Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Full Interview, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph VFX and Digital Art.
(upbeat electronic music) - Excellent.
So, Marc, what kind of artist would you describe yourself as, like, how do you introduce yourself? - Well, from a academic point of view, I studied communications design, so I'm a designer. I studied nine years at the University of Applied Science in Düsseldorf. But technically-spoken, I am a 3D artist. From a design point of view, more or less. - So, you studied in school, how did you get started? Like, what set you on that path? - Well, even as a child I'd like to draw, every day.
Fill out some pieces of paper, do my drawings, and... Look what's out in nature, how people look like, situations I'm finding on the street, and I like to draw that, and that's my origin, basically, so when I was about growing up at the age of 20, I discovered that there's also a tool called the Macintosh, and this was my new pen, basically.
So, that's my origin. - What year was that? - Uh, it was-- - When you discovered that-- - I got my first Macintosh in 1997. - Excellent. - The Pixel Box Macintosh. - Yeah! Yes! (laughs) That's, that was a really good time to be coming into, from a 3D standpoint, from an accessibility standpoint, there were so many wonderful tools, Cinema 4D was really just coming into its own then, and the integration between After Effects and Cinema 4D was not far behind.
Did you just jump right into animation right away, or? - First I began with some other tools. Remember Bryce? Bryce 3D? A tool from Macromedia, nowadays Adobe, called Extreme 3D, extremely often crashing, and we did it on ancient vintage machines, rendering for thumbnail size, weeks, and it wasn't advantage to do it in that time, because you learned it a hard way, and a very good way.
- You really couldn't be lazy. In terms of planning out your project, because you had to wait so long to see the result. - And it was just like being Alice in Wonderland. It was so fascinating and brand new. Nothing I've seen before like that. Just a cube from marble, rotating on the screen, and that was, wow. Look what we've come from. - When you were in school, did you, you were studying design, graphic design for print, or were you studying animation? - Well, I think I've tutored myself basically, so I just learned the principles of composing pictures of aesthetics, that's what I learned in school at the university, but what I did not learn was how to bring all of this knowledge to moving pictures, to animated pictures.
That's what I've been self-teaching to me. - Did they have that option available in school? - No, not at that time. - Oh, okay. - When I entered at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf, they had those LC3 Macs in the Macintosh rooms, those bulky boxes with CRT monitors on it. - So as you got out, was there a pivotal moment, like you mentioned you discovered the Macintosh, was there a moment where you discovered animation as well? Was there one event? - Yeah. I basically was thrown in.
As I started with the Macintosh, at that time I started to do a training ship at a local advertising agency nearby Bonn, the former capitol of Germany and, yeah, I was thrown in by, "Yeah, you have to do some "3D animation with Macromedia Extreme 3D." Never heard about that, so let's do that and try it out and that's how I came to this. - Yeah from that era, that seems to be a common theme, where people were sort of had a gun to their head and you had to learn it that way.
There weren't any education platforms for you to learn, so you had to just sit down and trial and error? - No. I just was lucky to get my fingers on Cinema 4D after a while, which is really easy to be self-teaching with it and I had my experience with Bryce 3D, with some other third party stuff for 3D, some Macromedia Extreme 3D and, yeah, all that multimedia stuff at that time, like Director from Macromedia, so the combination of both as a multimedia experience brought me to animation.
- You mentioned that that first project that you worked on, tell me a little more about that, like what kind of project was it again? - The first 3D project I have ever done? - Mm hmm. - Well, ooh, it was a visualization for molecules. At that time, we had, in this agency, we had a client from the mineral oil industry and it was all about PET, polyethylene molecules, which were very demanding at that time, for hardware and software, just some spheres and some cylinders and crashing after a weekend of rendering.
There you go again. So that was basically my first project. - Wow, so-- - Back in 1997. - I guess you could call that an industrial animation or a medical animation-- - Yeah, a visualization. - Yeah, a visualization. So did you find a transition into doing more motion graphics, or more product design, more product animation, visualizations, that sort of thing? - Visualization is my very own stuff, because I love science. I love technology.
