Marc Potocnik is a 3D artist who likes to enrich reality. His discovery of the Macintosh, at a time when there were no learning platforms available, forced him to teach himself 3D and multimedia software, which in turn led him to animation. With a background in science and technology and a lucky decision to take a graphics design class, Marc found his niche visual effects with classic visualizations.
(upbeat instrumental music) - Excellent, so Marc, what kind of artist would you describe yourself as? Like, how do you introduce yourself? - From an academic point of view I studied communications design.
So, I'm a designer. I studied nine years at the University of Applied Science in Dusseldorf. But technically spoken, I'm a 3-D artist, from a design point of view, more or less. - So you studied in school. How did you get started? What set you on that path? - Well, even as a child I liked 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 streets, 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 a Macintosh. And this was my new pen, basically. So, that's my origin. - What year was that? - It was, I got my first Macintosh in 1997. - Excellent. - It's a box Macintosh. - (laughing) Yes. (laughing) That was a really good time to be coming into from a 3-D stand...
From an accessibility standpoint. There we 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? - First I began with some other tools. Remember Bryce, Bryce 3D? - Yep. - Our tool from Macromedia nowadays, Adobe, called Extreme 3D, extremely often crashing. And we did it on the ancient vintage machines rendering for thumbnail size, weeks.
Was an advantage to do it in that time because you learned it the 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 it was wow. (laughing) Look what we've come from. - When you were in school, you were studying design, graphic design? - Yes, graphic design. - For print or were you studying animation? - Well, I think I've taught it 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. - Ah, okay. - When I entered the University of Applied Science in Dusseldorf, they had those L3C Macs in the Macintosh rooms. Those bulky boxes with... (laughing) COT monitors on it. - So, as you got out was there a pivotal moment? You mentioned you discovered the Macintosh.
Was there a moment 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 trainingship at a local advertising agency nearby Bonn, the former capital of Germany. And yeah, I was thrown in by, oh 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.
- 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. I had my experiences with Bryce 3D, with some other third-party stuff for 3D, some Macromedia Extreme 3D.
And all the 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 first project that you worked on. Tell me a little bit more about that. What kind of project was it again? - The first 3D project I have ever done? Well, it was visualization for molecules at that time.
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 week of rendering. And there you go again. So that was basically my first project back in 1997. - You call that, I guess you could call that an industrial animation or a medical animation.
- Yeah, visualization. - Yeah, visualization. So, did you find a transition into doing more motion graphics or more product design, more product animation, visualization, 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 for teaching pupils at a school. But fortunately, I did not do that because I had to do my trainingship for graphics.
And I've already finished that at that point. So okay, let's take graphics design. And it was a lucky decision. And I ended up where I am now. But I love the combination of doing scientific stuff or technological stuff in combination with aesthetical visual stuff. That is my combination. - So you really love making things look as realistic as possible. - Yes, yes, I like to enrich reality.
Let's say that way. - And you can see that a lot in your work. There's absolutely a realism to the things that are on your reel that you don't see in that world. So, that's a really big challenge. A lot of times in motion graphics, 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 a very classical way. Like we witnessed that in TV documentary shows during the 90s. Or, you can do it really a rich way, and a rich level of detail and in the way that is almost epic, so something you wouldn't expect. So, that's my enthusiasm about, I want to combine visual effects with classical, with visualizations, it's a difficult word. So, that's my enthusiasm.
- Is there a particular field within that? Like, medical animation or product visualization? Is there one thing that excites you more than the others? - I like to do... No. - Each has it's own different challenges, right? - Yeah, and that's the interesting thing about that. 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? Never. - Either didn't succeed or... - Never. (laughing) After all, I call myself Render Burns, so how did I? (laughing) - You can't. But did you, I mean certainly there must have been times 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 was new. And not to get an idea of how to deal with it. But as you're getting more and more experienced, 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 bit about how you approach a job. So, if I come to you and I have a toothbrush and I want 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, a fancy candy-like way, or something like that.
And the second question is time frame, budget, are there 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.
- Even this far into the digital, the digital age, you're still not getting CAD files very often. - Most of the time they don't want to give you that because of industry... - Proprietary. - Proprietary, yeah. - Yeah, I see, that actually makes a lot of sense. There's a lot of data involved in those things. - Well, I did some big projects for BMW back in 2006 and '07. And as the technical outwork of BMW also works with Cinema 4D, I was lucky to get original native Cinema 4D files from them for shading, lighting, and rendering them.
And that's a big honor. A whole chassis on a Cinema 4D file, whole motor. - Wow, that would be, that's a luxury. - Yeah, yeah two million polygons of exclusivity. (laughing) - 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.
And 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 created that model from the Nokia N8 at that time from scratch in Cinema 4D. We had a real one on site. - As a reference. - As a reference, and we can take measure and photographs and that's the best thing to do this.
And I think in this case we had the 3D model. But there's no difference. I think our model was better. (laughing) - 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. 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? - Okay, it's basically a risk assessment.
What did I get out, and what time do I have? And what can I afford? So, it's just that question, basically. - You mentioned one of the questions you would ask me as the client is 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 like a baseline that you as an artist won't accept anything lower? If I come to you and I say, you know what? I don't want, give me like 20% real.
Do you say no, I really would only prefer to make it... - I think that's the point where the designer in me comes into play. 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 will never show it in public. (laughing) So, that's the point where the designer comes into play is when I feel it's kind of right. Or when I feel it's not enough at that point.
It's an emotional evaluation. How does it pass my quality assurance? (laughing) - But that quality assurance is something that you had to develop over time, right? - Right, yeah. - When you were coming up you probably look back on things that you'd done ten years ago. - And I wouldn't do it in that way anymore, of course. - You learn a lot of tricks along the way. And your skill set grows.
- You evolve over time. - 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 have become more severe. And so really the computers still don't keep up. How does that affect you as an artist? - Well, I learned lighting the hard way. Back in 2004, I was freelancing at a studio in Dusseldorf where nearby my seat was a guy with 3S Max VRay.
At that time I just worked with, not just I worked with Cinema 4D and release 8.5 I think, or 8.0. And it just didn't have the capabilities of rendering VRay half the time. And I was always looking over his shoulders. And I was jealous for the quality he had brought out of his computer. I decided to to that myself without depending on the render engine. So, I learned the lighting king 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. And 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? - Well, I don't know.
I'm doing Cinema 4D now for about, we have 2015? 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 wouldn't 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 learning because you never finish learning.
So that's the point. If you've finished learning, something's wrong. - (laughing) Yeah, that's very... - You never can get out of learning and you're never good enough. - What's the next thing that you want to learn yourself? You're so, lighting kung fu, you got that. So what's the next level? - Better lighting kung fu. (laughing) 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're never finished with that. Technology evolves. Yourself as an artist, you are evolving. And it's just a straight path of learning and climbing steps all the way. - There's no short cuts, really. 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? - No, no I didn't. - Not even a little bit? - No. - Wow, so the analysis you have is just come from straight observation. - Yeah. - Wow. - Straight observation and the sense of sensitivity perhaps, to some relationships in your surrounding.
So, when I walk through the street I see oh, that's nice (unclear), oh nice (unclear). And that's my, I've got used to it. That's my habit. It's a habit of me.
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