Featured Member: Simon Blanc
It seems to be Blur Mania at the moment, thanks to the recent interview with Sze Jones, not to mention this week's thread about the Warhammer cinematic from Blur. By happy coincidence, today's interview is yet another member of the Blur clan: Simon Blanc. His sketchbook thread has garnered a lot of praise, and we're delighted to be able to give the ZBC community a better look at this talented individual.
Let's begin by talking about you. Where did you grow up? Any little tidbits about your background that might be fun reading?
I grew up in southern France, beetween the sea and the mountains close to Cannes. It's a pretty cool place, naturally beautiful. I still find a lot of inspiration in that place.
I lived in the south of France for the main part of my life, moving a bit farther every time I had to attend a new school... I knew I had to go far from my native place to follow my path. What's fun is that I always lived in places with sea and mountains.
After my last year of school at Supinfocom, I went to Spain to work six months while waiting for my visa to come at Blur. The life there was great.
What part of Spain was that, and what did you find so enjoyable about it?
It was in Valencia, close to the beach. (Laughs) It was mainly a great experience to see if I really wanted to be living in another country. It was a test for the language too, because at the beginning I was really bad in English -- or Spanish! But I've learned a lot very quickly! What I enjoy about working in a different country is meeting people from different places; it's always fun to share the many visions we all have!
Before going to Spain I'd also been in Luxembourg to work for three months. It was the same thing: I met a lot of European people and it was a great experience!
It must be very interesting for you working at Blur, which if anything seems to have a surplus of vision!
Blur is a great place to work, but also to build yourself with a global vision. Here I work with Americans, Canadians, Spaniards, Italians, Koreans, Australians, Croatians, Chinese... And of course some Frenchies, (Laughing) It's the best melting place I've ever seen, and everybody learns a lot from the others. Which is exactly what I was looking for when I came here!
Speaking of your path, have you always wanted to be an artist or was there something that led you in that direction?
I have always done drawings for as far back as I can remember. All my schooling was about doing drawings under the lessons pages! I was just waiting for the day when I would be able to use that passion as a job. So basically once I'd finished general schooling I decided to "do drawings." I decided to attend a visual communication school, where I discovered the computer arts and the web design that become my new passion for five years. I was crazy about Flash. But at the end of these studies (which lasted three years) I discovered 3D and began to love it, too.
So the time come to make a choice: finish school and go to work in web design, or continue at another school and do 3D. I saw the web market becoming very bad at that time, slowly going down and so I told myself, "Let's try to learn something else!"
Anyway, everything began with drawing and it's still one of my passions today. The web, too!
Your skill with Flash is clear from your website. Moving into the present, I see that you've actually only been using ZBrush for about four months now. How did you start down that path?
I'd been very excited about ZBrush for a long time, but I'd thought it was too difficult to learn. The first time I tried, I was so lost with the way it works that... Well, I stopped for a long time.
Finally, when I came to Blur I wanted to learn more and more. So I tried again and... What the..? This software is awesome! It was finally so easy to learn! I think my main problem was to take ZBrush as any other 3D software, but it's definitely not!
I learned the basics in one night and from then on it's only been fun!
Many users talk about an "aha!" moment when things just suddenly click for them. Is that what happened with you?
Exactly! I remember that moment. The thing which amazed me most was the freedom, and the very little time you need to do things. Simply crazy! I was so pissed off with traditional poly modeling, texturing etc. ZBrush gave me the opportunity to CREATE, not to move vertices. I remember telling myself, "Man, you're DRAWING again! The circle is closed!"
So what advice would you give to another ZBrush newbie who might be struggling with getting his or her head around the software?
Just watch the Gnomon DVD from Meats. It was simply the best way for me. Meats explains the basics very clearly, and in one hour you already know how to sculpt and work with the interface.
The Pixologic website and of course ZBrushCentral are great sources of tutorials too. I've learned all the subtle things you can do with ZBrush there. The community is really active and helpful.
From the "No More Wine" making-of, it's obvious that you love ZSpheres. Could you talk about that some?