And before getting to study graphics design, I had also a place for studying biology and history. - Oh, wow. - For teaching pupils at a school, but fortunately I did not do that, because I had to do my training ship for graphics and I've already finished that at that point, so, "Oh, okay, let's take graphic design." That was a lucky decision, and I ended up where I am now, and yeah, but I love the combination of doing scientific stuff or technological stuff in combination with aesthitical, visual stuff.
That is my combination. - So you really love making things look as realistic as possible? - Yes, yes. I like to enrich reality. That is, let's say it that way. - Yeah, and you can see that a lot in your work. There's absolutely a realism to the things that are on your reel and that you don't see in that world. So that's a really big challenge. A lot of times in motion graphics, you know, motion graphics as a medium is about communication, right? You're trying to explain something to someone or communicate an idea, but in the visualization world, you're trying to still communicate, but really what you're trying to do is give someone the idea of what something is, and what it looks like, what it feels like.
- Yeah, and you can do it in a very classical way, like we've witnessed that in TV documentary shows during the 90's, or you can do it with a rich way, with a rich level of detail and in a way that is almost epic, so it's something you wouldn't expect. So that's my enthusiasm about, I want to combine a visual effects with classical visualizations. Difficult word. That's my enthusiasm.
- Is there a particular field within that, like, you know, medical animation or product visualization? Is there one thing that excites you more than the others? - I like to do... No. - Well, each has its own different challenges, right? - Yeah, and that's the interesting thing about it. Every time you get something new to challenge and that's the interesting part. - Thinking back to the jobs that you've had, is there one product or one visualization that you had to do that was so difficult that you didn't-- - Didn't succeed? - Either didn't succeed, or-- - Never.
I call myself "renderbaron" so how did I... (laughter) - But did you, certainly there must have been times where you're like, "Oh my God, I have no idea "how this is going to come together." - This was the case when I started my job. To panic when something is new and not to get an idea of how to deal with it, but as you're getting more and more experience you're getting more and more relaxed and structured and you have a concept of thinking, of doing and that helps.
- Yes. That structure that you mentioned, tell me a little about how you approach a job. So if I come to you and I have a toothbrush and I wanted to visualize that toothbrush, what's the first thing that kind of goes through your mind? - I would ask you some questions. What style, what look do you prefer? A graphic way? A realistic, credible way? Fancy, candy-like way? Or something like that. And the second question is timeframe, budget, the 3D models of the toothbrush and to fix it in some kind.
- Sure, sure. So if someone comes to you with that, that's an interesting point you bring up, everything is designed on computers these days, all products are. How often do you actually get the CAD files for those products? - Not very often. - Oh really? - Not very often. I have to help myself most of the time. - Wow. - With building it accurately or just faking it. - Mm hmm, mm hmm. Even this far into the digital age, they still not getting CAD files very often.
- Most of the time they don't want to give you that because of industry-- - Proprietaries-- - Proprietary, yes. - I see. - Something like that. - That actually makes a lot of sense. There's a lot of data involved in those things. - Yeah, well I did some big projects for BMW and back in 2006 and 2007, and as the technical outwork of BMW also works with Cinema 4D, I was lucky to get original, native Cinema 4D files from them - Oh, wow. - For shading, lighting, and rendering them and that's a big honor.
- Wow. - And, yeah. A whole chassis on a Cinema 4D file. - Wow. - Or a whole motor. - Wow. - And, yeah. - That's a luxury. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. Two million polygons of exclusivity. - Yeah. (laughter) So when you don't have that file to work with, then how long does it take you to build up that library of files? - Well that depends. I might show some on my demo reel.
- Yeah, let's see. - Here we have a file we did from scratch for Nokia and that might look simple but it isn't, as most of the cases. We recreated that model from the Nokia N8 at that time from scratch in Cinema 4D. We had a real one on site-- - As a reference? - Yeah, as a reference, and we can take measure and photographs and that's the best thing to do this.
I think in this case we had the 3D model. - Okay. - But literally, there's no difference. I think our model was better anyway. - Sure, sure. You know a lot of times when you're making things for a client like this, you mentioned faking it, and there's a very big difference between a CAD file, which is designed to produce an actual product, and what needs to look good on screen. - Yeah. - Like, how do you strike that balance? How do you get to the point where you decide what to leave in and what to leave out? - Oh, okay, okay. Yeah, it's basically risk assessment.
