3D Valley Featured 3D Artist of May 2008 – Toni Bratincevic. Toni is an artist from Croatia and currently lives with his wife in California, US. After seeing some great movies with 3D around 1996 he started creating 3D images himself. He started out with 3D Studio 2.0, POVRay and used Maya for several years. Today he uses 3D Studio MAX for all his creations and is he is working for Blur Studios as a 3D artist. Please read our interview with Toni below to get to know him and his work a bit better.
Christa: Can you tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you and what do you do in your daily life?
Toni: I come from Croatia, a country in southeastern Europe. I’m currently living in Los Angeles and working for Blur Studio. My first steps with 3D were made around 1996 when I first installed 3D Studio 2.0. After first few months I really got fascinated with 3D and decided to stay on that path. Since then I used several 3D software’s to realize my projects. First there was 3DStudio 2.0, then POVRay for several years, Maya for 5 years and I’m still using it. And lately 3DS Max because my current position at Blur Studio requires from me to know Max. I enjoy creating 3D art; it’s my passion… a great way to express personal ideas in physical form. Last year I moved from Croatia to USA to work for Blur studio, a great place to develop as an artist, and hopefully I will stay here for longer time. When I’m not working on my 3D art, I like to play basketball, watch movies, play computer games (especially adventures), and enjoy nature and good food.
Christa: Where did you go to school and how did they prepare you for your career?
Toni: I actually went to Faculty of Organization and Informatics and we didn’t have any classes for 3D graphics, only some basic 2D stuff like using Photoshop and creating web pages. The school was more concentrated on the ways of projecting information systems. All that I learned about 3D I did by myself. Since the first time I got in touch with 3D graphics, I became so interested in it that I was spending most of my spare time exploring it. Basically, by doing personal art and animations I prepared myself for my first job. After 3D became my professional career, I still continued to work on my personal stuff, developing my skills with every new image I’ve created. All that, in the end, brought me to where I am now, working for one of the best studios around.
Christa: Which software packages and/or traditional materials do you use for your artwork?
Toni: As for the software, I was using Maya in combination with Mentalray for almost 5 years, and last year I switched to Max because my new job position demanded from me to use Max. Except that, I’m using Photoshop on every project, and sometimes I tend to use Zbrush when I need to sculpt something that would take too much time in regular 3D packages. I am rarely using traditional materials, although I tend to use simple pencil and paper to sketch some ideas, but most of the time I am using Wacom A5 tablet and Photoshop to do some sketching, saving my ideas for possible future recreations in 3D form.
|It was you …|
Christa: Do you remember the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?
Toni: Over the first year of using 3DStudio, back in 1997, it was mostly my hobby and I didn’t have any big plans with it. But, in time I saw that it was not just a temporary interest, and I wanted to learn more and more. Over that period I saw some really great movies with fantastic special effects… like Jurassic Park, Toy Story… and people were so enjoying the movies and were so impressed with this new dimension of visual presentation, and somehow all that inspired me more to continue, push harder and learn more … time passed by, and after almost 10 years I am still creating 3D graphics with same passion I had when I first started. It was a good choice for career and personal hobby, and I can’t think of myself doing anything other than that.
Christa: Can you tell us a bit of the way you work on your art?
Toni: Everything starts with an idea… and there is no special recipe how and where this will happen. Ideas are in most cases basic, like few simple sketches or thoughts, and to do something out of them I usually need a lot of additional sketches, reference images and simple scene blocking in 3D software to get a clearer image of what I want to create. The internet is a great place to collect tens of photos, illustrations and textures that could be of any use for the project, and that’s basically the first thing I do when I’m starting a new project. Then I tend to block the scene in 3D software with some basic objects, render that scene, then paint over that image in Photoshop to get a combination of sketch and 3D environment. After that, I start on modeling, texturing and lighting. The modeling is part of the process I like less than other ones… I am more for materials, lighting and compositing. After I do the first pass of everything… textured image with some simple light setup, I bring rendered image in Fusion and start to play with it until I get some satisfying results… sometimes I don’t change original rendered image too much but in most cases it gets a completely new atmosphere after postprocessing. This is what I call the first pass of everything after which I get back to modeling stage and start all over again… getting more details, better textures, lights etc. I usually need around 10-15 passes till I get a complete image.
Christa: How much time do you spent on modeling on how much on touch-up in Photoshop?
