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Jan Brukner Interview
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Jan Brukner. I was born in 1985 in the north of the Czech Republic. At this time I live in a small town named Chrastava (100km from Prague). I studied a technical school of transport engineering in Liberec, which obviously did not have much in common with CG. I have always shown a great interest in creative production. At first, conceptual production was my hobby; I tried out various media there: from classical pencil drawing and colour painting, through clay modelling to installations and performances. Getting acquainted with a PC meant a breakthrough for me. Still at school, I went in for web-design in a business way. At the end of 2002 I got acquainted with 3D graphics with the program Cinema 4D. Since the year 2004 I began to devote myself thoroughly to professional work on 3D and CG. Presently, Iíve worked as a freelancer with almost five years of experience in CG. Iíve specialized in 3D mattepainting, design and pre-conceptual art.
How did you acquire your artistic skills?
I think that - like most 3D graphics designers - what I know I havenít learned at a school of art. Still, I donít know if it is correct to use the expression self-taught person. At first I learned 3D myself using the trial and error method. After a longer period of searching for information, I naturally found help on the internet and from CG community. Further, there was some advice from other graphics designers, reviewers, tutorials, etc. I also try to draw many technical matters and practices from books and magazines. Simply, I look for inspiration wherever possible...
What are your sources of inspiration?
To be simple, everything: life, people, nature, film, books, pictures, spirituality... I really like travelling and tourism. I take pictures of various situations and motives. The north of the Czech Republic is characterized by hilly landscape with many forests and interesting inspiring places. It is there where I go to get some sources of inspiration sometimes. I am fascinated by trees. I take them as people. There are various kinds, they are divided into specific groups and still, each is different. I also draw much inspiration from diving in the sea (I also take pictures under water). Itís just like a different reality under water. I used to create scenes inspired by underwater world. I think itís an inexhaustible source of inspiration for sci-fi and fantasy designs. I also like to combine characters of different living animals. For instance making a hybrid design of two positively looking animals such as a turtle and a ladybug with a negatively looking bat. I like contrasts. I enjoy reading magazines such as Novum, Fotografie or internet magazines, from which I gain news and I keep learning new stuff. I browse both internet and real galleries and observe the pictures of old masters with fascination and I try to study them...
What genre do you like most?
Overall, I am not focused extremely on one style. First of all, I like such production in which the author wants to convey something, which has some wit or allegory incorporated within. I like allegories very much. From classical art, I am fond of surrealism and impressionism. I donít like some endeavours of modern artists who strive to shock or be original at any cost. As for CG production and topics which are "in", I really like complex scenes where the author captures some atmosphere, a story. Fantastic production in the area of sci-fi or fantasy... Lately, however, I have been fed up with animal cartoon and "brawny warriors", characters equipped with armour, guns etc...
Are there any artists you particularly admire?
To be honest, I donít know. Each is different. I have no "top artist". From classical art, I admire all French impressionists and the Dutch school. I donít think itís necessary to specify names. As for modern art I took interest in e.g. the works of the surrealists Marcel Duchamp, Joan Mirů, Max Ernst, etc. As for present film art and animations e.g. Hayao Miyazaki, Tim Burton, Gondry Michel, Sylvain Chomet etc... As for 3D artists I particularly enjoy the work of Dylan Cole, Wei Wei Hua, Stefan Morell, etc... As for Czech-Slovak CG community TomŠö MŁller (TemŁjin), Marek Denko (denko), Aleö HorŠk (Artie), etc... There are many and more artists I like. I have a bad name-memory though.
Could you tell us a bit about your professional experience?
I have always worked as and external worker or freelancer. I started with CG at secondary school. At first I went in for making web-design and DTP graphics. Through web-design I got to making flash animations. Then, rather in a business way, I began to focus on 3D graphics and animations. I got acquainted with processing video, cutting and the like. Last two years and a half I have occupied myself with working on making animations, TV graphics and film effects. I closely cooperated with Pavel SadŪlek on many projects. As a 3D graphics designer and animator I participated in music video clips of Czech interprets (Lenka DusilovŠ, Chinaski, Anna K, Ewa FarnŠ, Mandrage). I worked on title sequences for Czech televisions - channel CT1 ("Na ceste") and Prima TV ("HŠdej kdo jsem?") etc... Further I worked on various commercial TV spots and other film projects. At the moment I try to specialize in design, 3D mattepainting and making 3D environments for film.
