Since the dawn of humanity, we (humans) have been creating innumerable ways to cheat our senses and our reality. To let our mind fly through our imagination with faraway places and stories, just to show to others our day by day, or to be able to see the reality under the artist point of view (cave paintings, hieroglyphics, paintings, sculptures, illustration, photo-manipulation, and so on). And obviously because of our ego too (portraits, photo-shoots, etc..)
Cave painting - Laocoön and His Sons - Erik Johansson art
And for sure, nowadays the great cheaters of reality that can transport us to far away realities to immerse ourselves in stunning worlds, are the 3D designers. With almost 60 years ago since William Fetter coined the term "computer graphics", since the first appearance in a movie "FutureWorld" in 1976, and more since John Whitney (considered one of the fathers of computer animation) started to work on the concept, astonishing advances have been achieved since then.
FutureWorld - Polar Express - Avatar
The 3D modeling is achieving amazing popularity in our usual live, more than the people can think, even more than it´s to come. We see it in movies, advertising, and with the new trends in medicine with VR, manufacturing also, it will become something that we will deal with it every day as a natural part of our life.
Nowadays nobody can deny that the video-games are a fantastic part of what we are living in the 3D revolution, becoming an essential part of developing VR, and other achievements. Video-games are becoming much more popular than some years ago, and a significant portion of our day by day. It´s one of the pioneers and growing industries, generating around 109 billion dollars in 2017 (obviously I´m not a specialist on this that´s the info that I found after simple research), with a significant percentage of the cake for mobile devices.
Space Invaders - Sonic the Hedgehog - Horizon Zero Dawn
And as it is always interesting to put a name to someone that is contributing to this development. You know when you ask yourself, who designed that fucking badass that killed me when I was almost to finalize the quest, in a random encounter, or the final boss?. Well, I will give some answers, and you will know who is behind of such kindly guys. I had the pleasure to talk with a friend of mine, a great 3D artist that have been contributing to great games as is DarkSouls III. Daniel Santos, from Valencia, settled nowadays in Tokyo, you can check some of his works here.
What made you dedicate to 3D modeling?
It started as a hobby. I think my first experience with games was back in 2002, making a few tank models for a game about the Spanish civil war my brother was doing with a bunch of friends. It was a mod for the original Medal of Honor, and that's how I started to gather a first humble portfolio. I just loved tanks and aircraft and always thought computer design was super cool, so it kind of got mixed naturally.
Why video games? Any particular reason or it just came up?
I always loved computer games, especially flight simulators. When I was like 12, I was absolutely obsessed with combat aircraft and ww2 stories of aces, Yakovlevs, and Spitfires. Well, I still am! And in the early/mid 90s there were some awesome game companies working on mind-blowing air combat games. The old great Microprose, Origin and Lucasfilms games with big boxes and detailed manuals. An aircraft nerd paradise. But back then I never thought like I would want to work on games as an adult. Of course, I wanted to be a pilot with my big thick glasses didn't agree and to be honest I just found myself one day getting paid to work on games, I didn't foresee it.
What part of 3D modeling are you most passionate about?
Right now I do characters, and I love it. Of course, it depends on which project you are working on, but overall I think it's a lot more varied and exciting than making vehicles or scenery elements. But working on video games of course what I enjoy the most is finally getting to see my models on the final published game and to know that a few guys out there are gonna have fun with them.
Your weapons? 3DStudio, Cinema4D, Z-Brush, Blender
The software does not matter much. I prefer 3ds Max just because I'm used to it. Of course, Zbrush is almost mandatory, especially for character work. And Photoshop, although lately more and more texture and material work are done on Substance Painter, for example.
Talking directly about video games, the sector you work for, what would you say is the trend today? Where does 3D modeling go, what do the companies look for the most?
You know, the funny thing is that in the last years more and greater games are done by small indie studios, with a lot of old-school pixel art instead of hyper-realistic graphics or anything. Two of my favorite games from the last years are Papers, please and Risk of Rain, two pixelated masterpieces that have nothing to do with what I'm doing. But if you are referring to more or less realistic looking games, there are a few things that are drastically changing the graphics and techniques. First of all, the current generation of consoles brought a huge amount of processing power. That allows for a lot more complex game engines, able to deliver movie-like quality and render models based on real physics. It's hard to explain, but let's say that before you had to fake the materials of an object, like the metal color and the dust shininess of a piece of knight armor, while now the graphic engine, with simpler information, is computing a lot of variables in order to produce a realistic image. Another thing that is being used a lot lately is photogrammetry, which is using cameras to scan real objects with their current colors too. So, for example, you can scan an actor's face instead of being modeling his face from scratch. Some games are using it to make impressive looking vehicles or terrain too, and of course it has become imperative in a lot of other are beside games or films, from architecture to archaeology.
Obviously for 3D modeling of characters you need a knowledge of anatomy, proportionality, lighting, etc. Would you say that is related to sculpture or even painting?
Absolutely! I really think character 3D modeling is one of the modern versions of the old wood carving or clay modeling. Indeed, with the new, affordable and precise 3D printers on the market, lately digital modelers are replacing classic sculptors when it comes to collectible figures or even art. It's basically the opposite of what I was telling you about photogrammetry! It's funny because it's like two opposite tendencies. Either scanning real models or 3D modeling physical objects, happening at the same time and I can imagine several scenarios where both techniques can be used in the same project, like scanning an actor's face and then editing or 3d modeling his body in order to print an accurate scale figure.
It is true that today thanks to the VR, augmented reality, is expanding more and more to other types of experiences, medicine, psychology studies to treat phobias, engineering, today is becoming popular for Industry 4.0 concerning "Smart Manufacturing" etc. How do you see the future of 3D modeling?
Well, I think it' just another side of the same coin. Basically, VR is just a pair of screens instead of one. Of course, it might bring new markets for 3D models and new techniques and tricks but I don't think is gonna bring 3D to masses or anything, more that it's already happening without VR. You know my own crazy 3D future vision? 3D piracy. I think in 20-30 years everybody will have a 3D printer at home to print their own… dunno, cups, and tableware. But the time will come when you could illegally download the model of a pair of Nikes, or maybe a PlayStation 2050 and print it with their correct materials, metals or whatever. One day everybody will be able to print their own Rolls-Roice. And a bit later their own bunch of Nexus-6 servants. I should write a sci-fi bestseller...
I can safely say that various sectors I see companies that for advertisements, catalogs, etc. use 3D models instead of real photos. Do you think that the 3D modeling can even replace the product photography completely?
I think it already did! I believe most of the car advertisements you see on magazines are already 3D. Makes sense because a picture, even if you have the best photo editors in the world, can not offer you even a pint of what you can do if the “photo” is a 3D fake. And probably the bigger the industry, the less they are gonna use real pictures anymore.
Something that you would like to add?
I feel so lucky doing what I do. It has given me the chance to work on exciting projects for years and be able to move wherever I wanted every time I felt like moving to a new country. If you are lucky enough it's a really a job with a lot of fun, and I love the way every time new techniques are being developed and the feeling that in a few years, with printers and new hardware and software, things will be even cooler. I still think I would have been an awesome fighter pilot though...
Well, I hope that you liked it, if not, as you know I will sleep tightly.