Interview Alessandro Baldasseroni
Tell us a bit about yourself...When did you discover 3D? What programs/plugins/scripts do you use?
I`m a 35 years old self taught artist . I was born and grown in Milan (Italy) . I started more or less dealing with 3D 12 years ago employed as a cad operator in a telecommunication company . So I started playing with the 3d functions of Autocad and I enjoyed it so much that i wanted to learn by myself the fundamentals of 3d. So I practiced by myself with the early release of 3D studio max (1.0) and after one year I already had some kind of portfolio. In late 2000 I decided to make a living for my passion for 3d art, so I submitted my portfolio to Milestone (a game developer company) , and luckyly they hired me in charge of 3d artist. In this period I had the chance to evolve my knowledge about 3d and after a few years I started to freelance occasionally for worldwide known studios, last of which Blur. After a while Blur decided to hire me full time, and so I moved here to Venice CA. I`m currently employed as a senior character artist at Blur Studio.
My everyday tools of work are 3d studio max, Photoshop and Zbrush, with almost no scripts involved in the process except Polyboost for Max.
How involved was the interview process at Blur?
Well, I had a very unformal approach to Blur, so I`m not sure wether my experience might be very representative. Anyhow, for the records I made a request few years ago through email introducing myself with my portfolio and my set of skills, asking if any position for character artist was available. They were very kind to reply that unfortunately no position in studio was available at that time, but after a short while they got back in touch asking if I was available to do some offsite freelancing. And so I started a freelance cooperation with Blur lasted more than one year and an half. During this time I made several hires characters and had the chance to get familiar with the production pipeline, getting more confident model after model. In the meanwhile they decided it might have been a common interest to have me working full time in studio, and after some technical time needed to do the papers they managed to hire me ….and here I am :) So basically my interview was just a full production boot camp of several months.
Are you a Quake or BattleField guy?
BattleField of course …. it`s the same comparison to me between wool and silk. to me ;).
Your experience covers advertising, the games industry and movies. Which one is closer to you?
I think it`d be fair enough to say that cg industry pushes me to do very technical stuff in terms of real time and game cinematic assets, these things are easy to sell and very requested but my true love is doing illustrations, covers , and anything which involve a much more artistic freedom.
How do you keep up with all the changes in technology? Do you think the game tools are catching up with the art tools?
Definitely the progress in real time graphic in the last few years has been remarkable and exponential , some stuff in terms of cinematic look is still missing or it needs a super powerful computer to be fully implemented, but the gap is gonna be covered pretty soon by the new generations of game cards. Software wise it`s hard to keep ourselves updated with the releases of multitudes of new 3d applications and plugins, but luckily some of them are just redundant, and very few of them are strictly necessary in our production environment.
With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?
Taste, artistic awareness and some base knowledge of cg fundaments. It`s already happening that the new generation of sculpting programs allows much more people than before to produce decently looking assets. It`s way easier now than ever before to build a portfolio of several pieces in a very short time, problem is consistency. That means that detailing for the fun of it is not considered a plus anymore because the program allows to do it with a minimum effort. Supervisors look for people who did the next step in terms of great sense of form, volumes and overall artistic consistency of the portfolio. Being able to texture the model with a set of UV is still considered a great plus because it shows a skill of color understanding that goes way beyond the simple digital modeling process.
Can you tell us a little about your experience in 3D for advertising?
Well, my experience for advertising is strictly related to the production of marketing cover artworks for game products and some specialized computer graphic magazines covers. It has always been easy to me to deal with artistic requests of this kind because the technical problems related to it are minimized and it`s all a matter of producing something which makes everybody happy in terms of visual quailty. Of course like everybody else I had to deal with art direction and client neatpickings, but it`s something much more understandable to me than doing crazy technical polishing necessary for the production but totally invisible in the final result. Curious is that I had a very little number of requested commissions in terms of 3d for advertising because most of the cover artworks I`ve done have been requested after I completed the piece for my own fun….allowing me basically to have all the freedom I want in terms of art direction.
Do you recognize differences between graphic designers, in terms of style? How does your style compare to the best you’ve seen?
Well, when it comes to 3d art,as far as I can see we speak most of the time of production artworks, a very limited number of individuals tend to make some kind of fine art out of it and usually the context is totally extraneous to any production environment. I guess the percentage is still small because anyway doing fine art in 3d is a very time consuming (and wasting) process compared to do it having a totally 2d approach. Anyhow even if it`s hard to me to make some serious distinctions to any attempt I`ve seen so far to make fine art in 3d, I can still recognize some attitudes more than styles. In this view I can say I have my own attitude when it come to do personal 3d arworks, based on preferences for some kind of graphical illlustration styles, so unfortunately I have to admit that so far it`s something derived. I love 80`s style fantasy illustrators like Brom, Rojo and Vallejo, Frazetta is in my heart as well….but I look also in a lot of contemporary popular illustrators, and between these Alex Ross, Ariel Olivetti and Marko Djurdjevich are among my favorites. So my art tries to reflect all these influences, filtered with my own sensitivity about each specific subject I treat.
