3DValley Featured 3D Artist of April 2009 – Alex Sandri. Alex is a freelance 3D artist and Maya & Mental Ray tutor from Milan, Italy. He is a former fashion photographer and currently lives in Bangkok & Koh Samui, a small tropical island in southern Thailand. He has over 10 years experience working in Maya & Mental Ray on Architectural Visualization projects. He recently also started recording video lessons for Gnomonology. Please read our interview with Alex below to get to know him and his work a bit better.
Christa: Can you tell us a bit about yourself: Who you are and what you do in your daily life?
Alex: Hi my name is Alex Sandri, I come from Milano Italy and I’m 42 years old. I’m a 3D Maya & Mental Ray tutor and a 3D Architectural Visualization freelance artist. I live between Milan, Bangkok and Koh Samui in Thailand.
Christa: Which software packages and/or traditional materials do you use for your artwork?
Alex: Autodesk Maya 2009 & Mental Ray, Autodesk Max 2009 Design, Zbrush for creating displacement maps, XFrog trees, plants, and flowers, Vue for landscaping and for the creation of natural environments and of course Photoshop for the compositing of the final rendered image layers, such as Beauty, Reflection, Specular, Ambient Occlusion and ZDepht. I prefer to limit the post production phase with Photoshop to just compositing the layers, because I prefer to use the final rendered image as it comes straight out from the renderer.
Christa: Where did you go to school and how did they prepare you for your career?
Alex: I attended the Academy of Fine Arts, and the European Institute of Design Milan in the faculty of photography. I worked as a young fashion photographer in Milan for quite a few years, until I had to stop because of a car accident which cost me almost 2 years in the hospital. After recovering, I realized that all the clients were lost and I wasn’t even able to carry my own cameras. So at the age of 30, I decided to open a computer for the very first time, almost 12 years ago, and I fell in love with 3D…! I start learning 3D Studio Max, and I decided to move to Alias Wavefront Maya now owned by Autodesk, which was considered at that time the top-notch 3D program. As a self-taught Maya & Mental Ray 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 huge 3D program like this.
Christa: Do you remember the first time you said you wanted to be an artist?
Alex: I guess from my childhood, since I studied at the College of Fine Arts…!
Christa: Can you tell us a bit of the way you work on your art?
Alex: I spent a lot of time in the past testing (by trial and error) almost every aspect of Maya & Mental Ray. I finally specialized in 3D Maya & Mental Ray Architectural Visualizations. Now that Maya is much more stable and bug-free, and that also the documentation is very clear and complete, I can concentrate on the artistic part of the creation of my images. But I still consider my self a 3D artist, more keen towards the technical aspect rather than the artistic aspect of 3D Art. When I test, I just have an idea in mind and step by step I develop this idea in a full 3D model. I usually don’t use to sketch up projects on paper. After the modeling phase, I start to check normal direction, optimize the tassellation, reference objects as needed to decrease file size, layout UV’s and finally the more tedious phase which is the texturing phase.
Christa: How much time do you spent on modeling on how much on touch-ups in Photoshop?
Alex: It depends, in the past I used to do a lot of rigid and organic modeling, to get used to all of the very powerful Maya modeling tools. lately I concentrate mostly on the Mental Ray Lighting, Texturing and Rendering development, so I often use Evermotion Architectural 3D models and scenes, which I open first in Max 2009 and after fixing normals and UV’s I export them via the new FBX format. Then I import them in Maya as FBX or obj. format, and start to remodel them, sometime entirely to make them compatible with the Maya UV’s & texturing mapping techniques. As I mentioned before, I use Photoshop just to composite the final rendered layers, and less then possible for retouching.
Christa: Do you have a favorite piece of your own artwork and if so why?
Alex: Always the last project, because I still enjoy improving my Maya & MR skills and when I see the results of my efforts, I’m always quite pleased.
Christa: Who or what would you describe as having the most influences on your work/ style?
