Meet Paolo Ciccone [Pret-a-3D]

Meet Renderosity Artist and Vendor, Paolo Ciccone [Pret-a-3D]

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm Italian, I come from the windy city of Trieste, in the north-east of Italy, just a few kilometers from the border with Slovenia. I worked in Italy as a software engineer but the software industry was not very interesting at that time so I moved to California sixteen years ago, chasing the dream to work in the "Silicon Valley", or "heaven" as it's usually called by geeks around the world. I was hired to be a software engineer for Borland, at that time a very prominent company in the Valley. Sixteen years later I have established roots in the wonderful, artistic, city of Santa Cruz, just a few miles south of San Francisco.

How did you get started in the digital arts?

My background is in art, I studied at the Art Institute of Trieste. My father is a brilliant cartoonist and photographer so the visual arts have been part of my growing up. Just after I graduated from school I developed an interest in the emergent PC technology. This was in the early 80's, at the beginning of the PC revolution. A friend of mine showed me a modified Apple II and that was it! I got immediately hooked by the potential, the idea of having this incredible tool in the hands of everybody. I love technology that empowers people. I taught myself programming, first on IBM mini-mainframes and then on the IBM PC with languages like Turbo Pascal and Borland C++. It was a very exciting time. New software breakthroughs were happening daily, and there was a sense that we were changing the world.

When the Macintosh was announced it became clear that it was finally possible to merge technology and art together. Up to that point I tried to write code that was art but after the Mac it was clear that it was possible to make art *with* the computer. As machines became more and more powerful the first 3D modeling programs became accessible by the PC crowd and around 1999 I downloaded this program that at that time was grabbing the attention of 3D nerds everywhere: Blender. It was my first attempt to use 3D. Of course at that time we were all aware of what was possible with that technology because of "Jurassic Park" so the interest was really high. With Blender we were able to have one of those 3D programs on a PC without having to ask for a loan from the bank!

What is your background in the industry?

I kept playing with Blender on and off but it was a 2004 article about creating Poser morphs with ZBrush that re-kindled my interest in 3D modeling. I bought my copy of Poser 5 and ZBrush and I never stopped playing with 3D since then. As I said, I love technology that empowers people so, in 2009, while I was looking to get professionally involved with 3D,  I thought that a good way to get there would be to provide good training about Blender. I made a series of thirteen videos titled "The Blender Survival Guide". This guide was meant to provide the starting point for people with no knowledge about Blender and to make them able to use this incredibly powerful program. In the course of making the BSG I discovered Lux. It was at that point that I realized what a great combination it would be to have Lux connected with all the thousands of products made for Poser and Studio. So, the Reality for Studio project idea was born. In August of 2010 I was finally able to release the first version and the response has been simply phenomenal. So, I'm quite happy to say that now I can make a living with the merging of art and technology. I'm very lucky.

In addition to Blender, ZBrush, Poser and DS, what else might we find in your digital toolset? What other software have you worked with, or have an interest in?

If we talk about 3D software, I have worked with Groboto and 3D Coat as well. Groboto is a very fascinating software. It generates 3D shapes procedurally, with some really intriguing algorithms. I didn't have enough time to play with it but it has real potential for creating unusual shapes. 3D Coat has also some very unique features in sculpting and UV Mapping. I tested modo 601 and it seems like a very nice 3D modeler with a UI that is incredibly well thought out. I have to find a way of justifying the purchase of it.

I've seen a lot of fantastic renders as a result of your Reality plug-in. It is a really great plug-in at a very, very good price. Can you tell us a little bit more about Reality and how it has evolved?

Allow me to rewind a little bit to the end of 2009. At that time I was preparing a series of Blender tutorials, the Blender Survival Guide, and I stumbled upon LuxRender. I have a background in photography and cinematography and the idea of having a renderer that finally simulated real lights was like a breath of fresh air. I started learning more about it and I was blown away at how advanced LuxRender is. I mean, here we have a program that implements real physics and some incredibly advanced rendering techniques and it is available to anyone because it's Open Source. It became obvious to me that it would have been an ideal supplemental renderer for the Studio crowd. All we needed was a way of connecting Studio to it.

So, I decided to get to work and write the necessary plug-in. In August 2010, Reality 1.0 was released and it took the market by storm. Later on, in a few months, I released version 1.2, which was a free upgrade, with many new features, often inspired by customers' feedback. In December 2011, I released version 2.0 which added GPU support and about sixty new features. With version 2.0 Reality extended support to SLG (SmallLux GPU), in addition to introducing a lot of new features from LuxRender 0.9. SLG is a GPU-based renderer that renders a scene in a few seconds and still retains physical accuracy. It's much more limited than Lux, but it's really, really fun to use. It's included with Lux and so it's a great addition. With Reality 2, you can switch between the fully-featured Lux to the blindingly-fast SLG with a click of the mouse.

