Interview - Cojocaru Nicolae


Cojocaru Nicolae
3D Artist

Contact:  Romania, Bucharest
A little bit about yourself...

Hi, my name is Cojocaru Nicolae Gheorghe and currently I am a 3D Artist for the Romanian television PROTV.

Describe a day at work.

Generally I start the day by checking the office e-mail, the main CG news and forums, and then I get to work. My work usually involves modeling, lighting, shading, rendering but mostly particle setup. Nowadays I work in Thinking Particles, and I use FinalRender as a render engine.

When did you start working in 3D and why?

I started working in 3D by mistake. I got stuck home alone one weekend without internet, with a copy of Maya 6 I think, and after installing it and running through the first tutorials, it kinda stuck on me.
Afterwards, after lots of tutorials and long hours, about a year later, I landed my first job at a local game company called Funlabs. I modeled assets for games and also did level design. 
Later, after I graduated college with a computer science degree, I got to work in Maya again. A local cartoon production company, DACODAC, was giving free animation courses on animation, and I just had to get on board. They offered me a job before the course ended, and I did a lot of character modeling, rigging/skinning, prop setup, and a bit of animation and scripting. It was a great experience as I worked with a lot of people in the animation studio and it was right about that time that I started to work a little more serious in ZBrush.
My first attempts were awful and people gave me some good advices in studying anatomy and taking it one step at a time. I kept practicing and I got better.
Later on I landed a job at PROTV and now I work with particle systems most of the time and Zbrush in my spare time.

Do you offer something that nobody else does?
I guess my personal experience. I had the opportunity to work in the game industry, cartoon production environment, a bit of film and now television. Knowing more than one 3D package and staying informed on the trends of the industry, the latest software and capabilities, and using it gives you the extra edge.
In your opinion, who's the best 3D artist/company?
There is no such thing as the best. There are many great artists out there nowadays, and the bar keeps getting higher. Companies and artist that want to stay at the top keep pushing the bar with talent, experience and hard work.
There are companies that I like better among others, like Blur, Blizzard, ILM,  and artists, like Sze Jonez, Zack Petrok, Scot Spencer, Brandon Riza, Andrew Melnychuk, plus a lot others that inspired me along the way.

What would you recommend a young aspiring artist to do to develop the skills needed

Keep practicing. It depends a lot on what you want to do. Want to get better at your ZBrush sculpts ? Study more anatomy books and keep practicing on body parts first and full bodies later. Try not to let a day slip by without trying something in ZBrush.

Could you describe your workflow regarding ZBrush sculpting ?
I generally start from a concept by blocking in the main shapes with ZSpheres. If the sculpt is human-like, I have a couple of starting bases meshes, pretty low poly, with even distributed polygons, but no specific features, so I would not be distracted from the concept.
I build up the form slowly, by getting in the general shape at first, using the standard, inflate and clay brushes. I check the silhouette from time to time and I try to sculpt at one level as close as I can to the concept before moving forward.
After level 3, I start blocking in the forms, still checking with the concept and the silhouette. At this point, I might sidetrack a bit, trying different nuances to the character, using layers to check against the original. This is the part where I might give a little personal touch to the sculpt.
When the mesh gets a little heavy, I go into re-topology, using the standard ZBrush retopo tools mostly. I re-project the details, and then I get on to a little bit more of form refining, and then to final hi-rez modeling, where I add in all the wrinkles, scars, all the little details. I use layers, morph target and the morph brush a lot so I am not afraid to experiment a little and see how it works out.
As an example, below I have a starting concept, by a friend of mine, George Munteanu, and also the sculpt using that reference, about 5-6 hours in the sculpting process, a couple of days, after work.
At this stage, the next step is to go into re-topoloy, so I can have enough polygons in the chest and head area. Afterwards, I will be adding in all the bits and pieces and try to match it as close as I can to the original.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I am still young and still developing and working on new things. I like sculpting in ZBrush as well as doing all kinds of FX. So I guess I want to be a better artist at what I do, working somewhere with lots of challenging work, regardless of whether is character design/sculpt or FX.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in a 3D project?
The big and fast changes in concept and in the initial directions in some projects. You must adapt to those and still keep a coherent look and at least the same quality so that the project can keep moving forward with the same level of quality and speed for direction comparison.

What's lacking in your portfolio?

A complete character, from modeling to full texturing and animation presentation. I usually tend to pick up new things to sculpt to brush up my flaws in sculpting, rather than finish a model.
Also, I might work on an FX dedicated reel. I work a lot with particles, but I seem to never have the time to put something aside for my folio on this.

If you had unlimited resources (from artists to money) what would you do?

If you put it like that, probably a local production company that would also have a supporting training center for young aspiring and talented artists.