View Full Version : Meet the Artist :: John Goodson

07 July 2009, 01:49 AM

John Goodson
ILM Modeler

Even a quick glimpse at the roll of credits in John Goodson's IMDB entry is enough to excite any follower of cine-modeling. The physical model shop work for Star Trek spans the movies and TV series. His digital work also ventures into the realms of viewpainting and supervising. One of his latest is the 2009 'U.S.S. Enterprise' which glides through 'Star Trek,' his fifth 'Star Trek.' For the previous four, he was in ILM’s practical model shop; and for 'Star Trek: Generations' (1994) and 'Star Trek: First Contact' (1996), he supervised the model making.

Click HERE ( to read the feature interview with John Goodson.

I decided this was too good an opportunity for the community to pass up, and we have relaunched the ever-popular Meet the Artist series, here and now. Paste your questions to the man and he will be along in the coming days to say hi and reply.

To talk to the man himself, please feel free to post your questions and comments.

Please make a warm welcome to CGSociety’s Meet the Artist, John Goodson.

07 July 2009, 06:29 PM
Just wanted to say great and inspirational read, John! I am a huge admirer of your work, and best of fun and success going forward with your model building and painting. :)


07 July 2009, 04:45 AM
Hello John, thank you for being here. I have a couple questions to ask you.

-In our portfolio, what should we include? What are companies looking for? Are they looking for if we understand the foundation of miniatures, details, I understand there's hundreds of materials that can be used in model making. Hundred ways of techniques.

- What are books or magazine you recommend? Sculpting, miniatures, props,...etc?

-Most artist at ILM, New Deal Studio, Kernal Optical, etc.. are self taught. Does this mean don't go to college and build a portfolio up? What materials should we touch?


07 July 2009, 07:51 AM
Wow, Great read. Very inspiring. The entire process you went through in your life reads like you were actually meant to be at the empire. I'm really jealous. haha.

The terminator motos were awesome. All the little mechanical pieces that were involved in the model made it really believable.

How much mechanical knowledge is applied to your hard surface models? Do you try think of how the models would work in real life first or do you just create a design and work it from there? I often feel like i need a course in mechanical engineering to build something like this. A robot or vehicle without function just looks odd.

The effects in star trek were out of this world and is definitely my effects movie of the year. Everything was just epic! The designs of the ships, robots and bikes were just so damn cool.

Congrats to you and may your career keep getting better with every year. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.



07 July 2009, 10:40 PM
Hi, so this type of forum is new to me, so bear with me if I am clumsy.

To Mr. Brett Sinclair
the way I got here is one of intent on my part but it is also that thing of the planets lining up every now and then and the right pieces fortuitously falling into place at the right time. This business is larger than it used to be so there is certainly more opportunity and or at least better odds to getting in now.
Thanks for the knid words on the Mototerms, that was a great project fo me, the thing I have found through out being in CG is that the same choices I would make on a practical I make here in terms of the look and feel of the machinery. The one advantage from practical was that you could select parts from model kits and kind of assemble a collection of pieces that looked good together. In CG we do have a parts library which is starting to fill that same need, so again the practical/digital kind of merge for me in a lot of similar ways.
A lot of times when building models we do try to keep in mind an idea for how something might work, escape pods or flaps, cargo doors, etc... This is helpful to try to keep some sense of organization and purpose to what you are building even if it's all fantasy it carries over when you see it. I come back to that language of mechanical things, that I always see when I am landing on a jet and you look out at the wing and it has opened up to reveal this amazing collection of tubes, boxes, connectors,etc... jsut in general I try to really pay attention to those mechanical elements just to set aside as a mental picture of what is in the real world and use what I can to help sell the movie model as a real thing.
Again, thank you for the kind words, Trek also was a lot of fun for us to do, very glad you enjoyed it.


