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Personal Informations

Artist: Neil Blevins
E-Mail: neil@soulburn3d.com
Homepage: http://www.neilblevins.com/
Country: Canada

ViewNeil Blevins' images in the gallery

The Interview

When did you start as a 3d artist ?
My first 3d experience was using POV-Ray back in '94. Previous to that I was drawing video game sprites pixel by pixel in Paintshop for several video games that never got produced. Then I got into 3dStudio, then MAX, which is the software I use for pretty much everything now days.

What interested you in 3d graphics ?
I've always been interested in science fiction and fantasy images. I was a big Star Wars and Star Trek fan, and have been drawing and painting scenes similar to my 3d work since I was four years old. But I never felt I was good enough to make the scenes as realistic as I wanted. Then I discovered 3d graphics, and I could use them to produce almost exactly the kind of stuff I had in my head, and so I was hooked.

Where do you work ?
Nowhere yet, I'm still in University.

What are your sources of inspiration ?
Pretty much everything I see and hear. But particularly, artists like Giger, Heidi Taillefer. Movies like Star Wars, Terminator, Alien(s), Predator and all those corny Sci Fi films from the 80s. Comic artists like Dale Keown, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Stephen Platt, and Michael Turner. Japanese Anime. And music. I can't work unless I have music playing, like Fear Factory, Meshuggah, Strapping Young Lad, Metallica, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson…

 

Tell us a little about "Nightmare II". 
I created this as part of the nightmare series I had been working on. 

How much time did it take you to create ? 
This one was pretty fast, since the scene wasn't really very complex. Maybe 2 weeks maximum, and a lot of that time was tweaking the lens flare. 

What does it represent ? 
Well, the title says it all. As a kid I had these things called "night terrors", which is like a nightmare except you wake up and start hallucinating the things that you just dreamed of. Not fun stuff (and thank god I don't have them anymore), but they will provide me with lots of material for future images. 

How did you model the monster ? 
There's one main cylinder that runs down the length of the beast. Then I took a second cylinder, which is maybe 1/20th the height of the main cylinder, but slightly wider, and copied it up the length of the main cylinder. That made the ribs. Then I bent the main cylinder and all the smaller ribs with a common bend modifier. The mouth of the monster was a set of spheres that I booleaned together and then smoothed using relax. The eye sockets were made using Edit Mesh and Affect Region. The teeth are just cones. The arms are 4 sided cylinders that are bent and have a strong bump map applied to them. 

How did you model the spikes ? 
The spikes on the ground were spheres that I booleaned together using the union command, then I smoothed the result using relax, then I used a noise modifier to make them jagged again. 

Have you ever got problems with boolean unions ? 
Yes, booleans in max have always had their problems. As an object gets more complex, it gets tougher to perform a proper boolean. But there are several articles about how to maximize the chance of a boolean being successful, and I usually follow their rules. The most important few rules are: 
- Try and make sure the surfaces you're booleaning togeather have a similar mesh density (as in their polygons are about the same size) 
- Avoid booleaning things togeather who's faces are very long and skinny 
- Avoid booleaning object togeather that have self intersecting faces.

Let's talk about the lens flares. What are the different effects for the different lens flares ? 
A standard Glow, which has fractal noise applied to it makes up the fiery background. Then there's about 15 secondary flares of different sizes and shapes. If you own Reallensflares, the secondaries are very similar to the "secondaries" preset that ships with the product, which I wrote. 

How did you create the atmosphere ? 
The atmosphere is a background image made from various types of noise. Then the fog in the scene was created using the volumetric fog atmosphere with a procedural noise function in its opacity slot. 

Do you think these plug-ins (RLF, Particles) are important in a scene ? Do they add impact to it ? 
They can, if not over used. If used properly and creatively, they can add impact to a scene, but that doesn't mean that adding them will automatically make a scene look better. Too many artists these days think that adding a lens flare to the scene will automatically make it look cool, which is quite false. And yes, you can make a good scene without these extra plugins. 

How did you texture the spikes and the creature ? 
Both have very simple textures. The monster has a bump map that I created Photoshop, and a texture map made with noise. It also has shininess map so it it's uniformly shiny all over. The spikes have a noise bump map and texture map. 

What did you use Kai's Power Tools for in this image ? 
The texture on the worm uses a map created in Kai's Texture Explorer in Photoshop.

 

Tell us a little about "Eclipse". 
I had just seen this scene in Babylon  5 with this giant ship passing in front of the sun, and I tried to recreate something similar using Reallensflares. 

How did you model the smaller ships ? 
The smaller ships are just variations of the main ship. The main ship is two overlapping cones. The outer cone has several sections booleaned from it to reveal the inner cone. The inner cone has the window texture on it, which is done by a texture and illumination map. The outer cone has a soft bump map. 

