This week we’re pleased to be able to bring you Brett Sinclair, who proves that talented artists are found everywhere – even tucked away in the farthest reaches of Africa.
Those of you who’ve been following our previous interviews may also notice a style difference this time around. It’s more conversational. The reason for this is that I was able to chat directly with Brett via instant messenger, which made for a very lively dialogue. We hope you’ll enjoy it.
Let’s begin by getting to know you a bit. How old you are, where you’re from, background, etc.
Alrighty! I’m 27 years old, and I’m from South Africa. I still live here. I’ve spent most of my life loving characters, watching cartoons. Drawing them and hoping to one day do something that involves characters. When I finally got through high school I went on to study advertising. I hadn’t heard of 3D yet and thought that that would be my way of doing something creative. Needless to say I got bored out of my skull as everything revolved around selling a product I couldn’t care less for.
What part of South Africa are you from, and what was it like growing up there?
I’m from Johannesburg. Life here is really great. Except for crime. Thats something all South Africans will tell you. Ha ha. South Africa is rather small, and we have different climates. Though most holidays are spent at the coast. The local CG industry still needs to really catch up though. Theres not much for character work here. Nothing like overseas.
How long did you work in advertising?
I didn’t make it that far. (Laughs) During my studies I made a friend who was studying 3D. He introduced me to it and I loved it. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I’d had no idea we had 3D in South Africa. Talk about walking around with the blinkers on eh?
What was it about 3D that captured your interest and made you think, “this is for me”?
When I drew I always felt limited the 2D. 3D offered that dimension – the ability to see the other side of my characer. I always wanted to have a characer in my hands, so to speak. Unfortunately, I had no space at home to do sculpting so 3D seemed to be the “cleaner” option.
How long ago was it that your friend introduced you to 3D? How did you move forward from there?
I was introduced to 3D seven years ago, although I was still studying advertising. I had to finish up my diploma so I could then do 3D. It was a relief because I really wasn’t happy doing adverts for washing powder and junk. After I graduated from the advertising college I then did a crash course at another college. A three month 3D course, which was just enough for me to learn the basics and get a job.
And what job did you get? What has your career been like from that point?
Well it was more of an internship. I was being payed to learn Maya. Lucky, I guess. The job required a jack-of-trades effort. Though I ended up modeling characters, mostly. My career has slowly gotten better. It’s always the usual, I guess. Late nights and cursing the PC.
You obviously weren’t using ZBrush seven years ago. At what point did it enter the equation, and how did that come about?
Nope. Back then I was still modeling it all. Yikes! I think when I got sick and tired of moving every point one at a time I looked to alternatives. One or two guys in the office suggested ZBrush. I had a look at it in the office and knew that this was the way forward. There’s no other way. The ability to sculpt as if I’m drawing is a dream come true. I could be an artist again. Not a vert pusher.
So it was pretty much love at first sight. What version was that?
Indeed it was. I got seduced by ZBrush! It was version 2.5.
I think you mean 2. There never was a 2.5…
(Laughing) ZBrush 2. I had just gotten into 2 when 3 came out.
And what were your feelings once you got into ZBrush 3 with its new features?
ZBrush 3 was mind blowing. Still is. I remember watching that beta video over and over just waiting for my e-mail to come through. “Your licence for ZBrush 3!” Scramble!
Is there a particular feature in ZBrush 3 that stands out for you personally?
Besides ZBrush 3? (Laughs) There’s so many. PolyPaint is very powerful. SubTools is what I really wanted in version 2. And the new brushes get you so much closer to making it real.
What is your typical workflow on a project? And especially, how does ZBrush fit within that workflow?
I usually try draw up a sketch or have an Idea in my head. I’ll do a base mesh in Maya and export that as an .obj file. This will include SubTools (as groups) if there are any. Then I’ll go to ZBrush and import my model. Hit polygroups and then GrpSplit. From there I try sculpt in the basic forms, checking that the overall shape is looking OK.
I try not to get to the main detailing till all this is done. Though in zbrush 3 getting to the fine detail is quicker than ever. Anyone remember Projection Master?
After I’m done sculpting, I export the Maya mesh for UV mapping. once that’s done I re-import my mesh and generate all my textures and displacement maps.
I take it you use PolyPaint for the texturing. Do you also use ZAppLink?
Yup. I use AppLink, too. PolyPaint and zapplink work very well together. You can grab a texture via ZAppLink and fix the stretch in ZBrush. Quick and easy.