How do you start working on a character? Do you use references or just imagination?
Depends, when it comes to work production the space reserved to imagination is very limited. We work all the time on some sort of references of any kind, most of the times the client dictates to us the visual look of the character through a certain amount of concept art, 3d in game assets or any kind of visual photographic elements which could be useful. So it goes by itself that there's almost no consistent room for improvisation. Sometime the sketch or concept art is kinda lousy in terms of details and refinements and only in this case we are allowed to put some kind of improvisation to fill the visual gaps, but it`s not that common.
How important is it to have a proper education in this field?
Let`s put things in context: You are interviewing a guy who didn`t have any kind of formal artistic training when he started. So considering the fact that now I work in a very popular studio this might in some way be misleading. Truth is that i started back in the 90` when cg was relatively new and you didn`t need that much artistic training because everybody was some sort of pioneer of what it was the new visual media….we were much more struggling on how to have the skills and get the tools to do something than the artistic value of the things we were doing. Things nowadays are radically different . CG schools are widely diffused worldwide, having a career in some entertainment field cg related is not seen anymore as a hazard. On top of this technology, powerful softwares and knowledge are relatively available to everybody. But because of this mass democratic diffusion of knowledge and the fact that the cg media is a fully grown up visual way of expression, the quality standards are much higher and the next step consists in looking for people with artistic skills and knowledge, because it`s easy to master the tools. That`s why nowadays artistic education is still very important, even if there could still be exceptions.
Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? What’s your favorite part (modeling, sketching, rendering, environment, maps)?
Yes , when it comes to production I often do the same steps, it`s just my pipeline and it has to follow some very precise milestones. It basically consists in roughing up proportions and volumes, then polishing and refining the model, uv editing and texture/shading. When it comes to personal works I`m way more messy and I like to jump back and forth sometime in the steps to have much power of experimentation…..but this is just because I don`t have a limited amount of time to finish the job. My favorite part is definitely the rendering and compositing part, when the final piece comes to life….it`s the part in which I definitely spend more energy and passion.
Do you still find time for your own projects? What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
Sadly I don`t have as much time as I had before. Production work takes me a lot of time (and overtime) , so when I get back home I find it really hard to put myself in front of a computer screen. That said I`d really struggle to complete a few projects (mainly digital illustrations) that I have in mind. I would also like to try real sculpture with clay at some point.
We know the “ups”, but tell us about the “downs” in your career. Was it an easy ride (from Milan to LA)?
Not that easy for some aspects. I discovered a much more organized and efficient working environment and a lot of respect and understanding for what I do for living compared to Italy. On the other side, sometime you have to deal with missing your lifetime friends in the homeland , not to mention parents and relatives. On top of that you will soon realize that there are some cultural barriers not so easy to pass through, especially when it comes to social relationships. Anyhow if I have to make a balance it has been an experience so far totally worthy of being done.
What’s the one project that you received the most praise for?
I think it was a promotional marketing poster for the game Gun by Activision, i took me quite some time under the artistic direction of Jason Manly at Massive Black inc. It was a struggle because it was a matter of doing an illustration depicting a classical american western imaginary in full 3d. In the end , after various difficulties and neatpickings we managed to accomplish it and that picture was used widely as marketing promotional poster. It was a great personal satisfaction.
What would you like to add to your portfolio?
I`d love to do more fantasy all sci-fi personal illustrations, that`s what I really love to do. I would also love to include some portrait of people I care about.
If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
Probably Jason Manley (president of Massiveblack Inc and founder of conceptart.org), who has been such a mentor me, he probably will never realize how much….and if I have two tickets I`d spend some time with Neil Blevins (technical director at Pixar) as well. He was probably the guy who lighted the spark of passion for cg inspiring me more than anybody else back in the old days .
What’s your favorite movie?
So hard to tell….but probably "Amadeus" by Milos Forman, I never grow tired to watch it again .
What do you like to dream about?
Oh, it`s something very personal…just intimate stuff about family, memories of the past, people I would like to see again…stuff like that.
If you had unlimited resources (from artists to money) what path would you take?
Oh, I`d definitely stay home, build my own studio….nothing for profit, just experimenting all day ….I have unlimited money after all ;)
If your child wants to be a 3D artist what would you tell him/her?
No way, my child is gonna be a painter ;)