More Pendulum Studios interviewing power! In addition to our interview with executives Robert Taylor and Michael McCormick (found here), we also had the opportunity to speak with Character Artist Patrick Switzer. He went into great detail about the use of ZBrush at Pendulum. Enjoy!
(Note: The artwork on this page is by Pendulum Studios, and is not necessarily the personal work of Patrick Switzer.)
Your name and Job title?
My name is Patrick Switzer. I'm a Character Artist at Pendulum Studios.
What Projects have you worked on? What projects have you used ZBrush on? How did ZBrush help you with that project?
In the last year I've worked on several titles and projects including "Silent Hill 5", "Tomb Raider", and "American Sign Language". We've used ZBrush in all of these projects (excluding "Silent Hill") for displacement map generation. We've also done a lot of in-house development on AlterEgo. We were able to use ZBrush to create "super displacements", which would be driven by specific blendshapes and areas on the face, which in turn was driven by AlterEgo and the facial mocap data. Using these super displacement maps allowed us to get wrinkle detail around the face, eyes, forehead, details that would require an incredibly dense mesh to attempt with the animation model. ZBrush gave us the freedom to achieve that level of detail transparently, at no extra cost.
What's been your favorite project and why? How was ZBrush used on that project?
I think every project comes with its own unique challenges and rewards. Certainly the things I have the opportunity to work presently have me very excited. Working on developing facial blend shapes for AlterEgo has been both the greatest challenge and reward, and so that really stands out for me. It really comes down to the fact that we're trying to do what everyone has been trying to do since the dawn of CG: We're trying to create convincing and feasible facial animation that can be done en masse. I think it's exciting to be a part of that. ZBrush helps us achieve the nuances and wrinkles that are needed to hopefully delve across the uncanny valley.
What's it like working at Pendulum?
Pendulum is a fairly small company of about 20-30. What's great about that is the amount of responsibility and creative freedom the artists here have. Pendulum is also a very open and social environment. We're a closely knit group socially and also professionally. It's a wonderfully balanced familial environment where everyone's opinion has value and weight.
What kind of work do you like to create? Monsters, heroes, cartoon...?
I'm a sucker for detail work. Anything that gives me an opportunity to go nuts with that is a draw. I'm not particularly attached to any genre or style... In fact, I prefer variety. I'm sure I couldn't be more vague, but I suppose the type of work that caters to my tastes is usually fictional fantasy creatures, characters and the like.
How did you get started in what you do? What was your journey? How did you get to be a Character Artist at Pendulum?
As a child I tended to be creative and into doing little sketches, but it was only one of many interests and it never really occurred to me that it might be a viable career choice. My real journey started around perhaps the 9th grade. I remember being awe struck by some of the CG work at that time. It also happened that I got introduced to initially Bryce 3D and then 3DS Max 3.1 by a friend of mine. It very quickly clicked for me that I really wanted to do CG professionally. After focusing on all kinds of art and video production through high school, I proceeded to spend a short period of time studying fine art in college and finally ended up on the door step of a brand new animation & visual effects school opening up: Lost Boys Learning (of the visual effects studio Lost Boys Studios). A year later, I had a demo reel and took an internship at Pendulum that led to my current position.
What did you study in school? Do you think schools should teach ZBrush?
As mentioned, I studied fine arts for a period. At Lost Boys, I studied in all areas of visual effects, but ended up with a focus on modeling and texturing. Students who want to focus on modeling would benefit from having experience with ZBrush or its cousins. That said, software ultimately comes second to artistic talent and students will need to learn more than how to use ZBrush to be successful.
How marketable do you think knowing ZBrush makes you to the industry?
I think ZBrush has proven to be a pioneer in the area of high resolution sculpting and has become an industry standard. Those with prospects of working as a modeler in the CG industry would do well to have ZBrush on their resume.
What do you love about ZBrush?
I love forgetting about polygons and edges and verts and just focusing on sculpting. I've got to hand it to ZBrush; this is what it does best.