What are your strong points?
I donít know. Personally, I can say what is most natural for me and what I like doing most. Most of all, it is making 3D designs and realization of environment designs in which I try to specialize. It covers both classical mattepainting techniques and 3D project mattepainting (CM). As for design production, I enjoy pre-concept.
What are your hobbies?
I have a lot of hobbies, but not much time. Most of my interests are connected with running away from computer :-) I like tourism, photographing, MTB, snorkelling, outdoor activities... I like visiting concerts, exhibitions and social gatherings.
Please, tell us a bit about "Return of the Light".
The idea and concept of this scene occurred to me last autumn. Nevertheless, I did not have much time because of working, so the scene had to be pigeonholed temporarily. It wasnít till this yearís May that I started working on this scene. Working on it took in total fewer than two months of standard work (including "normal" life and work :-) The idea of the scene should be in contrast and clash of two classical counterparts. Light and darkness. "As same as abounded lighthouse facing the sea and waiting for its keeper, in the far dark land is the old mill, which did not move its big paddles for a very long time. For years, it did not grind a stalk of grass, from land, where life has disappeared. The old expectant is waiting on the high hill. In addition, villagers from not distance village are waiting for the return. Return of the light."
What inspired you for this image?
The environment was inspired by places which I have been to. Especially the nature of northern Bohemia. For instance, the giant rock was inspired by the little German spa resort of Oybin, not far from the border with the Czech Republic; the marshland around the mill has its source in the Jizerskť Mountains in the north of Bohemia; the mill vanes were inspired by bats, etc... As for the story and idea of the scene, I was influenced by biblical themes and classical art.
Which tools did you use?
For basic production I used the 3D program Cinema 4D, BodyPaint3D (texturing), ZBrush (sculpting) and Photoshop (mattepainting, composition and colour balance).
What are the strong points of each, how did you discover them?
I really got used to working with Cinema 4D. I consider modelling and working in this program very simple and automatic - I donít really have to think everything over when modelling. I learned to use keyboard shortcuts which makes the work much faster. Cinema 4D is very strong as for quickness of modelling, rendering. I also find its module principle great: you donít have to buy what you donít need. An architect, for instance, would certainly not need dynamics simulation or advanced rig tools for character animation. I rendered the whole scene into the resolution 5396x5065px and it took exactly 10h 17min 31s (pc AMD X2 4200+ 1,5GB Win64-bit). I think that Cinema 4D starts gaining a very strong position among other 3D software also owing to an aggressive and effective Maxon policy. I have been surprised by very fast development and continually added features. I have had a chance to work with R10. Itís very quick and well-arranged software. My only complaints aim at advanced rendering which needs to be transformed in many ways (SSS, DOF, etc.) On the other hand, there is a very good connection of originally independent modules PyroCluster and Advanced render into one. Pyrocluster, for instance, is really great for making animated atmospheres.
How did you model the different buildings/houses?
All buildings were modelled from primitive objects. I gradually created details. I used classical tools such as bridge, knife, extrude, brush, Stitch and Sew and the like. During my work I tried to model the buildings in wholes to allow easier editing. I then remade the geometry of buildings into ngons for better editing.
Could you describe how you modelled the trees/flowers/grass? Could you give us any tips?I tried to approach making trees as making characters. I modelled in a classical way using extrude. I modelled trees exactly in a particular place in the scene so that the roots traced the terrain. I created six different types of trees in order to achieve variety. Making plants was easy. Because of further use, I created simple rigs for animation. I created ferns using alpha textures. To create grass, I used a quick plug-in HairDepartment. Creating grass itself was one of the easiest things in the scene, it was a matter of several minutes. Owing to this plug-in, the grass is animated.
