Interview - Chaotic Atmospheres




Chaotic Atmospheres
Freelance Illustrator, Digital Artist

Geneva, Switzerland

Tell us a bit about you...When did you start freelance work as an illustrator? What programs/plugins do you use? How do you keep up with all the changes in technology?
I never felt that I had to "keep up" with technology. I'm a progress enthusiast. I'm very happy to be born on the era of technology, computers, internet, digital art, ... From this point of view, each step of progress is an new opportunity to discover and create, make new things, think different,... . Artists from today have gained a new expression medium in which everything has to be made. When I started my firsts “digital art” experiments, this discipline didn't even have a name. I wasn't even able to explain people what I wanted to do. So I worked for many years to increase my skill, find a different approach, a personal way to use computers. It took me a lot of years until I got a personal style who was good and strong enough to get noticed on the internet, and thus to start working thanks to my style. During these years I worked as graphic designer for friends who started their brands when we finished high-school (mainly in fashion industry). This was a very formative period, even if I wasn't totally happy with what I had to do. My style and aspirations are not very "marketing ready", so I had to make a lot of concessions about my work and my personal universe. In the end, I wasn't doing what I wanted, so, I decided to stop working for others and to follow my own path. This was a very difficult decision to take because I knew what I was about to quit, but didn't knew where to go. A this point I wasn't sure to get any interesting results. And when you are in freelance and you don't get results, you don't get clients, thus you won't get money... Money never was the goal, but is obviously an important factor if you have to eat for living (and I'm quite sure you have to :)).

What was the goal for Radiolaria Index and what was the most difficult part?

I was invited by Neonmob (an online trading card community) to make a big set of more than hundred pictures. The subject of the set was totally free, so I searched for a theme who can afford a lot of variations. I've chose to get inspiration from the extraordinary work of Ernst Haeckel, a scientist from who designed incredible series of radiolaria (who are small skeletons of micro life-forms who lay on the deep underwater ground).
The most difficult part was to find hundred of variations where differences were important enough to be noticed. Indeed, I started every shapes from only eight different baseshapes (tetrahedron, hexagon, dodecahedron,...). I also wanted to reduce the production steps as much as possible, because each step, multiplied by a factor of hundred, takes a lot of time. So I wanted to avoid tasks who would be too long or too hard to do hundred of times. As the most important part of the picture is the radiolaria itself, I used a software specialized in topological modeling (TopMod, a freeware) that allowed me to make a lot of variations of the same base shapes with only a few commands. Then I imported each shape on Cinema 4D in order to make some small changes (adding spikes on Geneva series, smoothing the overall shape on Barcelona and Bologna series,...), rendered them and post work on Photoshop. So the workflow was quite easy and user-friendly.

Did you use the same techniques from one project to another? What changes?
Every project is very different from the others. My starting point is never the same. I use a lot of software in order to generate my subjects (and a lot of freewares, like Mandelbulber, Structure Synth, TopMod,...). So I always need to find workaround to export my models and then import them with the same detail level, which is very difficult because of the mathematical part that usually leads to highly detailed models.
But the final goal of my workflow is to get my subjects rendered with a lot of informations and metadata that allow me to postwork on Photoshop. I always finish my project this way, this helps me getting a consistent look across projects who started on a completely different basis.

What was the biggest challenge in Caustic Icebergs?

I've realized this project with Acropora (for the icebergs generation) and with Vue (for setup and rendering). I wanted to get underwater caustics, but I also wanted to get a good atmosphere effect above water. So I had to manage with a Vue limitation : Vue can render underwater or above water, but not the two in the same time. So the biggest challenge was to find a way to mix the two atmospheres. I had to render each pictures three times : one for the atmosphere above water, one for the underwater caustics and the last without atmospheric effects for the "waterline" (the waterline has been made with Acropora and then imported as an object onto Vue). I then composed the final picture on Photoshop. So even if the picture seems to be easy to setup, the Vue limitation about dual atmosphere made the project very "tricky".

Out of all the projects you have done, which one is your favorite and why?
I’m never completely happy with what I’ve done. I think it’s good, or I will never have published it on the net, but I always have something better in mind. I’ve always the feeling that I could have done better. So I never had a "favorite". I love things for some reasons, but nothing is perfect, so I can't tell that one project has more value than another. If I had a favorite I would have stopped to try to do better. So I'm happy to never being completely happy !

