"With only a few clicks, Vue can give me a global radiosity render with a believable atmosphere and real-world materials. Doing this in another 3D package is much more involved."
Please meet Alex Jenyon, a Vue artist currently working in the visual effects industry in London.
Alex studied Design for Performance at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. His background is in theater design.
Since he began his career, Alex's work includes freelance matte painting, concept design, storyboarding, pre-visualisation, and texture work on commercials, TV and feature film. Projects included 'Human Body: Pushing the Limits' (Emmy nominated for outstanding VFX), 'Stardust', 'Telstar', 'Rock'n'Rolla' and 'Lesbian Vampire Killers'.
E-on: Tell us a little about yourself?
Alex Jenyon: I am a matte painter and concept artist currently working in the visual effects industry in London. I'm not trained as a VFX artist, though - my background is in theatre design, and I've worked on computer games, architectural visualisations, commercials, music videos and for a stop-motion animation studio.
I started freelancing as a digital artist and set designer in 2004, and expanded my skills to include matte painting at 'The Mill' in London in 2006. Over the next couple of years I started getting work on bigger and bigger projects, and am now working full time on high profile feature films such as 'Leap Year', 'Clash of the Titans', 'Prince of Persia', 'Narnia' and 'John Carter of Mars'.
What lead you to using Vue? What spurred your interest in Vue and when did you become involved in it?
AJ: In 2008 I was working as a matte painter as Rushes Postproduction when they won the position of sole VFX vendor on the film 'Lesbian Vampire Killers'. One of the shots that was required was described as a 'helicopter shot of a car traveling into vast forest at night', and I was given the job of producing it.
It was immediately obvious that a normal matte painting approach (using photos and painted elements) wasn't going to work, and neither was a traditional 3D approach (there was just too much geometry). I therefore researched the options available to me, and found Vue. I downloaded the PLE on Friday night, spent the weekend learning it, and turned up to work on Monday morning to produce the shot. This is the very first piece of work I ever produced using Vue.
As an artist, how does CG art fit into your work? What is its role?
AJ: I use CG to help me visualise my paintings, and to produce rendered elements for me to use in larger paintings. I never finish a shot in CG, but use it to get me about half the way, and finish the rest by hand. Tricky perspective layouts, hard surface models and complex repeated elements are quicker to produce in CG than they are to paint - so I use CG for what it is best at, and do the rest in photoshop or painter.
What has been the most important skill for you as an artist?
AJ: My versatility. My work can require me, on very short notice, to suddenly become an expert at something. I might need to visualise what a particular medical condition would look like at a microscopic level, I might need to learn a new piece of software in only a few days, or I might suddenly need to know everything I can about a certain kind of cloud (all of these have happened!). The ability to constantly learn and adapt to new projects is therefore my most important skill, closely followed by good old fashioned painting, which can solve most problems if you are good enough.
Tell us a bit about your pipeline!
AJ: A VFX studio will usually base their pipeline around Autodesk's Maya 3D application. While Maya is an incredible powerful program, it's no secret that it's not very user friendly as a 3D modeling package.
I personally prefer the speed and simplicity of Google's 'SketchUp' 3D modeller, and I've used it for all kinds of projects it was never really designed for! SketchUp doesn't produce very nice geometry, but Vue seems to deal with it very well indeed. I therefore wanted a way to get a Vue scene to match what I could see in SketchUp, and use Vue as my rendering solution for SketchUp.
After a lot of research, it turned out the only way this was going to happen was if I sat down and wrote one! I'm really not a very good coder, but I slowly worked my way through a script, with lots of help from the nice guys at the sketchucation.com forums.
This script now forms an important part of my workflow - my modeling will be done in SketchUp, and Vue is then used to add real-world materials, and light and render the model in a convincing manner.
How does Vue, in general, contribute to your artwork?
AJ: I have tended to use Vue as a rendering solution for all kinds of models, even more than it's landscape and EcoSystem capabilities. With only a few clicks, Vue can give me a global radiosity render with a believable atmosphere and real-world materials. Doing this in another 3D package in much more involved.
I will also use Vue to produce specific elements for a painting that would be tricky source from anywhere else (or shoot myself). A tree seen from above, and lit from a particular direction, for example. The image might be available on the internet somewhere, but even if I could find one (after hours of searching), it could well be under copyright, and I wouldn't be able to use it anyway. With Vue, I can quickly source the exact element I am after, seen from the right angle, and lit in the right way, with no problems of image attribution or licensing.
The list of projects you've worked on is pretty impressive, could you name some of the projects you've used Vue on?
AJ: I've already talked about 'Lesbian Vampire Killers', which was the first project I used Vue for. I then used it on a number of commercials and promotions, including the UEFA Champions League and Co-op foods. This is the opening shot for a series of commercials aired in 2009 for the Co-op, produced for 'nice biscuits', a boutique post-production facility in Soho. The brief was to extend the crossroads shot out to about double it's original size, and to create the shape of a 'union jack', but in a believable, realistic manner.
I also used Vue to help me produce matte paintings for the reboot of 'The Day of the Triffids' while working for 'Paintingpractice' in West London. I was provided with renders of set elements, but felt that I needed a few extra elements to push the realism and feel of the shot. The fence, control gates, cars and surveillance cameras were all modeled in Google SketchUp, and rendered in Vue, all within the space of a few hours.
What was the most powerful part of using Vue in your workflow?
AJ: The speed - Vue deals with my messy geometry without any tweaking, and produces great looking renders without having to do any tedious setup.
What do you consider to be the most fundamental difference between Vue and traditional 3d programs?
AJ: It's focus on real-world situations - i.e. built-in atmospheric perspective for distant objects, rock textures with real-world scales, realistic cloud types. A traditional 3D model doesn't assume you are going to be doing anything in particular. It gives you a blank scene, and lets you work out the rest. Vue assumes that the scene you are producing is somewhere in the real-world, which (most of the time) it is!
What is your favorite new feature or features of Vue?
AJ: I love using EcoSystems with custom models, rather than plants. Feed a couple of city blocks, a few skyscrapers and an apartment or two into an EcoSystem, and voila! Instant city background! Here is one of my early tests - blank scene to this render in 30 minutes, (including modeling and 10 min render time) - that really sold me on the power of EcoSystems.
How do you train yourself to Vue (and do you need training?) And what would you like to learn next?
AJ: I don't have much trouble learning new packages, so I'm probably not the right person to ask. I had the manual, and most of Vue's menus are reasonably intuitive. As soon as I found out that you could right click in the texture editor to 'edit function', I was sorted!
I do need to learn more about tweaking atmospheres, though. I've worked out how to tweak almost everything else (custom cloud shapes, custom plants, etc.), but I don't have an intuitive grasp of how to tweak haze, fog and decay without a lot of trial and error.
Would you recommend Vue to other artists, and why?
AJ: For environment artist and matte painters, I certainly would, for all of the reasons I have talked about in this interview. It can really push your work to another level, if used in the right way, and at the right times.
For more information, please visit Alex's website: www.aj-concepts.net/. Also make sure to check Alex's sketchp2vue ruby script with tutorial, as well as Rushes Postproduction, Nice biscuits, and Paintingpractice
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