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Interview: November 2001
Name: Willi Hammes
Date of birth: 19th May 1979 in Germany
Current residence: Live in the UK
Current work: 3D artist at Eurocom Ltd.
Homepage: www.3dluvr.com/willi
You are currently working in the UK - are the job opportunities good for 3D-artists in the UK?
I guess so, I don't have a general overview about the situtation here yet, I don't have so many contacts in the different businesses here, but since two other friends already moved here as well I think the situtation is quite good. Maybe I'm wrong... but don't know... hehe :)

How about Germany - what is the job situation in Germany for a 3D-artist?
Bad if you ask me, mostly because there are not really many interesting projects. Nobody is investing money into 3d, more the "quick, crap & dirty" stuff. That's one of the reasons why I moved out of germany. A lot of good artists don't stay in germany, they all move on to work in USA, UK or Canada.

Tell us about your job at Eurocom Ltd.
I'm currently part of a team that is working on Eurocom's first orginal game for PS2. I'm responsable for building scenarios together with 5 other artists. That means developing these from the start to the end. Designing the basic structures, all the stuff to make it look nice, painting textures, modeling objects/main structure, put in lighting. I'm specialy responsable for testing stuff that is part of our engine or developing new features as well as techniques to get special tasks done. I'm also the "particleman" for all the effect stuff in the game, fire, smoke, dust and so on.

Did you work on Eurocom's latest release - Disney's Atlantis? If so, tell us what your task was in this game.
No, that was already finished when I started working there.

Why did you become a 3D-artist?
Mostly because I saw the graphics of The 7th Guest and wanted to do that as well. Also the stuff from Lucas Arts in X-Wing was a reason. I was already doing 2d animations on my Amiga at that time so it was more or less the next step. In the beginning it was just a hobby, I was not thinking about doing that for a living. Then I saw Terminator 2 and the stuff ILM did, I said "Mom & Dad I will be a 3D Artist and do that kinda stuff." And since then I never changed my mind. Funny that it actually worked.

When did you create your first 3D CG image and what software did you use?
That was around 1991, it was a pic quite similar to my "Up Stairs" image, showing stairs going up to a half open door and lights on the walls. I used a realy crap software called Raytrace, I found it in a PC shop and it was only 45DM so I gave it a try.

The animations (Bad Weather, Ocean, Desert, Flood) one can find on your web site, are they parts of bigger animations? Or are they made just to test different techniques?
They are all tests. They are a selection of many tests that actually turned out to be interesting enough to make something more with and show them on the site.

How long did it take to create the water in the Bad Weather animation and what was the hardest part to do?
The realistic look of the water surface itself was the hardest part. More or less it was another test I did on a Monday morning. I was trying to produce realistic water with procedurals, after spending about half a day with it trying to get something realistic I deleted it all and started again from 0. This time I used some footage of a ocean sureface that I made tileable. It worked out much better then the procedurals and was 20 times faster during rendering. So I mixed it a bit with some parts of my prodedural shader and after another 4 hours I got a quite nice looking ocean surface. In the first tests I used RealWave for doing the wave generation, later on for the Bad Weather animation I produced it with waves, noises and displacements in max, since I wanted fast feedback on changes and didn't wanted to go back into RealWave and calculate it all again.

Materials in your stills/animations look very good - how do you create materials/maps?
With the help of photos, procedural maps and painting in Photoshop. The rest is just experimenting, tweaking and keeping the overview of what you are actually doing/want and where you use all the different maps in the material.

Your works look very realistic. Do you try different techniques and see what is best or do you usually get these great results the first time?
I mostly start with developing it while working on it, so it's a moving process all the time. Sure there are some situations where you just kick everything into the bin if you can't get the result you were looking for and run into a dead end. One out of five times I need to start from 0 and think about another technique. I'm always trying to make it better and faster when I redo techniques for a new project.

What are the most important parts of a scene to make it look realistic (lighting, texturing, modeling etc.)?
Lighting and texturing. You can use quite a lowpoly model to make a realistic looking scene as long as the textures and the lighting are top. I spend most time on texturing stuff and setting up lighting. But another important part is compositing, adding, fixing stuff that is too hard to do in 3d.

Do you always try to make your stills/animations look as realistic as possible?
Most of the time, but I'm also trying to give them a nice painted look... like a drawing. It doesn't need to be realistic... it just needs to look cool and be interesting for the viewer. A completely realistic image or animation would be boring.

Where do you get ideas and inspiration for new scenes?
Music, movies, stuff you see in your everyday life on the street, by talking to people about ideas, looking through comics, playing games...and so on. Lot of resources for inspiration.

How is your procedure when you start a new project (from start to finish)? How do you analyze the scene you are about to create and what methods do you use?
I spend a lot of time in the beginning thinking about what I actually wanna do. Getting stuff together, resources... , making sketches. Then I start doing tests for the different stuff I wanna do... since I always try to do something new or difficult to make it more interesting. That takes a few days. As soon as I'm done with that I start modeling all the stuff. During modeling I already start lighting and texturing parts of it. In the end I put everything together and set up the animation and maybe split the stuff into different layers if it is needed, tweak mappings lighting and then render all of it at once. Last thing is compositing it all together to get the final result, I already do precomposites during tweaking or even modeling just to see what kind of final image or animation I actually want in terms of color style and stuff.

Are sketches, drawings etc. important when you start a new scene?
Of course, I would never start something without doing them in the beginning. They save a lot of time later on when you start modeling and stuff, since you already know that you wanna do. Never start with a blank 3d space and no sketches, drawings or resource material... you will get lost and waste a lot of time. Think about what you wanna do.

What is your favorite modeling method and why?
Boxmodeling, it's just bloody simple and powerful, especially when using meshtools. You have a nice low res mesh you can use for animating and then just meshsmooth it to death on rendering. Besides that, it's much faster in the viewport to work with Boxmodeling reather then SurfaceTools, they slow down quite a lot with complex structures.

What software do you usually use besides 3ds max to create an image or an animation?
Photoshop for painting textures, Combustion for compositing and Premiere for cutting all the stuff together.

What is the hardest part in a 3D production?
Organisation, keeping the overview about the project and its parts. Splitting the different tasks between the artists, putting it all back together and all the time being friendly when talking with the moaning clients.

What is the easiest part in a 3D production?
Rendering and missing deadlines ;)

What is 3ds max's weakest point?
I don't see an especialy weak point in max, more a lot of small weak points. Since it's got actually everything, not that everything is good or perfect but the over all thing is quite good. But nevertheless there are some points, for example max has got a schematic view but it is virtually useless. If the material editor was schematic based it would be miles better. Similarly with the particle system which is a pain in it's current form. If all the small stuff get's fixed it will be the perfect 3d app for me.

What is 3ds max's strongest point?
The features you get for your money and the good resources of free scripts and plugins on the net. As well as all the commercial plugins you can get if you need something special. That's for sure max's strongest point.

Can you recommend a book about 3D photorealism?
Uhm... no :) Never bought any... so I don't know.

What is your greatest goal as a 3D-artist - to start up your own CG studio? Be a member of a crew who create movies like Shrek? Join ILM? Etc.
Guess my own CG Studio, working on cool projects, is the main goal. But also working at ILM for at least one project just to see what it is like, not a dream actually.


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