To Hayashiox,
In portfolios, if you have CG work to show that is great, turntables of models and samples of your textture maps to look at are always good to have. I think it is also good if you have traditional artwork to show as well, that always helps to show a bit more of the person's artistic capability. Models, sculptures, sketches, paintings are all valuable to show one's range.
The question of materials and practical model shop education kind of go hand in hand. There is some practical model education available in some of the art and design schools which can be really great, but as you say a good number of people have just learned on their own, The materials are ever evolving and changing which is always fun to be trying the latest thing if you have the resources to get it. The other big factor is the digital technology which is becoming common place in many practical model shops. Items like laser cutters, water jet cutters, 3D printers, decal makers, and the use of CAD for a great deal of the design has been constantly changing and evolving the practical model world.
As far as books or publications, I always loved the original ILM book that came out years ago, also Lorne Peterson's book Sculpting the Galaxy is a great reference resource. Cinefex magazine is great as a quarterly periodical that covers the most recent VFX projects and gives some of the deatils of both practical and CG work done on projects. I loved the recent article on the film Moon, a low budget film that achieved a great look using practical effects augmented with CG.
Materials to touch, there are so many, but some of my favorites are urethane foams for sculpting and makin patterns, styren or ABS plastic for a lot of the fabrication( look up vacuum forming, cool process), Plastruct company sells plastic tubes and domes of many sizes thatare a great resource. There are so many things available, plus I love to walk through hardware and hobby shops just to see what is around and looks like it might be useful.


Thanks very much we will all keep trying to come up with new cool things and thanks for the encouragement.


Paul McLaughlin
07 July 2009, 01:15 PM
I don't know if this is information you are allowed to divulge, but could you share the rough specs of the computers that you usually work on at ILM when doing 3d modeling/texturing?

I mean, do you get to use supercomputers with 8 quadro cards and 12 monitors, or something closer to a typical pc or workstation?

07 July 2009, 04:09 AM
Amazing Mr. Goodson, i think you are a fantastic artist, congrat.

07 July 2009, 08:27 AM
Hello Mr John Goodson. What is a preferrable way from your experience to model such complex streamlined elements, like a helicopter bodywork? Is it sub-d modeling or nurbs? I'm curious what kind of modeling techniques you use.
Thank you.

07 July 2009, 01:42 PM
Hi John, thanks for the interesting interview!

I met you way back when on a brief visit to ILM and when I was there, hanging from the ceiling was a huge zeppelin model (I believe it was from "The Rocketeer") and there was some discussion about how the pyro effects for the destruction didn't quite come off as planned so you guys had to build another complete model for them to burn up. You have to love the fact that with digital models, this kind of thing just isn't necessary any more!

I've been in the CG world for a long time and what you guys pull off is nothing short of amazing. I watched Star Wars Episode 2 and Episode 3, knowing that almost every shot had some sort of digital modeling and/or compositing. Watching some of those, with the massive amount of CG, I had to marvel that (A) you have the manpower to actually create and animate all the models and (B) you have the computing power to render all of it in a finite time. When you're doing the work, how much do you personally have to worry about data wrangling and getting the final elements where they need to go?

And I'm going to admit, I had no idea that Davy Jones and his crew were 100% digital until I went to SIGGRAPH that year. Since I was in high school, I prided myself on being able to look at a shot and say "that's a model" or "that's fake", and you guys blew me right out of the water. I had figured that Jones' tentacles were essentially "CGI appliances". Wrong-o.

Thanks for all the hard work -- You really do give the rest of us something to shoot for.

07 July 2009, 06:24 PM
To Paul McLaughlin
we use a pretty standard workstation layout, one machine an HP 64 bit, with one monitor for modeling and doing the UV layout, and one PC linked to a Cintiq tablet for doing the texture paint work.


07 July 2009, 07:15 PM
To MarquezJorge
Thanks for the compliment, I really like the work you are doing, the concept pieces are cool, I love the yellowish cave like interior art, also the character design and the rifle. I also looked at the rifle immediately as a vehicle as well, looks perfect for one, nice model and concept work, maybe just cheat the scale and some detailing and use the rifle as both vehicle and weapon, very nice work.