As we can see, the ships are repeated a lot of time. Did you use a particle system with the ship as emitter shape ? 
Yes, that's where Particle Cloud came into it. At the time, Particle Cloud was the only type of particle system that would let you use instanced geometry. 

What are the effects of the lens flares in this scene ? 
Very similar to Nightmare II (actually, Nightmare II is similar to Eclipse since Eclipse came first). I used my secondaries preset, and had a strong glow with about 45 random streaks of various widths. 

Have you ever tried Genesis ? 
Not really. I had the demo version for awhile, but I never had time to play with it much. There are just so many plugins out there I'd love to play with for hours, but if I did that, I'd never have time to make images. If I ever had an effect though that needed Genesis and it's abilities, I'd definitely use it (if I had the money.)

 

Tell us a little about "Hatred II". 
I had this idea for a scene with a human eye being hooked up to a system of wires, sort of like a giant mechanical web, with the organic eye as it's central core. The composition of the piece reminded me of an image I had previously done (Hatred I), so I named this one Hatred II. The teeth came at the end, when I felt that the corner of the image needed a visual interesting and unique element to hold the composition together. 

What are the main functions (i.e. extrude, lathe) you used to create the mechanical parts around the eye? 
A little bit of everything really. Most of the connectors are sets of overlapping cylinders. A few are lofts, there's a torus knot here and there, several booleans, and some of the cylinders were modified with a ripple modifier so they would look wavy. 

As we can see, the small bumps at the connections between the cables and the eye add realism. How did you modify the surface of the eye ? 
I selected the faces being pierced by the wires with edit mesh, and then moved the vertexes outwards to make it seem like the eye skin is meeting the mechanical implants. 

How did you texture the eye ? What are its shininess, shin. strength, ... settings ? 
The eye pupil texture is was painted in Photoshop. Then I painted the white part of the eye in Photoshop (which has lots of veins). The two maps are combined with a circular map so that the pupil is round, and everywhere else you see the white of the eye. There's also a soft bump map similar to the eye white texture. Lastly, I applied a shininess map (once again, painted in Photoshop) that made the highlight in the eye. 

As we can see in the wireframe of Hatred, you used Combustion for the flames. Did you manage to get what you wanted ? Don't you think working with particles emitters, facing, particle combustion, would give a more realistic effect ? 
Particle systems weren't an option because I'd need to manufacture some sort of fire texture, which I have yet to do to my liking. And particle combustion didn't even exist yet. When I make an image, I make it to the best of my ability, and then I release it and stop working on it. I generally don't go back to old images and touch them up using new plugins. When an image is finished, that's it, time to move onto something else. As for your direct question though, I do actually like the effect. I think the fire isn't quite as sharp as I would like it, but otherwise I'm quite happy with it knowing the tools I had available at the time. Blur has released a new combustion type plugin called Blur Fire that makes much more realistic fire, I'd probably use it in the image if I were working on it right now.

 

Tell us a little about "The Factory". 
A Max image competition was coming up, and I wanted to do an incredibly complex image. So I created Factory, since mechanical stuff can get quite complex if done realistically. 
 
As we can see in the wireframe, it's incredibly complex. How many time did it take you to model it ? 
About a month of hard work, maybe 3-4 hours a night. 

The scene must have made your computer very slow. How did you mange not to go mad and commit suicide ? 
I'm not sure exactly :) Actually, I have lots to entertain me in my room, like my guitar, my comic books, tons of things to see and do. So while I'm waiting for my computer to finish calculating things, I just grab whatever's near to me and go with it. Never a boring moment. 

You use Scatter. What does it do ? 
Scatter lets you take a single object, and copy it as many times as you want with slight changes in it's position, rotation and scale. It also lets you align many copies of an object over the faces of a second object. 

How did you model the head of the robot ? 
It's three spheres. Two of them have been booleaned and modified in shape using FFD. Then I added two eyes which were then glowed using RLF. 

Many objects, many textures. Did you take the time to apply all of them correctly to the objects ? Or do you think it wasn't very important because of the dark aspect of the scene ? 
Textures were incredibly important in this scene. I wanted metal that looked dented and rusty. Just about every object in the scene has a unique texture, except for some of the wires and the ceiling grate. I was really going for realism here, in the sense that I didn't want any nice smooth chrome. 

Are you satisfied with the result ? Would you have changed something ? 
I'm very satisfied with the result. If I could change something, it would probably be the robot hands that are helping to construct the main robot. They're probably a bit too organic looking for this scene.

 

Tell us a little about "Ancient Evil". 
This is another image inspired by something I saw on TV. I was watching "The Odyssey", and they had this hydra with really crooked and jagged teeth. A month later I decided to make some teeth that looked similar, except the gums were robotic. Then the rest of the scene came together. 

How did you create the teeth ? 
The teeth are simple cones. The mechanical gums were created with spheres and cylinders, and lots of booleans. Then I copied the teeth, and changed the scale and orientation of each one so that there are no two alike. 

