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Marek Denko Interview
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Marek Denko. I was born in Slovakia in 1980. I grew up in the small village called Hlinik nad Hronom. I've finished high school in Banska Stiavnica and Faculty of civil engineering at University of technology at Brno in Czech republic.
How did you get started at 3D?
I did my first contact with CG in 1995 when father of my friend showed me 3dstudio R4 running under the DOS. I was amazed and from that point computer graphics becomes my favorite hobby besides all things which people in that age are usually doing.
What are your sources of inspiration?
My feelings, experience, memories, people, places, weather, pictures, movies, music... everything, everything what is influencing my life has an influence on my work because life it self is one big inspiration to make things someway somehow.
What artists have the most influenced you?
I like realism, perfection and details. I think that I was influenced more by comunities than single artists. I'm really not sure if there was someone so strong who influenced me in visible way. I feel that I'm still searching for my style and still I'm moving somewhere.
What are you strong points?
I don't focus on particular part of CG. I'm using 3d programs as tools to create my work as they are. If I need to do modeling I do modeling etc. I like to know as much as possible about each part of CG. From previsualization trough modeling, texturing, shading, animation, lighting, rendering, compositing to final color grading. But if I have to choose my favorite part then I say modeling and shading.
Could you tell us a bit about your professional experience?
As a freelancer I worked for many companies from around the world like Outsider development, ImagesFX, Digiworks, Blur, Vize and many others. I worked as digital artist at 263 films in Milano where I worked on CG movie "Dear Anne, the Gift of Hope". I spent there one year and I did lot of work on environments from modeling to final compositing. I also did character shading using V-ray and mental ray. Currently I'm living in Prague and working at imagesFX as senior digital artist.
What other interests do you have?
I like playing guitar, photography, music, movies and traveling.
Please, tell us a bit about "Sunrise of the 80's".
After the end of the year 2006, I had more free time to spend than usual so I started to work on my new personal project. It took me about 3 weeks of work, mainly during the nights and creative moments of the short winter days. In the beginning it was planned as night street scene but during one week of playing with lighting and testing I reached sunrise once again.
What inspired you for this image?
There are elements from my childhood which are so typical for eastern Europe cities like typical housing estates, Volga car, trash bins and phonebooth. All these things have particular charm for me and they all are carrying pieces of my childhood so I decided to put them together.
How much did you use reference photos?
I used photos as references a lot but only for parts of the scene not for whole composition. They are really essentials for me when I'm working and they make my work easier to do. Photo references are telling me all about objects what is needed. How to model it, texture it and shade it.
How much do you detail your models?
I'm detailing my models based on the composition and where I will need them. At the start I always create kind of low polygonal scene to see how it works. Then when I'm satisfied I do all modeling. I do detail on the models and also I'm using textures to add details. It really depends on the situation.
Generally, do you draw your textures from scratch or do you start from some existing textures or photos?
In 99% cases I start from photos when I'm working on textures. I have my own library of textures/photos and also I'm using textures from http://environment-textures.com/ and I really love dirt textures collection from 3dtotal.
Please, tell us a bit about "Heritage". What inspired you for this image?
Very first inspiration came out from the Stalker movie. I think it is one of last takes when whole family is walking by the shore of the lake with nuclear power plant in the distance. I spent on it approximately 2 months of my free time in the evenings and nights with quite big pauses during the summer 2006 (vacation, work, etc...).
What did you try to express?
I hope that no one is trying to find some connection to ecology message or things like that. This is all about nostalgia and desperate dark fall out mood which I love so much. I just love the old broken dirty dark atmosphere with a bit of romance inside of it. And if there is Nuclear power plant in the green sunset over the lake... what can be more romantic? :o). It's hard to say what I wanted to express... It's just me, my view.
What are the important points to keep in mind to set such a mood/feeling?
I just followed my vision but I assume that in this case it is about lighting, contrast and ever-present dirt and broken stuffs. This image is just old scenery with few elements telling the story.
Are all the elements modeled in this image, even the background?
Everything is what you can see is modeled. Even the nuclear power plant. As you can see I'm super fast modeler or I just had a lot of free time :o). I really enjoyed modeling all the details. It is very relaxing for me.
How did you create the clouds?
For clouds I used photo from my library. There is a way to create it completely in 3d or paint them but there was no need to do that. For smoke from the power plant I used Afterburn plug-in.
What kind of lighting did you set up?
There is skydome used as fill light and direct light used as sun. I didn't use global illumination this time.
Is there any post-processing/retouching in this image?
I used layer of fog to make image deeper and add more atmosphere into it. Fog Layer was rendered separately and composed in Fusion. I used lot of color correction plus some post effects like glow and highlights on the water. There is making of Heritage which you can read here: http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=3754
Please, tell us a little about "Street of Memories".
In November 2005 I moved from Slovakia to Italy to work at 263 films. I've started to miss a little bit those nice romantic mornings when I was studying in Brno. So I decide to create scene build up from places where I lived, made from pieces of my life.
