Meet Renderosity Artist, Anders Lejczak [bazze]
January 28, 2008 12:32 am
Hi and thanks for the opportunity of being interviewed. I was born in 1974 in Poland but live in Sweden since childhood (and yes, I have a Volvo). After graduating from business school at the university, I got a job in a bank office. However, I quickly realized that that wasn’t my cup of tea.
In looking back, that may seem like a strange choice of education but I guess I didn’t know what to do with my life back then and chose something that gave me as many options as possible. Even if I suffered during accounting classes, I don’t regret getting myself a solid education – now at least I know what I don’t want to work with! I actually tried to become an architect, but my school grades weren’t good enough (I spent a lot of time in the principal's office). I still have a general interest in architecture and in topics related to designing indoor or outdoor spaces.
From accounting to drawing polygons on the computer screen: how did it all start, what was your first ever interest/experience in 3D and computer generated graphics?
I’ve been drawing on paper and have been fascinated by models and miniatures as long as I can remember. I guess I wasn’t one of the cool guys back in school.
I loved to play around with DeLuxe Paint on the different Amiga systems, but I made my first digital “art” in 1982 when I got a Vectrex system for Christmas. It was a vector based console system and you could draw lines on it's screen using a light pen. It was actually pretty cool, you could animate your drawings and it also had a basic voice synthesizer. I remember drawing a snow speeder and AT-ATs after having seen The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, I can’t show it to you because the Vectrex had a major drawback – you couldn’t save your work.
As many others, I was introduced to the world of 3D via Bryce. My dad bought a copy of Bryce 1.0 during a trip to the US. I was immediately hooked – I made a lot of reflective spheres over water and got some renders published in the British magazine MacFormat in 1995. Today, I can’t understand that paper and ink was wasted on those images.
My interest for 3D was of course also triggered by movies like TRON and The Last Starfighter. I must sound like an old dinosaur when brining up stuff from the early 80's.
I’m currently using CINEMA 4D R10 & BodyPaint3 at home. I have the 10.5 update, but haven’t felt the need to upgrade yet and I was pleasantly surprised to find my stuff being featured on the 10.5 installation CD. I have, however, recently also purchased a copy of Modo 302.
My hardware at home is rather modest. I have a dual core pc (Intel Core 2 duo 2,6Ghz) and a 21” widescreen monitor. I’ll probably upgrade it's memory and graphics card, but it serves me well for the time being.
How come you decided to make Maxon's CINEMA 4D your preferred software?
As mentioned earlier, I started with Bryce but didn’t manage to produce anything particularly interesting until I started modelling my own stuff in Wings3D. I know modelling isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I took great pride in creating everything from scratch myself. The combo Wings3D (for modelling) and Bryce (for rendering) worked for a while, but the rendering performance was terrible when playing around with ways to fake GI and other more advanced rendering options.
I started to look for a different package. My approach was very simple – I looked through the online galleries for render styles that I liked. I actually liked the style of the artists using Lightwave and CINEMA 4D, but there was no way to try out Lightwave so that was opted out. Maxon, on the other hand, offers demo versions of C4D, and back then you also could get a fully working C4D version (6CE) when you bought a 3D magazine. I used the 6CE version for some time and then bought a used C4D R9 license from a woman who had won it in a competition (here at Renderosity, if I remember correctly) but had no use for it. The Swedish re-seller of Maxon products helped out with the license transfer.
What are your inspirations, both privately and in your work?
I have many sources of inspiration: movies, books, comics and of course the work of other artists. I’m especially fond of slow philosophical sci-fi (like Solaris) and stories from WW1 and WW2 (like the story about the unusual events that took place in the front line trenches during Christmas 1914). I’m also a big fan of British humour.
At work it is primarily co-workers. There’s so much talent and creativity gathered under one roof. I find the artistic aspects of things more meaningful the older I get, and the tangible stuff (like technology) less meaningful. A paradox maybe…
Nope, I don’t have any formal training in art. I have a university education in business administration, marketing, statistics and languages. Oh yes, I once attended an evening course in CAD and computer graphics. The fun thing about that is that one year later I was the teacher on the same course.
Would any formal art training have made me a better artist? Yes, I do think so. But then again, I probably wouldn’t be in the position I am today. I think it is a skill that you are born with (or without) but if it develops or not depends on the specific surroundings. A mixture between formal training and self-taught is probably the best. Self-taught persons have the commitment and interest, but that has to be complemented with some level of theory and insight into best practices.
