Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 3: Refining the idea in Photoshop, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph VFX and Digital Art.
- Let's talk about the passes that you're taking out of the render to bring back into Photoshop. Are you doing just basically a base mesh? Are you bringing in a separate ambient occlusion layer, a GI layer, that sort of thing? - Yeah, on this particular one-- The three that I typically use is the normal alpha, which is just being able to select all the positive from the negative objects from the sky. The second is a surface ID render which allows you to select all the different objects separately from each other.
And the third is a depth render pass. Depth render pass is phenomenal because it creates an alpha mask of exactly the distance from the camera for every object, which is mathematically perfect. So for example depth of field. You want to have things moving away from the camera, you select them based on the depth render pass and you give it a Gaussian blur, some kind of blur that blurs it mathematically according to that distance. I didn't use it in this case because I have this nice environment fog in the scene so I don't really need to affect any of the stuff in the distance. It's already being knocked back for me, and I knew I was going to paint over it.
- Do you find that with the changes in tool the ease of adjustment, for example when you have an art director standing over your shoulder like that, looking at that, or a client, do you find that it's now a little more hectic to work with them, where before you had a little more time to say, "Come back this afternoon and this will be done"? Do you lament those times? - That's an interesting point. I haven't thought about it quite that way, at least in a while. It is true because now you ...
Everyone's aware of the speed at which you can do things. But there's nothing bad about that. Most art directors understand it takes some certain amount of time, and each artist takes a certain amount of time for different things that they're doing. Our art director is great at ... Our art director is actually an amazing concept artist, Robh Ruppel is his name, so he's very aware of how we work and the amount of time that it takes to do things. There's really no guesswork about someone coming by, like a producer, someone that's not maybe a painter, asking for something at a deadline that isn't exactly possible, or you aren't going to get the best result.
Rob knows exactly what needs to be done and the speed that it needs to be done at. - At Naughty Dog then, describe the typical day. - The typical day is ... When you're in production you have multiple things going on at once. We obviously don't have enough concept artists to be on each particular set that's being built for every single one, so a lot of times you'll be bouncing around between three or four different, totally different, design processes.
It's usually attacking small tasks at quickly as possible and trying to manage those different things all at once. Occasionally in the beginning part of the process, when you're in pre-production, you have more time to really give the love that one piece needs and really see a vision all the way through. But our role sort of changes as we move forward. That's usually in the beginning, when we're coming up with our interesting ideas, the what ifs, the what could it be things, the blue sky, we call it.
And that's super fun. A typical day during that period is come to work, look at some cool art that you really like for a few minutes, check your e-mails, get everything going, talk with everyone, figure out the game plan and just start painting. Just go and make cool images, taking the amount of time that you need to get that vision done. That sounds like a perfect world, right, but things change very quickly. Once the engine gets going and it's just moving, our job is to try and stay ahead of everyone else.
A typical day during that production part of the process is very different. We are generating as much imagery and helping the art direction process as much as we can in every possible way. We are jumping around, going to the 3D modelers, going over to the lighters, going over to check on stuff and giving them support, sketches, paintings and quick call-out sheets, just little art direction sheets that show photos and a basic sketch of what we were doing. It's maybe not the most glamorous part of being an artist but it's the stuff that makes our product look as good as it does.
It's the stuff that makes all the loose ends get tied up and make sure that things don't feel rough around the edges, as much as we possibly can. The typical day is you're totally out of your mind for the bulk of the production. Then towards the end it's a putting out fires sort of thing. You're just trying to help ... You're not doing any original pieces anymore, you're just trying to help everyone else, just supporting what they're doing. The typical day is going around to everybody saying, "You need anything? You need anything? You need anything?" Really trying to be available at all times and to be ...
Communication, being communicative about ... Every idea that we have, make sure we share those so that people have enough time to implement them, and be able to catch things. If something seems off, it doesn't seem like it's in line with what we were doing originally, to try and catch then and to figure out how can we solve this, how can we put that fire out. - Correct me if I'm wrong, Naughty Dog is primarily a game studio now, right? - Yeah. - You guys are, it's a little bit different than the previous artist or concept artist would be if it were a feature film, where you have a studio to deal with, and a director that may not have not been associated with your group before.