Which elements in this scene are modeled and which ones are photo?
All elements except the sky are modeled, textured, shaded and rendered.
Why did you choose V-Ray over the default renderer?
V-ray is very good renderer which allows you to use advanced rendering methods. For example Global Illumination, Micro triangle displacement, Caustics and all raytrace features like glossy reflection/refraction etc. There are things you can fake in default Scanline renderer but also fake has limitations.
Please, tell us a little about "Crowd - 8".
The image "Crowd 8" with the faceless men and columns of wood is based on Misha Gordin's photography I found while googling the Internet in search of inspiration - with the word "inspiration" in the search dialogue. I've contacted him to request permission to recreating this photography into 3D.
What did you try to express in this image?
I'm not original author of this image so I can just write my personal feelings about this image. What I feel from it is depressy of humanity, sickness, tiredness of mankind where everyone is faceless, anonymous with his own burden but with so similar fate.
How did you model the characters?
I used standard editable polygonal geometry. There is no cloth simulation. It is just "hand modeling" with Meshsmooth/subdividing at the end.
The textures in this image look particularly good. Could you describe how you created them?
For clothes I used just procedural maps/textures inside of 3dsmax. I mixed several of them to achieve dirty/old look. For wooden columns I used textures from pictures I took. Originally they are railroad ties.
Could you give us some tips on how to achieve such a black&white look?
There is really nothing special on it. I think that is was a bit easier to work with black&white image than with the full palette. All you need to control is contrast and the look of the image which was already settled by Misha Gordin.
Is there any post-processing in this image?
There are few touches in Photoshop mainly adding noise and changing brightness/contrast.
Please, tell us a bit about "Waiting for Spring".
The little Fiat 500L waiting for spring is a scene based on a picture I took only a few meters from the place where I've lived in Bratislava. It took me one week of work. I tried to achieve photo realistic look.I was passing this car for so many days without paying any attention to it. But one winter day, I saw it in sunset covered by snow and it was so lovely that I decided to create something similar.
How did you model the car?
Car is modeled as polygonal geometry with Meshsmooth modifier on it which is subdividing geometry into the high resolution one. I've downloaded basic blueprints from http://www.suurland.com/. I took many pictures of real Fiat500L to have best references as possible.
How important was it to have the car as close to reality as possible?
I'm always trying to try my best. If I'm not satisfied with my work then is not finished and I will not post it anywhere. As I wrote before I took a lot of pictures of real car. I tried my best to reproduce it as best as I was able that time. I had really fun to work on each detail of car and then see it after rendering looking good and close to real.
Could give us some hints/tips on how to create realistic snow?
Snow was done with basic modeling defining its largest surface shape. Then I applied displacement based on the displace map I've painted in Photoshop. For snow shading I used standart material with shadow/light type of fall-off map in diffuse slot. It is one old subsurface scattering fake. Final look of the snow was more about model and light than about shading and texturing.
Please, tell us a bit about "My Love!" and what inspired you for this image?
My "Love in Bed" image was done a few years ago. It was a really hot summer day and I was sitting on the side of a parking place waiting for my girlfriend to come and I was thinking about my new picture. I've seen something similar to this image in TV but I don't really remember what it was.
Did you use any reference photos?
I used photos of blanket and pillows as main reference for modeling. For body I used my girlfriend. She is my wife today.
Could you describe the modeling technique you used for the character?
As base model I used model from my previous project "female anatomy study". I pose body and then I made final adjustment on it.
Is only the back modeled or also the face?
It is complete model but I really didn't pay any attention to the face or front part of her body. Purpose was clear so there was no need.
How are the textiles modeled?
They are modeled with polygonal geometry based on the photos. I spent on them lot of time.
What kind of lighting did you set up?
I have 2 lights in the scene and one dome light. One is on the left and it is big rectangle light which is the cause of the soft shadows. Second light is on the right side behind the camera with aprox. one third of the intensity of the first one. Dome light has very small intensity. There is lot of color correction in postproduction so the colors of lights weren't so important.
Please, tell us a bit about "Female Anatomic Study".
This was primary a modeling training. I was just bored and I found one very nice photography. So I decided to try to remake it to 3d.
How did you model her?
First there was a simple midpoly model of a standing woman modeled as editable polygonal geometry, then I've created basic rig using Biped inside of 3dsmax and then I skin her with skin modifier. Consequently I got her to the target pose, converted to editable poly and rebuilt practically the whole mesh. There is a little overview of this image you can read here: http://marekdenko.net/tutorials/tut04.htm
The attention to details is particularly impressive in this image. How did you manage to achieve this level of realism?
I've adjusted every piece of her body many times until I was satisfied with the result. There is really lot of time spent on detailing it.
How did you model the hair?
Hair which are going out from the shape of the head are planes with painted opacity maps. The rest is just texture which is painted on the bigger version of the head model using opacity maps on the sides to make transition between skin and hair nice and soft.