Newtek: About your creative background, from what rock did you come from?
Jonny: I've always drawn, ever since I can remember, but I got my first computer for music, an Atari. After a while I did some paintings with it, and instantly fell in love with computer graphics. I stumbled across a job making educational games in 1990. Back then I'd see 3D animations on cover disks, and couldn't wait to try my hand at it. I got my first 3D package a couple of years later, 3D Studio v3.
Newtek: So you started as a 2D artist?
Jonny: I started out doing 16 color, 320x200 2D graphics and animation. I changed jobs a few years later, and was investigating which 3D package we should use. I attended the first AEAF (Australian Effects and Animation Festival) where I first saw Lightwave 5. It was amazing, and blew the competition out of the water. I decided Lightwave was the software we should use, and haven't looked back.
Newtek: What was it that really sold you on LightWave?
Jonny: Back then, Metanurbs, bones, render quality, and cost. Instead of having to buy lot’s of expensive plugins just to do basic stuff, Lightwave had it all built in and was still half the price. These days it's much the same. I love that I can create a character from concept to animation, very quickly, and all within the base package. I couldn't do the work I do without SubDivision surfaces, weight maps, UV maps, Endomorphs, and the very powerful bone and IK system. Once you've mastered the tools it becomes very quick to create even complex characters. Also the plugins that are available for Lightwave truly enhance the already full feature set, and the commercial ones follow the Newtek example of being great products for great value.
Newtek: Have the updates been to your liking?
Jonny: There's no question that each update has had important new features, and each time I've upgraded I couldn't think of going back to the earlier version. Lightwave just keeps improving and amazing me with each update. It's often the little things that make the big differences. I recently had to go back to Lightwave 6.5 to work on an older project. I quickly realized how much I'd come to rely on the "Center current item" option on the view ports, and what a pain it was to work without it now that I was used to it.
Newtek: Are you primarily a modeler or an animator -- or are you a generalist, doing everything that can be done?
Jonny: I would have to say a generalist. I love modeling/texturing/rigging, but if I'm doing it for too long I get itchy to do some animation, and vice versa.
Newtek: Are you a freelancer or do you work for a studio?
Jonny: I am currently working as a freelancer under the cover of my company, Zero Gravity Entertainment. The beauty of this is that when a larger job comes up it's relatively easy for me to pull in more people from the Lightwave community to fill the requirements.
Newtek: Have you ever thought of working at a studio full time?
Jonny: Yeah, the option is always there. I guess, having scaled down my company at the end of 2000 from having an office and a few employees, I'm quite enjoying the freedom of freelance work at the moment, and luckily I've had enough work to keep me pretty busy.
Newtek: Describe your dream project.
Jonny: Which one? There are a few projects that I'd love to be involved with. But the common thread running through all of them would be the challenge. As long as I'm doing something new or better, then I'm happy, whether it's new to me, or new to the industry.
Newtek: Who do you look up to artistically?
Jonny: Hmmm, that's a tough one. There are so many talented artists. It really depends on the genre. Disney has been one of my largest influences ever since I can remember. Humberto Ramos and Joe Madureira are 2 of my favorite comic artists. As far as inspiration, almost every CG artist has something to offer, and it's rare that I see work, such as the great work in the Lightwave gallery, which doesn't inspire me in some way.
Newtek: Your company Zero Gravity Entertainment. What do you do primarily?
Jonny: Currently we're pretty exclusively a 3D animation production house. We do have the ability to do game and web development, but these days we're outsourcing most of that type of work. We do a lot of remote work, communicating over the internet. In these cases some companies are happy for us to work on all aspects of a production, others prefer that we do pre-production, set and character creation, and handle animation in-house.
Newtek: Any cool productions to look for?
Jonny: We're working on a few TV Commercials for Australian TV at the moment, which will go up on the site when they're done. I've also been working on video's for Live Bait Productions, currently working on the fourth Gaithers Pond video, which I've done a lot of pre-production for as well as animation.
In quieter moments I'm working on a short movie and a couple of other personal character based projects.
Newtek: I have been told about your “Character Prowess” -- any tips or tricks that you could pass along? How do you get started?
Jonny: Well sure. I'm currently working on a couple of new character tutorials for the Newtek site.
How I get started...it tends to change for each character. I'll start with a concept, and usually start modeling the most important feature, sometimes the head, sometimes the body. I'll create the basic shape, starting most often with a 6 or 8 sided cylinder. From there lots of smooth shifting and point manipulation...
Newtek: So you sketch it out first? Then use a scan to go over?
Jonny: Sometimes I'll have front and side sketches that I'll model against. Most often I just eyeball it. It really depends how close to the concept I, or the client, want the model. I find when modeling human characters that having background templates is invaluable.
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Newtek: Is there anything that you wish that you had done differently in the past? Like, taken different courses in school or anything?
Jonny: Not really. I did art all the way through school, and when I started working there were no courses in computer graphics. Probably my biggest regret is not concentrating on animation production earlier, as I'm having more fun with my work now than ever.
Newtek: So any goals for the next 5, 10 years? Where do you see yourself down the road?
Jonny: At the moment I don't have a solid game plan. I'm loving what I'm doing at the moment, and it also gives me time to work on my music, which is another passion of mine. I'd love to combine the two, and work on music videos or an animated musical.
Mostly in 5-10 years, I'd like to still be enjoying my work as much as I do now.
Newtek: You have done game work in LightWave, right?
Jonny: Yes, quite a bit. I think X-Men: Ravages of Apocalypse was one of, if not the first, 3D game to be developed entirely with Lightwave.
Newtek: How is LightWave for video game work?
Jonny: Especially now, Lightwave is great. Back when I created X-Men: ROA I had to use an external UV editor, which was Lightwave 5.5's only drawback. Since the implementation of UV mapping in Lightwave 6, it's a great tool for game development.
Character creation really isn't that different for games and animation. The main difference is in the use of SubD's for animation. The SubD character cage is pretty close to a low-res game model.
Certainly Modeler is the best tool I've seen for creating low-res models. It's very quick and easy to use compared to most others. Creating weight maps and rigging the characters is a breeze to setup, and it's easy to tweak at any point.
I would definitely recommend using Lightwave to anyone wanting to create game content.
Newtek: When was the last time you had a vacation and what did you do?
Jonny: I can't remember the last vacation I had that wasn't related to animation in some way. All the trips I've taken in the last few years have been for trade shows, with some healthy sightseeing thrown in.
Newtek: What do you fill your spare time with that's not CGI ?
Jonny: Outside of CGI, I write and perform songs, music is a great stress reliever... I spend time with my gorgeous girlfriend... I see lot’s of movies, and I also read a lot, both comics and novels.
Newtek: Ok - music guy - if you were stranded on a desert island, and you could have the entire catalog of only one music group to listen too -- whose would it be?
Jonny: I think I'm going to have to throw a curve ball here and say, the entire catalog of John Williams.
My music collection is vast and eclectic, and there are too many favorite artists/bands in there. But I've always loved movie soundtracks, and John Williams is my favorite composer. Out of all the music in my collection I think I would miss his the most. [Newtek]
Special thanks to William "Proton" Vaughan of Newtek and Jonny Gorden.
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