The ZSpheres are simply great! So easy to use; it's so fast to build a character from ZSpheres. Every time, I laugh a lot when I compare the time it takes to work with ZSpheres with good old poly modeling. You can change everything in few minutes, try new shapes etc. And the mesh is very good. So even for a base I now will first build the character in ZBrush. Basically, everything I love about ZBrush is the flexibility and that feeling of doing art -- concentrating on shapes and style -- exactly like when I'm drawing!
I'm sure Pixolator will love reading that, since it's exactly what his vision for ZBrush has been.
(Laughing) I think people are "taking" ZBrush more as a drawing or sculpting software than 3D software. It becomes so natural to create with. For me it was a huge change in my artistic life, now that I have it in my personal pipeline as a main tool.
Can you talk some about polypainting and ZBrush for texturing?
At the begining I was pretty curious about the polypainting in ZBrush. (Once again I was thinking too much about the Max poly paint tool!) I was amazed by how cool polypaint is in ZBrush. What I ultimately love about ZBrush is the simplicity of using the same tools to sculpt, paint, and work in 3D/2D. So with the alphas, spray stroke, etc. you can very quickly paint any skin or organic surface like for "No More Wine!". I think I spent less than one hour texturing the character. It's completly crazy! I like to be able to texture without thinking about seams. Once again, ZBrush allowed me to focus on the art, and not the technical issues.
The only issue i see in the polypaint is still the amount of polygons you need, but it works just great for almost all my needs, and no reason to go to an other software etc. What's really cool is the ability to paint with different shaders, to "feel" the material better, and of course to see the result directly on a hi-res mesh. It's the way 3D sould have been long time ago. But I think I'll be saying that again with ZBrush 10!
Well, the number of polys is a requirement simply because the concept behind polypaint is that ZBrush can handle meshes that have as many points as a texture has pixels. Basically, it's going back to vertex shading and taking it to a practical level for modern work.
Yeah, that's why it's great for almost every need I have. For the 4k render of "No More Wine!", the texture worked perfectly!
Speaking of drawing, and going back to your start as a 2D artist, have you delved into ZBrush's 2.5D/illustrative side at all?
So far I use it as a tool only, to create alphas and that kind of stuff but never a final picture. I'm too used to Photoshop or Fusion, and I must say the 2.5d mode still has a lot of secrets for me in the way to work with it.
Well you'll have to get back to us once you've had a chance to dig in. I think you'll be surprised by all it can do, since that's where ZBrush's roots are. So what is your position at Blur, and what does a typical day involve?
I'm a full time employee in scene assembly. It basically consists of doing everything except animation, fx and rigging. A scene assembler usually does a lot of environment and prop modeling at the begining of a project. Later, we switch to the rendering phase, putting together all the scene elements. (Environment, animated characters, fx etc.) Once we get everything ready for the shot, we light it and do the postproduction work under Fusion.
What I love with that work is to touch almost every aspect of the 3D process. You have to be a good generalist to be a scene assembler!
Sounds like a very diverse and interesting job. Were you involved with the Warhammer cinematic that we've all been raving about for the last week?
Yeah I did some shots in the middle of the cinematic. It was a pretty hard project, mainly because we were in the process of switching from Brazil to MentalRay. At the begining we had a lot of issues, and new stuff to integrate to the Blur pipeline. The result is amazing, and I can already tell you that the next projects are going to be better and better!
I wish you could tell us about what to expect!
(Laughing) It's bad but I can't! But with the talents Blur has now, and the cool projects we have incoming, it's going to be pretty awesome.
Is there anything more that you'd like to say or share while you have everyone's attention?
As i said, ZBrush opens a lot of new doors for 3D artists. I hope everyone is going to take advantage of it to explore the creativity, shapes, styles... These last years have been full of technical records; big stuff! But now let's forget the technical! Thanks to the ZBrush team for giving us such a software. It's a powerful tool to realise our ideas without going through a slow and expensive process! In short: keep the style going!
Many thanks to Simon for the interview! It really is always a pleasure to chat with the great folks at Blur. Amazing talent all around, but also exceptionally gracious and clearly excited by what they do.
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.