For our newest interview, we've spoken with someone who's been a member of ZBC for a VERY long time: Arran Lewis. I don't think I've ever seen anyone push ZBrush to the limits in quite the same way that Arran does. His use of ZSpheres is second to none!
To see what I mean, read on:
Hi Arran. Let's begin by finding out more about you. Could you tell us about your personal background?
Born in South Wales in 1975 to an artistic Mother and a technical minded Father, I grew up interested in drawing the figure, portraits and taking things apart to see how they work. (Often not putting them back together again.) All the way through my education I did very well in the subject of art, always being told that when I grew up I would become an artist. As the years passed I was very much attached to pencil and paper, with my subjects always being figures or characters, and with some very weird illustrations escaping from my mind. Originally when I received career advice at school I decided to be an illustrator, but with time and influence I moved towards graphic design as it was a more practical use of my skills at the time. Interestingly enough when I was at college I actually had an aversion to computers. I used letterset, fine liners and marker pens.
And your professional background?
It was when I was 19 that I braved taking out a loan and purchased an Apple Mac so I could teach myself the necessary software to become a graphic designer. I'd make sure I spent 2 hours each evening after I got home from working at an arts and craft store, to ensure I would learn at a rapid pace. Within 6 months I was a professional Graphic designer. Soon after that, 6 months later I was a Graphics studio manager. This was my profession for around 7 years, although during this time I began to crave the freedom of being an illustrator, so I purchased a Wacom tablet and looked around for an interesting software package that would allow me to paint digitally. That's how I discovered ZBrush.
Do you currently work in digital art? What do you do?
I am currently in my final year at the University College Falmouth studying a Degree in Illustration and so have not had much time to work within the field of digital art lately. Although it is most defiantly the direction I am heading in. I just sold a medical illustration of the digestive system to a medical company in Texas to be used as an advertising backdrop, and so that particular occurrence is an example of one of the areas I intend to work in.
What led you down the artist path, so to speak? How did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
It was just a hobby to begin with and once I realized that I could be creative for a living, well that was most certainly a positive idea with the largest obstacle being which path to take. Special effects in movies, animation, education animation and books are my greatest influence. It all really revolves around entertainment, and especially entertainment within education. I love to learn and research and so connecting this with the hobby of being creative gives me a great sense of purpose.
You once said that ZBrush was a turning point for you. Could you elaborate on that? And how long ago was it that you first started using ZBrush?
I first had dabbled with ZBrush in November 2001 making a head from a 3D sphere, and was amazed at the freedom it gave me. I was hooked immediately because of the diversity and options available. In previous years I had worked with clay and made models inspired by Boris Vallejo: models of women and skulls, etc. Later I stopped working with clay and stuck to flat imagery. ZBrush re-awoke the interest that I had in sculpture and suddenly I was able to work in 2 ways at once. It also helped me get past my fear of loosing depth in my artwork as it calculated shadow and tonal changes, and so for me it was a great leap forward.
Of course, it was several versions ago that you gave us that quote! How has ZBrush continued to impact your work?
I used ZBrush mainly for entertainment as it didn't really fit into what I was doing as a graphic designer, although I managed to incorporate it a couple of times. I didn't use ZBrush much at all after 2003 due to working long hours and other things within my life. I visited the forum and observed the amazing advances that were being made, and for a while I felt that it would be almost impossible to catch up and get back into the software.
In June 2005 I decided to get back into the zone while in my first year of university, and so took the opportunity to re-learn ZBrush. I produced a study of an Allosaurus to satisfy a brief that I had been given, making me become hooked once again. My ZBrushCentral quote, "I let go of the rope once, but now, I am climbing like a monkey" is in reference to my determination to use the software to the best of my ability and apply it to my course of study.
The ZSphere has probably been the most impacting advancement within ZBrush for me as it changed the software's capabilities and most definitely brought it into the realms of being a professional 3D package. With each development has come greater possibilities and these have directly affected my abilities to use the software to suit briefs at university.
Having been around ZBrush for so long, what are your thoughts concerning the directions it's growing in and the advancements that it has made?
It has been like observing a child going through development and it seems that ZBrush is now a young adult with many future prospects available. It most certainly has its strengths in organic sculpture and illustration when working on its own, but it also works along side others in that those who create images of architecture, motion picture and games animation often use it. So it has its own place as a stand-alone application, but it is a friendly one that can knit others together and likes to get involved in everything and anything it can.
