Jeff talks about his aquatic posts on ZBrushCentral and experience with ZBrush 2
Tell us a little about yourself.
Well... I'm 32. I've been working in the game industry since I was 22. I have no formal art training. I own part of a company called Reflexive Entertainment located in Lake Forest, Ca. I'm working remotely from Washington (just moved here a few months ago) and I'm loving it!
What titles have you worked on?
Let me see... I've worked on a bunch of titles but I'll stick with the ones that people might have a chance of recognizing. Fallout 2, Icewind Dale, Star Trek away team, Dragons Lair 3d, Lion heart, Dark Alliance 2 and more recently Neverwinter Nights 2 which is still currently in production, though I'm no longer working on it. Other than these the games I'm most proud of are "Ricochet Extreme" and "Wik and the Fable of Souls". Because these two games are smaller I was able to have much more control of the final product in terms of the visuals. They turned out almost exactly the way I wanted them to.
When did you discover ZBrush?
Man, let me think.... I think It was version 1.5. I loved it instantly, though I had a hard time figuring out how to make it useful. I couldn't use it for characters because of the large amounts of polys rigging would be impossible but I did find uses for some of the environmental pieces in our games. Particularly wall textures. ZBrush is great for pulling grout between bricks and generally beating up surfaces... great for stone.
How has ZBrush impacted your work?
Well I would have to say it changed everything for me! I've always loved modeling, but I hated the way it used to be done prior to ZBrush. I tended to lean towards doing concepts more than modeling because of this. Now that ZBrush 2 has come out I actually prefer to model than to paint.
You never went to art school for this work, what got you into it?
Well that's a good question.... I was always able to draw ok, but I never wanted to be an artist or at least what I perceived at the time as what an artist was. I painted motorcycle helmets for my friends and even did some tattoo's along the way but I didn't really care about any of it. Then I got a job at a company that did yellow page ads. This wasn't that great by itself but I met a guy there named Don Neudecker who introduced me to animation master and 3D in general.
It wasn't but a couple months later that by chance and a lot of zeal I got a job at a very small game company called Logicware. Funny, even though I was making art in video games I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was seriously contemplating becoming a construction diver or something... Imagine that! All of it changed when forced by a failing company I got a job at Interplay (Black Isle). It was at this time I found my inspiration. There were so many talented artists there. A couple guys in particular really set off this drive to do art in me... One of them was a guy named Justin Sweet, I would walk down the halls of Black Isle and gawk at all his concepts up on the wall. Truly inspiring! I was fortunate enough to get a few tips from him as well. The other guy that stands out was Scott Rodenhizer. An extremely talented sculptor, he is the one that taught me to model. These guys changed my perception of what an artist is.
Can you describe your general workflow from idea to final model?
Sure, but my work flow probably isn't any different than anyone else's... First I start off with a concept, from there I track down any necessary reference. After I get all that over with I model my low poly cage in 3dsmax. I try to keep this as simple as I can, I don't like fighting with the topology of the max model once I get it into ZBrush. Then once it's in ZBrush... I go to town! Just straight forward modeling (push pull smooth) Once the modeling is done I'll paint the textures in ZBrush as well (most of the time anyway). Then I either export the displacement maps to max or I export the full model. Depends on what I'm doing the model for. If I have to animate it I use displacement maps. If not, I just export the full model.
Tell us a bit about Reflexive Entertainment?
Reflexive is a company that was founded by some of my friends when I was working at Logicware headed by a good friend of mine Lars Brubaker. I was not asked to join their pioneering crew; they had a fantastic artist already named Chad Max (I learned a lot from this guy as well). I joined them a little later (after my Interplay experience). They started out trying to sell games online but quickly turned into a typical game developer. We did this for about 5 years then Lars and the other partners (by this time I was offered a good percentage of the company and became a partner myself) decided to do what we've always wanted to do and return to the online market and publish our own games. That is were we are now.
What projects are you working on now?
Well I just finished up doing contract work for Obsidian Entertainment on "Neverwinter Nights 2" So my concentration is 100% back on Reflexive and our games. Currently we are making an online game with an aquatic theme. This explains all the fish I've been posting on the ZBrush forum!
"At Reflexive we use ZBrush on just about
every piece of art in the game."
How have you integrated ZBrush into your workflow at Reflexive?
Reflexive is different than most companies. For example Obsidian uses ZBrush to create hi rez assets to extrapolate normal maps. Reflexive uses pre-rendered graphics. Ironically in terms of the creation of art, it is exactly the same for the artist. My process does not change at all when I'm creating something for Next-Gen consoles or for pre-rendered graphics. The difference comes after the art is made. At Reflexive we use ZBrush on just about every piece of art in the game. Whether it is a character or environmental pieces...or even an icon. If it can benefit from ZBrush then we use it! It's so easy that it's a shame not to. If a piece of rock looks even the slightest bit better with a little bit of ZBrushing then we do it!
What advice can you give to people looking to integrate ZBrush into a Games Pipeline?
Don't be scared... it'll be ok :)