GW: Scott, tell us a little about yourself, where you came from and how you got here?
SS: My name is Scott Spencer and I started out as a make-up effects artist and sculptor. When I was on the East Coast I worked on a couple of movies like "Eight Legged Freaks" and "Dreams”. I was working at a studio called Lone Wolf Effects. Even though I had a sculptural background, I had a feeling that I needed to learn a little about digital. So when it came time to go to school and college I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design and majored in Animation and minored in Drawing and Anatomy. After SCAD I went to the Florence Academy of Art for a brief time and did classical figure sculpture. When I was done there I still did traditional methods and applications even when I was working digitally. I tried to take the same approach as if I was working with clay. After that I ended up in a company in San Diego doing creatures and characters for cinematics and I also spent a little bit of time in San Francisco.
I always wanted to work at Gentle Giant because I was aware of them just as a sculptor and there was just a huge variety of work that came from the studio. So I was trying to contact the studio for a couple of months and just through persistence I finally talked to Carl, the owner, who flew me down for an interview from San Francisco. He brought me on after that for about a week and I have now been here for two years. I'm currently the Digital Art Director heading up the Creature and Character department for Video Games, Films and Broadcast. I've now got ten people in a department that started with none. I was actually the first person to bring in digital sculpting. Gentle Giant has been really open to migrating a lot of the different sculptors, traditional sculptors, to a sort of hybrid of traditional and digital approach. It is a really exciting time and a great place to be.
GW: After you finished college in Georgia, what made you decide to go to school in Florence?
SS: When I was in school in Georgia I was in Art school and it was not an "Atelier" style of teaching. Meaning it was more based on the Bauhaus school of art where you take foundations classes and you go off into your particular medium and focus on it whether it be Animation or painting or sequential art. Whereas the Atelier style is based on the 19th century model, which is where it is just repetition and working from a model or working from a plaster cast. It is much more Instructor/ Student lineage based. It was just an experience I wanted to have. I had never really traveled abroad before either and I wanted to take advantage of the time while I had it. I had some money left over from my scholarship so I could afford to go to Florence and be in the presence of truly great art and get some perspective on how much more there is to learn.
GW: Did you have an idea or an end goal of specifically what you wanted to do when you went there? Such as I wanted to work in Films. I want to work in games. Or was it for more of a personal artistic pursuit?
SS: I always wanted to be a creature designer. A monster maker. Even when I am looking at Gambilonia, or Michelangelo I want to bring the same type of set discipline to entertainment art that I would bring to what other people call Fine Art. I don't have that differentiation in mind. I have always known what I wanted to do and that I want to do it as best as I possibly can so it seemed to me that I should pursue as much traditional training as I was able.
GW: That's very admirable. Do you think that traditional training has enabled you to leapfrog a lot of individuals that started out in the digital world who haven’t paid as much attention to the traditional fundamentals?
SS: I don't think that it is a matter of starting out traditional rather than digital because there are some really incredible painters who work entirely in Corel Painter. But I do think that having the exposure to the traditional vocabulary and concepts expedites the process of communication, taking critique and learning from a huge repository of information and tradition that you don't necessarily get if you are working within a digital vacuum and only communicating with other digital artists. You don't spend time to learn about gesture and form and proportion and value. Those basic building blocks. Just like a violinist will spend her entire life doing scales, I continue to always try and go back to clay or charcoal and try and remind myself of the basic persistant scales for visual artists.
GW: Describe Gentle Giant as a studio? How does it compare to some of the other larger studios?
SS: Gentle Giant is a really awesome place to work. It's just like any of these other studios, it's full of artists. I walk in and I am surrounded by physical objects that have been created by hand. Or created in clay or foam. There is a full paint shop. There are several traditional sculptors and there is a mold shop. It's not carpeted; it's more like going into a sculpting studio which is what it is. We do work for Video Games, we do work for Film and Television and we do work for Amusement Parks and Museums. I have always considered it a sculpting studio that works in Clay Foam and Polygons and it is unique in that respect. Even if you are sitting down at the Cintique you feel like you are getting your hands dirty over the course of the day which is nice.