What did I get out? What time do I have? What can I afford? So, it's just that question basically. - Do you, you mentioned one of the questions you would ask me as the client is time, budget, and-- - Time, budget-- - Yeah, because that would directly affect how long you had to put into something. - Yeah. - So the level of realism that you're able to achieve out of your files is there a baseline that you, as an artist, won't accept anything lower? So like if I come to you and say, "Yeah, you know what, "I don't want, give me like 20% real." Do you say, "No, I really only would prefer to make it--" - I think that's the point where the designer in me comes into place and I have to be satisfied with my own quality.
With the quality we deliver as a tiny studio, and if I'm not satisfied with that, I might deliver it if the client wants it but I would never show it in public. So, that's the point where the designer comes into place, when I feel it's kind of right, or when I feel it's not enough at that point. So it's an emotional evaluation. How does it pass my quality assurance? - But that quality assurance is something that you had to develop over time, right? - Right, yeah.
- When you were coming up, you probably looked back on things that you'd done 10 years ago, and you-- - I wouldn't do it in that way anymore, of course. - Yeah, yeah. - Yeah. - You learn a lot of tricks along the way and your skill set grows. Do you-- - You evolve over time. - Yeah. So how has your evolution gone? You mentioned starting off doing product visualizations on limited computers now and as computers have gotten a lot more powerful, but also the demands for rendering become more severe and so really the computers still don't keep up.
How does that effect you as an artist? - Well I learned lighting the hard way. Back in 2004, I was freelancing at a studio in Düsseldorf where nearby my seed was a guy with 3DSMax and VRay and at that time, I just worked with, not just, I worked with Cinema 4D in release 8.5 I think, or 8.0 and it just didn't have the capabilities of rendering VRay had at that time and I was always looking over his shoulders and I was jealous for the quality he had brought out of his computer so I decided to do that myself without depending on the render engine.
So I learned the lighting kung fu the hard way, so really basic learning, basic trial and error, having a hard time but learning it very, very well and getting very experienced. - It's an interesting martial arts analogy. At some point you can only learn by hitting that brick wall over and over again. - Yeah. - So you've got some examples here that we'll go through in just a second but how many hours would you estimate that you put in, learning that lighting kung fu? - I don't know.
I'm doing Cinema 4D now for about we have 2015? - Yeah. - 18 years now. 18 years of Cinema 4D and learning lighting since, let me guess, 11 years, 12 years? From today's point of view, I would do things as I did them two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, because we're evolving all the time that's an artist's way. I can't name the time I've spent on it because you never finish learning.
So that's the point. If you finish learning, something's wrong. - Yeah, that's very-- - You never can get out of learning and you're never good enough. - Yeah. What's the next thing that you want to learn yourself? So lighting kung fu, you've got that. So what's the next level? There's different-- - Better lighting kung fu. That's it. That's it. - It just keeps getting better. - Yeah. Better shading, it's not only about lighting. Connected with lighting there is a huge area of shading and rendering and that's a huge complex of themes.
I'm also teaching, by the way. But you never finish with that. Technology evolves. Yourself as an artist, you are evolving. It's just a straight path of learning and climbing steps all the way. - There's no shortcuts really. There's-- - No. - Is there, are there things that you've done outside the computer that have helped your lighting? - Yeah. If you train your eye for a good analysis and recognition, that helps very, very much.
If you're good at recognizing things, at recognizing relationships of light and material, if you're sensitive to the way light floods through your surroundings then that helps a lot. - Do you study photography at all, or? - No. No, I didn't. - Not even a little bit? - No. - Wow. So the analysis that you have is just coming from straight observation. - Yeah. - Wow. - Straight observation and the sense of...
sensitivity, perhaps, to some relationships in your surroundings. So when I walk through the street, I see, "Oh, well that's nice ambient occlusion. "Oh, nice color breed." And that's my, I've got used to it. It's a habit. - Yeah. - It's a habit for me. - Let's take a look at one of the files. There was something really cool in your reel which was the subway system. - Yeah. - So let's take a look at that. That's from a larger piece, right? - Yeah, it's from a larger piece of me. It's called, what we're now witnessing is a teaser for a movie of mine, called (foreign language), Under Open Sky.
