Welcome to a new installment of the Featured Artist Interview series! This week we’ve spent some time talking with Fabian Loing, who has become something of a sensation here at ZBC for his incredible work on Athul, the Witch Doctor. Since Fabian doesn’t have a home page (yet), there’s been something of an air of mystery about this highly talented artist. It’s great to finally be able to learn more about the man behind the art!
Let’s begin by getting to know you a bit better. Could you tell me about yourself? Where you’re from, growing up, etc.
My full name is Fabian Loing. I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. I grew up there until about 19 years old. That was when I moved to Toronto and lived there for about four years, then moved again to Vancouver for about 1 1/2 years, and finally to Los Angeles a few years ago.
What can you share about growing up in Indonesia?
Indonesia is a very nice country and a great place to live. It offers so many different cultures and art for us to learn. The only thing that it is lacking is the resources for things that are 3D related. I would even say it was almost none back then. It has gotten a lot better now though.
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
For me, discovering my passion and actually knowing that I wanted to be an artist came quite early. I remember even when I was still in primary school, I would always be playing a lot of computer games, watching as many cartoons as possible, reading comics, etc. Then as I was growing up and started to enjoy movies I was very amazed with how good CG kept getting every year. At that point, I started to do research on where I could get more information about how to get involved with the 3D world and actually work for 3D related jobs. I actually started out as a graphic designer for about 2 years back then, thinking that would somehow lead me to more information in game development. However, things did not actually start to go my way until I moved to Toronto. That was when I started to realize how much I did not know about the 3D world and that’s when I started to do further studies in 3D animation for games. I slowly learned about traditional animation, life drawings, the history of movies, and eventually game development. As I learned more about these things was when I realized I actually love it.
What made you choose Toronto? Was it for a job that you’d already landed, or were you going on “a wing and a prayer”?
Honestly, there was a period when Indonesia was in major unrest and there was chaos everywhere. That was when my parents decided to get out of Indonesia. Toronto was the choice because my parents and I thought things were much better there as we’d heard that they have low crime rates, many jobs, and most important of all, better future and education for me. In a way, I did go on “a wing and a prayer,” as I totally did not know what to expect. I think I am really blessed that things actually turned out to be much better than I’d expected.
So how did you actually transition into CG work?
That is a good question. I did take courses. In fact, I took a lot of courses. You see, when I first started learning more about CG work I only had some drawing background, but a huge passion for CG. However, I did not know where to look for the right courses back then. So I actually went to four different colleges that offered courses in 3D animation for games. My big break would be when I decided to enroll in the Vancouver Film School. There I learned a lot of really cool things, and that was also when my passion for games grew even bigger. I was very fortunate to be hired upon graduating by Midway Games in Los Angeles.
We constantly see really great demo reels coming out of VFS. It looks like an amazing school! I have also gotten the impression that it’s really intense. Could you talk about your experiences there?
Absolutely! VFS is a great school. Honestly, I personally thought the students who enroll there really helped in raising the bar. Most of the students who go to VFS have a very unique and different art background. So in class, different people would excel in different subjects but the coolest thing about them was that we really helped and pushed one another to be better and better every day.
As a result, competition was tough too. However, we always kept it healthy. One of the things that I remember strongly about VFS was how much the students were really dedicated in making the best demo reel ever. There would be students who stayed for days in front of the computer and slept on the table just to make use of all the available time as much as possible. I was actually one of those geeks! (laughs)
It obviously paid off, getting a job right out the gate with Midway. What did you do for them?
I was hired as a Character Artist back then. So I would model, sculpt, texture and sometimes rig characters.
What project or projects did you work on?
When I first joined their company, I was in the Mortal Kombat team and I was making a few of the main characters like Scorpion and SubZero. However, that title was cancelled and we were making TNA Impact. I was also in charge of their character creation, from low-res to high-res to texturing.
You’re with Pandemic now, right? Did you go straight from Midway to there, and how long have you been at your new job?
Yes. I have been working for Pandemic for about two years now and yes again, I did come straight from Midway.
What is your position at Pandemic, and what is a day in the job of Fabian Loing like?
I am a Character Artist here in Pandemic and am in charge of creating characters from concept to the in-game model. My day at work would be like doing a lot of prototyping for whatever project I am in currently. So I would be given an approved concept and a deadline. I would then have to start modeling and making sure the final model will stay as true as possible to the concept and also look good in the environement.
Does ZBrush help you meet those deadlines?
