It is with great pleasure I present this ‘Meet the Artist’ thread to accompany the Artist Profile of Neil Blevins. A long time coming too, as Neil has been in the industry, blowing viewers away with his modeling, lighting and texturing finesse for years, both at Blur Studio and then at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. He has also been submitting to our books across at Ballistic since the original EXPOSÉ.
Click the image to go to the artist profile and return with your questions.
I have been a massive fan of your work for a really long time. In fact, it was finding your website that really pushed me into a career in 3D. I remember pouring over your ‘LOIK’ tutorial, and staring at that image of the toothy mushroom creature for hours!
When we take a look at your personal work, and compare it to the Pixar ‘style’, the 2 are VASTLY different. When moving, did you find it difficult to adopt their style, or do you just infuse your own style with Pixar?
Your scripts are fantastic, and are used in our office on a daily basis. Whenever we upgrade to a newer version of MAX, the Soulburn Scripts are the first thing we install. Do you have any new upcoming scripts to add to the arsenal?
Thank you Neil! Your scripts are essential, Your art work is inspiring, you have been always an inspiration and I dig your style, sci-fi pieces are mysterious mind blowing and amazing. god knows how do you come up with those designs…
It would be awesome to see a video tutorial of your modeling methods in the future. you make it look so easy! I don’t know scripting and my workflow doesn’t need me to, i was wondering maybe managing all those details without scripting is not possible?
Your contributions to the CG community have been enormous and are certainly appreciated by those who have been to your website or had the chance to chat with you in person or in the forums. I’ve certainly learned a lot from your CG Education pages over the years and your scripts have made life much easier and saved countless hours. I used to look toward you for artistic inspiration and technical tips, but these days I’m actually more moved by the fact that you maintain energy and enthusiasm for your work and career, but also have the foresight to balance that with family, friends and raising your daughter. For all the tips you’ve shared over the years, keeping balance in your life has probably been the best one you’ve shared so far…
Hey everyone! First off, a big thanks to Paul for getting the interview up, I’m honored to be included in the meet the artist section.
I’ll be dropping by a couple of times a day to answer people’s questions, so feel free to ask away, ask followup questions, whatever you’d like, and I’ll do my best to answer them promptly.
Hey Pyke! Glad you’ve found my work inspiring! Man, I remember that character, so many years ago. Think I still have an image somewhere.
Well, when I joined Blur back in 1999, my very first project was working on some WBKids TV bumpers. So right there I was confronted with a very different style, and I had to come up with work that fit the style. It was a little difficult at first, I remember vividly a discussion I had with Tim Miller (head of Blur) one night where I said I was having difficulty making artistic choices in a style that was very different than my own. But I muddled through it, and got a lot better the more I did it. By the time I reached Pixar and started working on the Incredibles, it wasn’t really an issue anymore. Plus, sometimes Pixar’s work is a lot closer to my own style, like Walle’s misty dirty environments was a great match for my personal artistic style. But to make it in this industry, you need to be flexible. And plus I’ve always loved a lot of different artistic styles, even if my absolute favorite is darker grittier stuff.
Glad you’ve found the scripts useful. Not much new beyond bug fixes in the near future unfortunately, my freetime has been seriously erroded and so don’t have much time to work on new scripts.
It’s a pretty standard life arc really. You start off a student, and have all the time in the world for personal projects (It didn’t seem like that at the time). Then you get a job, and now you’re doing artistic work all day long, so your personal work suffers. Then you get a girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband and your time becomes even more limited. I’m lucky that I married another artist, so we’d still have “art nights” where the two of us would sit in the computer room and make our own artwork. But then, the final distraction comes, kids! And it becomes very difficult to juggle everything.
But I am going to make a strong effort starting next year to get back into doing some personal stuff, art, tools and tutorials. So we’ll see how it goes. I’ll do my best to get a few new tools worked on and released.
Thanks bkravi, glad you’ve found my tutorials useful!
Primarily Zdzislaw Beksinski, Giger, Ashley Wood, Dave McKean, Heidi Taillefer, John Harris, Nicolas Bouvier (sparth), and Nicolas Ferrand. I’m also inspired by a number of non scifi artists, like I love the work of JMW Turner and some of the Hudson River School founders.
Thanks Joel. Keeping that balance is a difficult thing, although thankfully Pixar is a very family friendly place, and they do a lot to promote a more balanced lifestyle. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have a baby girl. And how ridiculously difficult it is at the same time. Having kids isn’t for everyone, but I always wanted to have the experience, and I’m lucky to have found not just a wonderful wife, but turns out a wonderful mother as well to share that experience with.
This industry is a tough one because so many companies rely on things like chronic overtime to make ends meet. And that just isn’t sustainable, neither from a company perspective, an industry perspective, nor from a worker perspective. Working 80 hour weeks is fine at age 20, but far more difficult at age 40 when you have a family and children. Some people live and breath work, and that’s cool, my love of cg artwork is a huge portion of who I am and what I love to do as well. But I have found that a lack of balance in my life leads to a lot of problems, from relationship problems to serious health problems. So I highly recommend to everyone to plan for the future. Love your work, love art and cg, but also love yourself and love the fact that you should give yourself the opportunity to explore a lot of different experiences. Stepping away from the computer is sometimes as important and sitting down at the computer to get your work done.
Anyways, thanks again, hope you find the balance that you need in your life as well!
You mentioned, years ago, ‘making images by programming the x and y coordinates of each pixel’. How do you feel your understanding of the code assisted you in your move towards a career with digital art, as an artist?
And does the ‘tech’ sometimes get in the way of the ‘art’?
