I wanted to write about my creative process, but soon realised that there was a lot of background information needed to understand my point of view. I was asked before about my work in 3D animation before starting to do game development and I thought it could be interesting to share my experience. I will make a multi part post that will talk about my personal filmmaking experience, programming experience and what brought me to game development. My creative process is based on working alone, optimising my work and being independent, and this is the first part. I hope you find it interesting! Knowing about filmmaking helped me in my game development in many ways, if you are just starting like me it might help you as well!
How it started
When I was 16 we got our first modern computer in the house. My older brother would show me things made in 3D like demos and short animations. It was fascinating. He really pushed me to go study in that field, and ultimately that’s what I ended up doing after a failed year studying programming.
I fell in love with 3D animation.
3D animation back then felt “raw”. At the time, Softimage|3D was very rudimentary. Soon after, Softimage|XSI came out and things started to change. I already knew the potential of CGI, but learning it in school made me realise that it was possible to make an entire movie and telling a story by myself.
If you want to be serious about filmmaking, you need to learn the basics. Screenwriting, screenplay and storyboarding are the same for a film or a 3D animated movie. There is a lot of “old school” timeless books with tonnes of information on the subject that I recommend to read to anyone interested in filmmaking. You can tell a story only with moving pictures, you don't even need words.
Film directing shot by shot | Film directing cinematic motion | The filmmaker’s handbook
I worked in the industry for over a decade. CGI was fun for a while, but if you are a creative person and love your creative freedom, you realise quickly that working in a company doesn't allow you to be very independent, if at all. They call it creative work because you are supposedly an artist, but I never felt that way. You do whatever someone else tells you to do. I did learn a lot while working with others and that was the most important thing really. I worked as a 3D polygonal modeler for a couple of years, specializing in character modeling, then with time I started working more on facial rigging and expressions. As an “all-rounder”, I worked doing lighting, texturing, rendering, rigging, animation, compositing and applied as much as I could in my own work . Being multidisciplinary in any field is always an advantage and CGI is one of those fields where there is so much to learn, so much to do and it's in constant evolution. Still, I wanted to make a movie all by myself. The fact is that CGI was not even important. CGI was just a tool. I didn’t want people to look at my movies and think of it as a CGI movie, I wanted them to look at it because it’s a movie.
Softimage|3D & Softimage|XSI , the first 3D software I learned. Those were the days
My Short film : Waste of Space
In 2011 I started working on a personal project, a short film about space exploration, combining two things I am deeply passionate about: space and filmmaking.
Waste of Space: My short film from 2012
Everything was done in CGI. I wanted to make everything myself and I was finally able to do it. This is the culmination of years of self teaching, exploration and curiosity, then applying all this knowledge in different fields to achieve one goal; making a movie.
A shot from Waste of Space
Getting work done by your lonesome
When you make a movie by yourself, or any kind of project as a matter of fact, you need to have a vast array of different skills. You have to be independent at least to some extent. Sometimes you don’t have time to ask for help, you want to work fast, cut corners. Things might not be the best they could, but they are good enough. There is no time to be obsessive about details, there is no time to stop to ask for advices. Once you master a set of skills, you will know where to cut things that will have the least impact on the final result. You are the only one who have the big picture in your head. You know where to put priorities.
Movies are the easiest of art form to consume while being one of the most time consuming to create. CGI movies have an advantage though; you don’t need actors, you don’t need lights, camera, sets, you don’t need to go to a location or rent anything, you can do anything you want on your own computer at home. It just takes time, and that’s why optimising your time become the most important thing you need to do. I might not be the best in any areas, but being proficient in all those different skills help me attains goals by myself. Those same goals that over specialised people, nitpicking over every little details, could never do without a team. Sure, someone who does only texture could say my texture need work, but I don’t have time for that because I was busy lighting, rendering and animating.
Some storyboard panels for Waste of Space
I optimize my work as much as I can by storyboarding shots and trying to figure out the fastest way to make them. I will cut corners, I will throw away a shot because it’s too long to make and I will make the shots that get the more bangs for the bucks. I apply this in everything in my life. How can I get 90% of the results with 10% of the effort? Production value.
A shot from Waste of Space
Production value is crucial when you are independent. When you do everything by yourself, you need to find shortcuts like figuring out the best way to do something that look like months of work even though you crushed it in a week. After all this time learning about CGI, I applied all of my knowledge on my short movie. At the time I could not have known that I would use all of this for one specific goal, but you never know when you learn something today how you're going to use it tomorrow.
I think it’s important to learn a lot about unrelated things, then combine them to make something new with a fresh perspective that someone specialized in any of those field would not have. By doing so, you have the big picture. I believe it’s important to learn how to do things by yourself, to be independent, to have fast turn arounds. I believe everyone can be passionate about something, in fact many things. All those things might combine one day and you will find a path you did not expect.
In my next article I will talk about programming and creativity and the path that brought me to game development.