Does ZBrush help you express yourself in ways other software might not?
For my purposes, I use ZBrush as production software. It is a means to an end and a piece of a larger puzzle. When I'm in ZBrush and working, I'm able to sculpt freely in ways that very few applications have made possible. ZBrush has consistently proven to have the most depth and power out of any high resolution sculpting piece of software on the market. It breaks down the technical hurdles in modeling and lets the artist focus on the creative element.
Tell us a bit about integrating ZBrush into your pipeline.
ZBrush is obviously part of our asset development pipeline. We'll do all of our base models and UV's in Maya. Once those are done we'll bring them into ZBrush and sculpt all the high-res detail before moving on to texturing. This way we can paint our textures according to the work we do in ZBrush. I tend to work with a lot of layers to be able to adjust my broader sculpting work and my higher frequency details separately. Once we're done there, we'll export the ZBrush work as displacement maps and render the asset out in shot.
ZBrush has a lot of depth and features that make it a complete program. A lot of really cool things can be done all within ZBrush. For myself I use it for straight up displacement sculpting as a production tool. This is something that can be done in other programs, but I do it in ZBrush because I prefer ZBrush.
What was it like working the old way? Pulling verts... What is it like working the new way?? Billions of polys...
Oh I still do my share of vert pulling. Having a great animation mesh is still something that exists in production. I don't do this work inside ZBrush. However, a lot less work has to be done now on cut edges for every little detail. As long as you have enough detail in your base mesh to maintain proper structure and form, the rest can be put on ZBrush's shoulders. There are days I still feel a bit guilty when sculpting with millions of polys on my screen and the performance is like butter. It's just so easy and natural. Other days I definitely take it for granted.
What work have you produced that ZBrush made possible?
I've created entire monster characters that would look like plastic toys without ZBrush. ZBrush has allowed me to offload a lot of modeling work that would otherwise just add too much density to the animation mesh. Another example would be creating crows feet, wrinkles on the forehead, etc. While technically achievable on the animation mesh, those details add too much extra density to even approach the level of quality you can get out of a ZBrush displacement map.
I think ZBrush is fast. Using ZBrush for me was less about speeding up something I did in a different application beforehand and more about doing things I couldn't do in another application. Overall, ZBrush is a seamless integration into my creation process.
How has ZBrush changed the quality of your work?
Drastically. ZBrush opened up the flood gates on high-res modeling. Any amount of detail is now possible and detail is a pretty close cousin to quality.
Would you recommend ZBrush to artists that are looking to get into the industry?
Absolutely, ZBrush has become an industry standard and is here to stay. Learn it. The more knowledge of ZBrush you can master, the better prepared you will be getting into the industry.
Did you have to fight to get to where you are? What advise would you give to emerging artists that want to do what you do?
The CG industry has pretty high standards. I don't think anyone has got to where they are without a great deal of determination, dedication and passion, myself included. My advice to emerging artists is not even so specific as to practice drawing or study this or that. These are regimes that we know benefit us already. The most important thing is to challenge yourself creatively and mentally. That is the only way to better yourself and train your eye. Try things you're not comfortable doing. Open your eyes and observe. Think about and analyze everything you do. Just remember that while an artist's hands are his tools and skill, his eyes are making all the creative decisions and employing all his experience and knowledge to ultimately make his work good or bad.
How do you think ZBrush has changed the playing field for artists? More traditional artist friendly? Less technical?
I think this is what it's helping achieve, yes. As the industry continues to push the quality bar higher and higher, consumers are going to want more and more content at said quality level. Allowing a greater number of less technically minded artists to have jobs where they can employ their more creative/traditional talents is not only a benefit, it's a necessity.
Thanks to Patrick for sharing your background, techniques and insights!
To all ZBC members, be sure to check out the Pendulum video interview found here. Also don't forget about all the other interviews that we've done so far, which can be viewed at the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.