I think understanding the ‘code’ always helps. In general, more indepth knowledge of any facet of your chosen tool can help you, but it’s certainly not necessary. I know some fantastic painters who don’t know anything about how photoshop works, but can produce work in it that kicks my butt. The only downside I’d say is that if you spend a lot of time learning about the tech, that takes time away from practicing the art, and practice time is super important to stay sharp. Personally though, my mind is a blend of the art and the tech, and I find both interesting, so I try and keep myself in both worlds as much as possible. I don’t want to focus on only one.
I’ll be back in tomorrow for more questions, thanks so far for plenty of good ones!
But, unfortunately the thread is closed. However, I still wanted to appreciate other artists on this forum. I visited few of the artists threads, and found them very impressive and encouraging. I do use photoshop a little, but not an addict as you people are. Really great artists. This is one of the best artists forums on Internet.
Thank you for taking the time and giving us detailed answers.
Modeling: I specifically mean the style you use to do i.e. tech floors in your cg portfolio. I didn’t find any other artists to do the similar and i have done quite a lot of research! I have read the articles in CG Education and specifically vertex paintings and tips to how to get more details from procedural maps, thanks to you.
Those tech floors are indeed a great source of inspiration and the reason i think they could help every 3d artist is that though technically complicated they are actually very abstract, and doing similar practices helps us to learn how to think! which is very important in design process. this is one of those practices in 3d as useful as conceptual and speed paintings in 2d. i found your art helping me to understand Zdzislaw Beksinski in a more practical way, and god knows how thankful i am to be able to ask you in person and a huge thanks to cgsociety.
What movies are your favorites?
which short stories are your favorites?
do you write stories as well?
what music band is your favorite?
which movie directors are your favorite?
what do you not like to see in young designers?
if you were not having the experience working in Blur or pixar would you be the artist you are now?
Well, that’s only part 3d geometry, about half of what you see in those images are painted in photoshop. Here’s an image for those who haven’t seen them…
So the only part of that really that’s 3d are the wires inside the trench. The rest is photoshop. Like for the large paneling, I make a new layer, fill it with grey, then I delete portions of it to make the pattern. Then I apply various layer styles, like the Bevel and Emboss to give it depth, dropshadow to give a directional shadow, and an outer glow set to the color black to give it ambient occlusion. I also used renders of procedural patterns generated in Filterforge and darktree and apply them to the various components.
All of this could be modeled, but it’s time consuming, and these were more composition tests rather than something that had to be seen from multiple angles. Glad you enjoyed them, I certainly had fun making them and will probably make more in the future. When it comes to details like that, one of my inspirations is the artist Ansel Hsiao (fractalsponge), you can see some of his spectacular modeling work here:
From an art perspective: The Crow, Transformers The Movie (1985), The Matrix, Robocop, Starship Trooper, Predator, Aliens
I don’t actually read much scifi, although I have read some of the classics like Dune, Ringworld, etc.
Nope, I’ve had ideas now and again for stories, but I tend to explore those through my art rather than the written word.
Music: Devin Townsend (solo work and Strapping Young Lad), Meshuggah, Fear Factory, Dream Theater, and death metal bands like Suffocation and Origin.
Darren Aronofski, Fincher, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and I really liked District 9, so while he hasn’t done a lot of films, I expect great things from Neill Blomkamp in the future.
The thing I like the most is something original, something that has both the wow factor and something that’s like nothing I’ve seen before. I’m the guy who likes the odd designs in the art of books, the designs that are so out there that they never make it to the final design process. So the thing I don’t like is a design that just looks like everything I’ve seen before.
Well, I wouldn’t be the exact artist I am now, but I’d still be an artist, probably with a similar style, since a lot of my inspiration came long before I worked in California.
Thanks for the extra questions!
Yup, I’m now an old fart in my mid 30s
Glad you’ve enjoyed my work, it means a lot to me. I’m always happy to help out the community that’s helped me so much, glad you and your friends have found my stuff useful!
I suppose my worst moment was working on this one low budget feature where I had to hand track a synthetic face to an actresses face in the plate. I had no reference photos of the actress, no face scan, no idea what lens was used on the camera, where the camera was in the scene, no facial tracking marks, and no automated tracking software. So it was just me moving and rotating the face frame by frame for 150 frames, playing it, seeing it doesn’t match up perfectly, thentweaking it for days on end. The final track in the film is OK, but I cringe everytime I see the shot because of how hard I worked on it and how I never managed to nail it.
Best moment would probably be when one of the directors really liked what I was doing. Like when Brad Bird gave me a compliment on the railyard sequence I was doing for the Incredibles. Getting a compliment from Brad Bird has to be about as good as it gets professionally
Getting fast and efficient was something that I really learned at Blur, since schedules were always so tight. And there were a lot of really fast people there, so it definately modified my workflows to try and keep up with them. I still wouldn’t say I’m the fastest guy out there, but I certainly progressed a lot between my first day at blur and my last.
And that affected my personal work too, since I have way too many ideas for the time I have, and so anything I can do to speed things up really helps me.
Personally I prefer a schedule though that’s just somewhat aggressive, one where I still have time to do some research and such, but not so slow that there’s no motivation to work hard to get it done.
And thanks Girish for the kind words. Glad my tutorials have helped you out, when I first got into the industry, there were a lot of really helpful people who have me tips and trick on how to do things (I remember one particularly strong critique where someone told me my texturing was too clean and needed more dirt and grunge, man has my style changed since back then <G>), so I’m glad to continue the trend, and hopefully the knowledge you get is something you can pass along as well.