It's Friday, and we all know what that means: interview time! This week we've cornered Jester to touch bases and get some insights regarding his use of ZBrush. Most of you have probably seen some of his work before. But if not, get ready for a treat! I'm sure you'll become as much of a fan as we have.
Hi Szabolcs. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! First thing I'd like to ask is: how do you pronounce your name?
Hi, folks. Good question! I have never meet any non-Hungarian who pronounced that name well. So it's something like "sabolch". It's an ancient Hungarian name, and I think my parents wanted to make joke to the rest of the world.
Earlier this year I took a trip to the Middle East with a tour group. I was surprised by the number of people in the group who raved that Budapest is a "must see" and one of their favorite places to visit. What would you like to share about your city? What is it like to live there?
Budapest is a beautiful city. Whenever I pass one of the bridges above the Danube, I relaize how beautiful it is. Although it's very smoky and dirty as well. Thank God, I'm living in one of the outer districts where there are few small forests, and we have a house with a garden. So living here is OK. (At least to me.)
Let's talk about your background a little bit. What was it like for you growing up? Any key experiences from your life that you'd like to share?
To be honest, when I was kid we were right in the midst of hardcore Communism. Of course, as a kid I didn't think anything of that. But we had regular celebrations of Soviet events, Communist events, and so on. As a side effect, we had no LEGO's, no action movies, very few computers, and so on. When the Commodore 64 was widespread in the Western World, it was very rare in Hungary. I remember when one of our classmates got a C64, we were gathering at their flat to play for a few minutes... At that time it was a miracle to us, but now I couldn't imagine the same situation. We also got Star Wars two years later than the Western World. Now THAT was a disaster to wait for!
My late father had excellent skills in drawing, but he couldn't make his dreams come true. I think that his failure was the most important point in my life. I've decided to do anything that is necessary to be an artist. And I did. I was in contact with the only scienece fiction magazin in Hungary, as well as all the fantasy fanzines. I talked to numerous artists, and they told me to follow my path. I was 23 when my father died just a month before my wedding. At that time I was working as a programmer, and a freelance artist as well. Then I decided again to make my dream come true, and his as well. I hope that he is proud of me.
From your website bio I've learned that you're an artist, turned programmer, turned digital artist. Could you tell us more about that evolution in your career?
It is somehow connected to the situation in Hungary. I was always interested in art, and I wanted to be an animator. I was tutored by an art teacher and my learnings went very well, but suddenly I encountered the first real computer in my life and that changed a few things. At that time computer experts were really rare in Hungary, so it seemed like a perfect idea to be an IT expert. So I went to an IT high School.
During my education I made illustrations for Hungarian science fiction magazines. Although it payed really well, it was not a regular income and so I finished my classes and became a programmer. I loved it! During my programming years I faced and solved a lot of problems. I recovered a company from a total database crash, and solved several critical problems. I was satisfied. And tired! In general, I had fourteen to sixteen hour work days, usually six days a week. It was also frequent that my boss called me on Sunday evening to say that we had an issue to solve immediately, and my personal attention was needed. I would go there, then spend four days with continuous work. It was lucky that my wife was working for the same company, so she brought me clothes and so on. So I got more and more tired with each year, and finally I quit and left the IT industry.
But I mixed my love for computers and art. First with DTP and 2D graphics, but later with 3D. I remember well my first day as a 3D artist. I wanted to quit immediately! I had a really low level computer, and even notepad ran sluggishly on it. I was given the task to model a character from Wacky Races, which had to be 12 polygons with the car included. I was yelling silently, "Oh Mom, I don't want to ride this horse..." But I made it finally, with lot of cheating. It was a simple racing game, so neither the front of the car nor the bottom were modeled; only what the player could see from behind. It was a terrible, yet useful experience. Game art is not a dream job.
And yet now you work for a game developer in Hungary. What company is that? What are your job title and duties?
Let's speak in the past tense. The company went smash, thanks to a German so-called publisher. By the way, it was Stormregion -- a company with a moderately shiny past and a brightly shining future. Now it's without any future. I was lead character artist. Duties included delivering the tasks to my team, consulting with the concept art leader and the design leader, and developing a working pipeline. We finally came out with the idea to start with ZBrush sculptures, then build the in-game mesh. It looked a lot easier to modify that way if the concept team or the design team made some requests.
Now I'm working for a Hungarian company called 3dBrigade. We provide outsourced graphic assets for such clients as Activision, EA, Disney, etc.
Can you tell us anything about the project that you're currently working on? Better yet, can you show us anything?
Since the company is gone, I think I can show what was made in the experimental phase. The game itself was planned to be a hack-and-slash game for the next-gen platforms, with hundreds of different character types.
As for the present company... I can show few images.
It's now three years since you shared your "first serious work in ZBrush". How would you say that ZBrush has influenced your work since then?
