Modeling and Texturing for Game Design with David Pain


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David Pain is a professional CG artist who started working in the industry in 2006, after studying animation at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Canberra, Australia. Over the past eleven years he has worked on many documentaries, video games, short films, commercials, and museum exhibitions.

[i]David specializes in high detail hard-surface and organic modelling, and is currently working in the games industry at EA Firemonkeys in Melbourne. In his spare time he enjoys working on his personal project: a fictional field guide to alien insects.

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Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started in art?
David: My mum is an artist so I guess that’s where the main influence started. I grew up in Canberra and my mum had her own ceramics studio where she’d teach classes and sell her work, but my main passion back then was photography. Getting into CG was just an accident. I was trying to get into the School of Art up there to study photography, but my portfolio wasn’t up to scratch so I enrolled in a course at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment as a backup plan while I worked on my photography portfolio some more.I guess that would have been 2005. Anyway, turned out I loved CG way more than anything, so I ditched photography completely. So yeah, that’s how I got my start

Did you pursue a degree or any type of certificate in CG or did you take a less traditional route?
David: course at AIE started as a certificate in animation, and I finished with a diploma in games development. But hitting the forums on CGTalk and Polycount back then was probably more useful in terms of learning technical skills.

Can you tell me a little about your experiences with teaching yourself or learning from others? Any tips for those who might be looking to take a similar route?
David: When I was still studying I’d spend 50% of my spare time scouring the forums, finding out who all the professionals were and then following their posts just so I could glean every little bit of knowledge they’d leave behind. Then I’d stay up all night trying out whatever new technique they’d mentioned.

Today it’s ridiculously easy with places like Gumroad and Cubebrush. All your favorite artists probably already have their own learning resources up for sale.

But I guess that’s mainly technical learning. The thing that I found most valuable about studying at AIE was networking with other people, in person. If you can substitute that by going to local CG/developer meetups then I think you’re set. Finding the resources to teach yourself technical skills is relatively easy.

Can you tell me a little about your first jobs in the industry and blending the technical skills with creative skills?
David: My first job was at a small studio in Canberra called Eye Candy as a modeller/texture artist. They’ve been around for a while and at the time we were mainly doing animated TV commercials - which meant really short deadlines.

And because of the short deadlines I got a little bit of creative freedom in the work I made, since there was never much time for changes. The directors were also really good artists and gave good feedback.

So with all that combined I was able to learn a lot about critique and self-critique.
I was able to create a lot of varied work in a short amount of time, and get a lot of critique from directors who had a lot more experience than me. In hindsight I think that was a really useful learning experience.

What about in your position now? Is your creative process anything like it used to be when you first started?
David: Hmm, I think my title is just “Artist” at the moment, haha.
The project I’m on at the moment is the polar opposite of my first job. I’m working at EA in Melbourne, which has close to 200 people working there I think. And the work I create is based on pre-existing designs and can take 2-3 months to finish one asset.

But they have a few different projects going at a time and I’ve moved around a bit, and each one feels really different to work on.

What part of the process would you say are you most involved in?
David: The majority of my work is modelling and texturing game assets, but it depends on what stage the project is at.

Can you tell me a little bit about game design and the modeling/texturing process?
David: It’s a big studio but it’s split up into a lot of projects, so the individual art teams aren’t huge. Which means, even if you consider yourself a character artist you’ll still be responsible for making some vehicles and environments.

Usually the art director will have a list of assets that need to be built, and it’ll be up to the artist to research (and sometimes design) a chosen asset. Then there’s some back-and-forth with the art director and lead artist to finalize the design.

So my boss will say to me “we need a giant four-legged robot”, and I’ll go off and find a bunch of photos and illustrations of robots, and then I’ll make my own concepts and 3D block-out for what I think it could look like.

I’ll also talk to the game design and animation teams to see if they have any specific requirements. Then I’ll show all those images to my boss, tell him all the ideas I had floating around in my head. He’ll tell me what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and then I’ll use that information to start work on the actual asset.

Or, on some projects the art director will just show me a photo of a thing that he wants, and I’ll go build it, and it’ll be that easy

Do you still do art outside of your position?

David: Definitely. I’ve tried to make it a habit to work on my own portfolio every day. I don’t think I can say I’ve got my own style just yet but I’m always experimenting with new looks

I see that you have a lot of creatures in your portfolio, what is your favorite thing to model?

David: Definitely insects, haha. I love mech design and creature design, and insects can feel like a combination of the two. It’s also fun rendering layered refractive materials.
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Should we be on the lookout for a giant mechanical insect? [/b]
David: Sometimes it’s all I can think about, haha.

Any advice for those just starting out?
David: First of all, make a note every time something truly motivates you or inspires you to make art, because there might come a time 5 or 10 years down the line where you work in the CG industry and you hate the project you’re working on, and you start thinking about taking evening classes in web development just so you can get out. You’ll need to think back to where your passion started.

Second, make a habit out of learning new tools/techniques, and working on your portfolio. Don’t think of your portfolio as something that you only have to do once. If you have these habits you’ll never stagnate as an artist. That’s the main stuff!

Also, post your work on the forums and instagram, haha.

Lastly, if you’re reading this and you’re a CG artist in Melbourne you should go to cgfutures.com and look at the line-up of awesome artists doing presentations there. I think we’ll even have someone there to give a little talk about our studio.