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    From as far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed the freedom that comes from art. Art kind of runs throughout my family; my mother and grandmother are both traditional painters, and my brother Sean is currently a Senior Graphic Designer. Throughout my childhood, I would spend countless hours drawing and sculpting monsters from cartoons and comics.

    My mother being an artist herself constantly enrolled me into every art class she could find. Art became my favorite subject throughout high school and with the help of a pad, pencil, and a set of ear-plugs every class quickly became art class, in one way or another.

    evin Lanning started creating art at a very early age drawing and sculpting. He received a half-ride scholarship at the Art Institute of Dallas graduating with a Degree in Computer Animation. Thanks to online exposure Kevin received commission work including character art for several commercials.

    This led to his discovery by Epic Games where he was hired as a full-time artist to create art assets for their next-gen game technology Unreal Engine 3. For the past four years Kevin has been working as a Character and Creature Modeler at Epic Games. His most recent work can be seen in Epic’s blockbuster hit for the Xbox 360, ‘Gears of War’.
    I’ve been rather fortunate to have two parents who have been extremely supportive in my pursuit of this career. I knew from very early on that I wanted to become an artist, and they helped me in my pursuit every way they could. Up to this point in my life, I had focused solely on traditional mediums, so attaining the knowledge needed for today’s digital realm became a priority. After High School, my brother and I decided to attend the Art Institute of Dallas.

    I studied there on a half-ride scholarship won from a portfolio competition for around two-and-a-half years focusing on character modeling. The attendance of figure drawing and 2D animation classes served to be very rewarding in the amount of knowledge that was gained in regards to human anatomy and motion. I still find myself attending local figure drawing classes from time to time to relax for a bit. It’s amazing how fast you can lose the ease and quality of your drawing skills when they’re not exercised daily. I’m constantly humbled by the amount of raw skill and talent some artists have with this medium.
    As for 3D application-based studies, these classes demanded a large amount of self-teaching. I’ve seen quite a few artists become overwhelmed by the complexity of application interfaces and with the amount of procedures involved in certain tasks. However, as one of my professors put it: “The moment one is truly free to begin creating art digitally, is when the tools become transparent to the user.”

    That saying resonated with me for some reason, so I went out and bought as many books as I could find on the applications and buried my nose into them for months. After spending the time to learn the applications, I gained a huge understanding for the creation process involved that was previously incomprehensible to me. From that moment on, I began focusing on the creation of character models. There is a certain love I have acquired for the process of digitally sculpting a character or creature.
    Career Start
    Once I graduated from the Art Institute, I began working with several friends from school on small side projects and helped out in the creation of a digital library that was to be sold online. This was quickly placed on the back burner after a good friend of mine Peter Hayes suggested I post some of my work online.

    With the exposure of my work, came opportunities of contract work within the industry. I was contacted by Floyd Bishop at Ice Pond Studios to do some character work on a ‘GI JOE’ commercial they were subcontracting for. I had a blast working on that project. In my eyes, this was the first real production work that I had done. This quickly erased any self-questioning I had on whether I had made the right decision to become an artist. I remember having a strong feeling that all of the hard work and dedication put into my studies was about to pay off, and it was.

    Shortly after finishing the contract work for Ice Pond Studios, I received an email from Epic Games‘ Lead Designer, Cliff Bleszinski who was browsing the forums on cgsociety.org and came across my work. I was given an art test that day and flew out to Raleigh, North Carolina at the end of that week for an onsite interview.

    I remember being totally blown away by the quality and creativeness of the concept that was given to me for the art test. It was one of those pieces that I couldn’t get enough of and really enjoyed working on. From the moment I walked into Epic’s headquarters for the interview, I knew that this was where I wanted to work.

    After a day of meeting the team and being completely amazed by the quality of work and the professionalism held within the studio I sat down with Cliff for a final chat. I accepted a full-time job with them that night and have been happily employed with Epic for the past four-and-a-half years.
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  • Tools
    The tools I use vary from day to day. I use 3ds Max as my main 3D application and jump around from Mudbox and ZBrush for detailing. There is a great deal of artistic freedom that comes from the use of these applications. The abilities we have today to digitally sculpt characters in 3D is just awesome. However, the most rewarding stage is when everything comes together using Unreal Engine 3 for the in-game implementation of the final assets. The amount of detail and realism this tool allows an artist to put into today’s games is unbelievable.

    Working at Epic Games
    I started out sharing an office with Lead Artist, Chris Perna for my first two years at Epic. Those years were a huge learning phase for me as an artist new to the video game industry. The amount of knowledge that is forced upon you when working with such an intense team is amazing. Looking back on those early years, I can clearly see just how much artists like Chris and Shane Caudle (among many others) mentored me in my growth as an artist both visually and technically. By surrounding yourself with nothing but talent you’re forced to grow.

    By picking the brains of Animators such as Aaron Herzog, Jay Hosfelt, Scott Dossett, and Chad Schoonover I’ve gained a ton of tips and tricks that I continue to use daily in my process of creating character models. I’ve also been rather fortunate to have worked with such an awesome Art Director as Jerry O’Flaherty, and some really top-notch artists like Peter Hayes, Danny Rodriquez, Paul Jones, James Hawkins, Chris Wells, and many more that are too numerous to list.

    There is always something that can be learned from someone no matter how new they are or what their discipline may be. Keeping an open mind to that is key to personal growth. The majority of my time here at Epic has been spent working on character and creature models for ‘Gears of War’, with the exception of work on content for tech demos of Unreal Engine 3.

    Working on ‘Gears of War’ has been a dream come true. The typical process for character production starts like most places, with the initial idea and is then visualized into a concept. From there we begin modeling the high-poly model, and then the low-poly after. The model is then ripped and processed to generate the normal maps. Once this portion of the pipeline is complete, it is handed off for final texturing and character rigging.

    The amount of teamwork involved in the character pipeline is huge. There truly is no one person that makes everything. Every model is either touched by a designer, artist, animator, or a programmer before completion. This pipeline works very much like an assembly line. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better job; I get to spend my day making sick monsters and characters.

    Breaking into games
    My advice is to be persistent. Get your work where people can see. Posting on sites like CGTalk.com, ZBrushCentral.com, and the Mudbox forums is a great way to get your work exposed to industry vets. With the quality of game art approaching that of movies, having a background in traditional art is a huge plus.

    It’s the artist with the application knowledge and a solid foundation of traditional art that employers are seeking. My last piece of advice would be to direct 90% of your focus on one discipline. Becoming a jack-of-all-trades is certainly an added plus, however, most employers are searching for someone that can take ownership of one aspect of the pipeline. Find what area you have a passion for and master it.

    With technology driving today’s games evolving, so is the process of making assets for those games. As with past years we’ll continue to see breakthroughs in the graphics of games. The amount of detail and time being poured into game assets are shining through in the final product.

    The quality of games using technology like Unreal Engine 3 is quickly moving towards the look of blockbuster movies. I see more respect being given to this industry as an art form in general. The games being put out today have become these huge cinematic experiences that consumers have been waiting for. It truly is an exciting time to be a part of this industry.

    Future plans
    After the privilege of working on ‘Gears of War’, I’m honored to continue working at Epic Games. I’ve gained many friendships here and am working with one of the finest teams in the industry.

    Related links:
    d’artiste: Character Modeling 2
    d’artiste: Character Modeling

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