Today we’re speaking with Gray Ginther, who’s currently hard at work on “Darksiders: Wrath of War” for Vigil Games. He was kind enough to share a bit about his background as one of CG’s “Old Timers”, as well as what ZBrush means to him as an industry professional. Enjoy!
You’re kind of a hard person to track down much info on. Could you tell us something about yourself and your background?
Sure. I’m the Character Lead here at Vigil Games in Austin and I’ve been here for about a year and a half.
I’m from Kansas originally. I’m 45; doesn’t feel like I’m 45, though. A guy at Insomniac commented one time, “Man, you must be, like, the oldest guy at this company!” I had to laugh. So many of the guys are so young that anything over 30 seems ancient to them. I guess what led me to art was seeing Star Wars and then reading about ILM. Also reading about Rick Baker and his makeup effects. I really wanted to work on effects in film. That was back in the late 70s if you need a time frame.
I started out with a degree in Illustration back before there was such a thing as computer graphics. I played in a few rock bands for more years than I really should have, then went back to school and got a Masters in Japanese Language. Right around that time I discovered 3D software and that got me back into art.
I worked for a game company in Chicago for 2 years, then in the Character Department at Insomniac Games for 4 years. Now I’m in Austin.
What was it that caused you to leave the art industry before? And what was it about 3D that brought you back?
Well, my focus at the time was illustration and doing drawings for “Atlantic Monthly”; editorial stuff for newspapers. It just wasn’t a good fit – I just didn’t find it interesting. I was living in Brooklyn at the time shopping my book around. My brother called me and asked if I would play guitar in his band and I said, “Yes, I am so out of here!” But after many years of doing a little art here and there I realized I still really loved to do it and the 3D software just totally captivated my interest. Drawing had always seemed such a struggle, but somehow making something in 3D – even though it was just on the computer – seemed so much more fun and interesting.
I guess I’ve always enjoyed making things. My father taught woodworking and we used to make all sorts of stuff from cut offs in his scrap bin. So I suppose making things on the computer was a continuation of that.
What program were you using at that point?
(Laughing) Ray Dream Studio!
So where did ZBrush come into the picture?
We started using it at Insomniac when the PS3 projects got going. I would see the guys working on “Resistance” using it and couldn’t wait to give it a try. I started using it for the “Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction” project.
That was version 2. It was very challenging at first since it was so much different than poly modeling, but I really loved it. Something about the immediacy of working on a model with the sculpting brushes was very captivating.
For the PS3 projects we were making hi-res models and bringing them in to Maya to bake normals onto the game model. All the organic characters would go into ZBrush.
What were your feelings once you got your hands on ZBrush 3?
When I first saw the UI I thought, “Hmm. It looks pretty much the same as before.” But once I got in and dug around a bit there was so much to discover. I got on the beta shortly before version 3 was released, and was so impressed by all the stuff the beta testers were posting on the beta forum. I’m still finding out about new stuff in version 3!
What are your favorite features so far, and why?
There’s so many it’s kind of hard to break it down. The new brushes are really great. There is such a range of flexibility and they feel so fast and easy to use. Of course the MatCap materials are awesome. People used to stop by just to see models with Ralf Stumpf’s Sculpy material on them. I think PolyPaint has turned out to be one of the biggest things for me. It’s so much faster to paint right on the model, and to be able to export that and bake it out with the normals was really a huge thing for me.
How do you use ZBrush in your day to day work at Vigil?
It’s part of the core tool set and I use it throughout my work flow. I’ll use it during the rough model stage and all the way through the hi res to texture.
Our first step is to work out the overall volumes and silhouette on a rough model, so it’s really fast to put together something simple in MAX, bring it into ZBrush and work on it there. It’s easy to go very quickly from large to fine adjustments and it seems so much faster doing it in ZBrush. The high res models all end up in ZBrush. Of course you’ll want to do the organic stuff in ZBrush, but even the hard surface things like armor and weapons will get a ZBrush pass.
Then like I mentioned earlier, PolyPaint makes it very fast to do the texture right on the model.
And it’s not limited by UV’s…
Which is good because I’m so lazy. I could very easily lay out UV’s beforehand but I never do. And actually it’s great to not have to. I just export the model and the texture at whatever resolution I need.
How much would you say ZBrush speeds up your work? And does it allow you to do things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible?
There are so many modeling tasks that seem to go faster by being able to do them in ZBrush. I have to bring up PolyPaint again because it’s such a great thing for me. I never really was good at just painting on a flat texture in Photoshop and then have it do what I want on the model. I have to be able to see it on the model as I’m painting or it just doesn’t work for me. I also can’t stand lag, and ZBrush is the only tool that lets me paint in real-time and at the resolution I need.
I think it really is the nature of ZBrush that it encourages a playful approach to the work, and the response is immediate so it’s very easy to try out different ideas and home in on whatever you’re trying to achieve. The short answer: it’s very fun to use, that’s what’s kept me hooked.
So is there anything you can tell us about your current project: Darksiders?
It’s been a very cool challenge to bring some of Joe Madureira’s characters into the game, learning to translate his style into 3D. He and the other concept guys have come up with some great character designs and the guys in the Character Department have been working very hard on them. There will be a lot we’ll look forward to showing on ZBrushCentral once the game comes out.
We look forward to seeing it! Anything else you’d like to share or say while you have our attention now?
Just a thanks to the folks at Pixologic for creating a community like ZBrushCentral where anyone can show their work, and a thanks to all the folks who continue to share their work there. There’s so many people to learn from and I continue to be amazed and inspired by all the stuff people are doing there. Thanks everyone!
Thank you, Gray! It was definitely nice to finally learn more about you!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.