He was the art director of Elephants dream and Big Buck Bunny and now he’s working on an elaborate stop motion film. He’s long been regarded as one of the best blender artists, and today Blender Guru picks his brain.
1. Welcome to Blender Guru! Could you start by telling us how you originally got involved with Blender?
Hi Blender Guru!
I started using Blender around version 2.11. Back then, like many other high-school students I had too much time on my hands. Instead of getting drunk on a regular basis though, I chose to draw and shoot little crappy movies with my Hi8 camera.
It was always my dream to become a director and work on my own movies. Having shot a lot of those stupid little special effect tests with dinosaurs and exploding models, 3D was yet another way for myself to venture into a reality that existed only in my head. At one point I did an internship at a company who also had an old copy of 3D Studio Max installed, which instantly captivated me. When the internship was over I found a free alternative in Blender.
Back then, tutorials were scarce. There was only scanline rendering and a very limited number of tools. But the whole 3D thing had a very mythical air around it, there was still a lot more ground to break, which made it very exciting to me.
2. A lot of the community regard you as the one of the best blender artists. Your work has been published in books, you’ve been interviewed on German television and you now write regularly for 3d world. Can you explain your rise to fame and how you got here?
That sounds a lot more glamorous than it actually is. A lot of times that was just a coincidence and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I think the reason why a few of my pieces stuck out back in the days was probably because whatever wasn’t possible in Blender, I painted in 2D. As weird as it seems, people couldn’t get their heads around this. “It’s 3D, but it’s not… huh? Oh my gosh how is that even remotely possible?”
Those (relatively) few images kept on buzzing about, and even though it’s not such a big deal, people suddenly call you “Blender Master”. This internet thing is weird. Sometimes getting too much attention can be irritating. Nowadays I pretty much quit showing stuff on the forums and people finally stopped pointing at the old stuff. I’m quite happy now that the buzz of ED, BBB, etc. has died down and I can focus on the actual work and exploring new territory. I don’t know what the future will bring. I just hope there’s gonna be more robot monsters.
3. A lot of your work is geared heavily around the sci-fi theme, incorporating alien creatures and robotic elements in your designs. Can you explain your attraction to this genre?
I guess that’s just a general attraction to things that the eye doesn’t usually see. I admire people who achieve a perfect copy of something that’s real in their computer, I’m just not the right person for that particular flavor of 3D. Mind you, I’m not talking about making something look real that isn’t – I just think there’s not much of a point for me to re-create something that exists already. I guess it’s perfectly fine for training purposes, though. Also it seems that for me it’s significantly easier to model monsters and ugly things. I have yet to lift myself up to the artistic level to create truly beautiful stuff.
The motivation is just my genuine interest in advances in technology, and the general question of where we all might end up. I’m a huge fan of classic sci-fi books and movies as well. Having said that, I love nature, I couldn’t live without trees, grass and air. But somehow I view technology just as an extension of nature.
4. Before starting a project, do you sketch it on paper first or do you like to play it by ear?
I sketch a lot, usually I take my sketchbook wherever I go. I tend to think and express myself in more visual terms, so conceptualizing an image (or even a movie) purely in writing does not work for me. For most of my pictures I like drawing a few thumbnails to make up my mind about the composition. Since I do a lot of character related stuff, all of those usually originate from a drawing. Usually the final 3D model is more an interpretation of the sketch rather than an exact copy though, to there’s still a lot of freedom in the execution. Sketching out the image before you “transfer” it into 3D helps getting the overall flow right. In CG it’s very easy to get lost in the details. Of course, sometimes I also like to completely “freestyle” in Blender, which also can be very liberating because a lot of the work flow is very close to sketching.
5. In your opinion, what’s the single biggest mistake a lot of 3d artists make that stop their work from being great?
Generally people tend to forget that there’s hundreds of years in principals of composition, light, color, etc. that also apply to 3D. The biggest mistake I find myself making is to fumble stuff together too quickly, just to get done with it. While I don’t think it’s good to linger on something for too long, it can also be good to step back for a bit and let it sit for a while. But in my opinion, there isn’t really one big mistake, it depends on the case I guess.
6. Tell us about your current project: Omega. It’s stop motion, but it also uses Blender? What is the motivation behind this short?
Getting my hands dirty with practical work is something that I absolutely love. It’s great to be able to work with this amazing group of people here who’s so passionate about puppets and model building. Omega is a challenge to see how far we can push ourselves in terms of visual complexity, creating the depth and detail of an entire living and breathing (artificial) ecosystem. And while this world not supposed to look entirely real, the ultimate goal is to create something that looks tangible, a world that you can immerse yourself in.
We shoot everything in digital 5K still frames. Blender is used for fusing the final frames together. That means mostly chroma-keying, compositing and color grading. On top of that, we use it for generating virtual environments and characters. Most of the movie is created by manually chopping photos into depth layers and then putting them back together in CG. The last half of the movie features an epic transformation and destruction scene which is mostly CG with a bit of model work as basis. The whole piece is meant to be a hybrid of state-of-the-art CG and traditional stop motion animation.
7. I know a lot of people are dying to see it. Do you have an expected release date?
Because of its complexity we had to postpone the release a few times. We’re hoping to have it finished by next Winter. First it’s probably gonna run through a few festivals around the world. I don’t know yet when it’s going to be released on the internet, or in which format.
8. You’ve been with Blender for a little over 10 years now! Have you ever considered switching to a commercial application? What made you stick with Blender?
In those years I worked on both, personal and commercial projects using Blender. I’ve considered switching at a few occasions actually. Mostly when I was frustrated with Blender’s limitations, its interface, or just my own stupidity. While I am familiar with quite a few other 3D applications, I found Blender to be the most efficient for my purposes. That’s why I ended up sticking with it every time: I really got used to Blender’s work flow, which shows in the speed I can come up with new stuff. More importantly, the people I had the chance to meet who work with Blender show so much dedication and passion for their work, that’s the main reason why I like it so much!
9. Blender 2.6 is just on the horizon! What feature or improvement are you most looking forward to?
The work that went into the interface redesign is really a huge step forward in so many ways, the workflow itself feels much more fluid and focused. The thing I’m really dying to see now is a better modeling system (i.e. B-mesh), the current/old one – while I’m aware of the fact that it isn’t fully ported yet – feels terribly dated. For Omega I’m also anxious to get the whole compositor functionality back again. There’s little things here and there that need patching up, but that’s just a matter of time.
10. If you could offer one piece of advice to an aspiring blender artist, what would it be?
That’s a difficult one to answer, especially since that’s been done to death already. Personally I think it’s important to look beyond your computer screen. There’s so many things that aren’t digital that are worth looking at and living for. It’s absolutely vital to not put your own work on a pedestal. Results matter, yes, but what matters more is what you learn and experience during the process of creation. And if one particular piece doesn’t meet your expectations, no big deal, move over to the next one! For me these were hard to let go. I spent a great deal of the past years to separate myself from the reign of the almighty computer.
In more general terms I also found it to be a mistake to think too much about “your art” and why it’s important that everyone knows that you’re an “artist”. The nature of the internet and the fact that the majority of the people on the forums have too much time on their hands easily lend itself to such conversations about “the art”. (In contrast I also regularly come in contact with art historians and the like, so outside the internet it’s not much different, except that people wear suits)… Who cares what kind of name tag you give it, just do whatever you enjoy. But who am I to give advice, being about 25, I’m still relatively young and inexperienced.
Thank you so much for your time and on behalf of the community, thanks for your amazing contributions to Blender.
It’s been a pleasure likewise! Thanks a lot for giving me the chance to express my thoughts with this interview.