GW: As far as art direction you said you kind of built the team and shot it straight to the top. What are some of your daily tasks as an Art Director? What are some of the hurdles you have had to overcome?
SS: Probably the biggest hurdles I have had to overcome has been finding ways to effectively communicate with a growing team. Making sure that everyone gets the feedback that they need and not only following the direction I think it should go, but the direction I think it should go in perspective of what the client wants. Dealing with multiple clients at the same time, multiple projects at the same time, you have to switch gears a lot. So you may be working on something that has a very Simon Bisley, Frank Frazetta look for the first 3 hours of the day and then go work with people who are doing some Hyper Realistic Basketball players. You have to be able to change gears and change hats a lot. You have to be comfortable not being the one who does the final product and you have to become comfortable communicating how to do the final product and trust the team.
GW: The gaming industry has really changed in the last couple years in regards to outsourcing, how does Gentle Giant fit into this change?
SS: It's been great because now is the time for outsourcing, it's an industry buzzword, and the reason being is that it's a reality, it's a necessity. Especially in the video game market when you have the ability to have millions of polygons worth of detail on everything in your game it's not economically viable to have all those artists in house and on staff. And it is a great time to being an outsourcing provider the way Gentle Giant is. We are a sculpting studio. What we do is sculpt. Some of our crew have been sculpting for 20 years and some of them are now working in ZBrush and bringing that same experience into a digital sculpting pipeline. So instead of a game company where you are bringing in someone who is going to be sculpting your character and going off and doing the texturing, and doing the animation and the rigging, you can come to Gentle Giant and get someone who is an experienced sculptor turning out the work for your game. We also have a fantastically talented technical team who can pull together the Normal Maps, particularly for game meshes, and supply you with a final product that is ready to go into the game. And that it is at a lower cost to the client than it is to have those people on staff, working onsite. It's been a great opportunity for us and also with our presence in China we are able offer more economic solutions for people who want their work outsourced overseas which is a big thing happening now. Gentle Giant in unique that we have a China facility that allows us to offer stateside work as well as overseas work.
GW: Do you feel it is inevitable for Gentle Giant to produce its own titles or work on its own titles specifically?
SS:We are actively pursuing our own internal product because that is the way to go. You can supply other people’s vision, but being a big warehouse of artists we are all interested in pursuing our own vision as well. And since we have a multi-million dollar company backing us up, we have the luxury of having an IP department where we have already put out books, and we are pursuing a short narrative animation right now. We hooked the crew up and showcase the talent at Gentle Giant and tell some interesting stories.
GW: Cool. Have you been busy with many personal projects as well?
SS: Yeah for the past six months I have been working on a ZBrush book for Sybex that is going to be published in April and I finished a ten week online class for Gnomon Online, which is my second one. I really enjoyed that. It's a great way for people to get training because you almost get more of the instruction in an online class then you might in a physical classroom environment. There is less time that the instructor has to spend looking for files, answering questions in real-time, loading and unloading files or rendering. We take all of that out and pair it down to pure instruction. The online class allowed me to do three hours of pure solid instruction, in addition to individual time on chat and through email with the students. So, it's a really great way to teach a class and it was exciting to do that. I am hoping to do more of those. And then there is my stuff I have had on Gnomonology and various sculptures and paintings that I’ve got going at home.
GW: It's been great interviewing you today. Where do you see yourself five years from now? Any other goals you would like to share?
SS: You know I have been really really lucky and five years from now I will be happy if I am a better artist that has grown at a rate that is acceptable for 5 years time.
Scott Spencer - Sculptor/Modeler
*All images courtesy of Gentle Giant Studios, Image Credits also include: Hector DeLatorre, Javier Soto, Kelly Pearlstein, Mireya Bowen, Steve Shumacher.