Toni: I would say that it’s around 70% of the time spent in 3D software and 30% on touch up in Fusion. I like to use Fusion because everything you do is non destructive and you can tweak your compositing flow very fast, usually much faster than in Photoshop. Tweaking image in Fusion or Photoshop can be sometimes as important as getting a nice result out of 3D software. If I didn’t make any postprocessing on my images, they wouldn’t look as good as they do.
Christa: What do you think are the most important points in a scene to make it look good?
Toni: The composition, the idea (story) and lighting are the three most important points in every scene. What’s the use of the image if you don’t have a little story behind it… I usually write something down on what the scene is about, but that’s not usually needed… the image can talk for itself and every nice piece of 3D art does that. Almost everything is important in good 3D image, from detailed models,textures and materials, but composition is really one of the basic points of good scene. Bad composition can ruin a great scene. I made many bad compositions in my past, but I think I am getting better over the time, and as time passes by I am spending more and more attention to this area. Don’t be scared to experiment with arranging models around the scene after you already made everything, playing with weird camera angles and doing few completely new lighting setups to check which one works better. The basic idea behind 3D art is not to make it as real as it can be, but to get the best presentation of the idea you want to show.
Christa: Do you have a favorite piece of your own artwork and if so why?
Toni: I have a few of them… actually; every picture I make has some part of my soul in it so there isn’t one piece that I don’t like. Although I must say Slow Decay is one of my favorite pieces, and the reason for that is that it is one of the first images that had the complexity I always wanted to achieve. It was one of the most published images I made till today and it was an image which got me a lot of publicity around and probably helped me to start my professional carrier.
Christa: Who or what would you describe as having the most influences on your work/ style?
Toni: I don’t know really, there are so many great artists around that I can’t point to one or just a few of them and say they were the ones. I tend to forget the names of the artists, but I always remember the art they did, and the high quality art they produced is actually the heart of influence on me. It was funny, when I came to Blur I met some nice people and talked to them, but didn’t know who they were until I saw the stuff they did… and then I remembered the time I first saw some of the work they did, and how inspirational it was for me.
Christa: How many years are you working in the CG industry?
Toni: I was working for Vizije s.f.t., a small company located in Zagreb-Croatia for over 4 years, doing mostly commercials and effects for documentary movies, and for the last six months I work for Blur Studios located in Los Angeles-USA, working mostly on intros for the games. Before my first full time job, I was working as a freelancer for local television in Varazdin, because I was studying at that time and I was not able to accept any full time jobs. Basically, when you include only my full time jobs, I am working professionally in 3D industry for about 5 years.
Christa: You recently moved to the US and started working for Blur Studios. Congratulations! Can you tell us some more about Blur Studios and how it is to work as a 3D artist for such a well known company?
Toni: Blur is one of the companies I always wanted to work for. It always sounded to me that they are not as corporate as the others. Over the last year I had some opportunities to go and work for bigger companies, but in the end I decided to give it a shot with Blur, and I didn’t make a mistake on that. It is really a nice place for artists like me, they don’t have so strict divisions like modelers, texturing artist, lighting artist etc. For example there are guys called Scene Assemblers, that are actually generalists, and they do all kinds of work, from environment modeling-texturing-lighting, to compositing. Basically they do the assembly of animation/characters and environment and bring all that together in a form of final image. Projects are in most cases very interesting… there are mostly cinematics for the games, but lately we started preparing for our first full feature project, so I suppose the main area of work will change in time. Blur is very vibrant environment, really nice place to develop my skills and work with some of the most talented people in industry.
|Dawn of balance|
Christa: For your new job you needed to change your modeling software from Maya to MAX. What do you think is the biggest difference between the software packages and what do you like most of Maya and of MAX?
Toni: Every package has its own good and bad sides. It would take a long article to compare it side by side, and in the end some may prefer the way Maya does things, and other would stick to Max’s way. Personally, Maya tends to be more complicated software because the way it’s built … to be flexible and open, mostly aimed for big studios and film industry. Max, on the other hand is easier to learn, it lacks all that fancy stuff integrated in Maya, but by using several plugins you can get almost the same powerful software as Maya is. The polygon modeling in Max is something that’s better done than in Maya, it is faster and more efficient, but on the other hand the Hypershade in Maya is way more powerful than Max’s material editor which can sometimes be very confusing and hard on keeping a track of materials-textures used in the scene. One thing that I really liked about Maya is that I can just click on one parameter and just set a Key… it’s that simple, while in Max it is far more complicated to do that. Fluids, for example, was something that I really liked in Maya… not so much simulation stuff, but for doing things like ground fog, clouds, ocean surface etc. I like both software’s in the end, and if you know generally how to do your work it will be the same if you are using Maya or Max, it’s just a matter of taste. The 3D software’s today are so powerful and capable compared to the ones 10 years ago, that I don’t really know what more to ask from developers… it’s already evolved to a point where it’s more about artist than software-hardware combination.