So, that was what happened in the last two years. Just a few months after the release of Reality 1.0, Reality users had generated more Lux renders than were rendered in all the years before. The breadth of scenes, themes, and situations created is vast and the use of Reality and Lux has simply moved the world of pre-made content into the high-end territory. There are images out there, made with Reality and Lux, that rival the ones created with tools that cost several thousands of dollars. Don't you love technology?

You've been a member of Renderosity since 2005, and have more recently established yourself as a Vendor here. Can you tell us what you think about Renderosity, how it has evolved, and how your experience has been so far as a vendor here?

Working with Renderosity has been really easy and a pleasure. For a developer of plug-ins for Studio, this is really one of the best solutions on the market. The favorable revenue split and the helpful staff at Renderosity make setting up a product extremely convenient. I also like that it's possible to purchase advertisement space, a vital part part of making a product known to the public. This has been a very positive experience since day one.

As I myself have dabbled in Blender, I must say I really enjoyed your Blender Survival Guide tutorials. Your tutorials are very clear, professional, and easy to follow. As you are now releasing tutorials here on Renderosity, what can you tell us about them? What is planned, and what can one expect to learn?

Thank you very much. I've always enjoyed teaching technical topics, since the days of DOS (I guess that I'm dating myself!). One of the phrases that I hear most often in the Studio forums is: "I don't know how to light a scene." With "Make Your Own Reality" -- the video tutorial that I'm releasing at Renderosity -- I take that subject and show how lighting works and how you can configure the lighting for a scene. More importantly, I explain *why* a light gets placed in a scene. Every light placed should have a reason to be in there.

Lighting is a vast subject and in "Make Your Own Reality" I try to explain the key concepts in a way that is not only relevant to Reality and Lux, but in general, as a bit of information that can help with all 3D setups. The other parts of the tutorial touch subjects like material configuration, usage of the fog prop and other techniques useful to master Reality and LuxRender.

As someone who is successfully making a living doing what he enjoys in the digital arts, do you have any advice for others working towards this same goal? What would you tell someone looking for a career in this market?

That is a big question. Running your own business can be very rewarding, but also very challenging. If you want to be successful you need to have the stamina to run your business for years. It takes time to build a market and a reputation. You can't expect overnight success because it almost never happens. Some useful ideas are: a) Think of an original product b) Make that product excellent c) Take care of your customers. They are who make it possible for you to have a business. Don't underestimate the power of good karma.

Do you have any favorite artists, digital, or otherwise?

In the visual arts world, I would list Gaudi, Dali, Goya, Frazetta, Michael Turner, Stjepan Sejic, Alessandro Barbucci. If we talk about music, then there are too many to list, but the geniuses must be mentioned: Ritchie Blackmore/Deep Purple, Brian May/Queen, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Ozzie Osbourne and, of course, The Beatles.

What do you enjoy doing outside of your digital work?

I love movies and documentaries. I get a kick from watching great documentaries and Netflix has an almost endless offering. From nature shows to absolute unusual things like following the Steinway piano tuner in Austria during his workday. Reading is also a pleasure, photography and guitar playing are other activities that I enjoy. Sometimes a motorcycle ride is just the "medicine" to clear the mind, but often just drinking a nice glass of wine while talking with my wife, Holly, is one of the most exquisite pleasures of the day.

Do you have any final words you would like to extend to the Renderosity Community?

I am extremely grateful for the warm reception that the Renderosity community has given to Reality. I'm also very impressed with the Renderosity staff. You have provided a very friendly environment and even applied some changes to your system in order to host Reality and the "Make Your Own Reality" tutorial. I'm very grateful for that. It's great to see people who are so receptive to new challenges and work toward the common goal of providing great products to the public. I'm very excited to be part of this.

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Member Opinions:
By: StaceyG on 6/5/12
Fantastic interview. You are so talented and very easy to work with. We are happy to have you at Rendo!!

By: callad on 6/6/12
I really enjoyed reading this interview with the man who put the fun back in rendering using DazStudio.
Early in 2010 I was almost ready to give up rendering cuz I could not get the realism level I was aiming for.
Then I saw a breathtaking image. It was made by Paolo. A simple scene of a structure in water that looked so very natural it blew me away.
I followed him closely and was thrilled when he invited me to join the beta test-team.
The first few renders I made with the use of Reality looked awful cuz I still used the 'tricks' I used to using the 3Delight engine. I had to change the way I was thinking, I had to 'think' like a camera. Once I did that things rapidly improved and for the first time in years I liked my own renders.
One more thing. The customer care Paolo offers is above and beyond anything I ever experienced. He is always willing to help and more important, he listens to his customers! He is always friendly and gives comprehensive answers to 'blond' ppl like myself.
Rendo, you have added a wonderful vendor to your list!

