By: Travis Bourbeau
Vitaly Bulgarov is an award-winning 3D artist who is currently working at Blizzard Entertainment as a Cinematic Artist.
GW: Vitaly, you’ve worked in Moscow. Can you tell us a little about how that was, and what outside influences or references you were able to pull from your surroundings there?
VB: Moscow was definitely a big learning curve for me. I moved over there from my home country Moldova when I was 19, having just a couple years of freelance contract work behind my shoulders. So the whole process of working full-time on a video game project within a team of very talented cg artists was a great influence for me. This is when I realized how important is to have strong traditional art skills for doing 3d. Also I met some really cool Russian artists whose tastes set a certain flavor in my own attitude toward art in general. It’s pretty abstract, but overall it reflects a desire to push every single art piece I do and think more about the structure and design.
GW: Is it safe to say you excel at hi-tech design?
VB: Hi-tech design is a design based on using the most advanced technologies currently available. That means something that was considered hi-tech in the 80’s would be obsolete today. My goal is at some point to be able to create art which would look advanced but timeless and not really be attached to cutting-edge technologies of our generation, but something that you look at and can’t say whether it was built 2,000 years ago or it will be built 2,000 years from now…
Funny enough, I do a lot of fantasy-style stuff at work. But when it comes to my free time and personal work, I just again and again fall in love with mechanical engineering. But being inspired by various stuff from fantasy artwork to real machines, I end up having this sauce of different inspirations in my head. And this is how the ideas usually appear. Then I just try to rationalize that into something that would make a little more sense.
GW: What are some of the key elements to a successful design?
VB: You can say that a successful design is an art piece which meets “story” requirements. A “story” could be a movie story or “tough conditions of a dirt road” where a bike you design is supposed to go.
The other key points for me are: form full of function, aesthetic shape and good transition between the elements. No matter how crazy you start, usually you have to rationalize the design in order to make it work, especially if it’s a mech design. If it’s just an art piece and not for real use it doesn’t have to be really engineered in a way where everything works, but at least it should make sense enough to the point that a viewer won’t question its functionality. Pleasant aesthetic shape and nice transition between the different parts–that’s what makes a design look cool.
GW: What are some examples of real-world products, vehicles, or general examples of great design?
VB: First of all: super-sport motorcycles. They are truly sci-fi space ships to me. Then sport cars and military machine design, especially fighter jets and helicopters. Sometimes you don’t even need to look at a whole vehicle, just at one detail such as the frame or some part of an engine, and it inspires you. As for military machines, the functionality fit in aggressive form made to resist the impact amazes me. It’s magnificent… Decisions in such design were made, not for cool-looking reasons, but to be effective. Regarding product design, I’m a big fan of products from Oakley and Dainese ….
GW: What are the differences between sketching in 3d as opposed to concepting in Photoshop and XSI?
VB: Either it’s a 2d concept in Photoshop, 3d concept in XSI or sculpture in real clay; it’s all just different mediums and tools you choose for expressing ideas. In the best pre-production conditions you let people explore design with any medium they feel comfortable with. But the thing with sketching in 3d is that, even if it’s a rough block-out, you can move forward with that in a production pipeline, test it in a specific shot using a specific camera angle, and see the interaction between other models in the scene. If a 3d concept is more or less refined it’s even better, because the gap between concept-art phase and 3d modeling phase is minimized.
GW: How important is the block out stage for you?
VB: It is really important because it’s a foundation for the whole model. If the block-out doesn’t excite you, the final model probably won’t as well. But the block-out stage is not critical in the sense of being attached to it too much. I must allow myself freedom to bring an extra level of depth to the design, but if there is a part I’m not happy about, I don’t hesitate to fix it or remove it altogether. It’s also a good mentality to keep exploring, be open for new ideas till the end, and don’t lose the opportunity to make your stuff look better.
GW: Hard surface vs. organic… What are some of the rules or tools to live by to successfully model both?