One of my favorite works that you’ve done was the portrait of your father. There’s a terrific amount of detail there, and excellent variations in the skin tone (like the slight ruddiness for his nose and cheeks). What percentage of that character’s detail was texture, and what percent was sculpted?
Thank you very much! The texture is made up of 70% PolyPaint and 30% reference using ZAppLink and Photoshop. Most of the detail was also sculpted in. Pores and wrinkles. That was then transfered into the texture.
If it wasn’t for ZBrush, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. ZBrush let me sculpt in the imperfections of the skin. It got me up close and personal. And being able to see a texture on a highres model with real-time lighting really lets you get an understanding of what you’re looking at.
How do you go about matching the painted details up with the sculpted details? What’s your process there?
Well, all the sculpted details were added in by using a combination of the cavity map and normal map as an overlay for the texture. Often knocked back so that its not too harsh. I’ll usually start off by roughing in a skin tone using the color spray and alpha 07. Very lightly. Then adjusting the hues to target areas. Like the nose would be more red in colour and the forehead more yellow, all depending on how thin the skin is in that area. In other words, the nose is red because it has less bone in it. The forehead all bone.
So you start out with the high-res detailing, then you paint the texture to fit?
Yup! Though I want to try an alternative way, mapping a high-res texture and sculpting off that. Possibilities are endless.
Right. The various masking options that let you mask based on color intensity, hue, etc…
Exactly! I think if you have a high-res photo this would be the way to go. In my father’s portrait I had no such luck. I had to try and gather photos, and a lot of them were from different years. So I had to draw from memory to try and get a portrait of how I remember him.
I don’t think anyone could fault the results! You’ll have to let us know how the experimenting goes, though. So do you have any ZBrush tips or tricks that you’ve come up with that you’d like to share?
Yep. The Elastic brush. Awesome brush! It lets you alter the form while maintaing the high-res detail. It’s hard to explain. My advice is if you haven’t tried it you should give it a bash. Other than that, I use standard tools. Nothing special, I’m afraid.
As for the poses for your characters… do you use TransPose for that?
I’ve used TransPose for Ryu and Cammy and Cray. TransPose is also great for finding the form to your character. By adjusting the chest rotation or arms you can let people know what type of character he is.
Say you have a character and you have a background story for him. But you accidentally modeled this super hero all hunched over. You can go in and rotate the parts around to give his pose a more heroic feel. Unless he’s just a lazy hero. (Laughs) Telling the story through the pose. Like body language in a sense.
Cool. What are the advantages for you with TransPose vs. more traditional bone-style rigging and posing?
TransPose is a quick alternative. No skinning involved. It’s all mask based so you can decide where you want the joints to bend. The advantage with joint rigging is IK, and that’s about it really. Unless you plan to animate those joints.
So what are your plans and goals going forward? Where would you like to be in five years?
I guess if I’m doing work that keeps me motivated and inspired I’m happy. I’d love to be a part of a game or a movie someday. I’m currently sorting out my life and trying to get some stuff together that will get me there. My previous job had very little characer work. So all projects are my own.
There’s a certain amount of freedom in that, though. It’s nice to be able to create for the sheer joy of it, rather than to fit someone else’s vision.
Yes, I agree. Though it can often lead to indecisions!
And it doesn’t put food on the table.
HAHAHA No, it doesn’t! Bummer!
Well, I have no doubt that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of your work in the future! I think your talent is going to open a lot of doors.
Thanks. I can say that if it wasn’t for Pixologic and ZBrush I wouldn’t feel that way. You guys do great work. ZBrushCentral is a wonderful place.
So you feel that ZBC and ZBrush itself have been a big part of getting you to where you are?
Definitely. And its becasue ZBrushCentral is a hub for art. The way it’s laid out is genius. Top row or not, your work gets shown at the top and if people like it, they will look.
So is there anything else you’d like to talk about or share while you have our attention?
I’d like to say thanks to Pixologic for this opportunity. Thank you for noticing me. Its a real privilege to do this interview. I hope to one day see my name in a credit. (Laughs) Also, I’d like to thank the guys that reply to my thread. And the guys I’ve gotten in contact with.
My message to everyone is to never take things for granted. Keep those you love close to you and cherish every moment.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this newest interview and its style. We’d also like to give a very big thank you to Brett for making the time available to chat!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.