You guys are generating new content internally as your own entity, you guys are the studio. - Yeah. - That's got to be, in some ways, a little bit liberating, because all of your stakeholders are right there inside the company. - Yeah. I think it's beneficial that we are a part of Sony and that Sony gives us the freedom to do what we do. Of course we have deadlines, as everyone else does, but I feel fortunate at the studio that we're given the leeway and the time to develop an original IP, such as The Last of the Us.
We were given a good amount of time. I've definitely been elsewhere before at other studios, and knowing that the task at hand is going to be difficult at any rate, any pace that you set is going to be, "Woah, this is a lot to ask for in a little amount of "time and the quality level that we want to deliver." I feel like it is fortunate to be part of the publisher, when we are the publisher, we're owned by Sony. We're given the proper time, and a generous amount of time to develop stuff. As well on Uncharted 4, which is what we're developing now.
We've definitely been given a fair amount of time to do it, it seems like. And we are trucking towards that date, just working away, trying to get as much done as possible. - (stammering) Do you focus on primarily environment stuff, or you do character as well? Do you guys have special-- Do you subdivide the team into character and environment? Can you describe that a little bit. - Sure. In the past I've always done both, but at Naughty Dog it's specialized.
We have a character department and we have an environment department, in terms of concept art. We actually have a fairly decent amount of concept artists for that reason. Because we do have a lot of ... We are a very story-centric kind of studio, the story is very important, and I think why people like our stuff is-- Obviously the gameplay and all that stuff, but I think the story is a very big part of it, so naturally the characters need to be very well developed. If we were all doing environments and characters it would be a little bit harder to really get into the motivations and the development of those characters and personalities, and their look and everything.
I think it's nice. Usually I would say, "Man, I want to do characters too," but in this-- And I always have, but in this particular case I think it's nice that you have people that that is their primary focus, and they're working with the creative director and the writers and figuring out all those things. Because they really do work it out. They go through countless, countless variations, more than I've ever seen before, in order to get it just right and make sure those characters ring true in terms of their look and how their personality is conveyed. - I think that's the big advantage that video games have over films as a medium, is that the depth of character development that they get into.
From my own experience and from talking to a lot of folks, that's what draws you into a game. You've played it for hours and hours, and you've spent so much more time with that "person", that thing that you're interacting with, than you would with a film. You're just in there for an hour and a half and you're out again. - Yeah, I would almost compare it with an episodic TV show that goes on for quite a while. You get to really develop the character in a bunch of different scenarios and over quite a long time. If your game is 12 hours long, roughly, you're talking about 24 30 minute episodes.
It's kind of like, that's a full season of character development if you think of it that way. And depending on-- There's a lot of characters. Our stuff usually has quite a few characters. Even in the main characters there should be, it's not just one or two, there's usually several. It takes a lot of work to do that, and a lot of time, so our stories tend to ... Our games tend to be long, longer than some. I know The Last of Us was. I think it worked out, just a lot of character development. That's something that we're trying to do a lot now.
- I think that's a really good thing. Again, playing off those advantages that you have over other mediums. Do you play games yourself? - Yeah, yeah, for sure. I grew up playing games, so I've always played a certain amount of games. Obviously these days you get really busy and don't get as much time to do that as you'd like, but I certainly like to keep up with what's being done and what's out there, to see what is the benchmark for excellence in the games industry. Obviously that's our job, so ... That's important to do.
And I just love to see what the nuclear arms race, so to speak, of technology and what everyone's showcasing, what they're able to do with their engines. A big part of what we're able to accomplish is because of our limitations or our accomplishments in our engine, so I like to see what other people are doing in certain things. And maybe the public wouldn't notice it because they're seeing it as this final presentation package, but as developers we tend to look at very small details, thinking something like, "How do they get their trees looking just like that? "How is that actually being made "and what's the technology behind it? "And can we accomplish something like that in our engine?" Or materials, how reflectivity, all these different kinds of things.
