How did you get the detail out of ZBrush and back into your rendering engine?
For the Dragon we only extracted a small number of maps from ZBrush. We actually used is to preview the look of the scales in a fast way, with most of our scale maps then getting done in our 2D and 3D paint programs. I think we generated the maps from ZBrush with pretty standard export settings; nothing too fancy.
One thing that was quite difficult was making sure that the renderer did not filter the displacement too much, so that when the Dragon was far away from the camera you could still see the scales. We managed this partly by taking the displacement maps and using them as other controllers (kind of similar to how ZBrush builds its cavity shading algorithm).
Voyage of the Dawn Treader also used ZBrush for the ship. Since ZBrush is usually thought of as an organic modeler, what led you to do this?
Well there are organic parts of that ship that needed ZBrush sculpts to get the detail in the model. Other than that we used ZBrush to visualize what our displacement maps looked like before sending them to PRman. Being able to see textures in the viewport as displacement is already much faster than software rendering, even if the texture map did not get painted in ZBrush to begin with. For example, the hull and deck were all made from wood which needed some surface detail. You wouldn't want to paint all that with ZBrush as you would be doing it forever, so through some clever filtering and layering we process the textures into bump and displacement to get that wood look - again occasionally bringing the results into ZBrush to check how things work before sending it out to the renderer.
How many artists worked on this production for you, and how long did the work take?
I think it was around 15 but since my department works on more than one show it means we are able to delegate resources for when and where they are needed. We always have dedicated leads that stay with the project throughout, though.
When you're looking for artists, what do you want to see in their demo reels and galleries?
One of the biggest draws for me is when they have a good grounding in traditional art skills. I think the way software like ZBrush has changed things is that it has made it easier for traditional artists to use CG. Historically the training has been centered around how to use a piece of software. Now it's more about how you train as an artist - the software is the easier part (mostly!).
Do you prefer candidates that show exceptional, but highly focused skills? Or people who show competence across a wide range, even though they may not really shine at one in particular?
We usually recruit for people with specific skills. Each department at MPC works that way, although there is more and more emphasis on having secondary skills these days. For example I often recruit artists that can both model and texture as the two go hand in hand. Sometimes I speak to people that are even more specialized. Many people want to just be character modelers which is a problem for us as we cannot always offer that kind of work.