User Interview: Giacomo Marchesi

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  03 March 2006
User Interview: Giacomo Marchesi

Brian: Hi Giacomo. How about a little background on yourself.

Giacomo: I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where my father was a physicist. I flunked out of math and science classes at UC San Diego for two years and then moved to Los Angeles to attend Art Center College of Design, where I graduated in 1992 with a degree in illustration.

I first got interested in 3D when I was at Art Center. At that time they had a few SGI workstations running Alias and I spent hours screwing around with the program-I was absolutely fascinated by it. This was 1991, though, and being able to do personal work in 3D (outside of school or another institution) was not an option--those machines cost, I think, a quarter of a million dollars. So I focused on more traditional methods of producing illustration.

After I graduated, I worked using Photoshop in the sort of Rauschenberg-ish style that was popular at the time, and then I somehow discovered that 3D software existed for the computer I did have (a Quadra 700 Mac.) So in 1993 I began creating 3D illustration for print media. Because cost was an issue (EIAS retailed for $7,000 in those days) the software I used was Infini-D.

At that time I was still working under my real name ("James Gary") but when I started doing 3D work it seemed like a good idea to create a new identity--"Giacomo Marchesi"--so that in case the 3D thing totally flopped, I wouldn't be known as "that awful 3D guy." (This was actually pretty common in those days-a lot of conventional illustrators used pseudonyms for their digital work.) As it happpened, Giacomo left James in the dust career-wise almost immediately.

A few years later (1996) I bought a copy of Form Z, which I use to this day, although the lack of documentation really hampered me in the beginning. In 1997, the price of EIAS finally dropped to where I could afford it. It took me about three years to figure out how to get shadows looking right, but EIAS remains my 3D tool of choice for rendering.

2006 is my fourteenth year doing digital illustration for print media, and during that time I've worked for pretty much every major magazine in America. As print media has more specialized in the last few years, the emphasis of my work has moved away from publications for the general reader and toward more tech-centered applications. This shift makes me happy--what I enjoy most is creating humorous, concrete visual representations of abstruse concepts. (It takes away some of the sting of having twice failed third-semester calculus.) Hopefully the future will see me doing more along these lines, only with greater exposure and bigger budgets.

Brian: What qualifies a 3D package to be a good illustration package?

Giacomo: I'd say "ease of use" and "speedy rendering." Ultimately, I want to be able to work in 3D like I work with a pencil or a brush--to just change something without thinking "how do I do this?" and see it updated immediately.

Brian: How does EIAS meet your needs?

Giacomo: EIAS is definitely the most user-friendly of ANY of the 3D apps I've used, so it was easy to learn (although it took forever to understand shadow buffers) and, as advertised, it renders really fast. I'm constantly doing test renders--I'll do 30-40 preview renders in an hour, so EI is really the best for me in that regard.

Brian: What was your first major break into the print design industry?

Giacomo: I've worked for all sorts of clients in publishing and advertising, but they all pretty much found me on their own. The question sort of implies that the "print design industry" exists in the same way the "movie industry" does, which is not the case. I suppose the first "real" assignment I got was a small spot for the Atlantic Monthly, which was great--it was the first thing I'd done where I could go to a newsstand and buy a copy of it. Before that it'd been trade magazines and the like.

Brian: Can you give us a complete break down of your toolset. Both 2d and 3d?

Giacomo: In 3D I use EIAS for rendering, Form Z for hard-surface modeling, and Lightwave modeler for organic modeling. I occasionally render in Lightwave (see below), although I wouldn't if I didn't have to, because it's anti-aliasing is really slow. I also use Photoshop (a lot) and Illustrator. I should mention that I also use a T-square and a drafting board quite extensively: I try to draft blueprints as precisely as possible for whatver I'm modeling.

Brian: How could EIAS be improved to support the 2d artist?

Giacomo: Well, aside from 3D tools, some kind of color-profiling support would be great. When I open an EI render in Photoshop, it's always much more contrasty than when viewed in EI...I imagine that if EI could read ColorSync profiles, that wouldn't happen.

In terms of 3D tools, my big request would be on-the-fly support for subdivision surfaces. I know Encage exists, but at the moment, if I have a model that requires subdivisions and deformation (i.e, a character) I'll just bite the bullet and do it in Lightwave--even if it's clumsy to work with, I can see the model update in real time. Besides that, I'd like to see: layers in the project window (like in Form Z), and support for multiple editable materials in a single object.

Brian: What was your biggest job? Your favorite?

Giacomo: The biggest job was a few years ago when I was supposed to do "3D cartoon" versions of many of the products of a large computer-hardware company for a series of print ads. As the job proceeded, they ended up asking for the "cartoons" to be more and more realistic until what they finally ended up with was pretty close to the photos they sent me for reference. I got paid well, though. I suppose my favorite would be the "balls" sculpture on the cover of the Foo Fighters' "Colour and the Shape" album, since having done it seems to confer some kind of pop-culture legitimacy on me.

Brian: Have any samples of your favorite?

Giacomo: I don't own the rights to the Foo Fighters thing, but my second favorite would be a piece I did for the Atlantic Monthly about the same accompanied this out-there story about exploring the solar system, and I got to let my loopy-self flag fly. I'll send a JPEG to you if you give me an e-mail address.

Brian: Do you find more and more 2d artists using 3d as their tool of trade? Will we see a shift in the illustrator community like we saw in the animation community?

Giacomo: I doubt that will happen. In an animation studio, obviously, one person is a full-time modeler, one a rigger, another is an animator, another is a technical director, etc. By comparison, a 3D illustrator has to have a pro-level grasp of every single step except for animation. If you're going to start-to-finish model and pose a character, for example, you not only have to really know the 3D software you're using, but also also posess a firm grasp of semi-abstract concepts like edge loops and weight maps, and also know rigging (which requires a solid grasp of human anatomy), and texturing, and lighting, et cetera, et cetera--- *in addition* to having the traditional illustration skills: "artistic talent" and the narrative sense required to get a story across in a single image. I suspect that the reason there aren't more 3D illustrators out there is that there aren't that many people in the world who have both the right- and left-brain ability required for the range of skills required, and I don't see that shifting in the near future.

Brian: Thanks Giacomo!
Brian J. Pohl

Previsualization Society - Founder / Secretary
Independent - Sr. Previs & Layout Supervisor
  03 March 2006
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