After receiving a request to interview one of Renderosity's most popular artists, withego, I was able to contact him and talk with him via email about his life and his amazing Maya work.
His real name is Alex Sandri, and he has been an artist at Renderosity since 2004. He works exclusively with Maya, primarily creating scenes of architecture and design. His skill at creating ambient lighting and his attention to detail in his scenes are quite remarkable. It was a great pleasure to learn more about this talented man. I highly recommend browsing through his gallery here at Renderosity, and then spending time at his well-designed Flash website, where you can view more images of his work at very high resolutions.
My thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer questions and to share some of his ideas about Maya and Renderosity.
In your "About" section on your website you mention you live in Thailand, but are from Milan, Italy. How did you happen to come to Thailand to practice your art?
I arrived in Thailand by chance, really.
The next part of my story is a little bit strong, but that's life after all. My father died by cancer during a trip around the world, here in Koh Samui, Thailand. Having lost my mother a few years earlier by heart disease, and being the only son, I found myself completely alone. So I decided to stay in Thailand for a while, to recover. Koh Samui was a kind of tropical heaven for young backpackers from all over the world. It really was a very strange and interesting place to visit and stay for a longer period.
During this difficult time I met my future wife, which was at that time a kind of Hippie, and together we started our Thai Silk retail business. Thanks to this business I had the time and the financial independence that helped me to support my long 3D studies. Samui went through, in the last few years, an incredible development spree, and is now a 5 Star Boutique Island. But it still keeps that unique tropical and a little bit of a "Cast Away" feeling, which made it famous among tourists from all over the world.
Now after almost 15 years, I'm still hopping between Bangkok, Samui, and Italy of course!
You also mention you have a background in fashion
photography; what made you move over to 3d as a medium? And what
was the first 3d software program you worked with? Why did you end
up choosing Maya?
After learning 3D Studio Max, I decided to move to Alias Wavefront Maya, now Autodesk, which was considered at that time the top-notch 3D program. As a self-taught Maya & MR 3D artist, I have to say that the learning curve was very steep and difficult. Being a huge open source 3D program, Maya had plenty of bugs and the documentation was definitely insufficient to cover all the aspects of a giant 3D program like this.
So I spent many years in Koh Samui, testing (by trial and error)
almost every aspect of Maya & Mental Ray. I finally specialized
in 3D Maya & Mental Ray Architectural Visualizations. Now Maya
is much more stable and bug-free, and also the documentation is
very clear and complete.
What are some of the influences on your work? Where do
some of your ideas for images come from?
I consider my self a 3D artist, more keen towards the technical aspect rather than the artistic aspect of 3D Art.
How much time do you usually spend on an image? Does it vary? How do you approach working out your ideas in 3d?
When I work, I must respect very tight deadlines. But when I'm testing, I'm very slow, so for every image I spend almost a month.
My ideas often start from scratch, even if in the past I took some idea from another 3D artist, such as Slipknot (Giorgio Adolfo Krenkel), who created the very first photo-realistic Maya and Mental Ray exterior. I loved this scene so much, that I decided to recreate it completely and render it out with Mental Ray.
Why do you choose architecture as your main subject?
What is it about architecture that fascinates you?
Your 3D scenes seem to be an interesting mix of reality
and the ideal; the reflective light, attention to detail and almost
surreal look of the scenes, make your work striking and creative?
Is this what you are striving for? What are you trying to do in
I'm striving for hyper-realistic renderings, but when I hit render, the images always come out with that cartoonish feeling, which I start to love very much.
Do you work as a solo contractor or with a company? What
kind of computer do you work on?
You mention using XFrog and Vue along with Swishmax in addition to Maya 8; what do these programs do and how do you integrate them with your work flow?
I tend usually to rely entirely on Maya 2008. I use XFrog trees, plants, and flowers, which are very highly detailed, even if a little bit heavy as 3D objects. I also use Vue for landscaping, which is a great program for natural environments. Swishmax was used to create the website, which is a very neat Swishmax template edited by me.
Mental Ray for Maya tutorial DOF
While the "Mental Ray Pickup" has the most views at Renderosity, I was wondering if you could talk about the image which has the most comments, the "Mental Ray for Maya tutorial DOF"? I think this is an extraordinary image; the light and reflections in particular are remarkable. How did this image come about? What particular techniques or problems did you use/have with it?
"Mental Ray Pickup" was one of my very first Maya renderings. The "Mental Ray for Maya tutorial DOF" image, was my first Maya & Mental Ray photo-realistic works, for which I used a combination of Final Gather and Global Illumination. This image represents a turning point for me, because it was the first time that I realized that I was getting a little bit closer to my quest for photorealism.
How did you come to find out about Renderosity? Your work is highly regarded at Renderosity since you joined in 2004; what are your thoughts about the site?
By chance (like always), and I just love the layout of the Renderosity website! I think the website looks very professional, and the number of artists on-line everyday is quite impressive.
What are your plans for the future as a 3D artist?
I'm still looking to improve my skills as a Maya & MR 3D artist, and my quest for photorealism is not over yet!
I also wish that in the future, companies such as Autodesk and Mental Ray, will recognize all the efforts that 3D artists put into testing and debugging their 3D software.
By the way, your Flash website is excellent; well organized and interesting. It was a pleasure to look through your work.
Thanks, I love it too!
Before we close this interview, I would like to personally thank a group of 3D artists, programmers, and developers driven by passion, who put a lot of effort into testing and debugging Maya & MR software. Thanks to this bunch of Maya & MR "Freaks", Mental Ray has become a much more stable and powerful rendering engine, able to compete with the other major rendering engines such as Vray.
Thanks to CTRL Studio, Dagon, Slipknot, Francesca Luce, Zap Andersson, Puppet, Fabergambis, Sphere, Floze, and Josvez, just to name a few.
Thanks to Renderosity for hosting me.
April 28, 2008
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Your work is so beautiful and interesting. I have a question though...I noticed that in alot of the pictures, you have Winnie the Pooh. Is there any significance with that or do you just like Winnie the Pooh? I really enjoyed reading your interview and wish you and your wife the best.
Outstanding interview and wonderful work Alex.Many Years Ago I thought about working in Maya but found it to be a huge learning curve. But Looking through your work I can see that it is a complex program but with hard work and effort as you have shown can produce great results.
Your gallery is beautiful and very inspiring. Makes me want to brush up my Maya skills - especially lighting and rendering. I know how much time it takes to get something to look half as good and you've really shown me that there is more to Maya. I have not really seen that many good renders of complex scenes in Maya but I was really amazed when I saw yours! I like the Winnie the Pooh touch too! lol.