You started as a hobbyist using C4D on your spare time and now you are Lead Artist at Massive Entertainment, working on high-end games like World in Conflict – that is quite a trip! How did it happen?
Yes, that is quite a trip. For the last couple of years I have worked in leading roles with software development projects that are process-wise very similar to the way games are developed, so that particular detail isn’t very new too me. Being directly involved in 3D production professionally is, however, new for me.
It all started when I submitted some images to Exposé 5 last year. One of the images was accepted and awarded the excellence award. I got a message from one of the editors at Ballistic inviting me to their booth at Siggraph in San Diego. At first I had no intention of going because it is a trip half around the globe from here to California, but then I got the feeling that I would regret not going. I more or less jumped on a plane from Copenhagen (Denmark) to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to San Diego. It was a pretty exciting trip in many aspects – I didn’t know anything about Siggraph, I knew nobody who was going and I had never been to the US before.
Anyway, I met a couple of guys from Massive in connection to the Siggraph trip and it turned out they were looking for a new Lead Artist because my predecessor was about to start on a new project. Well, one thing led to another and here I am.
If you’re not already familiar with World in Conflict, then check out the juicy cinematics and ingame graphics, or download the demo from here.
So tell us: what does a Lead Artist do, what are your responsibilities?
I guess what a Lead Artist does differs a lot between studios. I have a very large team consisting of Props/Unit Artists, Concept Artists, Animators, Special Effects Artists, Texture Artists, Level/Environment Artists, one Art Director and also Level Designers. Since the team is so big, most of my time is being spent on managerial tasks like planning and task tracking, interviews, performance review meetings, information, reporting, etc. I spend a lot of time communicating and coordinating with other groups like game designers, coders, scripters, QA and tech guys.
I guess if the Art team was much smaller I would do much more hands on work. My current job is actually quite similar to my previous one (being a project manager), but I personally think it is much cooler to have the word “artist” on my business card than “manager” – for the time being anyway. I try to model as much as possible on my spare time though.
What 3D software are you using in the Massive studio, and why?
Artists at Massive primarily use Modo, Lightwave, Maya and Photoshop to create 3D models and textures. We also use various specialized tools for animation, movie editing and concept creation, and a bunch of in-house developed tools. My team’s main modelling workhorse is Modo.
Even though I don’t do any hands on modelling work in my current position, I did myself and my team the favour of learning Modo as fast as possible. I watched a couple of video tutorials learning the basics and then jumped right on modelling a WW2 warbird. It went surprisingly well. My conclusion is that if you are familiar with poly and subdivision modelling in C4D, then you can more or less directly apply that knowledge to a different 3D application.
C4D has the advantage of being very intuitive, consistent and stable. These are key features when you are learning a new software and during a learning period. More important than solely powerful tools and a vast variety of features. Starting with C4D and complementing with Modo seems to be a good path because I personally feel that Modo is a better modeller, but lacks in consistency and stability.
One thing I'm curious about: when looking at your gallery here at Renderosity, it's full of military aircraft. So it's probably only natural for you to pick a warbird to build when learning Modo, but how and why did you get hooked on planes?
I guess I have this interest after my father who’s a real aviation enthusiast. When I was a kid I built a lot of plastic models and also flying models out of paper and wood. I have a glider pilot license, but it's not valid anymore because I haven’t flown in many years.
OK, back to Massive and games. Tell us a little about the pipeline and workflow when creating a game asset?
Let's say we are about to create a new tank that will be used in the game. Since the units are real-life objects, the modellers rely on photographic reference rather than concepts created by the concept artist. The concept artists still have a heavy workload creating environments, characters etc.
The vehicle is modelled and UV-mapped in Modo and then brought into Lightwave where it is skinned and rigged. Apart from the main model, wrecks and several LOD versions (level of detail) are created. Animations and effects are created in Lightwave and/or Maya.
The final assembly of the unit is done in a tool called Showbox, where everything (LOD levels, texture and shader settings, physics, animations, effects, states etc) is brought together before it is exported to the game format.
If you’re interested in knowing more, then you can read a detailed explanation on this page.
I really recommend for you to explore the Massgate WiCWiki if you’re interested in asset creation for games.
Speaking of games: where do you see 3D in games in 10 years?
I think 3D in games (and entertainment in general) is here to stay. I think we will see more and more realistic characters and environments as 3D and shader technologies evolve along with more and more advanced hardware becoming available for the home user. The border between games and traditional entertainment (like movies) will become more and more vague. I think games based on cooperation and with an outspoken online experience is the future, and I also believe social games will continue to evolve into exciting concepts. The AI will probably be more advance in the future. By this I mean it will act more human rather than perfect. I also think that more 3D content will be dynamically generated in runtime (based on the players actions) rather than pre-built.
