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It's that time again! Another interview with one of ZBC's finest. This time up we're bringing you Aaron Sims. Although he hasn't posted at ZBC for a while, it hasn't been due to a lack of support for ZBrush. In fact, as you'll see from the images below he's possibly one of the most visible ZBrush users around! That super-busy schedule just doesn't leave a lot of time for forum participation, but we were fortunate enough to be able to get some quality time for this interview. Enjoy!
Hi Aaron. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It's almost two years now since you came to speak at our SIGGRAPH booth. Could you catch us up on what's been going on for you since then?
Several things have changed since then. My companies have expanded in both production and design by adding more to the team. I've designed for many films, some of them big summer blockbusters like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Incredible Hulk and the The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Could you give an overview of your background? How you got started as an artist?
I started drawing before I can remember and was fascinated with monsters. My father was an artist and drew incredibly detailed animal drawings that amazed me as a child. He was also an animator for the military. So I had tons of inspiration and hands-on training growing up. I also made Super 8 short films, creating lots of special effects like superimposing objects, creatures and people. I also created crude stop-motion animation for a while. Later, I started working for the renowned illustrator Don Ivan Punchatz. After high school, I came out to California to start my career and got into special effects. I did that for many years working with the Academy Award® winners Rick Baker (monstermaker) and Stan Winston. In late 2005, I started my own company.
I know that it's a very interesting story, how you segued into working with CG. Could you share that for the folks at ZBC?
It all started with seeing "Jurassic Park" and for the first time being truly stunned at how this was done. That sparked an interest that I hadn’t had since I was a child. At that time ILM was the only one working with software in that capacity and it was untouchable for me until years later. I did everything to get my hands on the software they used and started reading and educating myself on what CG was. Finally, once I had a copy of the software Softimage, I started learning while working on a film that I wanted to create which had gargoyles. I knew that CG would be the best way to create these flying creatures. Little did I know this was not as easy as I wished. I gave up on the project, but did learn how to work with the software and made that process more enjoyable instead of learning something new just to learn it. After I started work at Stan Winston’s and was hired to help start his new digital department, he asked me to design a robots for the Steven Spielberg film "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" using the 3D software. At the time, I felt this was a strange request, because this software wasn’t made for design, it was made for animation. But it didn’t take long for me to start designing many robots for the film. At that time, this was something that wasn’t being done anywhere for creature designing for film.
At what point did you start using ZBrush in your work? How did that come about?
It was about a two years after I worked on "A.I." when and I discovered this amazing tool that really let me get into the art of it without having to know all the science behind it. ZBrush was a very intuitive tool for me to use and get to know quickly. I’ve been a fan ever since.
Was that ZBrush 1.55? Or was it ZBrush 2 at that point?
It was ZBrush 2, although I had a copy of 1.55. But I didn’t get into it until 2.
Something that really struck me when reading about your background was how you discovered that working with computers allowed you to realize your vision faster than by traditional media, and also allowed you to be more experimental. As I recall, you were referring to Softimage at the time. Did you find that ZBrush let you take that freedom and speed to another level?
Oh yes. With ZBrush I was able to really get back to the sculpting mindset. That is, without having to get hands dirty and deal with symmetry. I could create something that felt very natural using ZBrush quickly.
Of course, now we have ZBrush 3. How has that worked out for you?
Just amazing. I love the new look of the interface and working with the real world materials. I'm so glad to have this tool and all the great new features like layers, SubTools and all the great new brushes. It makes life so much easier and inspires creativity. I often discover new ways of approaching a character because of something new ZBrush will allow me to do.
I use Softimage to build out rough ideas, then bring it all into ZBrush where I can detail and create variations and uniqueness for the project. I usually move from there into Photoshop to really focus the image. After notes from the director, I go back in and do it again!
What are the ways in which you use ZBrush for your projects? How does ZBrush fit into your overall process? (I avoid saying "pipeline" here because that's a little too much like the "factory" work I know you hate!)
Do you have any favorite features in ZBrush at this point? What are they, and what makes them special for you?
It’s hard to say since there are so many great features. But being that my background comes from more traditional art like sculpting and painting, I would have to say its the ability to sculpt digital clay.
It's been quite some time since you posted at ZBC. Do you have any newer images that I can show, that used ZBrush?
I do! See attached.
You've been strongly involved in quite a few major motion pictures in the last several years. Are there any examples that we might be familiar with where ZBrush has made it onto the big screen?
Well, all of them really. "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" are good examples where I created detailed 3D models and delivered them to the VFX producers. The models in turn were used by the visual effects houses to rig and animate.
Tell us about the Aaron Sims Company. How did that come about, and could you give us a snapshot of what the company does?
The Aaron Sims Company focuses on designing characters, environments, landscapes and anything you need for films and videogames. Our specialty is certainly character work, but we also love exploring buildings, cities, vehicles, galaxies and just about anything imaginable, and we work regularly on a variety of projects focusing on different areas. I am always on as art director and do much of the work myself with my team that’s been hand-picked. We all work very closely together (in the same studio, in fact) and inspire each other beyond what I might do just by myself.
How many ZBrush artists do you have at the Aaron Sims Company? Or what percentage of your artists use ZBrush?
We have 2, but we are hoping to make that 3 very soon!
When you're looking for new hires, what are the things that you're especially keen to see? What would make a particular artist really stand out over the competition?
An original style, as well as a well-executed render are the key qualities I look for in hiring artists. Also, a great attitude and flexibility are always helpful.
What's next on the horizon for you? What Aaron Sims masterworks should we be looking for?
I have a fiction book entitled "EMBODIED" that I have been working on as well as "THE CONCEPT ART OF AARON SIMS". I have a screenplay "THE RESIDENT" that we are in development with, which I’m looking to direct. I am also lucky enough to be working with some great directors on some really cool projects. I keep my website pretty updated so check in and see.
Again, many thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.