Talks and Workshops
Continuing on with the talks, we start out now with a day of mostly workshops. I had signed up early enough for a medium workshop with Gio Nakpil, but I hadn't signed up for another workshop I was interested in, the Scott Eaton workshop. In the last minute a friend of mine who had already done online courses with Scott Eaton, gave me his spot for the morning workshop with him. So I managed to get in Scott's workshop for that day. Scott's reputation as an authority on the subject of anatomy for artists is pretty established. Many 2d and 3d artists know his name and several professionals of the industry have been through his online workshops. He's been around for some time and many AAA studios have booked him for workshops to upgrade their character artists and provide them a stronger knowledge of human anatomy.
From the moment I found out about Scott attending the event I made it a point to try to meet him and talk to him at some point. Between the workshop I attended with him at THU and the short time I was able to talk to him he convinced me that I really needed to take one of his online workshops. It is one thing to have anatomy books, study them on your own, draw and copy diagrams from them and even try to analyze and learn the names of important bone landmarks, muscle groups and the like. It is completely another to have human anatomy thoroughly explained and taught to you by an expert with artistic experience. Earlier that same year I had been working on the 37 figures set of Street Fighter miniatures. During that project I did my best to brush up on anatomy and dig deeper, I had all my books out, I bought scans from anatomy 360 and had an extensive photo ref collection from the pictorials by bodybuilding.com and yet I still felt uncomfortable and unsure of what I was doing through that project. At THU I had the opportunity to show Gio Nakpil the SF minis and he praised the compositions and the way I handled the FX on the figures, but Scott laid down the law, he gave me credit for the stuff I did right, but he let me have it for the stuff I was doing wrong.
Scott has complete authority and thorough knowledge over the subject of human anatomy. Seeing someone with that level of command and expertise in a subject so important, it's like a damn infinity stone that every artist who wants to do characters needs to have. I learned that from Scott's THU workshop and from talking to him. THU took place in September, and as soon as I got home and had some time to get back into my routine, I made sure I signed up for the Eaton workshops that were starting in October of that year. After going through that workshop and building a 3D écorché with all the origins and insertions as correctly as possible, I came out feeling much better about my knowledge of the human body. I'm still learning and grasping things like the forearms and back muscles, but the investment is more than worth it and highly recomendable.
After the workshop with Scott, there was a lunch break and later I headed over Gio Nakpil's Oculus medium workshop. To be honest I didn't like the VR sculpting process, I'm too comfortable with Zbrush and have become very fast and effective at getting the results I seek with it. Working in VR with medium for about half a day is not quite enough to get used to the tools and the experience was a bit frustrating for me at least. I don't know where the tech is standing at today, but one thing that can't be argued with is Gio's results with Medium and his enthusiasm for the tools and the tech. Gio is known for having sculpted the Hulk for the first Avengers movie and several other films he was involved with during his time at ILM. Outside of the oculus tech and medium tools, Gio's presentation had really great info that helps explain the secret sauce of his work. Gio is all about getting the primary forms of a sculpture in place, he has the right priorities and intuition about primary and secondary shapes. His ability to understand, break down and execute those aspects of a sculpture are at the core of why his work is so good. HIs human figures and creatures feel alive and believable, and it stems from the gesture that he brings to his work, combined with great execution on the shapes with priority on primary shapes that give a solid foundation to all the form that follows after.
After two workshops in a row I would have been to burned out to attend any other talks right after, but I think by the time I finished both workshops it was dinner time anyways. After dinner, just like every night before there was one more big key note or fireside chat, as they call them. This one was with Scott Ross and several people from his Digital Domain crew of those days. This is where lots of the war stories come out. Stories about Scott Ross and his working relationship with James Cameron, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Visual effects and all the computer graphics related industries are full of tales like the ones told here. You don't have to be crazy to work in many of these fields, but it seems to help... and if you ain't crazy, you might come out the other end of this a few cards short of a full deck, but in a good and interesting way... I think, or hope.
By day 6 most people are exhausted zombie versions of themselves in the morning, after several days with only a few hours of sleep. