By: Travis Bourbeau
We thought it would be cool to catch up with Gnomon School of Visual Effects Alumni Josh Herman:
GW: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
JH: My name is Josh Herman and I recently graduated from Gnomon in December. As a kid, I drew a lot and liked to create my own games, typically board games. I would steal the printer paper with those perforated edges from my dad’s printer and lay it out on the ground and make a life size board. Even though I probably ruined tons of paper and made a mess of the rooms, my family was always very supportive and would usually play with me.
After high school, I tried out a local community college and went for a “business” degree because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. That ended up being a failure because I failed all of my classes in my first semester because I really hated it. I figured that I should probably try to find a job that I would enjoy doing, which naturally combined video games/film and art. So I went to school to get a degree in Animation.
While going there, I was looking for some good tutorials that dealt with both 3DS Max and ZBrush because we didn’t have ZBrush at our school at the time, but it was clear that people in the industry were starting to get into it. So that led me to Gnomon’s DVDs and Ian Joyner’s Character Modeling DVDs. The workflows he was using were a new way of thinking, and I realized that I had to know more so I submitted for the CG program while I was still in school. As soon as I graduated with my degree, I left for LA.
GW: Where are you working now and what are your responsibilities?
JH: Right now I’m working at Legacy Effects (formerly Stan Winston Studios) as an artist in their digital department. We make suits (Iron Man), puppets (Jurassic Park/Terminator), and props for actors to interact with, as well as doing concept and design for film and commercials.
My responsibilities range from modeling, to prepping pieces for “grow” (3D Printing), talking to the practical artists and giving them whatever materials/references they need to make sure the end product looks like what the client approved, and then doing a bit of concept work when it’s needed.
GW: What was the interview process like?
JH: It was not at all like I expected. I took a tour of Legacy and got a chance to show Scott my portfolio. At the time I didn’t even have a reel, just a bunch of images in a folder. He seemed to think my stuff was decent but there was no talk of a job at all.
I left still not really knowing what they did, other than have a bunch of cool stuff to look at, but was interested in working there. I ended up talking to Scott about a week or so later, and I came in for an official interview. We didn’t even look at my work this time, they just explained what they did even further and what I would be doing. At the end, there was this moment where it was like “do you want the job?”. It was not at all what I was expecting, mostly because I had heard about how hard it was to get into the industry and get your foot in the door. So I think I was in shock and just wanted to take a step back and make sure that it was all really happening.
GW: What do you feel is unique or educational about working at Legacy?
JH: Well, I don’t know of many other places that have a 3D printer in the room, and I also don’t know of many places that have a life sized AMP suit 30 feet from my desk–which is all pretty awesome. It’s a great experience to have something printed and be able to hold it in your hands. I’ve noticed that things always seem way bigger than you thought they would be, or way smaller. In the computer, there is no sense of scale and it’s easy to create things that won’t work.
The most educational thing I’ve learned is that there is so much “cheating” going on in concept art and even in CG. If you have a rig in the computer and you start to get intersecting geometry, you can hide it, or people might not notice. It doesn’t work like that in the real world, we have to do a lot of animation tests to make sure that things wont crash into each other, because that will actually impede movement. But I think it makes a better product in the end, it will look like it actually works…because it does.
GW: Do you work from orthos or 3/4? How much design is left up to you as a modeler vs. copying a blueprint?
JH: I haven’t seen any orthos here yet, everything has been 3/4s. It seems like a lot of concept guys are getting into 3d too, so we will also get paintings that use a rough model as a starting point. So we usually get that model and the art. Sometimes we get a full illustration of the back and sides, but the model takes care of that for the most part.
We actually do quite a bit of design in 3d whether it be just adding small details, or having to rework the design a bit to make it work but trying to keep the overall shapes of the design-which I enjoy quite a bit.
GW: Is it what you expected? What did you find challenging or what have you learned?
JH: I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, I think that “the industry” is this term that is almost like a fantasy world to a lot of students. You hear about it all the time and what it’s like there and people will tell you great stories about it, but you’ve never been there. So in some ways, it’s just as it was described to me, but I think everyone gets there own view of it once they get in there. But you do realize that you’re a pretty small fish in a relatively small pond really quickly.
GW: What are some of the classes or DVDs you feel prepared or helped you most for a production environment or modeling in general?
JH: I took a class with Alex Alvarez where we had two weeks to model/texture/light/render something from a concept and to try to match the concept as closely as possible. I think that class forced you to put in a lot of hours to get what you were looking for. It also gave you a lot of time to work out the kinks in your workflow, so your next project went a little faster, and then the next and so on. That was probably the best class I took. It made me realize how long it actually takes to do a project.
I also did a three month internship where I worked at the Gnomon Studio, which was basically a job. The hours were 9-6 Monday-Friday, where we got to work with Shane Acker on his new short Plus-Minus and Neville Page on Green Lantern. I think the studio really showed me how to manage my time since I had classes on the side of that, with the homework associated to them, and then wanting to have personal projects, and a life. So after that and the previous 4+ years of school without a break. I think I was ready to be working finally.
I’ve bought quite a few Gnomon DVDs and probably watched 70% of them, but there are a few that I keep around just in case:
Richard Smith’s Character Modeling for Next Gen Games: When I first got this DVD, I knew how to sculpt in ZBrush, but I didn’t have any sort of a workflow. Richard’s approach is simple but effective, and works just like you would create an action figure (which I really like). You start with a base form underneath everything and then sculpt the detail around that, starting with a naked mesh, then add a shirt and pants, then creating the ammo crates for the backpack and the sculpting the backpack to fit those forms. Then he follows up by creating the game mesh and getting normal maps out. Which is a good finish to an already great DVD.
Scott Patton’s 3D Character Design 1 & 2: I think the best DVDs I’ve seen are the ones that open your eyes to new techniques and that’s exactly what Scott’s DVDs did for me. He goes through the entire process from concept sculpting to creating artwork from the sculpt and keeps it very artist friendly by rarely leaving ZBrush or Photoshop.
Also, the Intro to ZBrush DVD with Ryan Kingslien is really good, but if you had a chance, I think a class would be more beneficial. I took the online Digital Sculpting with Scott Spencer, which was also really good.
GW: Did the Gnomon DVDs have any impact on your work or the decision to apply at Legacy?
JH: I think I would be lying if I said no. Both Ian and Scott work at Legacy, and they both created DVDs that I really liked and learned a lot from. If I could learn whole new workflows from them in 3 hours, then obviously I want to work with them and learn more.
GW: Did you have a preference for film or games? Would you consider moving to games in the future?
JH: At first I didn’t really have a preference, I just wanted to do characters. I kept hearing that it’s really hard to get a job doing just characters because if there are 20 totally unique characters in a film, that’s a lot. But every environment is usually different, so there just isn’t as much work out there for the character guys.
But I am a pretty big gamer, and definitely have a passion for games, so I would be interested in moving to games. There is something appealing knowing that everything about a character in a game is yours. There are little to no post effects on it and it’s almost purely your work, with rigging and animation of course.
I also think, and I may be alone on this one, that game characters are becoming more and more recognizable as icons in our culture. Meaning, if you look back a few decades and think of the most iconic characters, you’ll think of movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Terminator, Predator, Alien, The Matrix, and the characters that go along with those.
But for the newer generations, movies have been overtaken by tons of sequels and remakes, so a lot of the new and iconic characters are coming up in games. I think if you asked a good cross section today what character is more iconic? Han Solo or Master Chief, or something like Terminator or Kratos, I think you would get a surprisingly large number of people referencing the game characters.
GW: What kind of hours are you currently working or what are deadlines like?
JH: Right now I’m working 40 hour weeks, 8am (ouch) -5pm. But there are also deadlines or landmarks that need to be hit per project, so if that’s not going to be able to be met in a 40 hour week, then I have to work overtime. Fortunately for me, I’m only on one project at the moment, so I only have one deadline at a time.
GW: Do you still find time to work on personal projects and if so what kind of work are you doing at home?
JH: Absolutely, I think you have to otherwise you’d go crazy. Right now I’m working on making some game resolution characters. Since there’s some stuff that I don’t really get to do at work like texture mapping or normal map baking or animation friendly topology, I want to keep up on it.
I’m wrapping up making a version of Alex from Street Fighter III Next-Gen, and I think I’ll be doing my version of a big daddy from Bioshock after that. I want to play with the little details that you don’t get to see during the game.
GW: Who are some of your personal influences?
JH: I’m a pretty big comic guy, so those were always a big influence on me. I never really knew what artists I liked till I was out of highschool and actually started looking at the things I liked. But some of the people’s work that I admire are of course Frank Frazetta, but other comic artists like Jim Lee, Mike Mignola, John Romita Jr.
GW: Are there any DVDs you would recommend to students looking to get into modeling?
JH: All of them. Seriously, I think as much knowledge as you can stuff in there is good and you’ll learn something from each one. The ones I mentioned before are my favorites, the Behind the Scenes series of modeling/texturing is also really good too. The Zack Petroc ones are great for helping to understand form and muscles and the Vitaly Bulgarov one is a good one to show both hard surface and organic as well as a bit of concept. Really, you can’t go wrong.