I would answer that question with a huge YES! Not only does ZBrush help me in meeting deadlines, but ZBrush has become a MUST for me.
Could you elaborate on that? What makes it so special and all-important for you as a production artist?
Before I ever knew anything about ZBrush, it would take me a very long time just to make one character from start to finish. That is because I would have to actually model in every single detail manually while still making sure of great wireflow for animation purposes. That alone takes quite a while. Even so, I would not be able to go to the level of details that I wanted. However, with ZBrush all those boundaries are literally gone. I can now sculpt and model in every single piece or detail that I want.
What’s really cool about ZBrush is the ability to paint on the model, too. That way, when I am asked to sculpt a protoptype model with textures I can paint in colors efficiently and save time as well.
What happens when the director comes back and says, “Could you change this, or do that instead?” Does ZBrush help you out with that?
Absolutely! This actually happens quite a lot. Luckily, I am a huge fan of the layers feature in ZBrush. That is why whenever I sculpt, I will always have every different detail on separate layers. That way, whatever details or proportion that my director would like me to change, I could actually just switch off that particular layer which take like one second to do. Thats is one of the many many things about how cool ZBrush is!
One of the development team’s goals with ZBrush 3 was to put more power into the hands of the modeler. The philosophy was, why should creativity stop at the concept phase? Do you feel that ZBrush accomplishes that for you?
Absolutely! To me, ZBrush is definitely more than just a modeling software. To me it is more like a complete package. I could do a quick concept, I could sculpt, create normals, and I could even pose.
What is a typical character workflow for you?
My workflow would be creating a base mesh, the mass of which has to be as close to the concept as possible. I would unwrap it, and then bring it to ZBrush where the real fun begins. I would sometimes pose the model on a 3D layer when it comes time to show it to the art director. When it is finalized and approved, I would then start generating the normal maps, and other textures. Finally, when all textures are done, I would double check and see if there are any seams visible and if so that is when ZBrush comes to the rescue again as I would be using ZAppLink a lot.
Sounds like a lot of ZBrushing, alright. About what percent of a project would you say is done using ZBrush?
I can only speak for the character department, but I would say that a good 80% of character creation is done using ZBrush.
Wow. That’s a lot! When and how did you discover ZBrush? And what were your first impressions?
I first discovered ZBrush when I was actually still in VFS. It was not part of the curriculum, but there were friends who mentioned ZBrush and those in the Modeling Stream were instantly interested. I remember my first impression about ZBrush was that it has a very unusual interface and was quite a challenge to understand. But that did not last long at all. After a week or so, I remember I was already enjoying using ZBrush very much.
Let’s talk about Athul for a minute. Talk about a jaw-dropping amount of sculpted detail! How many subtools did that character come to, and how many polygons total?
Thank you for the compliments. For Athul, it actually has at least twenty subtools. I would have to open the file again to be exact. And most of the subtools have their own different layers too. If I remember correctly, it is about between ten million polys.
I would actually have expected even more polygons! How many total hours do you think it took?
I worked intensively on Athul every weekend, and I would spend about six to eight hours each day. I remember Athul took me many, many weekends. I would say that from start to the final stage it is in right now took me a solid two weeks, or maybe a few days more because there was a lot of fixing and changing concepts when it was close to being finished.
So… a good 100 hours or so?
Yes, that sounds about right.
I think my eyes would have glazed over by that point. If my hand didn’t start going into spasms around the mouse first!
I actually got pretty dizzy at one point while scultping some parts of the details in Athul! (laughs)
Do you have any advice that you could offer to new ZBrush users?
I would say to keep on practicing and never give up easily. As everyone knows, practice makes perfect. Also, never think that we are the best because I personally, always feel that I am never good enough. Most important of all, you have to be really really hardworking.
You know, I was also going to ask for advice for those people who share your (now realized) dream of getting into the game industry. But I think what you just said probably applies equally well there!
Absolutely! I am pretty sure I would not even be where I am at if I was not hard working and persistent. (smiles)
The dedication definitely shows in your work. So, is there anything else you’d like to talk about while you have ZBC’s attention?
I would really love to thank everyone for taking interest in my work. It means a lot to me. And even a bigger thank you to Pixologic for taking interest in my work, and also for making such a kick ass software!
Many thanks to Fabian for spending a couple hours talking with me! It was definitely enjoyable, and I hope that everyone finds it as interesting as I did. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more of that crazy-detailed work!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.