You master mathematical shapes. Can you list some important differences between working with regular parameters and working with random shapes? Which one is closer to you?
I’ve always worked with randomisation, so I never compared this way of working with a more “traditional”. If my goal was to work for clients I probably would have chose a more traditional way (learning a precise workflow that will let me answer easily to client requests). But as my main goal is to work as a digital artist, I take more time in searching new ways of expression than developing a precise workflow.
The main difference is that, when you work with random parameters, you can't expect to get a precise result. You have to "manage with what happen". This can be quite frustrating sometimes, but can lead to unexpected good surprises too. I’ve learned to work without being too strict on my expectations. It happens that I can’t achieve what I want (because my computer is not powerful enough to get the level details I want, or because the software I use misses one important feature,...). In these case, I prefer to put it on standby until I find a better way to make it right. Some weeks or months afterward, while trying something completely different for another project, it happens that I find a new way to solve the problem. Thus some projects have been finished months or years after I tried it for the first time.
When I work for a client, everything is very different. Clients can’t wait for months (neither for weeks most of the time). They usually ask me to make a picture based on one of my projects (with the same subject or the same technique, or to get the same overall look). When working with randomisation, this can be harder than expected. For example, I had a mission who was to “make an logo in stone, exploding like the Crystallized Asteroids”. This seems quite easy to do on first sight, but the way I worked the project did not allow me to use a specific shape to apply the effect (the logo). So I had to find a new way to “simulate” the effect with traditional techniques. And off course, it’s nearly impossible to simulate efficiently procedural works without procedural methods!

How did you start working on Crystallized Asteroids? What was the most difficult part? How long did it take?
Crystallized Asteroids was my first “digital artist” project when I stopped working as a graphic designer. So, at this time, the most difficult part was that I didn't know what to do, where to start, if I will make something that people would like… So I had more existentialist questions than technical issues.
I found the first asteroid almost by accident, meaning without searching to get this result. But it was not really an accident because I have worked for months in order to find a way to use my procedural techniques to make pictures. Then I realised the others from the series quite easily, in a couple of days, just by changing some parameters to get different interesting looks. But even when I finished the project, I wasn't sure that it would have been noticed on the internet, even if I hoped to. So it was a big relief when I published the project on the net and received positive comments. People started to follow my work and this convinced me to continue working this way.

Which production do you believe was the most difficult to complete? (How did you do it?)
Each project has his own complexity (see answers about "Crystallized Asteroids", "Radiolaria Index" or "Caustic Icebergs"). When a project is easy and straightforward, I take the opportunity to make a biggest series, thus the amount of work becomes the complexity. When you work on series, the biggest the series, the harder is to achieve an uniform look between each picture. The time I take on a series is also a factor, because I have great difficulties to stay on the same project for too much time : when I work on a project, I have new ideas that makes me want to start another project.
As I work a lot with randomization, I never know where would lead my experiments. Thus it's up to me to balance my work between something interesting and something too hard to do. I try to avoid compromises between “what I want” and “what I can”. But I prefer to make something who is not exactly what I expected than just not doing it because I can't achieve the effect I had in mind (or I would never be able to finish a project). More of that, finding tricks or workaround that may approximate what I wanted can lead to more creative results that what I wanted in the first intention.

What’s the one project that you received the most praise for?
My most popular project is Math: Rules - Strange Attractors. Not because people love it more than my others, but because more people love it. I initially started this project because I wanted to make something "different" from my other projects. I wanted to use maths to make the subject, but I wanted the subject to be represented "as it", without setting it up on a natural stage as I'm used to work. But instead of being different, this project finally happened to be a "resume" of my work, without other distractions (like atmospheric effects, color scheme,...). So it ended to be the more "universal" project I've done (even my father love it, and this is quite new :)). I've received a lot of comments of scientists working on universities around the world, telling me that this was a very good way to talk about science (even from some who discovered and named the formulas I used). I'm very proud of that because I never been a good mathematician, even if I love maths.

With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an Illustrator has in his portfolio or skills? How important is it to have a proper education in this field?
I think that the more the market becomes competitive, the more your personal style is important. It doesn't matter what you do, the world is big enough for each talented artist. If you try to do something because “it’s a must”, this means that you are trying to do something that already exists. So why would someone ask you to do it instead of asking the one who originally made it ? Getting inspiration by existing artworks is important, but it's not an end. In the end, you want to get something that no one has done, you want your own style, your particular universe.
That said, I think that more than a "skill", what you need is a capacity to get across skills to do what you like. There is no shortcuts when it comes to create something : if you do something one time, it may be good, if you do it twenty times, it will start to be very good... And if you do it for many years, it will become your style. So if you love to make photos with a Polaroid, try to finish every project this way, if you love 3d modeling with ZBrush, start every project with your intuos. You have to make each project “unique”, even if they all need to looks like yours.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
I've always wanted to participate to the preparative work of a sci-fi movie directors, like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrahams (you said "anyone", so I'm targeting very high :)). My creative will has been wrought by sci-fi literature and movies, thus I always wanted to work on movies even if my work is based on still pictures. I'm a huge fan of Hyperion, the sci-fi cycle written by Dan Simmon, so if someone is working on the movie adaptation, I will die for working on it !

What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
I've recently finished another project for Neonmob who is bigger (and better, I think) that my Radiolaria Index project. I won't talk about until Neonmob publishes it, so stay tuned on my Behance account !
I’m working with PrintaBit, a 3d printing service based in Geneva, in order to make available my “Strange Attractors” collection in 3d prints. It will be ready very soon now (I will tweet about it when we launch the set) !
There are other projects I'm working on : a child book, a board game, others personal illustration projects. I'm not sure which will be completed first, but I hope you will like them !