It's interview time again! This week we're featuring William Melvin, who's made a name for himself here at ZBC as "Quadart". Bill is an extremely talented illustrator, specializing in nature. A lot of people don't realize just how difficult that is. Unlike monsters, where the artist can pretty much make up his own rules, real-world animals have to stay true to the source. Any mistake is easily spotted. I hope you enjoy this interview with a master!
Hi Bill. A great place to begin would be to tell us more about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background?
I live in the US, in a small town about 40 miles outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting. I took drawing seriously at a pre-writing age, and never grew out of it as many children eventually do. I’ve always identified myself as an artist, starting from childhood. As a result, my career path was well established early on.
Your website says that you have more than 15 years of experience as an illustrator. How did you get started in the business?
Doing art professionally (making a buck at it) actually goes back a lot further than 15 years. I was a traditional artist way before the Desktop and Internet era began. I started making a buck doing art in high school. I did a few painting commissions and a lot of automotive airbrush work back then. I did countless murals on Harley Sportster gas tanks, vans, and custom show vehicles. The airbrush was my meal ticket for a long time. I did not go digital until the summer of 2000. By then most of my illustrations were done in gouache and/or oils, relying less on the airbrush. The timeline is blurry where I started doing commercial illustration, which I estimated about 5 years ago on my site, at 15 years. It would be approximately 20 years ago currently.
I am a full-time freelance artist specialized in science illustration. Most of my work is done for the textbook publishing industry. A lot of people may find that type of work tedious, unglamorous and downright boring. As an occupation I love it. I also prefer working freelance. I find that most people prefer the social climate of in-house company work to provide that needed connection with others and for motivation. I work most efficiently on my own with minimal distractions. Since I like what I do, the blurred line between work and personal life doesn’t bother me. I’m usually working by 6:30 am, zoning out by 3:00 pm, then back at it (sometimes after a 20 minute power nap) off and on until midnight when I shut the box down.
Are you a full-time artist? Do you freelance, or are you employed by a firm? If you're with a firm, what are your title and responsibilities?
How long have you been using ZBrush in your work?
I purchased ZBrush back in December 2004 and have incorporated it in varying degrees into my work ever since. I use it a lot to create elements for biological illustrations. I’m going to start using it more in my geological work along with the digital elevation maps (DEMs) I use, and create in Photoshop.
How did you discover ZBrush? Could you tell a bit about your experiences with learning the software and incorporating it into your workflow?
A buddy of mine (3D artist/ animator) in the industry introduced me to ZB as well as the wonderful world of 3D in general while I worked on some projects for the company he worked for. Learning ZB was frustrating at first but once I had that ‘Eureka!’ moment, it was a smooth ride from that point forward. I’m still amazed at how powerful and useful a tool ZB is and how quickly one can achieve incredible levels of realistic detail. Since I use a Wacom, using ZB is more of an extension of my 2D skills than it is a sculpting tool. I see it as a 3D painting tool. When I was young, I used to imagine being able to turn the thing I was drawing so I could see it in a different view. Well, ZB is that dream come true. Other 3D apps have that similar effect though I see working with them as more of a construction process, where ZB is more of a real-time tool for artistic expression similar to using a brush and paint or even a piano.
I notice that you frequently use Cinema 4D together with ZBrush. Some of our users have reported challenges with that combination. Do you have any advice or techniques that you can share?
I use the prescribed methods found here at this site for working with the 2 apps in combo. There are no out of the ordinary techniques that I use. As an illustrator working with still images, I usually don’t use a division level one mesh with displacement maps in Cinema 4D. I usually export meshes at a mid to high division level to maximize displacement map resolution in Cinema 4D. I do tweak the map in C4D, to optimize effectiveness.
Well, that is a selling point for those clients who want digital work done without it looking “digital”. Some of my clients want 3D work that looks like it was traditionally done, which usually means work that looks water colored or a combo of water media and colored pencil.
On your homepage you mention that you're highly experienced in digitally simulated traditional art techniques. What are your experiences with ZBrush in this area?
This trend has waned considerably over the past several years. ZBrush and other 3D apps don’t play a part in this area.
Have you worked with ZBrush's painting features? Since the pixol-based canvas was meant to bring digital media closer to being like real-world media, it seems like ZBrush's 2.5D feature set would dovetail nicely with your oils experience.
I personally find ZB’s unsurpassed power lies in its sculpting and texturing capabilities.
I’ve played around with the 2.5D feature and have created a few interesting textures using it, but really haven’t pursued it further. I have seen some incredible 2.5D art in various galleries. Coming from an oil painting background, I’m impressed though still not totally impressed with 2D software simulation of oil techniques. Rarely does the work from these apps fool me as to whether it was done digitally or not. When it does, it is usually due to low image resolution. There is infinitely more info and poetry in a real brush and oil paint stroke than an algorithmic simulation of one. I think the goal of 2D painting apps should not be centered around ‘aping’ traditional marking methods but to be concerned with innovative signature digital marking techniques. I see this being employed in digital concept art and speed painting, where the look is clearly digital in nature, which is one of the many things I like about it.
What is your favorite feature in ZBrush?
It definitely has to be first and foremost the sculpting feature and second the texturing tools. Being a ZB3 Mac version holdout, I can’t say much for the wonderful new features in release 3. I am looking forward to using the TransPose tool. I think I will find this indispensable and spur me to create more dynamic models in the near future, hopefully.
What would be a typical ZBrush-related workflow for you, and why do you follow those particular steps?
I create all of my base meshes in Cinema 4D or Modo. If I don’t use ZB’s AUVs, I’ll generate UVs in either C4D or Modo 301. I sculpt and detail the mesh in ZB and export the mesh and maps to light (and sometimes rig) and render the model(s) from scenes inside C4D.
How has ZAppLink benefited you as an artist?
I more often than not work on color maps, spec, lum etc., in Photoshop. When using AUVs I find ZappLink a must-have tool to make the painting process easier. The Kudu art was textured this way since I opted to use AUVs.
Which picture using ZBrush is your favorite, and why?
As far as my work is concerned, the Kudu in the environment is my favorite. I do not have a lot of fully finished, textured and rendered ZB models so the choice wasn’t a hard one. A lot of my ZB work does not require a full finish due to its use in illustration, where I Photoshop it up to fit the needs of the illustration. To choose a favorite from the ZB community would be virtually impossible with all of the stellar work exhibited here. I could probably produce a list of at least a hundred equal favorites.
What are your long term goals? What would you like to be doing in five years?
My goal is to keep on doing what I’m doing as a freelancer and adding great new clients to my pool as I go along. I entertain the thought of getting involved in digital fine art somewhere down the road.
How do you like to spend your free time?
One of my favorite pastimes is hitting the nature trails with my digital SLR and photographing the small citizens of the wilderness. (Insects, and whatever else I find interesting enough to zoom in on.) Macrophotography is a hobby that allows you to take interesting shots of scenes that don’t take a plane ticket to get to. All you have to do is step out the back door where a universe awaits.
I also find myself in museums and galleries quite often.
Anything else you'd like to share? This is your opportunity to speak up about anything.
Keep up the good work, Pixologic and ZBrush community. Thanks for the opportunity to let me partake in this interview.
And many thanks to you, William, for having shared your work here at ZBC and also for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us!