Now that you have experience with a wide range of 3D software, what features would you like to see added to future versions of CINEMA 4D?
Before I tried Modo, I was perfectly happy with the toolset provided in C4D. Well, with one exception – the rendering engine. Both the standard renderer and advanced renderer feel generally outdated and need an overhaul.
The second thing is the HyperNURBS weight tool – it needs to be redesigned. I don’t use the C4D weight tool at all because I think it generates an ugly surface. To tighten the mesh and to make edges more hard I use the knife tool to add additional cuts, and then move the edges closer together. I didn’t think more of it until I tried Modo's subdivision weight tool and it struck me how nice, clean and precise it worked. Now I really miss this feature in C4D.
The key to a well-modelled mesh is loops. I miss features in C4D allowing easy management of loops. Yes, I know you can switch to Edge Selection mode, choose the select tool and set it to loop selection mode, but that is extremely clumsy. An easy way of removing loops would also provide a powerful way to optimize a mesh.
The bevel tool could use some redesign too. Bevelling edges is a simple way to add realism to a model since edges in real life are seldom sharp. The edge bevel tool in C4D is OK but doesn’t always work (try to bevel the edges of a cylinder before optimizing it, for example) and doesn’t generate the best results.
Basically I’m not looking for new features, but a refinement of existing ones.
If we look at CINEMA 4D in its current incarnation, what are the tools you couldn't do without?
I basically rely on the default built-in tools, with the exception of one plugin.
There is a constantly growing interest for 3D and CGI and up until just a few years ago most of the bigger packages were too expensive for a private individual to justify a purchase. Today the prices have dropped and 3D is available for almost everyone. What advice would you give to someone thinking of learning or buying high end 3D software?
I’m probably very biased based on my own choices, but here’s what I think: If you have a specific job or position in mind, then find out what is required and try to learn that tool. The same thing if your aim is to focus on a specific area (like character animation or architectural visualization). Maya, 3ds max, XSI etc are pretty high-priced tools and I don’t think it’s a good use of money buying any of those with the purpose of “only” learning some modelling in general.
If you have no budget at all to spend, then choose Blender, but be prepared for a steep learning curve. If you have a budget, then choose C4D or Modo. Both of these applications are fairly priced and should fit both hobbyists and experts needs. Modo has a lower price tag, is a better modeller and has a better rendering engine, but on the other side C4D is more intuitive, stable and has a stronger (bigger) user community (i.e. easier to get help) . If you have the possibility to learn how to model using more than one application, then take advantage of it. Even if you scrap one of the applications, you will become a better modeller by learning to do the same thing in various ways and it will probably also be easier to learn a 3rd application if that need should arise.
Whatever application you choose, make sure to make use of and contribute as much as possible to the community. Post WIPs frequently and ask for honest and precise feedback. Don’t just hang around in forums where you are used to getting nice and friendly comments. Make sure to share your findings for others to learn.
Finally: if I were to apply for an internship or even a position with ME, do you have any tips for me? What qualities and skills is the gaming industry looking for?
If you are about to apply for an art-related position with Massive, then you’re most likely to be screened and/or interviewed by me (muahaha!). The things we look for are kick-ass artistic skills (self-taught or formal training) or potential for such, a passion for games and art, and of course social skills that will allow you to function as a team member.
Experience from the gaming industry is, of course, a plus. If not, then experience from the game modding world can be a big plus. It is also a big plus if you can show that you have a passion for what you do. Experience from related areas like coding/scripting or leadership is also welcomed.
A well-organized personal portfolio is very important. Make sure it shows the width of your skills, but also make it clear which is your area of expertise. Better show a few of your best samples, rather than a complete gallery of your works from the last 10 years. The latter can be interpreted that you can’t differ good from bad, rather than showing your personal development. If you have created a reel in cooperation with other people, then make it clear which parts are yours and which are not. It sometimes happen that students applying for an internship attach the same demo reel without explaining who has done what.
Some final tips: Make sure you know what your personal
references have to say about you and prepare them that they might
be contacted. Displaying half-nude anatomically incorrect women in
your portfolio isn’t always a good idea. Also, make sure to
let somebody proof read your CV and cover letter.
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March 31, 2008
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If ever there was a demonstration needed of how raw talent will always surface, then Anders' long story is it. I've been watching him for as long as I've been involved in CG work and his Lead Artist position is so richly deserved. Full marks to Renderosity for spotlighting this, too.