In short, just briefly, it's a story about a young woman getting a renegade in a fictional dictatorship. - Oh, okay. - So it's based on those stories of assassins during the Nazi regime in Germany and perhaps you ever heard about Georg Elser, Hitler assassin? - Yes, yes. - It's basically this story transferred into a modern world and onto just a young woman. - Okay. - Yeah, just take a look at the teaser.
(guitar solo music) (woman speaking in German) (eerie base note playing) - So obviously none of that was real.
Those were all 3D generated images. One of the things that we spoke about earlier that's remarkable about this project to me is that none of it is done with global illumination-- - None of it. - And let's talk a little bit about that process. Like how are you getting that light, that much light? It looks like there is light bounce. It looks like there is color bleed. - Yes. - All of the things that you would associate with global illumination, but they're not there. - No. How did I get that? That's a good question. Basically by observing the real place I'm depicting here.
We haven't, in Düsseldorf, we have this subway station. And the original set was just looking like this. - Oh wow. - So this is me in the set. And doing some sketches as well. And documentaries, measuring things up, being allowed to is an important thing. Basically that's the point, you have to do a good documentary of it. You have to document things before recreating them. And not only the measurements of the hard models, but also the light.
I took a lot of photos. I studied the light, how it floods through space. How it spreads on the floor, on metal surfaces, and something like that, and at that time, I already had quite good experience with observing things and observing light and that helped a lot. So by taking all those images, I had a good basis for the work. - So as you're taking those pictures, are you figuring out where to place the lights in the scene to get those kinds of effects? - Of course, yeah, definitely.
- So you have a layered, or sort of a step-through of the lighting of the subway. - Yeah, let me show you. Basically every small subset in this overall set has its own lighting setup. So the seeds, the plants, the escalators, the tunnel entrance, the platform, the columns, the ceiling, the walls, the railways, and all that. And step by step, it becomes a continuum of light.
Not only some parts being put together. It becomes a whole. Yeah that's basically the workflow in that case. - So describe to me a little bit of the kinds of lights, for example. Let's take one element. Let's talk about the wall over here on the right hand side of the frame. - Okay. The wall has basically something like a light array and that sounds complicated but it's indeed very simple because it's just an array, let's say a procedural construct of single omni lights, point lights basically and I just defined one point light and its falloff, its spatially falloff, or its quality, meaning intensity, color, the kind of shadow.
And then I duplicated that procedurally with an array object so that's the way the light for this wall is working. Nowadays, because I did that back in, let's say 2009, nowadays I would just use one single area light with an area shadow because-- - It was pre-area light. - Yeah. Area lights have become really fast in Cinema 4D, yeah, and I would do that in that way nowadays. - So are you using scene-based lighting then, so where the lights are isolated for the individual objects they're reflecting, so? - In this case, yes.
In this case, yes. Because it's quite complex. Now the bathroom I just showed you prior to the interview has much more easy light setup. - Let's take a look at that real quick, yeah. - So this is from learning stuff I brought from Maxon actually and for those lighting, shading, and rendering courses I'm teaching, this is one of the practice projects I give to the hands of my students so they can dive in, explore everything, every aspect of shading, lighting, and rendering settings and have a look how this works.
This might look more complex than the subway lighting, but it's exact the other way around. In fact this is a very simple lighting we're witnessing here. You wouldn't think that because ethereal lighting is always something complex unless you're doing it the smart way. - So how many lights are in this scene then, because, normally if this were being globally, because this is not global illumination. Global illumination, which would calculate the actually bouncing of light in the scene is very time-consuming.
- Yeah. - And so what you're teaching is, and what you're espousing is the idea that you don't need to have that global illumination, you don't need to have that light paths-- - You're not dependent on that. That's my message. - Yeah, yeah. - So, you should be able to do that even if you're favorite render engine would be taken away from you tomorrow you wake up without any Octane, VRay, whatever, and what about your lighting skills then? You should allow that question is being asked. - Sure, sure. - So I'm teaching it the hard way, but a very intense way, and in this case we have a sunlight coming in from outside.