Christa: Can you name 3 things you like, and 3 things you don’t like of your job?
Toni: What I like about 3D is community and the way knowledge is unselfishly shared among people, I like the fact that every piece of art that’s created is unique, and lastly I like how I never get bored of it, there is always something new and interesting to discover, learn and create. What I don’t like is that I am sitting almost 8 hours every day and not moving too much when working. That’s really bad for physical health, and in time, if you are not used to exercise and getting enough activities over the day it can cause a lot of problems when you get older. I wish I had a job where I can sit for around 5 hours and next 3 hours do some physical work … just to get my body and brain in right balance. I don’t like that best companies are concentrated around one place (LA, San Francisco) so I had to move on the other side of the world to work for one of them, I wish Blur was somewhere in Europe. And yes, I don’t like deadlines, but who does.
Christa: What skills do you feel are important working as a 3D artist?
Toni: A good eye is a best tool, whatever you do in 3D. Making a good image takes time and will. Good eye for composition, details, the way light works, everything counts. I think most of us are not born with talent … it is developed over the years of trying and pushing harder and harder. Sometimes it’s not only about modeling-texturing etc., a good organizational skills help a lot, specially in a place where you work with other people and your work depends on the guy sitting next to you. We need to develop ourselves in many ways to become good 3D artists.
|The last journey|
Christa: What is your favorite CG Character from the movies?
Toni: I really like Sully from Monsters Inc. That is one of my favorite animated movies of all times. A few months after I saw the movie, I was walking down the street and saw a little furry toy of Sully and I just had to buy it. That toy was standing next to my computer for almost 5 years… it became something to remind me of how hard I need to push myself to get my dreams come true.
Christa: Besides 3Dvalley.com, which other graphic sites do you visit regularly?
Toni: One of my favorite sites is CGSociety, but I usually visit several other sites like 3DTotal and CGChannel. I am usually browsing through forums on CGSociety, checking the new art people send and searching for useful information on the Max and Maya forums. There was also a small site for artists from Croatia called 3Dhr.net which was also one of my favorite sites for 3D but lately they have some problems with server so it’s not working at the moment.
Christa: If you where not working in 3D, what do you think you would be doing today?
Toni: I am not sure. I suppose something to do with computers since I was studying information science. Programming was also one of my favorite areas on faculty, but since 3D was my first choice I never had the time to give it a shot. As a kid I also had some other dreams, I wanted to be a pilot one time, but my favorite dream was to get into the free diving competition breaking the world record. I know, it is a little bit nuts to risk a life just because you want to break a diving record, but after 20 years I still have the deep respect for people trying it and showing how strong combination of human body and mind can be. I remember when I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time on the sea training and diving, trying to break my own record of breath holding and diving into the depth of the sea… around the age of 12, I was able to hold my breath for around 4 minutes without too much training.
Christa: Is their something you can’t work without? Like music, coffee?
Toni: Well, you mentioned few of them. Coffee is something I can’t do without. I used to drink several cups of them per day but lately I am having maximum of one cup of coffee per day. Music is my favorite way of relaxation and is very inspirational in my work, and I must say that without music I would be at least 30% less productive in work.
Christa: What do you do when you are not working or creating something?
Toni: Lately since we moved to LA, which is a huge city with a lot of cool stuff to see and explore, we tend to plan trips every weekend… maybe to visit some museums, exhibitions, gardens and other similar attractions. When I am actually at home over the week, I usually play games to relax a little bit after working day… one hour spent on some nice adventure games is really good way of forgetting about 3D and get into some fictional worlds. Last few months I got addicted to ScummVM emulator for old adventure games and I am playing one after another… Right now I am playing Touche, a really nice adventure from 1995. If I am not playing games, I tend to take a few good science books, magazines or documentaries … space, new energy sources, quantum physics, and science can get really magical sometimes.
Christa: Thanks for your time and the interview Toni!