VB: I don’t think there are any strict rules about the tools to use, you just do whatever works best for production and if the stuff you do is for the pre-production design phase and all you need is pretty images, then you just use whatever is fast and convenient. But I think having in your “backpack” a tool for poly-modeling and a tool for sculpting is a good idea. My personal choice is XSI and ZBrush. For me it’s a great combination for modeling both hard surface and organic, because ZBrush provides me great control and freedom over the surface in general and XSI provides me with great control over topology in particular.
GW: Are you using any tools inside ZBrush to do hard surface or is most of your hard surface modeling done in XSI?
VB: I use both ZBrush and XSI, it really depends on what the task is and what place it takes in the pipeline.
GW: How important is it to stay active in the online community?
VB: If “stay active” means checking fresh artworks on a daily basis and posting your own stuff from time to time, I’d say it is really important. First for inspiration, there are thousands of super talented artists all over the world and just checking out their stuff provides a good kick to work hard on your own art. Second, posting your stuff is priceless for getting feedback/critiques and getting the eyes of potential clients on your stuff. That’s probably the best aspects of being involved in online activity.
GW: What were some of the biggest challenges as a modeler you had to overcome?
VB: I remember it was about 5 years ago when I got this freelance contract work to build a sci-fi character for a video-game cinematic and I had never modeled anything detailed like that. I was super excited, I had to model a character, a guy in power armor with tons of details, but I had about a week and a half to model it. That was probably the biggest challenge, not because the work was hard or anything, but because of the lack of 2 things: time and skills to do the job, ha-ha. So I basically had to change my whole process and approach to modeling in order to make it happen. That was definitely the turning point when I realized that with a proper approach everything is possible. I would draw the number of days left on big piece of paper and put it on the wall above the monitor as a reminder of countdown. Every second was priceless. I was modeling up to 18 hours a day nonstop like a machine. I had a dream during that week, that I had modeled the helmet for that character, but I was just sleeping, so when I woke up I got so angry because I thought I had already finished that but it was just a dream, damn it!. It was hardcore but it was the best learning experience I’ve ever had. I think you need this kind of stuff from time to time to shake you a little bit because the only way to learn something is to be out of your comfort zone.
GW: Do you see the industry moving towards doing more conceptual modeling or implementing 3D concept into the pipeline? If so what should students take away from your master class lessons?
VB: Yes, absolutely, especially in CGI for movies and video games cinematic work you can see more and more 3d prototyping gets involved as part of the pre-production and design phase. And I see here probably two big reasons for the industry to do so. First, 3d prototyping allows artists to create a more finalized, realistic look at early stages of pre-production which gives a clearer vision to the director on what a movie shot, character, prop or environment would look like and get instant feedback on that case. It also helps to set the expectation level and adjust it according to the director’s vision. The second reason is speed and pipeline downstream efficiency. Having a 3d environment sketch done in 3d means you can jump into lighting that, playing with cameras and setting your characters there right away even if it’s a low-poly scene.
As far as what could be beneficial for a student to take from my master-class… It depends on the goal of the student. For artists whose 2d is stronger, maybe just a block-out stage will be enough to check out and super-beneficial because they get perspective “for free” and then can just paint on top of the block-out. Also, there are no advanced modeling techniques required to do a low-poly block-out.
For artists who’d like to take advantage of GI rendering for their designs they can learn more about advanced poly-modeling so they can take a model to the point that it’s clean and good to go for subdivision and rendering.
– find a quick way to get a base mesh : I used ZBrush
So you can underline the word quick at all stages. Because when the technical side is quickly solved and the tools are easy to use, you can focus on what you really want to focus on which is making cool art.
GW: Do you have advice for artists looking to work for a games studio like Blizzard?
VB: Besides being super-passionate about the work you do, I’d also recommend building your portfolio as a slice-cut of your skills set and the stuff you want to do as your daily job. Some people still have the perspective that they will get the stuff they want to work on just because they want to work on it. Usually in any production you work on that type of stuff you’re already familiar with and have experience because this is how you contribute to your team with maximum output. Any employer searches for professionals capable of doing certain work according to job requirements. So be thoughtful about your portfolio and build it strategically might be good advice for any professional artist.