We have a light, an area light sitting in the window simulating the light coming from the sky, the diffused light coming from the sky so these are two. We have a bounce light sitting on the floor simulating this area bouncing back into the scene so we have three. And there's a fourth light sitting at the opposite wall to the window, simulating a bounce back from the diffused skylight.
And besides those for main lights, there's just, let's say, one or two hands of manually placed light in there. You wouldn't need them actually-- - By one or two hands, you mean, so you maybe ten, ten-- - Five to ten. - Yeah, I see. - I call those luxury lights. You wouldn't need them really, but they're good to have. So the basic light is just four lights and about five, six, or seven extra placed lights to simulate something like this.
You notice here the color bleeding and the shadow area. This is basically just a point light placed here. - With a little bit of yellow tint to it? - A purple point light. Would you think that? - Oh, no. So... - It's purple because it has a negative intensity. - Oh! - To work in shadow areas. - Got ya, yeah, that makes sense. - And with negative intensity, you substract light - Yep. - And you substract color using the complimentary color value. - Yes, so it's got to come from the other side of the wheel. I see it.
- Therefore it's in purple light for pink or orange-ish color breeding in shadow areas. - Wow. Let's assume now going, so you're teaching lighting the hard way which I absolutely see the value in that so do you use global illumination ever, or do you? - Yeah, for still images. - Just for stills? - Yeah, just for stills. Not once for animation. - Wow. - I don't need it. I don't get a hard time without GI.
I'm just don't need it, I'm not depending on it. I am faster, I am more elligent, I am a robust, and I'm a reliable without global illumination. I can sleep well because I meet my deadline, so without hassling around with, Oh my God, flickering at the last frame. And if I fix that, there's flickering at the first frame. - Yes, yeah. - And if you don't use flickering algorithms, you're depending on let's say brute force mechanism algorithms which take just a bit more time to render.
- Yes. A lot more time to render. - We have really good GI solutions on board with Cinema 4D. We have QMC as a bullet-proof method, being accelerated by light mapping as a secondary method, being accelerated by producing radiocity maps as a top of that. So there are some really good solutions but they're just slow in comparison with what you can do, especially when it comes to full animation. If you're moving objects, you're having a hard time with global illumination.
If you're just moving a camera it can work. - Yes, yes. - It can take a bit longer, but it can work. In this case, it could work, but if you're moving like this with the leaves in the background, this scene here, we just saw those leaves in the background and the client wants those leaves. What do we do about it? You can't tell the client, "No, we can't do that because it's GI." So this is also from the learning stuff from Maxon and can I ask you the question, What would you propose of this GI, or the second version I am showing you? - Yes, okay, so let's see them both side by side.
- Okay, not side by side. After one another. - Oh, okay, alright, okay, one after the another. Okay, let's show me. - This is the first one. - Okay. Okay and let me see the second one. - And the second one. - It's really difficult to tell. - Thank you. - It's very, very difficult to tell. Now I will admit on camera that I found out earlier so I can't fake it, but I do know that this is the GI one.
- This is the GI one, yes. - But the only reason I knew that is because you told me. - Yeah, and the interesting thing, just look at the stairs. The interesting thing is the non-GI version just looks more like GI in this-- - It really does. - So it's all about not being correct, just looking correct. - There is a lot more color bleed in that area. Can you park it on the same two frames roughly? - Yeah. So basically this is the emotionally real version, which has more emotional realism, instead this has no actual, not more actual realism, because this is the GI calculation-- - Right.
- That should be more realistic in terms of algorithms but it's not more realistic in terms of emotional perception. - I think you bring up a really interesting point that's relevant in photography, it's relevant in 3D rendering, which is that there's a quality to certain things, that sometimes you can't actually document, you can't put a number value in a box to get. And that's that subtlety that you develop over those years of working your lighting kung fu that there really is no shortcut for.
