Interview - Valentin Leonida


Valentin Leonida
3D Concept Artist

Contact: Bucharest, Romania


Tell us a bit about yourself...
31 years old, freshly unshaved, married, trapped in the world of pixels and vertices; I even have lowpoly dreams. At this very moment I just watch the monitor trying to see as far away as possible so I can find myself all over again. 

When did you discover 3D? What programs/plugins/scripts do you use? 
3D was just a curiosity to me. It all started back in 1997 when I was working in an advertising agency and some of my colleagues were architects. I was fascinated by the possibility of seeing something virtual. The enthusiasm was stronger than the tools at that time. I started with Infini-D, followed by Maxon Cinema 3dXL. I was fascinated by Maya but a lot of employers request 3D Studio Max and I started to use it more often. Right now I’m using Photoshop, 3D Studio Max and ZBrush but I’m very tempted by Modo.

How involved was the interview process at Ubisoft?
The interview was an interesting experience. I had another 2 attractive offers, so I was feeling comfortable. We had a test: they give you an object to model and a reference set. The time frame was generous and it was meant to test your technical skills, rather than your creative ones. I had the advantage of a printed portfolio in the shape of a small catalog, plus some online works. I think it meant a lot since it was not a usual thing at that time. 

With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?
The digital market has become complex, a lot of the artists specialize now in one field rather than studying a lot of areas. Some prefer character design, others like environment  renders or animation…let’s not forget digital illustration for traditional works like paintings or hand drawings. It’s hard to find a common point in this diversity of fields and skills. I think it all comes down to vision, interior discipline and creative intelligence.

Do you recognize differences between graphic designers, in terms of style? How does your style compare to the best you’ve seen? 
Well, I’m between two trap questions now! Of course you can see differences in therms of style especially if we’re talking about concept art.  If we’re talking about 3D artistry, I think it’s kind of hard to be different when you have the same set of tools and the concept has to be “perfect”; and then there’s the subject; right now, I think we have the biggest gallery ever of monsters and heroes. And to answer your second question: I don’t know how much “style” I have left. I think, in the end, it also matters where you live. Some of us live in Paris or London, others in Bucharest. Life has a “special place” for each of us.

According to you, what are the weaknesses of 3D Studio Max compared to other packages?
This question reminds me of all my friends who work with 3D Studio Max but they are secretly in love with Maya. This program has its bugs obviously but in the end it is a strong product that can offer a very competitive end product. Packages like Zbrush or Modo are more open to the creative minds, more intuitive and have an attractive interface. I expect a lot of changes in terms topology, real textures or rendering presets and they’re going to be closer to a user’s traditional talent.

What is the typical starting point in a 3D project/character design? How long does it usually take?
It all depends on the project. I always start by gathering documentation for a couple of days. I have to be sure I don’t start working on an idea that was already done by somebody else. Then I start on the low poly modeling part and then comes the best part: details and natural touchups in ZBrush. I work for 2-3 days on that and 2 more days on textures and I have to admit I still have headaches from UVs ..and then the final touch under the final lights and rendering settings. Of course time can be different depending on the project.  
How do you start on an image/ character design? Do you use references or just imagination? 
A bit of both. I have to make up a story about the character....if I don’t have a story behind it, it’s not going to be “perfect”. A good reference picture can help you visualize faster the end product. 

Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? 
I have a workflow that adapts every time I start on a new project or I change the technical resources…and that’s a part of this job that changes a lot, from one month from another. You always have to keep up with the rapid changes, learn new things. The learning part has an upside and a downside: you learn (that’s the upside  but you’re also interested in trying new things instead of experimenting with the old ones and paying more attention to the creative side.
What are the differences between a character design for a movie and one done for a game?
If we’re talking about the concept, I don’t see any differences. It could be anything, anywhere…it could develop into a low poly game or a high end movie. If we’re talking about tools, the movie has its place close to realism and artistry. Games have a lot of limits right now and any artist in this field knows the problem with the low poly mesh  or textures and how you sometimes have to paint the texture pixel by pixel. But both industries are now walking hand in hand and you’re going to have a game with the same characters for every big action movie that’s on theaters right now. 

What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
I’m superstitious so I won’t say a thing :).,..I’ll let my hands do the talking in a few months. 
We know the “ups”, but tell us about the “downs” in your career.  Was it an easy ride?
I run into bad moments from time to time but I can’t complain. 
What’s the one project that you received the most praise for?
Hard to say… working on ChessMaster XI, which seamed a bit boring in the beginning, turned out to be one of the most satisfying projects and it brought me rewards of all kinds.  

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
Scott Eaton. That’s all I can say and if I had a hat I would take it off. 
What’s your favorite movie?
I have two and I can’t decide. Every time I see one of them I’m happy like the first time: Brazil, director Terry Gilliam and “And the Ship Sails On”, director Federico Fellini. 
What would you like to add to your portfolio?
I’m going to save this part for our next meeting, in a couple of months :). I think a surprise is worth ore than a promise.
If your child wants to be a 3D artist what would you tell him/her? 
Ha, ha, ha! I would schedule a vacation to show him the Louvre Museum. If he can replicate that, we’ll talk about 3D.