There can be no denying that the last decade or so has seen the vfx and animation industry evolve, develop and broaden it’s horizons. While the big studios are pushing boundaries and creating ever more impressive and believable results, so are the individual artists, working from their bedroom.
Technology has allowed the hobbyist and small studio to harness the same tools as international production houses but there are limitations to what a lone vfx warrior can achieve. Or are there.
Speaking to Léandre Hounnaké, winner of RebusFarm's 3D Artist of the Year award, things may not be so clear. Working across projects as diverse as corporate logos, to character design, Léandre has built himself an impressive portfolio, with several photorealistic renders, the culmination of years of study and hard work. The 3D Artist of the Year contest at RebusFarm is the culmination of a year’s entries into the 3D Artist of the Month contest, which highlights the very best artists working today.
Entering contests like this is a great way to both work on projects purely for fun and because you feel inspired, as well as to push your abilities, learn new skills but also to stay part of the community and to share those inspirational moments and projects. The RebusFarm 3D Artist of the Month not only offers RenderPoints and free promotion but helps foster this incredible community.
Hi preferred subjects are ones that include organic elements, as a passion for digital sculpting is combined with experimentation and speed that only comes from more freeform working. His chosen tools for this are sculptris and Mudbox (among others) but he is quick to acknowledge that other tools are equally important to the result.
3dsMax for generating UVs and building shaders, is mixed with texture painting in Mudbox, often with Photoshop thrown in to help create the variety of maps needed. He uses V-Ray, Corona and Keyshot for rendering purposes.
We will look at his workflow later but it’s worth noting here that tools are simply that. It doesn’t matter what sculpting app you use, or which renderer engine you choose. Make the decision based on the needs of the project and your preference.
You can see here Léandre used Sculptris to initially sculpt his Hornbill, before moving over to Mudbox for refining, then V-ray for rendering.
The important point, and one which Léandre is keen to point out, is that each step in the workflow is important. No matter whether your love is lighting, texture painting, or working with cameras, you must be both a generalist and a specialist. This paradoxical approach to vfx is growing more common. Years ago, artist could be a jack of all trades, then as the industry developed specialisms became common. Admittedly artists would often dip into other areas but at studio level speciality was king.
More recently things are reverting and being able to model as well as you can unwrap and paint textures is vital. This is becoming more pronounced as smaller studios take on more ambitious projects and vfx artists move around the globe to take roles on projects that interest them.
Smaller studios, or individual freelance artists, have the skills and supporting technology, to undertake entire projects themselves. Everything from pre-production to final grading and deliver can be done by one person, on one workstation.
This brings us back to the underlying technology, which has allowed individual artists, like Léandre, to create high end work. The advances of single workstations and GPUs has been a key factor in this but as he says himself, the faster you render, the sooner you get paid. Efficiency is now the king of the hill and it doesn’t matter how beautiful your images are. If you can’t get them delivered on time the client will look elsewhere.
A powerful GPU, that benefits individual artists, is available. There are several of them but the benefit must be weighed against the cost. In many cases uploading the project file to a render farm is far more cost effective solution. RebusFarm, for example, supports all the most commonly used host applications, along with associated plugins and render engines, making it a great way to get the results you need, in a suitable timeframe and at a fraction of the cost. More importantly, this is a scalable solution, meaning you can have your results sooner, or cheaper, dependant on your needs at the time. That alone makes it worth considering but don’t forget the redundancies included. Using a third party solution can give you the peace of mind that you can’t always assume exists at home or the small studio. Power outages or component failure can cause big problems.
Léandre’s wish for the future of his work is twofold. He’d like to be able to learn new software faster but also to have a more robust workstation. Until that time let´s take a look at Léandre Hounnaké’s workflow.
The winning 3D Artist of the Year render took around two months to complete, fitted in personal time, between other work, with much of the effort going into making realistic feather, the greatest challenge but, along with the texturing, one that brought with it the greatest reward. With this image the feathers were a key feature and one that he felt he needed to push himself to a certain level of quality with. His workflow is straightforward but effective.
Once all modelling, texturing and lighting was complete Léandre rendered using the CPU, although he is interested in exploring GPU rendering and is sure that using a render farm is the ideal, when a deadline is looming.
Lighting is an area of cg that Léandre has strong feelings on, realising that, while some artists may not feel it’s as exciting as other aspects of a job, it’s a vital element and one that can save a lot of time on a project, if set up even with a simple but effective look.
His work is focused, of a high quality and the images speak as much about the subject, as they do of him as an artist. So much so that he won an Artist of the month award, followed by being voted Artist of the year, by a panel of industry judges. You can read a full article including a making-of of his winning image on the RebusFarm Blog.
For more about the monthly and annual awards head over to RebusFarm´s contest website and think about submitting your own work.