- No. You really have to go through hard times sometimes and learn that that hard way. And it really helps to have an academic background, like studying design or studying fine arts, to have a right sense of perception to that things. - In the future, do you ever see a time where I think I know the answer to the question but do you ever see a time where you're going to become reliant on global illumination and maybe augmenting it? Like for example, computers get much more powerful-- - Yeah.
Maybe. I witnessed a talk of Pixar, back at SIGGRAPH2013, and Pixar is one of those lighting masters they use global illumination in a very, let's say, ethical way. They showed before and after frames from the movies Up and Toy Story 3 at SIGGRAPH2013 and at that point they developed the point cloud based illumination, some kind of global illumination and they introduced that and they showed before and after frames and the frames before using that GI method already were masterpieces of lighting.
Instead they were done manually, the hard way. And I think this is the point where GI is used ethically in some kind, but they also know that render times more than doubled with using GI. And they just use it as a last whip cream with cherry on top on your already brilliant lighting. But it's just a subtle touch of color bleeding of lighting atmosphere flooding through space.
They use it just that way and the unethical use of GI is, "Well, I've got a kitchen. I've got a bathroom. "Let's throw in GI and we're done." So that's no lighting skill. That's just using presets. - Sort of getting back to the product world then, where you're being tasked by a client to make something look like it does in the real world, you get hired by that toothbrush company and you have to make this toothbrush now. Are you going to be, do you ever find yourself constrained by that desire to make it look amazing the hard way? - No.
- Does that seem, that may seem like a strange question-- - Where do you find that? - Well you have an artistic sense, and you also have a deadline and so I sort of asked this a little bit earlier, but you have a time budget and you have a deadline and that deadline kind of constrains you to your-- - Okay, I know what you mean. - To the thing that you can make in the end. - Yeah. - But do you ever find yourself, "Man, I'm just going "to put just that much more into it, even though "the client's not paying me for it." - Yeah, of course, of course. All my products I'm really happy with are done with 100% effort.
Otherwise I get in a bad mood and I'm not happy with that. So deadlines are just the daily business. It's nothing special, so I know what I'm doing, I know my techniques, I know my kung fu, and I know how much I can put into it to get ready and to meet the deadline. Beyond that, I always want to give it just a bit more than it just should be, so that's my point of quality assurance and that's my reputation as studio and that I own.
- You spend hours and hours a day work on this stuff. How do you develop new skills? Do you find inspiration, you know, free yourself of the constraint of these things that are right in front of you? - Well basically it's just events like that, like SIGGRAPH. I've got the great opportunity to present with very talented guys side by side as Maxon Booth, and this is always a real trigger of motivation, to see those great works from all over the world and in the national framework we have that every art in Germany, with official Maxon user meetings in several capitol cities and this is also, every time, a great motivation and instead of getting jealous, I'm highly motivated to get just a bit better.
It's just like a sportive competition. - Yeah, yeah. Any particular website that you frequent to, like for lighting inspiration? - No, there's a particular book I frequent to, yeah. - Ah, okay. - Just a book. It's from Jeremy Birn, the great master of light, at Pixar, technical lighting director at Pixar, Lighting and Rendering, the standard book for lighting and rendering, that's it. - Wow. So is that book, that book is fairly old, though, so, I mean, old by computer standards. - Not now.
Right now it's being translated in a new version, just translated into German. - Oh really? - There's a new edition of that. - Excellent. - Right now, coming out. - Wow. So that's a great technical and probably quite a bit of artistic inspirational book as well. - Yeah, of course, of course. - So are there purely artistic websites that you go to as well, or are you strictly, are you very much a book person? - I think I'm a book person.
What I love is to witness fine arts, perhaps in a museum or in photography, just daily inspirations coming from, and most of the time I got my inspiration from really normal, boring stuff. Running through the street, seeing how light is flooding this light box here, how it's creating this beautiful area light at the ceiling.
And this interesting to me. I'm just beginning to analyze what's going on there and how could I recreate that in Cinema 4D? That's my inspiration, my engine of motivation. - That's a very good engine of motivation. - Yeah. - It doesn't seem like that, are you ever able to turn that off, or maybe you don't want to? - No, I'm a nerd, I can't turn it off. (laughter)
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