As a child, Justin Holt had the opportunity to see a lot of the world, live in many different countries and experience a variety of cultures. His father’s engineering job had the family relocating to a new country every few years.
This constant traveling made being thrown into foreign cultures quite the normal experience for Holt, every three or four years. However, he’d always dreamed about living in California.
“This was the destination of my first big move independently and professionally in 2006,” says Holt. “I got my first taste of the West Coast in 2005 when I went out to LA for SIGGRAPH, and ever since that trip I've been hooked. It might have something to do with the stifling humidity in Singapore, where I primarily spent my childhood. Naturally the West Coast climate was welcomed.”
Justin just hated all that traveling, but it undoubtedly shaped the way he matured and broadened his wide range of artist’s palettes influencing the work that he does now. As a texture painter, resourcefulness is paramount. “When given a character to paint, the first step after understanding the history and context of it is to gather photographic reference both for inspiration and use,” he explains.
“Being a third culture kid myself, it’s given me a unique ability to find very specific reference both online and in books, based on things I've seen living in all the cultures and environments that I have. This has really aided in the way I approach painting textures and the initial vision I establish when gathering my reference libraries.”
The course that Justin will be teaching in October on CGSociety's CGWorkshops is a Texture Painting CGWorkshop on CGSociety using The Foundry's Mari application. This is an eight week course that will go through everything from the basics of learning the interface of Mari, up to advanced techniques within the app., to painting creatures in a non-disruptive way. “One of the best things about this course is that The Foundry has made available a free educational Mari license for each student for the duration of the course,” says Justin.
The first course may well be sold out very soon, but Justin and there are plans to restage another Mari CGWorkshop in December, with seats becoming available in early November.
Justin Holt originally was going to James Madison University and was in the pre-med program there on his way to becoming a doctor. “My older brother is a doctor in CT and at the time,” explains Holt, “and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. It just wasn’t a career I had a deep passion for.”
Instead, Justin decided to pursue the career that he had on his mind every single day. “I figured true passion comes from this kind of persistence. And one thing in particular I thought about everyday were movies. I’d already switched my major from pre-med to studio art at JMU and enrolled in a computer art class there learning basic modeling, rigging and animation in LightWave.
“I had always been artistically inclined since childhood mainly doing pencil and charcoal sketches but had never pursued art seriously until I switched majors.” Justin’s brother Jeremy was going to The Savannah College of Art and Design and suggested he transfer there if he wanted to pursue visual effects for films.
“That's when everything fell into place for me mentally and in a strange way, spiritually,” admits Holt. “I made some really great friends there that all have gone on to be quite successful in visual effects and motion graphics. The facilities available at SCAD are second to none. And the industry influence they bring into the school is overwhelming, many of us have jobs today because of the connections SCAD has with the industry.”
Everyone has their calling and it took some time for Justin Holt to find his. He was already one year into his degree at SCAD and was struggling to find a discipline that he loved. He’d tried compositing and modeling but neither was what he wanted. “One of my professors, Craig Newman heard me venting about my unfruitful attempts to find a discipline I could call my own,” admits Holt. “I showed him what I had and almost immediately he said, ‘You would be really great in texturing and lighting. Be the best at one and use the other as a backup.’ That's when a light bulb switched on for me. For whatever reason, I had never thought about texturing and lighting before then. In fact, I didn't know what Photoshop was until the end of my junior year of college (true story).”
Holt was primarily attracted to texture painting over lighting because it allowed him to paint on tangible assets whereas lighting was a bit more abstract. He picked up both of Paul Campion's Gnomon DVDs and became a sponge. “Paul's DVDs really solidified my passion for painting textures for creatures and assets for film. His methodical approach and techniques really gave me a great foundation for the development of my craft. I'd like to thank him as well for providing the material.”
'Furgus' from Rango. © ILM & Paramount Pictures
What keeps Holt interested in textures? “The first reason is that I have the opportunity to paint hero characters that are seen throughout the films I've worked on in my different lighting environments and settings. On the other hand as a lighter, I am restricted to single shots. Some good, some bad. The fulfillment I get when I see my textures on characters like The Hulk or the character Rattlesnake Jake in Rango in theaters is indescribable.
The second reason I stay in textures is because of a bunch of the most talented modelers I've had the pleasure of working with in my career, most notably Giovanni Nakpil, Kris Costa, Frank Gravatt and Patrick Gagne. They are such great talents in the realm of sculpture and modeling that for me, painting on anything else is second rate.
The third reason is definitely Carlos Huante. I have had the pleasure of working alongside him for a couple years (at ILM and DD) and he is the man that has shown me what it takes to be the best at what you do. What it truly means to be an artist. He leads not by words but by example. I consider him a true jazz musician within his realm of creature design, sculpture and concept art. He has no formulas or templates, he simply creates on the fly and in the moment. And he is the one that has inspired me to pursue my own artwork outside of the studios I work for. Carlos is fearless in his pursuits and demands perfection from those around him and his love for art is contagious. A true renaissance artist and the very best I have ever worked with. His achievements inspire me to keep moving forward in an attempt to carve my place within the world of texture painting.
Frames from Rango. © ILM & Paramount Pictures
“I enjoyed painting the Hulk and the Abomination of course, however, that was the first show that put me on the map and kind of lucked out with the opportunity (thank you Greg Steele). But I have to say, Rango was the most enjoyable project because it is a film I pursued. So when I heard ILM was in production on a feature animation, I immediately knew it was going to be something different and special. I came onto the project as a regular texture painter painting secondary characters but within six months was promoted to lead and given some of the coolest characters in the film to paint. I want to thank Steve Walton, Lisa Todd, Geoff Campbell and Tim Alexander in particular for believing in me and giving me the opportunity. The project was an absolute thrill ride to be a part of because of the immense degree of detail Gore wanted for each character. Truly a texture painter’s dream gig.”
'Watchmen' © Warner Bros. & Sony Pictures Imageworks
Holt keeps a keen awareness on color variation and composition when painting textures. He describes looking at a surface he has to recreate and visualizing a kind of an exploded view of the different components that comprise the surface quality. “I separate out the displacement detail in my head vs. the color variation on the surface vs. the reflective qualities, kind of like deciphering a visual puzzle,” he explains. “I go about building it back up layer by layer and then fold it all together.” Holt always relies on friends to take a look at the overall work with a fresh eye and get their trusted opinions. “Especially when I'm painting someone else's model, I make sure to discuss with them the vision they have for the creature and provide some sample reference images I've gathered to see if we're on the same page in terms of look, color and age.”
Anybody can paint generally good looking textures, however, what separates the good from the great is the level of details they fold in that provide clues to the audience of the history behind the asset. Whether its a creature or a vehicle or a building, everything in this world is affected by the environment that surrounds it. “Great texture painters have the ability to convincingly convey the precise environment in which an asset exists through the paint they apply to the thing itself. In order to get the best results, you have to understand the life story of the asset you're painting. Without that history, you do not have a foundation to build and riff from,” says Justin.
For texture painting the software of choice for Holt is undoubtedly Mari. “I have extensive knowledge with DeepPaint, BodyPaint and some proprietary packages but Mari gives me the freedom to paint the way I want. It gets the painter back to actually painting, rather than historically being a file manager. Photoshop is also a program I use as much as Mari in order to properly grade reference imagery and paint maps that are easier to do in 2D than 3D.” For lighting and look development, Justin Holt works with Luxology’s modo, and he plans on learning more about V-Ray and using that package for his personal work.
Mari CGWorkshop on CGSociety
Savannah College of Art & Design
The Foundry Mari
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Paul Hellard is Editor at CGSociety.