Alex: I guess my influences come from living in a country like Italy, where art is everywhere, by studying at the Fine Arts Institute of Brera in Milan and of course my background in fashion photography.
Christa: You have recently been recording video lessons for Gnomonology. How was that experience and can we expect more lessons to come?
Alex: A very pleasing experience, even if at the time of the recording I got sick of “Bronchitis” and my voice came out to be very “creepy”. A big thanks to the guys at Gnomonology, Alex Alvarez and Ryan Kingslien for their patience and to follow up a lot with me during the creation of the tutorial. A new “All in One” Maya & Mental Ray Archviz Lighting, Texturing and Rendering tutorial should follows soon, I hope of course….!
Christa: What do you wish you had known when you first started out working as a freelance artist?
Alex: That the Maya & Mental Ray learning curve was so steep, tedious and difficult. Now under Autodesk things are getting much more easier. Thanks also to a group of 3D artists, programmers, and developers driven by passion, who put a lot of effort into testing and debugging the Maya & Mental Ray software. CTRL Studio, Dagon, Slipknot, Francesca Luce, Zap Andersson, Puppet, Fabergambis, Sphere, Floze and Josvez just to name a few.
Christa: How important do you think lighting in a 3D scene is and do you have any tips?
Alex: Lighting in a 3D scene is essential, of course. It really depends on which Lighting workflow you prefer to use. In the past to create a credible photorealistic render you was required to use a lot of lights with different values and colors, some with a negative multiplier, to remove light from different areas of the 3D scene. Now with Mental Ray for example, thanks to the Final Gather and Global Illumination algorithms often the use of the MR Physical Sun & Sky and one MR Portal Light are more than enough to achieve a correct lighting solution.
In the Gnomonology “Advanced Rendering ArchViz Rendering in Mental Ray” tutorial, I have explored the new Mental Ray Importons and Irradiance Particles rendering algorithm. A novel approach to compute global illumination based on importance sampling, which tends to converge much faster to a desirable quality than the existing solutions like global illumination photon tracing combined with final gathering
Christa: You have a background in fashion photography; what made you move over to 3D as your medium?
Alex: As mentioned above the main reason that made move to 3D was the car accident which cost me almost 2 years in the hospital. After, I realized that 3D is the natural evolution of photography, you just shift from a bi-dimensional medium to a three-dimensional one.
Christa: Many of your images in you gallery album with us are studies for several lighting setups. Do you think you interest with light in 3D is because of your background in Photography?
Alex: Yes, indeed….!
Christa: Do you create your own textures and what do you use as references for your textures?
Alex: I used to create my own textures in the past, but now for convenience I prefer to use Archviz texture collections from Dosh & Evermotion, and edit them in Photoshop as needed…!
Christa: What would be your dream assignment?
Alex: To be honest, I would like to go on tutoring Maya & MR with Gnomonology, and beta testing for Autodesk Maya & Mental Ray. I like to share knowledge with the young 3D artist, to avoid them some of the sacrifice required to study complicated 3D software packages. I used to share my Maya & MR tests and findings on CGTalk for the last few years, if I could also earn a living from it, will be just great. Also considering that the request for 3D Architectural Visualizations could be affected in the near future, by the grim outlook for the Global Real Estate market.
Christa: Do you have any tips for beginning artists?
Alex: My tip is to be passionate, curious and to be very patient because the results comes only with hard work, in the 3D world there is no cheating.
Christa: What’s your favorite CG character from the movies?
Christa: Besides 3Dvalley.com, which other graphic sites do you visit regularly?
Christa: Is their something you can’t work without?
Alex: Patience, I guess….!
Christa: What do you do when you are not working or creating something?
Alex: Enjoy life, hang out with my wife and friends and travel to other interesting countries like Nepal and Tibet….!
Christa: Thanks for your time and the interview Alex!
Alex: Thanks to 3Dvalley.com for hosting me….! Ciao.