Interview Alex Liki

Alex Liki 
Illustrator/ 3D Character Artist 
From: Sao Paulo, Brazil 

Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about yourself…
Hi, my name is Alex Liki and I’m a freelancer 3D character artist/Illustrator living in Brazil. I’ve been working with 3D for six years now but I started my career as a traditional sculptor making stop motion puppets and reference statues for 2D animators. After this I began doing inbetweens and clean-up for traditional animation. I always loved art and I knew that I would work with something related to it.

When did you discover 3D? What programs/plugins/scripts do you use? 
The first time 3D really captured my attention was when I saw Jurassic Park. I couldn’t believe in what I was seeing, it was so real, it didn’t look as something done in a computer. Looked like they had captured real dinossaurs. Some years later I saw Bug’s Life and remembered thinking “I have to learn how to do this”.
It was only in the Last year of college that I was able to buy a computer and start playing with 3D. The good thing about it was that the computers where cheaper and 3D was more available to the public in general. The first 3D program I used was Wings 3D, a much underestimated freeware modeling software, and then I moved to Autodesk’s Maya. Today my pipeline consists basically in Autodesk’s Maya, Adobe Photoshop, Headus Uv Layout and Pixologic ZBrush.
How do you keep up with all the changes in technology? 
I think that the most important thing is to develop your artistic side, the tools will always change but if you focus on the artistic part of the craft you will manage to learn the tools that will take you more easily where you want. Most softwares are going in this direction these days, they are becoming less technical and more artist friendly. But when I want to know about some new technology is just a matter of taking a look at the main sites of 3D to know in what direction things are going.
With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?
Style and a quality work from the technical point of view. You should be able to adapt to different styles but people must be able to recognize your personal work. If you are going to work for a company you should be able to do your art in a style that marriage the type of work they do. If you are working for Blizzard, for example, you should be able to model orcs and fantastic creatures in a realistic way, but if you are working for Dreamworks you should be able to do cartoon characters. As a freelancer I think that you should aim for the type of art you prefer doing and learn all you can about that style. People should be able to recognize your work, this way art directors, for example, can contact you knowing that your style is what they are looking for a specific project. It’s this mix of showing that you can adapt yourself to do something more general and have your own style at the same time.
The Bolo Project has a great feedback. What were the challenges on this project? Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

When they called me to work on the project, the biggest challenge was to do something that looked as good as the movies that were previously done by other companies and deal with the big scope of the project. We had to model huge scenarios, lots of characters, deal with water, snow and fur. Those things are difficult to do by themselves but we had to manage to deal with all of them together. During the modeling/rigging stage I stayed in contact with the rigging department helping them on the task of doing different versions of the characters without having to do a whole new rigging for each one of them. I’ve done lots of blendshapes for all the characters and modeled some scenarios. It was a big group effort but I think we succeed in the end.
What was the most difficult part in the Chester "Cheetos" Cheetah project?

From the point of view of a character modeler this project was easy. The concepts were pretty good and didn’t take long until the models were approved. Looking to the project as a whole, the hardest part was to render all the fur characters and make them look good.
How do you start working on an animation? Do you use references or just imagination? 
For me it’s always important to start doing researches and looking for references because this way I can make my choices based on solid concepts.  Once I know how something looks in the real world I can play with shapes taking informed decisions about doing it in a real or cartoony style. Most of the time my research helps me to create things that I haven’t thought before.
Tell us a bit about the process in the Itaú Seguros project.
My biggest challenge in this project was design a popcorn that looked like a popcorn and that still able to act. When people see the project today they look at it and instantly recognize a popcorn, but in the first week of work everyone used to say “is it a teeth?” or “is it an octopus?” and stuff like that. To solve this problem I looked to lot of actual popcorns to understand what make a popcorn look like a popcorn. I tried a lot of shapes that looked interesting and applied to them the concept that had been adopted by the other characters of the project. For example, in the cup, the mouth is the cap, the chair’s mouth was the seat cushion. Having that idea in mind as a starting point I looked to some of the shapes that I had selected and instantly saw them as the hair of the popcorn, a “James Brown” kind of hair. Some things may look simple when they are finished but take a lot of effort to get there.

How important is it to have a proper education in this field? 
I think that the most important thing is to stay “hungry” for information. It doesn’t matter from where the information comes, the most important thing is how you approach it. If you can pay for a good school I say “go for it”, but if you can’t you still can learn from all kind of other sources. In Brazil, until recently there were no specialized courses in 3D so everyone had to find ways to learn the softwares and techniques by themselves. The internet is full of great information, it’s just a matter of digging it.

 Do you still find time for your own projects? What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
Yes, sure! Although they often do not see the light of day. The personal projects are great to develop new techniques and ideas. I’m currently working on some characters and developing little stories for them. I usually do this at dawn when I can listen to some music and do not be distracted by other things. I have some projects involving games for smart phones too, but they are still in an embryonic form right now.

We know the “ups”, but tell us about the “downs” in your career.  Was it an easy?
It’s never easy, but I think that this is what make it fun, right? In Brazil we have a pretty small market   I have been lucky to work with a lot of talented artists that inspire me every day and push me to do my best. I think that you should always be in search of doing your best work this way all the bad things that happen along the way becomes smaller.

Which design do you believe was the most difficult to achieve? (How did you do it?)
Until now the popcorn that I mentioned above was one of the toughest. It’s like doing a caricature. You have to find some characteristics that people can recognize and you have to adapt it to the style of the movie. One thing that you must have in mind is that it is not because one design works for one project that it will fit in another, so it is a constant search for the best shape and form for that specific project. 
What’s the one project that you received the most praise for?

I think that Fada “Futeboleira”. It hasn’t won awards or something like that but a lot of friends of mine that work in the market came to me to congratulate me for that particular model.
What is your favorite project?
Generally speaking is the one that the director gives me the freedom to explore so I can come up with ideas for the characters. The Itau Seguros and and Fada “Futeboleira were examples where this happened.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
I have a lot of names in my mind but if I just had to choose just one it would be Guillermo del Toro. I really like his storytelling skills and the way he directs. His sense of design is pretty unique too. The characters he helped took shape in Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth are among my favourites of all time. From all the interviews I have saw him doing I can say that he is a big geek too, just like myself, so I think we would have a lot to talk about. I was very happy when I saw him getting involved with animation projects.

Thanks a lot for your questions, it was a pleasure to answer them. All the best for you and all your readers.