I can see the ability to create small animations within ZBrush as a possibility in the future, in order for artists to use it much more for concept work. I can see it becoming and integral part of animation and game production as something that has its uses for the beginning, the middle and the final parts of production. It's an application that smooths the seams of the creative workflow.
Many of the people that we see using ZBrush are animators and so focus almost completely on the 3D side of the app. As an illustrator, you're under no such restrictions. How do you view ZBrush as an illustration tool?
I am very impressed by the work that gets produced under such restrictions within ZBrush and plan to push myself in the future to play around a little in the middle ground, in order to be able to turn my work into animations as well as for stationary illustrative work. With what I am doing at the moment ZBrush has opened up so many doors, in that anything and everything I work on can be re-used in so many different ways and reworked as often as required. Its real-time rendering capabilities are so valuable in that the concept of an image is so quickly achieved. And the ability to make changes to materials, colours, lighting and textures with great speed offers the opportunity to make the best version of an illustration, instantly within the production pipeline.
For me ZBrush is a 3D illustration package to be used and taken advantage of by those who wish to improve the details of their dynamic creations. Although if you don't need to abide by the rules and habits in-place for taking your work into other apps then the illustrative capabilities are literally endless, providing you experiment and push yourself.
I sometimes see people ask, "why not just use Photoshop for illustration?" What would you say to them?
I feel that many of the images and ideas that are in our minds are in fact three dimensional, and often there can be a struggle to produce what we have imagined. The ability to take a peak or even a really detailed look around our creations truly helps us bring these ideas into the real world. The more we can adjust and adapt something when working with juxtaposed imagery the better we can communicate what we first set out to present. ZBrush allows you to get past the restrictions of flat image creation and gives you the ability to produce what is within your imagination, and often something better.
Of course, ZBrush and Photoshop together make quite a team! In fact, your human anatomy project is using both programs. Could you tell us how you view each application's role for an illustrator?
Within ZBrush it is possible for you to create, compose and detail -- whether it be a full image or character -- taking the image as far as possible and then rendering for output. I tend to follow this by using Photoshop for final adjustments to an illustration, mainly because of the speed and the simplicity of the application for 2D imagery.
I have used Photoshop less over time in regards to image creation as I have become more accustomed to what can be achieved within ZBrush itself. I don't see that I would stop using PS for final adjustments as I rely on the ability to use layers and the available adjustments to those layers such as opacity, swapping from one to another, and even adding filters to help create the desired final effect. I enjoy the workflow of working with both applications at the same time on the separate displays, taking advantage of what each has to offer and their ability to work together.
Regarding the "11 Systems of the Body", that's a monumental task! What prompted you to take it on?
I have a great deal of interest in the renaissance and the effect it had on the study and presentation of anatomy, as well as strong interest in human biology. I often indulge in the televised programs showing the workings of the human body using digital effects, and always liked the idea of getting involved in that area of illustration.
The idea for the project started out simply as a poster to show the digestive system to children as part of a "workings of the human body" book. I really enjoyed making the image and purchased many books in order to search for inspiration and knowledge. The books were full of really interesting illustrations which I realized I would love to be able to create. It was with the addition of the SubTools capabilities within ZBrush that I realized I could actually make all the parts separately and fit them together in relation to one another.
Knowing it was possible to build a human from the inside out in 3D excited me a great deal and the fact that I knew it would be difficult made me even more interested in the challenge. With ZBrush offering such an array of tools ideal for organic sculpture, the only thing that would stand in my way was effort and time, and so I rose to the challenge.
Your use of ZSpheres for the skeleton has been absolutely masterful. What tips can you give to people who haven't yet reached your skill level with this feature?
My learning curve with the ZSpheres has been a little like a child exploring the science of gravity and how much force it takes to break something. I simply experimented over and over, and even now I know there is so much more to learn by adjusting the size, position and rotation in relation to each other. I am fortunate in that I only use ZBrush for now and so I have not been distracted by other options, which has encouraged me to keep pushing the ZSphere.
Being able to move them and make the necessary adjustments, then immediately previewing after every little change as helped to manipulate the low poly mesh with great speed that I can't see being possible within other sculpting formats. It's worth making a simple character with a low amount of ZSpheres, and then going crazy with it: not adding any more, but making changes to the existing ones and observing the effects in preview mode, and of course making changes within the Adaptive Skin menu itself.
