The Alchemy of Creation

Did I grab your attention with that epic title? Well it’s fitting. What we’re talking about today is life changing. Literally.

There’s a phrase the old alchemists used to use: Solve et Coagula. Roughly it means dissolve, then come together. Break something down into it’s parts, analyze them, then reassemble them in a different form. In other words, to create, you must destroy. Now, we all know the alchemists were misguided. It’s not possible to literally transmute lead in to gold (at least not without a particle accelerator) but figuratively, they may have been on to something.  After all, if you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.

No matter how deep you go, this concept of Solve et Coagula applies to all levels of the creative process. On the surface level, what do you sketch on if you don’t chop down trees to make sketch paper? How do you sculpt without ripping clay or marble out of the ground?

And once you do have your marble, you have to destroy it and break it down in a selective way, leaving behind only that which adds to your design. Art is a destructive process as much as it is creative.

Going deeper, you must be willing to destroy your own creations in order to improve them. Sometimes literally, sometimes not. We have to be willing to see our work objectively. Where is it good, but where is it bad? A lot of artists have no problem seeing where their work is bad, in fact many are overly critical, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes we can be too protective or precious about a piece of art that we’re especially proud of. Or even worse, just because we took a long time to create it and we’re too lazy to do it again. And so we reject honest criticism from people who’s artistic sensibilities we would normally trust.  (If you don’t trust their artistic eye, why are you asking their opinion anyway?)

What are we trying to do? What are we trying to create beyond good 3D characters, props, and environments? Ultimately we’re trying to create a certain life for ourselves. We’re not just creating art, we’re recreating ourselves into artists. And, as we’ve been saying, creation is a destructive process, That concept applies at this deeper level as well. This is the hardest aspect of this idea to accept, and it’s even harder to put it in to practice. How do you expect to make a sculpture without ripping clay out of the earth? How do you expect to form it into a piece of art without tearing most of it off from the whole and discarding it? And how do you expect to create the life of an artist for yourself without destroying your old life? The lives of the artist and the non-artist are not the same, and you can’t have both.

Every thing we do is a sacrifice of something else. Every single action we take, we do to the exclusion of everything else. If you’re sleeping, you’re not eating. If you eating, you’re not jogging. If you’re playing video games, you’re not practicing your art. If you’re practicing you’re art, you’re not doing literally everything else you could be doing. How much you chose to sacrifice in order to improve your art is up to you.

We’re getting a little heady so let’s bring this back down to earth. If you want to get good at zbrush, you may have to quit your WoW guild and give up your position on the League of Legends leaderboards.  You may have to give up your nightly 6 hour Netflix binge sesh. The most successful 3D artists are the ones who live and breathe their craft.  While you’re learning the modeling pipeline, you also need to be teaching yourself discipline.  Because more important than motivation and inspiration, is the ability to work even when you don’t want to.  Or did you think that all it takes to be a 3D artist is to get a degree and then go to work at a game studio 9-5? There are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a lifetime. How many hours a day are you spending on improving your art? How you spend your time is how you spend your days. And how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

Solve et Coagula. You have to destroy if you want to create.

As long as I’m using overly-grandiose language to describe basic truths about life, I might as well leave you with an equally over-the-top quote:

“Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not.” – Mooji



Incredible Substance Designer Tutorial

Actual Game Artist Critiques Recent Grad’s Resume and Portfolio

Watch this mock interview and portfolio/resume critique between an actual video game artist and an actual recent graduate. I love this video because it shows you how to present yourself to new employers as someone who has no industry experience.

Stop limiting yourself with your words.

When ZBrush first became a big thing in the CG world, I remember learning it in class and thinking “This is cool but I don’t really need it.” So whenever the topic of this cool new software came up in conversation I would always repeat something along those lines. “ZBrush looks rad but I don’t really use it.”  Over time, “I’m not a ZBrusher” kind of became an unconscious mantra for me. When it became clear that the ZBrush workflow was quickly becoming the industry standard, I started to get discouraged because I didn’t know how to use it like everyone else could. And while my mantra of “I’m not a ZBrusher” stayed the same, it’s meaning evolved from “I don’t use ZBrush” into “I can’t use ZBrush.” And so I just didn’t learn it and fell behind the rest of my peers. I hear a lot of students and alumni using similar self-limiting language.

“I’d like to get better at animation but I’m more of a modeler.”

“I’m not good at making characters so I just stick to props.”

Uh, no. You’re not good at characters BECAUSE you just stick to props. What I’m hearing is that you tried it once, and it was hard, and your first character sucked, so you gave up. If you make more characters you will be able to make good characters. If you want to make good animations, make crappy animations. If you want to be good at something, you have to be willing to be bad at it first.

Another thing I hear a lot from alumni is “I should get back in to maya but…”

But what? You think you’ve been out of the loop so long that you don’t identify as a CG artist anymore? What you’re saying is you have to have to BE an animator before you can animate. But that’s backwards. There’s nothing special about being an animator. An animator is just someone who animates. A runner is just someone who runs. A weightlifter is just someone who lifts weights. You see what I’m saying? People have this strange idea that they have to be bestowed with some nebulous, undefined, mystical status of CG ARTIST™ before they can make CG art. But that’s nonsense. All you have to do to be who you want to be, is to do what you want to do.

“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago”

– Alan Watts

If you repeat something enough times, your words become your attitude and your attitude becomes your identity. That goes for positive mantras as well as self-defeating ones. There’s really no secret to getting good at whatever it is you want to be good at. You just have to stop doing other things and start doing  that thing.

Physically Based Rendering for Artists

Here’s a cool little video explaining Physically Based Rendering (PBR) in a way that artists would understand and appreciate. This is the rendering philosophy used with programs like Quixel Suite and Substance painter. And it is the standard for most game engines these days, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with the concepts.

The Art of Toy Design in ZBrush

ZBRUSH Summit 2016 Presentations!

Pixologic just finished their 2016 ZBrush summit where they announced the new version of ZBrush: 4R8. (We were expecting version 5 but whatever, I’ll take it!) Here are two presentations on ZBrush given by Naughty Dog, Disney, and Square-Enix, respectively. If you want more, click here to go to Pixologic’s official YouTube channel. Oh yeah…they have more. Enjoy!