How did you model the mouth ? 
With metareyes, using it's metamuscles feature. 

Do you like Metareyes ? 
Very much. The program has a few bugs and design issues that I'm not too fond of, but overall, it's a very useful program, and the best metaballs modeler that I've used. 

What did you use outburst for ? Is it the best particle system you know ? What are its strong points ? 
The outburst particle system was used for the falling water in the back of the scene. I used the program for two reasons, first, I was beta testing it, so I wanted to try it out in a scene, and second it has a particle trail option that lets you elongate your particle by creating a tail that follows the motion of the initial particle. That's how I made the long flowing sheets of water. I'm not sure about the future of the plugin though, many of its unique features were covered by max2's new particle systems, and outburst isn't a true max particle system, as in you can't use standard particle space warps on outburst particles. 

How did you texture the mouth ? 
That's a very complex question. I created a material that was itself composed of 5 separate materials. Each of these 5 materials had unique bump, texture, shininess and shininess strength procedural maps (like noise). Then I combined the 5 materials using a set of mattes painted in Photoshop. The reason I did this was to remove a phenomenon called stretching, which happens when you try and apply a standard map to a complex object. Your map ends up stretching at certain points where the mapping coordinates of the object don't align with the faces of the mesh. Procedural textures don't have that problem, but they're usually too generic looking. So by using this technique, I used procedural textures, but got to pick what areas had which texture or which combinations of textures by using mattes.

 

What's your preferred scene between these five ? Why ?
Probably Factory. First, I am happy with all my work, I wouldn't release an image if I wasn't happy with it already. But the stuff I really enjoy doing the most is the intricate work, with hundreds of little pieces stuck together. The more detail in a scene the better as far as I'm concerned, I enjoy looking at a scene again and again and always seeing new things. I set out to make Factory the most complex image I'd ever made, and I think I achieved it.

As we can see from these artworks and the other on your web site, your images are mainly 'abstracted' and 'strange'. Are you fed up of common scenes such as dinos, spaceships, ... ?
I grew up with dinosaurs and spaceships, but when it comes down to it, we've seen it all before. I'm interested in making something people have never seen before. While the basis for most of my images might be standard science fiction or fantasy themes, I'm not interested in copying things I've already seen. Being inspired by them yes, but not copying them. So I try and make my scenes as unique as possible.

What are the most important points in a scene to make it look good ?
Geez, I could write a book about that.

First, Color. Have a unified color scheme, choose a single color or a few colors that work well together, and make sure the objects in your scene conform to this color scheme. And make sure you have lots of slight variations to avoid monotony.

Good composition is also important. Where are your objects in the scene? Would it look more visually interesting if you placed the elements in a different position? What if you added elements? Subtracted them? Does the scene have a single focal point, or should there be more?

Atmosphere. Real scenes have fog, mist, depth of field. A color scheme adds to the atmosphere. Further away objects have cooler, less bright colors. Closer objects are brighter and livelier.

Movement. Even in a still image, a sense of movement is important. The character(s) in the scene or even the scene itself should look alive, like it's ready to jump out of the screen.

Detail. Even if you're not going for a realistic image, avoid the cliches that you see in most computer images (like polygons and easily identifiable primitives). I find the best way to do this is to add lots of details, either with geometry or textures.

Textures. Use lots of them. Even similar objets will never have exactly the same sort of texture. Play with shininess maps. Add dirt and grime to your objects, no object is perfectly smooth and clean.

Most important: Be creative. Try something that has never been done before. Don't do something because everyone else is doing it. I don't know how many times I've seen the same spaceship or alien rendered over and over again. This doesn't mean you shouldn't do spaceships or aliens, just approach it from a new angle.

What are the strong points of 3D Studio MAX which make it being such a good package ?
It's interface and plugins. I'm very impressed with the thought that went into making max, and how functions are organized. And the fact that there are hundreds of plugins, virtually all of them free, makes the package even better. If you want something added to the system, someone will be bound to write a plugin to do it.

Do you think that the ability Kinetix give to programmers to "easily" (compared to 3D Studio DOS) write plug-ins is one of the explanation of the success of 3D Studio MAX ?
Definately. Also, Kinetix is very active in helping out programmers to write plugins, I mean, Kinetix has released a huge portion of MAX's original code so that outside developpers have top-notch examples of how to program max compliant code.

Have you ever tried other 3d packages ?
I have tried Alias before, but it was a really old version, and I know it's a lot more advanced now. I'd like to try Softimage, but access to these programs is very limited in my school, and I don't have the money for an SGI at home.

What will be your future plans ?
Once I've finished school, I'd like to work in a few studios doing films, TV and video games, and then maybe when I'm 30 settle down somewhere and try to live off my artwork by making posters, books, etc.

Thanks.



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