A LOT! It became the natural part of my working method. If I am not in a hurry I usually sketch the model I have to create in ZBrush, and then retopologize the new mesh. It is very freqent that I start texturing with ZBrush as well. It has now happened that I almost forgot standard modeling, and I was staring for a few minutes at the screen, wondering how to start...
And how about the new features in ZBrush 3? What feature do you enjoy the most? And which feature do you find the most indispensible?
Let's see... The new brushes and materials, and the holy Lazy Mouse are my favourite features. Layers are quite good, but it is very easy for me to get lost with them. Yet I think they are the most indespensable feature as well.
Was there anything in Z3 that made you think, "How did I ever manage without this?"
Maybe the whole program? Whenever I start working with it, I just realize how much fun it is to work with; how much more intuitive than pushing vertices and edges and polygons in a regular 3D program. So the correct question would be, "How did I ever manage without ZBrush 3 itself?"
Speaking of that first piece that you shared, one of the things that most impresses me is all the fine detail, and also the imperfections. Everything you've shown since then has had this same attention to detail. What are some of the techniques that you use for this?
It is very funny that while photographers desperately try to hide imperfections, we CG artists desperately try to show them.
I think there is no specific technique, though. I used to collect hundreds of photos from the internet. Then I'll look for the skin characteristics I want and try to incorprate them into my image. Hejab girl has for example much of my wife's skin.
My resource is also real life. Going to work I sometimes study the people around me. If I see something interesting, I try to record it in my mind, for later use. That was what happened with my Vampire image. I'd seen a punk girl years ago. Everything about her was a symbol of rebellion against order, but she also had a cross on her necklace. When I wanted make the vampire, I recalled that image and give it to my character.
I do not use photo textures. Instead, I paint them by hand. Imperfections make something unique. Even a beautiful girl can be more beautiful with the imperfections, because they emphasize the perfection of the rest. I don't like generic CG characters, and I try my best to make beautiful, but somehow realistic characters.
We see a lot about ZBrush in film, but not quite as much about how it fits into game pipelines. Could you tell us more about how you and your company used ZBrush for games?
The method was to sculpt the models based upon the concept art, and the concept artists comments. It took about 2-4 days. When the digital sculpture was approved, we started to create the in-game model. Since our artists had different preferences, some of them used 3dS Max, or XSI or ZBrush or Topogun to retopologize. I myself used ZBrush, XSI, and Topogun as well. I had to test each of them. When the model was ready, we painted the texture with ZBrush, Photoshop, and Bodypaint. Normal maps were created with ZMapper. Finally, the whole mass was fed to the Unreal engine
What have you been up to in the 10 months since you finished "Fauna"? Is there anything that you can share with the ZBC community?
At work I made a few sketches, and with the approval of my former bosses I can share them. They were two day (to be honest, very loose) sessions each. We had an exceptional concept art leader, and he gave us frequent feedback. I learned a lot from him about anatomy, and how to emphasize anatomy even if it is exaggerated.
Actually I spent too much time with CG, so I gave the last few months to my family. That means that I made a mural at home, faux finish painting in the rooms, a tattoo design for the nephew of my wife.
I also started and abandoned a contest entry on CGSociety. The interesting thing in this was that it was modeled exculsively in ZBrush. I really enjoyed that. "The Black Widow", as I named it. Disgusting.
I started a few days ago with a new work. Actually I spent some time with skin shading experiments. I'm looking for a perfect solution. That's my Holy Grail! And of course, a female character is involved...
What do you like to do with your free time? Assuming that you find any, that is.
First, I'd like to have some free time! But I have a wife, two kids, a golden retriever, and a guinea pig. So they recieve my free time. In general, I like to practice traditional art (like murals and drawings) as well as 3D. (The above mentioned girlie is part of this practice.) I convinced my 10 year old son to learn Shaolin Kung Fu, and he copnvinced me to train with him. So we go to Kung Fu training twice a week. And I made a promise to my wife: a mural of 1.5m width and .5 m height in Egyptian style for our living room. I've started collecting references for that. We also try to spend some time playing on my Wii or Xbox 360, but in the last few months I've had no time to play. When I was programmer, one of my bosses told me that a programmer has 24 hour days, and there is still the night to do the job. So that's how I try to live my life nowadays.
Is there anything else that you'd like to talk about while you have an audience?
OK. First of all, please forgive me my terrible English. Second, I would like to say thanks to this great community. I think I have never seen such a good and helpful community.
There is one thing that I would like to mention: Always make TWO copies of your work! I made one backup on DVD, and thanks to a system crash lost some 11 objects that I'd made as sketches with ZBrush. Then the DVD was for some mysterious reason unreadable...
There you have it! We hope that you've enjoyed this opportunity to hear from Szabolcs as much as we've enjoyed being able to speak with him. Thanks, Jester, for sharing!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.