The textures are particularly realistic. Could you give us some tips?
Thanks, I didnít really try to be particularly realistic. The textures were done completely in BodyPaint, where I also used special brushes which contain for example bump and colour at the same time. Some materials have as much as five layers. I especially focused on making mosses and lichens etc... I made texturing after sculpting in ZB. I tried to trace unevenness, roughness and paint even the shades in fissures, simulate AO etc...
Do you generally draw your textures from scratch or do you start from existing textures, reference photos?
In the making of "Return of the light" I combined both ways. For some objects, itís clearly drawn textures. For 3D objects, I used various photo-textures as a baseline and redrew them as objects. Then I overlaid these photo-textures and finished drawing some parts. Many photo-textures were gained from www.cgtextures.com, I took photos of other ones myself in the nature. I used a white bed-sheet and a big cardboard for keymatte of plants and leaves. Generally I like both ways. Full painting of textures or stylized textures and real photo texturing too.
With the mage close-up you provided, we can see some parts are less detailed. Generally speaking, do you model as detailed as possible, or do you model "just enough" to achieve the final aspect you have in mind?
Exactly. The style of simplifying was in question. I reduced details of the mage (monk) character on purpose. Fingers, for instance, which I painted, or closely simplified structure of objects etc... I sculpted only some objects in ZBrush.
How much time did you spend on modeling vs texturing vs others in this scene? Which area is the most important one for you, to have good-looking scene in the end?
Most of the time I spend is on texturing. This part took about a third of the time. Texturing is an area that can only hardly be faked and it influences the appearance of the scene significantly. Therefore, I didnít simplify it in any way. It depends what purpose you want to use the scene for. For further possible animations, I decided to make textures in the most detailed way near the anticipated cameraís movement trajectory. Otherwise, I donít know which part I should mark as the most important. Bad modelling cannot be balanced by good texturing, vice versa. Each part of scene creation is equally important for me. None of them should be neglected. In case of modelling one can save a lot by simplifying.
By looking at the wireframes, we can understand how complex this scene is. Did you have any difficulties to manage this complexity?
Thanks, I attempted to fill in the scene, so that other details could be seen during the animation of a camera. 60 per cent of the scene can be seen in the final still image. As for demandingness of working on this complex scene, I did not have any problems. I have made more environments with a greater number of objects before, so Iíve had my tricks to approach that taking the quickness/result ratio into account. Obviously, the only thing that one notices is a bit longer loading of the project of the 3D scene, but it didnít slow my work down.
What tips could you give us to keep things manageable?
Above all arrangement and hierarchy of objects, textures, materials in the project. It is important to separate everything well into groups and subgroups, name them well so that you can easily and effectively manage everything. As for polygonal complexity, I substituted many geometry details with normalmaps which I created in ZBrush. For greater numbers of objects I used clones-instances, which speed the work up rapidly (poles, trees, plants, etc).
What kind of lighting did you set up?
I used three basic components of lighting. Primarily I took advantage of lighting using the dome lighting Skylight by Pavel Zoch (PZDM) http://3d.digitalmedia.cz/plugins/skylight/ . Further supportive lighting was made using ambient threepoint lights. For shadow I also used Ambient occlusion.
How did you paint the background?
I painted the background of the scene with a tablet only in Photoshop. I chose only painted style. I used classical brushes. The whole matte is for further use of 3D scene in a wide-screen form and projection on a 3D geometry.
Could describe how you achieved such a mood/atmosphere in this scene?
Gas atmospheres were created using module PyroCluster, owing to which everything is animated. The clouds and background were created using SkyShader, clouds and god-lights are animated. The atmosphere of the scene is very much completed by post-effects such as glow and highlights. I used gradient filter keyed DOF pass in the final composition.
How much post-processing is there in this image?
Post processing of this image comprised only colour balance, setup of saturation. I rendered the picture into layers (multipass rendering). Then I only created depth of the field in post-processing. The complete composition of layers of the picture and colour tuning were done in Photoshop.