Depending on what engine you're working in, certain ones have benefits and have disadvantages. - How did you go about getting the gig there? Had you already known folks that were working there or did you just walk in the door and say, "Hey guys, here I am." - No, I knew one person that I had worked with previously, and just had been talking to them online. Just chatting, saying, "How are things going up in LA?" I was down in San Diego at the time. And he said, "Coincidentally we just had one of our "senior level concept artists leave and we're looking "for another senior level artists with a similar "level of experience to replace that spot." So the way it's always done is taking tests.
You have to take a concept test, which is a fairly demanding amount of time, but I figured nothing ventured nothing gained. So I did the test, and they liked it. - What did that test look like? Did that present you with an idea and have you come up with it? - Just the same as it would be anywhere. For a concept artist it would be just a very basic bit of block mesh geometry. "Here's a super rough environment "and now come up with what it is, make it." And that's what's so cool, that it's so open.
Whereas in the studio you get a fair amount of instruction of what things need to specifically be, even to the level of, "This piece of cover cannot be more than one meter "because if it is that breaks the collision rule." There's all these very specific rules. None of that, they don't bother with that for the test. They want to see what you bring to the table so it's all 100 percent this is how this person thinks, this is how they react with this little bit of information that's given. And there's a lot of things that are, I don't want to give any tips or tricks of taking Naughty Dog tests, but there are certain things that are looked at as very important, and things that people tend to overlook a lot.
That's all I can say about that. Basically, you see what someone's made out of when you give them no information and you say, "Do something." - Well they're building the culture and they're bringing you into that culture, so I would imagine they have some pretty strict rules for that sort of thing. - Yeah. - That goes with any organization, really. You mentioned before that you had a friend that had worked there. How big a role does the online community play, someone that you'd known from the forums? How much time do you spend in the forums, and where do you go? - Forums, I'm not really, I'm not so privy to that to be exactly how that's done.
I think mostly in entertainment these days it's personal connections through people. And you have online social media, which is taking over everything, really. And that's pretty much the only way to do it. I always tell to my students or people that I'm giving any kind of talk to a group of people aspiring to be artists is just that you're your own best advocate for your career. It doesn't really take that much work to go out there and say, "I want to work at this "studio and this studio and this studio." Okay, well go find who works there, look at their portfolios, look at what they're looking for.
Look at their level of experience, look at their level of their body of work, what they've done, their broadness of their skillset. It's really as simple as that. Then just do that. And then putting yourself out there, constantly being active on social media and being in contact with people on a regular basis is the only way, because there's so many people out there trying to get jobs. And I don't feel that there are a few jobs, I think there are a lot of jobs, actually, in the industry. Considering what the economy is right now I think there's actually a ton of work, and the industry is actually doing very well.
It's not that there aren't a lot of jobs, it's just that there are a ton of people out there. So you have to be vocal and you have to be present and you have to be known, and the only way you can get yourself known is by putting stuff out there and directly contacting people, even if you don't know them. Most people that I know, they have online fans or people that like their artwork, they always respond to the e-mails. Someone says, "Hey, I really love your work, blah blah blah. "What does it take to be a concept artist?" People always get a response. The information is all out there.
That's why I say, I think, if anything I try to tell people it's really inspiring to be doing this right now because everything that is available for peoples' education and for peoples' outreach to professionals in the industry is at its absolute peak. 10 years ago there was none of this. There was no Facebook linkups between every single artist that is on the Internet, period. There was no lynda.com that was available for learning any programming you want to pretty much learn or that you'd want to learn.
And all this other stuff that's out there. There's a billion different, even just YouTube videos. There's a lot of different ways to learn. I think that it's as good of a time as any, to be honest.
- Nick Campbell, motion graphics artist, photographer, and entrepreneur
- Marc Potocnik, designer and 3d artist
- Tim Clapham, VFX artist and educator
- Alan Torres and Stephen Morton (Cantina Creative), design and visual effects artists
- Aaron Limonick, concept artist
- Mike Lowes, 3D animator and technical director
- Lorcan O'Shanahan, motion graphics artist
- Scott Keating, 3D artist and illustrator
- Clear Menser, visual effects artist
- John Robson, motion graphics artist and filmmaker
- Grant Miller, VFX supervisor
- Tomasz Opasinski, creative director and movie poster artist
Watch for fresh insights into the careers and creative processes of these working professionals.