It’s time for another interview! This time we got together with Stu Bayley, the Art Director at RealtimeUK. Best known for their work on game trailers for the “Smite” and “World of Tanks” franchises, they use ZBrush to bring a beautiful level of detail to their creations.
What is RealtimeUK and what do you do?
We’re a CGI Studio and ever since opening in 1996 we’ve had the desire to create some of the most exciting marketing films in the world! Nearly reaching our twentieth year, we are so proud to say we’ve done exactly that and are now known for our cinematic games trailers; the latest being “SMITE - To Hell & Back.”
Our passion for achieving the highest levels of image quality, characterization and engagement on every project has become part of our DNA and is at the heart of each and every individual in our incredibly talented team. Everyone quite literally goes above and beyond to make it happen.
Everything we do is underpinned by our high quality production, marrying an extremely creative approach from some of the most gifted creatives to the most advanced tech savvy people in the industry.
Quite simply, we are passionate about creating inspiring commercials, marketing trailers, VFX & CG imagery.
So what makes us different? Firstly, our team! We have the most dedicated team of artists and directors who really are passionate about what they do. Every creative, every shot, every effect is pushed by each of our artists and sometimes even further than we could have imagined! That’s what takes us to the next level.
Secondly, we benefit from having some hugely talented generalists here in the UK – it feels like the UK tends to turn out a very rare breed of artist that can be at the top of their game in more than just one niche within the production industry. And on top of that, certainly the amazing Northern work ethic and level of commitment!
Tell us about yourself and your role at RealtimeUK.
Hi! I’m Stu Bayley and I’m the Art Director here at RealtimeUK. I’m single handedly responsible for making sure everything looks awesome here in the studio, as well as taking credit for the work of the exceptionally talented team I work with. Ha! I’m laughing but there is an element of truth to that!
Getting serious for a second, my role is to drive the visual aesthetic and keep pushing the team to constantly raise the quality benchmark. Kind of keeping us moving forward and coming up with creative designs that will cause new problems that we need to solve, keeping the team on their toes. And trying to not seem fazed when I ask the team for flowing lava that will interact with ice, set amongst the vast coliseum of a fire giant. When you can do that you are a true art director.
What are some of the bigger projects you have worked on at RealtimeUK?
We have such a wide range of projects here at RealtimeUK that just keep getting bigger and bigger. Some of our greatest challenges have come from the need to have more content in each job we do. Recently we created some large environments for a trailer we did for Wargaming. They are responsible for the very popular “World of Tanks” franchise. The trailer was set in a fictional dystopian Paris a decade after the end of the second World War. We had to push the quality of the environment to another level on that show to tell the story of a ravaged city that had seen a decade of battle. Every surface had to be covered in debris and dust; walls peppered with bullet holes and shrapnel damage. It was great fun!
On the character side of things, the latest “Smite” trailer, “To Hell and Back” was a massive step up in terms of characterization and complexity of task. We had characters on screen that needed to perform and convey emotion – a massive task in itself. That, coupled with two huge environments which contrasted massively in terms of visual direction, each with its own set of problems that need to be solved. And some stunningly complex FX work just to make sure that task was hard enough.
But that’s why we do what we do. We love learning and problem solving. It’s what drives us here at RealtimeUK.
What does your current pipeline look like? How did ZBrush first become a part of it and how is it used by your artists?
A basic overview of our pipeline for a typical asset would be that we get a concept design that is approved by the client. So let’s take our hero character Bellona from the last Smite trailer. The concept would be a full line up to allow the modeler to see what needed to be created from all angles. I would look at this and gather extra references for the look of the materials and the quality of finish I want on the elements of the model. Now the first stage is a block out model to get the basic proportions of the asset. This allows us to solve any issues that become apparent translating from a 2D concept to a 3D form.
At this point for a character we need to get the animators involved in creating a basic rig that can further test the functionality of hard surface things like armor plates, whether the character can move freely without intersections – that kind of thing. Then we are on to the good stuff where we get the approved block-out into ZBrush and detail it up. This is where the character comes to life and we reveal the different finishes as well as add intricate sculptural details, right down to the pores in the skin.
ZBrush is used to create the displacement and normal maps, along with any other supporting maps to aid the texturing process like Ambient Occlusion, Cavity, etc. From here, we will go into Mari and create the final texture maps. The final process in the asset pipeline is the shader and look development pass. This is where we take the textured asset into 3DSMax and set up the material shaders in V-Ray.
ZBrush has been used by RealtimeUK since it was first released. At the time it was a revelation and opened up all types of new artistic possibilities. It bridged between the technical and artistic worlds more than any other package has been able to in my opinion. Personally my roots are in concept design but I use ZBrush as much as our modelers. I can quickly block out a design to paint over and pass on as a concept. They then take it and create super high detailed finished assets. Everyone is a winner.
What ZBrush features do your artists find most useful? Are there any specific jobs or instances that stand out as having benefited from the use of ZBrush?
From chatting with the guys, two features came out on top with both coming from totally different ends of the spectrum. The first is Dynamesh. This is for its pick up and play approach and it’s just a pleasure to use. You are free to play and create. It’s free-flow modeling with no technical impediments hindering your creativity. The second feature is Reprojection. Within the pipeline this is the most used tool. The ability to retopologize assets and then reproject details back on is vital.
What skills does RealtimeUK look for in hiring a 3D artist and what would you say to aspiring professionals?
Here at RealtimeUK we look for the ability to design. This is a fundamental skill to allow an artist to succeed in the industry. If you as an artist take direction and run with it and add creativity to the process, then you will always be in work. An example would be to be given a brief or loose concept design and you take that information and take it up a level, take it to a place that maybe wasn’t expected. You need to have an opinion and a voice to stand out from the crowd of a thousand Orc models that you see standing there with blank expressions on their faces. If we see that you have personality in your portfolio – maybe that Orc has been lit with a film noir sensibility, in the rain as he cowers over a fallen loved one – that shows design thinking, lighting, pose and narrative. That will get you onto the Top Row at ZBrushCentral and get you noticed!
For “Behind the Scenes” videos of the Smite - “To Hell and Back” trailer, click here.
Please join us in thanking Stu and RealtimeUK for answering our questions. And of course for sharing all the great artwork in this post and the ones that follow!