quite late in life. I was almost 30 years old when I realized I actually had a talent for creating images in 3D. When I discovered the computer, and then 3D, I realized that here was finally a medium and a tool that allowed my ideas to take shape. I found it so much easier to sketch and create in 3D than using pen and paper. I still, in many cases, prefer to use the virtual canvas instead of traditional tools.
One of my all time favorite pieces is Workbench. What was your thought process in its creation? On average, how long does it take you to create an image?
That image came about as a result of a very informal challenge in the Renderosity C4D forum. The challenge was to model a flintlock pistol and we had, I believe, one month to complete a scene with the model in place.
I had no intention of actually making a certain image when I started out. I just felt that the pistol in itself was a fun challenging model. I bought a replica of a flintlock pistol that I used as reference. Originally I planned to render the textured model in a sort of display case, or something similar. Ultimately I figured it would be more interesting if it was shown in an environment not usually associated with old pistols. That’s when I got the idea of a bench with tools, boxes and drawers; sort of like an old workshop for the finer sides of blacksmithing.
I think I worked for two or three weeks with that image, a couple of hours each evening, and interestingly enough it’s my most successful image to date (it won an Excellence Award in Exposé 2, and it has also been featured in several magazines). I’ve worked longer on other images but this one came very naturally for me, and apparently that paid off.
You have become a vital part of the Renderosity community. How did you first discover Renderosity?
It was during my Bryce days. I was searching the Internet for places to meet fellow users and Renderosity quickly became a daily stop for me. The atmosphere here was very relaxed and open compared other sites. Once I started using C4D I slowly migrated to that forum. I’ve stayed there ever since, first as a regular member and then as a moderator.
Many in the Renderosity community know you as the co-moderator of the Cinema 4D forum, yet, I wonder how many know that you were also the site’s contest moderator? Outside of Renderosity, what field of work are you in?
My fulltime employment is as a 3D artist with a company in Stockholm, Sweden, called Fantasy Interactive (FI). I’ve been working with FI for about a year now and I really enjoy it. The work I do for FI can broadly be divided into two categories: icons and illustrations. The icons are used in online applications and can be visualizations for things like Print, Help, or Archive. The illustrations I create are usually connected to the stuff we do for our clients, and can be as visuals.
I have a lot of creative freedom, which I enjoy very much. It can be a very challenging and demanding job sometimes, when deadlines are looming at the horizon, but it’s also very rewarding—it’s a kick knowing that an icon you’ve created will be clicked by millions o people! I use Maya 8.5 for about 90% of the stuff I do. If there are tasks I feel more confident in doing with C4D I’ll use my favorite application instead. Especially when it comes to modeling polygon modeling in Maya, which is still a cumbersome process compared to C4D!
The only drawback with me working in Stockholm is that I have to live apart from my wife. I work in Stockholm and she in a city called Orebro, so we can only meet during the weekends. We’re coping pretty well so far, at least we’re still married. [laughter]
With so much responsibility, how do you find time for your art? How do you divide your time between, work, art, and home?
Sadly I’ve recently had to step down as Renderosity Contest Manager as I just couldn’t find the time for it! I work roughly 8-10 hours per day and when I get home I usually had some Renderosity stuff to deal with. There was always at least one or two contests running at any given time, and we usually had as many brewing for later launch.
A lot of things have happened this last year and I haven’t had as much time as I would have wanted for personal stuff, but I really hope 2007 can change that. I’m still staying on as moderator for the C4D forum, though!
That is great news that you can still manage to stay on a moderator of the C4D forum, as I know your expertise would be greatly missed. On a personal nature; for someone who is of Swedish decent, you have a remarkable grasp of the English language. Was English part of your educational experience from an early age? Have you traveled extensively?
I haven’t traveled that much, really. I’ve been to France once and to Great Britain maybe six or seven times. I’m pretty fluent in English and there are several factors for that. The first one is probably the most basic one as well; all children in Sweden start with English classes in school at the third grade, when they’re around 8 or 9 years old. English is then mandatory up to ninth grade, so we are more or less bi-lingual from an early age.
Another important factor is that (thankfully) we don’t dub movies in Sweden, we use subtitles instead. So all movies on theatres, on the TV or on DVD are all in their native language with Swedish subtitles, which means you’ll learn the language by watching the screen, listening to the dialogue and reading the titles. The natural exception for this are of course movies aimed directly for kids or that kids would be interested in. When say Pixar’s latest is running in the theatres they always give two shows: one dubbed matinee and one with subtitles in the evening.
All this combined makes English almost like a second language here in Sweden.
Thank you Anders for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts and artistic insights. One last question … what advice can you give an aspiring CG artist who yearns to emulate the meticulousness detail that goes into each of your pieces?
Thanks, it was all my pleasure! If I were to give one serious advice it would be to observe the world around you! Don’t just let your eyes sweep but once in a while you should stop and really take a closer look. You’ll see the intricate cracks in the ice, the fine nerves in a leaf and the way the paint on a crushed soda can is chipped. These are all details that may not be noticeable at a first glance. However, remove them and everything you see will be dull and stiff, much like a flat 3D render. Imitate these details and your renders will come to life!
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