By: thaaksma on 6/6/12
Hi Paolo,

It's been a pleasure working with you and I look forward to all of your future creations. I know you'll be a great addition to the Renderosity Community!

By: Strixowl on 6/6/12
I have loved using Reality since day 1. So glad to see you at Rendo and getting the honor your due :)

By: Tigerste on 6/6/12
I can only echo what others have said before me - Paolo is a huge credit to the digital community and is so very helpful whenever support is needed; fast and proficient too! Makes great products and is a genuinely nice chap. What more could you ask for? :o)

By: superboomturbo on 6/6/12
I suppose I got lucky (for once!) and tripped into Reality barely after its onset in late 2010.
In the few years of its mighty existence, it has revolutionized not only my idea of creative CG art-making, but the world as well. Reality teamed with Lux is as near to changing the world as one man can get. And beyond all of this, it is a fun and mostly stress-relieving way to spend hours at the computer, enabling one person to create visual worlds and characters, beautifully and affordably.
I tip my hat to you Paolo! Long live Reality!
Now if I could write as eagerly as I yearn to render...

By: medmon on 6/6/12
Excellent interview! How nice it is to get to know the genius behind the Reality Plug-in and Make Your Own Reality video course!

As an owner of the Make Your Own Reality video, I must say I found it to be extremely helpful and easy to follow. Well worth the price I paid for it. I highly recommend it to all who are just discovering the wonderful world of Reality.

By: vyktohria on 6/7/12
Besides the fact that Reality 2.0 is an absolute MUST HAVE for DS users, I have to say the Make Your Own Reality video series is absolutely fantastic! It's thorough, comprehensive, easy to follow - and Paolo, your sense of humor absolutely cracks me up! Huge fan now, huge fan always!

By: FSMCDesigns on 6/7/12
Nice interview Paolo, happy to know more about you!

I am a long time poser user, tried DS several times but the UI always confused me. As a user of lots of high end apps like 3DSMax and maya, I have always enjoyed using unbiased rendering thru Maxwell and VRay, so when Reality was announced I checked out Luxrender. I was an early adopter with the past freeware poser to Lux plugins, but was never happy with the results and the hoops I had to jump thru to get decent results. I finally broke down and got Reality and haven't looked back. I now spend more time with DS than poser and render nearly every scene in Luxrender. Thank you Paolo for a great plugin.

Best, Michael

By: marciushess on 6/7/12
Paolo, I'm a big fan, and I guess your Reality plugins is a state of art in the 3D rendering world. Congrats.

By: aeddan23 on 6/7/12
Reality was the plugin that got me back into 3D. Coming from a photographic background, the combo of DS+Reality+Lux is the best thing since sliced bread.

By: arat on 6/8/12
Paolo you have been more than helpful to me when I ran into trouble, and Reality is such a fine product and deserves any praise it gets. Your little bio was a great read and whats more I am glad we have the same taste in music (big thumbs up!!!).
I wish you every success for the future and thanks for bringing us Reality...

Clive
Reality user from day 1

By: LaurieA on 6/8/12
I'm a Poser user, but it's still nice to see a well-known at Rendo. I wish you much success.

By: TheBlindBat on 6/10/12
Great to see you comfy in your new home, Paolo!

Reality is well worth the investment as the plugin itself is priceless. But the true value of purchasing it is the unbelievable support Paolo gives to all of his customers. You will never be left confused or feeling helpless when you bring your questions to Paolo.

Thanks for an awesome product and awesomer support!

By: giovanino on 6/10/12
i was getting bored with poser and daz and started more and more working with vue infinit.
but as soon as i discovered reality by paolo. i came back to daz and now all of my renders are only by reality 2.0 . realty is what makes daz shine . 3ddelight is old stuff. reality is here to stay. great success to you paolo, all the best

By: TylerZambori on 6/12/12
I am very glad to finally be able to have access to a gpu renderer through reality, but really Giovanino, It's just a plugin. It is not a renderer. Reality 2 does not do the rendering! The rendering is done by a free open source software called Luxrender.

By: Pret-a-3D on 6/12/12
I just found out that all your comments. I'm still reading them but I wanted to thank you all for reading the interview and for the nice words in this page. Best. Community. Ever!

By: DocMikeB on 6/12/12
Una bella e interessante intervista!
Paolo è una di quelle persone di talento che fanno onore al nostro paese all'estero!
Anche io ricordo l'Apple II... fu il primo computer su cui vidi delle immagini (mio padre lo comprò nel 1980). Ero piccolissimo, ma il mio interesse per la computer grafica probabilmente è nato allora.


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