To Mister3D
Well It seems for those more complex shapes sub-d is the way to go since it lends itself so well to compound curved objects. I always loved nurbs for the reason that what you modelled is what you got dimensionally it seemed more straight forward, although it had a lot of issues if you wanted a curve, painful. So given that each technique has its pros and cons I have come to love working in the sub-d format as it gives you the best of both worlds in my opinion, beautiful compound surfaces readily achieved and planar objects with just a few more spans.


To Tom Hudson,
Tom I remember your visit, and yes we did have some technical issues on a pyro shoot way back when in the early nintees. Whenever you are working with pyro events there is always, always the possibility of things going wrong. The folks who do that work I have trememndous admiration for since they take on a very dangerous job and almost always pull it off, but there are those occasional few that don't. In the end we did manage to get the problem corrected and wound up with a pretty stunning shot with the zeppelin Luxembourg exploding in the background as the the Rocketeer and friends fly away from the flaming wreckage on the autogyro. Even though it can on occasion not work right, one usually plans for three events with pyro to cover ones bases and try some variations. I always miss the practical days, nothing like feeling the wash of heat and the concusion in your body when the explosions would go off, not much of that in the CG world.
Your second question was related to how much of the data wrangling we personally deal with on projects like the Star Wars prequels. Well it is just like working in the practical model shop where you have carpenters, mold makers, painters, etc...In CG you have the folks who do the modelling, then pass the asset on to the painters, riggers, etc.. so each group winds up touching the asset to some extent but in the end there are a dedicated group of souls who bring the elements together for the final product. Being on the model and paint end we are at the front of the process so we aren't much involved towards the end except to deal with shot specific paint or model issues, I know that doesn't address the technical issues of your question, but suffice it to say the workforce is scaled to meet the size of the projects and the capacity to do the required rendering.
Hey Tom, hope that answers your questions to some extent, and thanks for the kind words, good to hear from you.


07 July 2009, 01:14 PM
Hello ,

Its great to meet u Mr. Goodson , as I am really learning by your post or replies you post here thanks very much for you suggestion .......


07 July 2009, 08:22 AM
Hello Mr Goodson,
I have just started to venture into this amazing field.Looking at your article really helped me as to how should I prepare myself for future.It was really helpful.Thanks

08 August 2009, 06:17 PM
Mr. Goodson-

Your story is really inspiring to me personally, as I've wanted to be an ILM model builder since I was about 8 years old- when my mother got me that same "old ILM book", which I still own!

I chose CG because that's the way I thought the industry was heading. I too find that practical model building (which is now a hobby) is faster, as you can pick through parts- but I find CG modeling totally liberating as you are limited by nothing but imagination!

Anyway, your work is awesome! Thank you for the article, it was a great read.

08 August 2009, 08:37 PM
Heya again John. I hope I'm not too late back to the party, but I do have a Q now, as I am working on repainting my TOS.5 ENTERPRISE and I wondered if you could expound on this comment a bit:

It also fit with viewpaint supervisor Ron Woodall’s idea of mimicking the paint from the original Enterprise. “It has a type of paint on it called interference paint,” Goodson says. “It actually has little prisms in it so that when you see it from one angle it reads red and from another it reads green. You can get it at Kragen’s [auto parts store] now, but it was revolutionary for the time. So we used two different specular color maps with exactly the same patterns but colors in opposition to get that effect.”

Specifically, what pattern did you actually use to recreate the lil' prisms (just little triangles perhaps?), and at what size.

And you said you used the same exact pattern for both the red and the green... did you just inverse the map then for the other color?

And any incidence angle to camera gradients or any other stuff thrown in to boot?

Thanks much dude!


08 August 2009, 08:42 PM
Hi, nice to read the article and know about you.

Thanks Mr. Goodson for sharing so much with the CG community, and congratulations for doing such an incredible artwork for all these years, a person like you makes all the difference and inspires thousands of people around the world.

Keep doing your 'magic' over there :)

One day I hope to visit ILM and meet you personally,

Warm regards from Brazil,