By: Travis Bourbeau
GW: Can you tell us a little about how you got started?
DP: Similar to many artists, I was a very imaginative kid much like Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes- which I am a huge fan of. I was attracted to anything that didn’t look “real.” Stuff like spaceships, robots, comic books and cartoons like Transformers, Robotech, Voltron, and Thundercats- Cheetara was so hot! Of course there were all the toys that went along with those shows, but they were a huge part of me growing up. I’d like to say Star Wars, but I was really young when it came out and actually had to leave the theatre for Empire Strikes Back. I think I was about 6 or 7 at the time, it sort of just freaked me out, I got scared. Hah! So it was only later that I could appreciate it for what it was, but loved it. Needless to say, these things influenced my drawings and art.
My Mom is an artist and an art teacher, so I was constantly learning and growing through her. My Dad was a bit of an artist too. I remember he used to sit and draw these ridiculously goofy airplanes with my brother and I. There were always some fart and poop jokes involved for some comic relief. I was VERY fortunate that I had a supportive family for being an artist. I was always drawing. I was always creating flip books and doing animations. This continued throughout my life, and when I was attending my first year at Community College I saw an ad on the job board for a “Video Game Artist.” I figured, “what the hell” and looked into it. I got hired on the spot. I found myself pushing pixels on Sega Genesis Games. It was crazy! I was 19! I worked through the game industry until Playstation 1 came about. Later, I was working for a company called NuFX and had an opportunity to go to a 3D Design Conference in San Jose. It was there when I saw Alex Alvarez demoing Maya and his Grehm character, and THAT blew me away. I had to get to Hollywood and go to Gnomon to learn more. Once I got there, everything started falling into place very naturally.
GW: You have worked in Commercial Film and Games….What were some of your responsibilities and how was transitioning between each?
DP: Well, the biggest difference for me working on Commercials and Film were definitely the tools. Working on single shots with a 3d package, rendering and compositing- it was pretty “easy” to make something look great with that process. There weren’t many limitations, you just used the software that everyone used and has developed for years- its tried and true. Responsibilities were somewhat cut and dry- make it look great and according to Art Direction. Edits and changes are fluid for the most part.
Games on the other hand are all displayed in “real-time” and very dependent on the platform hardware and engine software that the games are developed with. It is not shot based. We create worlds where the player can travel, walk around and through objects in space. The development process is to export assets OUT of the 3d package and pass them into the platform via the engine. This process can become incredibly complex. Some of my experience- more so later when 3d was introduced to games, it became less about creating art and more about getting your art to “work” in game. Responsibilities included focusing your chi and building up your patience so you didn’t smash something.
GW: Over the years what have been some of the biggest advancements in pipeline and software in your production experience?
DP: In my opinion I would probably have to say Rendering. The ability to use HDRI image based lighting, Ambient Occlusion, Radiosity, GI and Final Gathering and being able to do it quickly really raised the bar visually. When I started out doing 3d and at Gnomon, AO didn’t exist. Everything was Direct Lighting. There were a few skydome scripts here and there, but it was a lot tougher to make something look realistic. For the most part modeling is still modeling; compositing is still compositing- tools have gotten better and more efficient but for the most part the same. Other than that, Z Brush and the whole digital sculpting movement is really quite amazing these days.
GW: What are some of the challenges working on a sports game as opposed to more science fiction or fantasy based games?
DP: Well, all the sports games I worked on were an EA Franchise game like NBA Live, PGA Tour etc. This meant shorter development time and a visual refresh while adding in some new features. So it really wasn’t that challenging for the most part. However, while on Fight Night Round 3, we started using Image Based Modeling and Photogrammetry techniques for the Venues. A friend of mine Nate Turner at the time developed the process in house. The team went on location and shot panoramas of the venues; we stitched them together and modeled them out with camera projections. We did get to visit some really cool places on company dime!
Now, working on the Tony Hawk reboot was fun and extremely challenging because we had to reinvent everything from scratch. We needed a new look. A new game AND we were developing the skate peripheral in-house while building a company. It was very challenging. It wasn’t really until Tony Hawk:Shred where we started to get our bearings and really start creating some fun levels with different themes.
GW: What does it take to build and manage a concept department?
DP: Determination and resources. Every Lead has their ideals but every company has a budget. There was so much I wanted to do with the department, but in the end I didn’t have access to an unlimited amount of time and money- no one does. It was always a balance of what we needed to get done, by whom and when for the project. We also wanted to inspire the company. Our peers loved to see art up on the walls, it got them jazzed, thats always a good vibe. But there was a huge demand for Concept Art on Tony Hawk. We had lots of mouths to feed on the team. Characters, Environments, Level Design, Effects…you name it. We needed it. And A LOT of art needed to get done in a short amount of time. I had to hire, manage production for both in-house and outsourced art AND do hands on art as well. I was still involved with the Environment team and the Lighting process too. My Senior Concept Artist, Kenrick Leung was a rock star, and we were working with Volta to get it all done.
GW: You just released a new DVD Photoshop for Digital Production. What new techniques have you added from your original title?
DP: The original title had a bit more 3D specific content. Since there are ton of more specific GW DVDs, Tutorials and techniques out there now, I wanted to try and focus on newer features in CS5 that can be applied to those same practices. I also wanted to reveal some workflow techniques that can be extremely efficient and cover basics that many are still unaware of.
Now that Photography has pushed its way into the 3D realm, I wanted to cover those tools, I feel its very important. Camera RAW is a huge addition. The Photomerge tool is super useful too, so is Content-Aware Fill. Photoshop has become this monster that has grown in many directions over the years. I wanted to present the latest CS5 features and apply them to a CG production workflow that will make an artist more efficient. Are they all the best workflows? I don’t know, but you will definitely learn something that opens another door to another technique. I never stop learning things about this software. Its pretty crazy, Photoshop has 3D and Video now!
GW: What are the tools or areas of Photoshop most important to a production artist in games or film?
DP: Photoshop is used in many ways in both of these genres, but at the same time the process is similar. Most of it falls within Concept Art, Matte Painting, Photo Retouching, Texturing or Color Correcting. The most important tools are the basic ones. The ability to select and mask out content quickly is very important. Knowing your Color Correction tools to get exactly what you want is very important too. Know your filters, know when and how to use them in combination. Last but not least, setting up files so they can be edited in a non-destructive manner for editing flexibility is key. Artists ALWAYS have to edit or revisit stuff. ALWAYS.
In my experience interface navigation is surprisingly an issue too. Setting up menus and panel layouts is a HUGE time saver. Customize Photoshop to your needs. Keep it. Learn it. Use it. I see people fumble around and spend more time moving panels out of the way than doing actual work. This is interesting because the very same artists in a 3D app will customize everything. It’s almost like artists don’t take Photoshop seriously or they think they know it all. I’ve used this software since the day it came out, I constantly learn new things in it.
GW: Any advice for students?
DP: There are tons of techniques that can be learned for everything. The more you do will help you develop your own. Share them and learn from others. What really helps is to know your craft- whatever it is. Know the tools associated with that craft and its process. Customize your tools and workflow to that process. As you know being able to create high quality art or assets is very important in the biz, but working smart and fast is too. It will help keep some of your sanity in the long run.