What challenges did you encounter when you advanced beyond the skeletal stage, and how did you overcome them?
The skeletal system has so far been the most challenging because of the rules in the biomechanics, and even the smallest details such as where a muscle would be attached. Beyond that the other parts have only been difficult in regards to finding the correct reference imagery in order to get all perspectives accurate. It has been important to research to a great depth and I have collected many books, watched lots of video files and improved my understanding of the subject matter overall.
The main up-and-coming challenge is most definitely the nerves, veins and arteries as I can see hours of ZSphere work involved, although whilst working on one thing I am at the same time trying to work out the easiest way to deal with the next problem. Another issue is how much work and time to put into something like the muscular system as I am still deciding whether to make each muscle group individually or as one system, with the concluding decision maker being time at the moment. I most definately see myself making a Version Two of most of the parts of this project without the time restraints that currently exist due to my university study requirements.
What is your current focus for the project? How much more do you have of that before you move on to the next step? And what will that next system be?
At present I am working on the thoracic organs, recently completing the digestive and the urinary systems. I have previously made the lungs and heart but am not happy with them as they were made for my original digestive system project. Now with my better understanding of ZSpheres I am working on those again, followed by the muscular system. It is hard wanting to be a perfectionist as I know that I can't make things to the level that I want at the moment and so the up and coming systems will be made to suit a handful of output images for university, then reworked later.
How many SubTools are you up to so far, and how many polygons?
There are a total of 206 SubTools and 3,047,415 polygons at present. I am not so sure that the computer I am using is going to cope with much more in regards to the rendering of these. There is plenty of RAM left over, but most definitely I need to consider an upgrade as there is so much more yet to be done. 'gulp'
You also recently did a volcano illustration with a cutaway view. Was ZBrush a big help with that project?
ZBrush is an essential tool for me to produce most illustrations and was a great help in making the cutaway view of the volcano. The project was set at university, giving me three days for production. The first of these days I had to work in my employed job and so was left with two days to complete. It was half way through the first of those two days that I got into the project, but with little stress in regards to the time restraints as I knew the process would run smoothly. The longest part was deciding the shape of the volcano. The detailing was a very fast process. I'd use imported textures from Photoshop, convert them to a mask and inflate a 3D plane to make the cut through rubble before finally overlaying the original texture that was used as the mask to add the colour. The tutor was impressed with the final image and I received quite a few comments in regards to people wondering how the image was achieved in such a small space of time.
So what do you see for yourself professionally going forward? What are your goals over the next few years?
I have a flexible view of the future with a handful of ideas that I would like to carry out. One is to create a full male and female in regards to the systems of the body, which I intend to use for medical illustration. The doors that open from this is a stock image web-site specializing in medical illustration, as well as the ability to use the models and continuously adapt them to individual commissions. I would like to get involved in educational books, television and animation too. My interests are not limited to the human body and I would like to explore using ZBrush for a vast range of scientific illustration along with the many other ideas and possibilities that fill up my mind. (Often preventing sleep.)
Anything else you'd like to share with us? You can talk about anything at all!
I would like to mention my most recent inspiration which has most definitely been Dr. Gunther von Hagens and how "Body Worlds" has affected the public's interest in human anatomy. Slowly but surely there as been a wave of interest producing many televised programs, and an increase in books on the human body revealing much more complex -- and what was previously described as gory -- imagery. The battle to bring anatomy to the public has been a long one facing many taboos along the way. It is interesting how we can often know so much about the universe and how it works and yet at the same time not know what is where in regards to our own organs. I am excited about sharing my work on this project with people. I hope that it raises the interest in human anatomy and that it causes others to further investigate the subject.
I would also like to thank the members of ZBrushCentral and Pixologic for their active involvement when artwork gets presented. Since I first started using this software and posting on here I have noticed that it most definitely aids the energy needed for perseverance and overcoming many of the learning curves needed to achieve the desired final imagery.
Many thanks to Arran for taking the time to share with us! And speaking of sharing, be sure to check out the thread where he's shared many of the materials that have been used in the anatomy project so far. You can find it here.
This is one in a series of interviews with talented and influential members of the ZBC community. You can find the features that we've done previously, all gathered in one place at the ZBrush Artist Interviews Forum. Enjoy!