We had a chance to interview 3D Modeling mentor Francisco Alvarez who talked to us about his experience working as a 3D Modeller on feature films like Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
When Francisco isn’t teaching CG Spectrum students how to sculpt unbelievable things in ZBrush, he’s building digital Batmobiles and rampaging White Walkers at Double Negative Studios in Vancouver.
From rigging Wolverine at Silicon Knights, modeling terrifying monsters in Silent Hill at Mr. X Inc, texturing 1980’s New York City in the Wolf of Wall Street at Scanline VFX and all of the above at Double Negative, Francisco’s decade as a character artist in the VFX industry has taught him a helluva lot.
HOW DID YOU PREPARE YOURSELF BEFORE YOU BEGAN WORK ON THIS TYPE OF PROJECT?
There is not a lot of preparation you can do before you have a detailed briefing on what is required for a project. Once we have specific information of what the client wants to see on screen then we can start the planning process, which is in my opinion very critical to a successful production.
What I tend to do is once I get an asset assigned to me I will start to come up with a plan on how to approach the build for that specific asset. I take into consideration how the hero is the asset, this means determining how large it is on screen and what role does it play to the entire project. This will affect a lot of things related to building and texturing as well as other departments, usually the more hero the asset the more detail goes into the model and textures and this requires more time to create it.
With assets that are a medium or low resolution, the planning process is still important but there is more leeway in terms of what you can get away with when modeling and texturing. For example, a hero creature would require pores and higher frequency skin detail sculpted while a low resolution would not need any, and its likely textures would help take care of most of the detail in a low-resolution character.
WHAT SPECIAL TECHNIQUES DO YOU USE WHEN WORKING ON A BIG FILM?
Each asset requires different techniques and skills. For example, modeling organic things will take me into Zbrush, while modeling hard surface objects will probably be more in Maya, but I will often jump between programs when modeling and texturing. At the end of the day, these are all just tools that help us get the job done.
Time management is a big deal as artists, we want to put a lot of effort and time into our work to make it look amazing but that sometimes does not line up with the timelines and client deliveries. If you only have 2 weeks for a hero character you have to make sure you employ your time wisely so you are able to hit that deadline and also deliver something that looks polished. I try to give myself small goals and give each part of a model a set number of days so I am able to finish things on time.
It’s pretty exciting to work on awesome projects and to be part of a team pushing to create something great that a lot of people will hopefully enjoy.”
WHERE DOES YOUR JOB AS A MODELLER/ TEXTURE ARTIST FIT IN ON THE VFX PIPELINE?
As modellers we are the beginning of the 3D pipeline. We have to ensure that we deliver high-quality production ready assets on time. Other departments rely on our work, rigging, texturing, animation, effects, and compositing will use our models at some point, so if we make a mistake it impacts the whole flow of the pipeline.
I always try to follow my assets down the pipeline to make sure that the other departments have everything they need from my models”
WAS THERE A LOT OF FUN HAPPENING AS WELL IN THE WORK ENVIRONMENT WHILE WORKING ON THE FILM?
In 3D the work environment tends to be more “fun”. You’re working with people who really enjoy their job. However, most of the time you are busy with something and time flies and the next thing you know you are onto the next show. So it’s very common to lose yourself in the work, trying to solve technical problems as well as hit deadlines. Definitely a lot of laughing along the way.
WHAT ARE SOME INSTANCES WHEN DIRECTORS THREW SOMETHING NEW IN AND YOU HAD TO REALLY WORK AS A TEAM TO GET IT DONE?
This happens from time to time and it does require a team of people to pull it off. If a client has a dramatic change it will involve the participation of all the departments to get it done in time. I have been lucky that I have worked with really strong artists that helped a lot when those situations came up.
HOW LONG DOES IT USUALLY TAKE TO COMPLETE YOUR JOB FROM START TO FINISH ON A FEATURE FILM SUCH AS THIS ONE?
Timelines vary from show to show. But I believe it was approximately 4 – 5 months on Batman vs Superman. Sometimes you start on a new show while you’re still working on the previous show, bouncing between 2 projects at the same time.
ONE QUESTION WE ALL NEED TO KNOW, WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE; BATMAN OR SUPERMAN?
Batman!!! I’m excited to see the final film once it comes out.
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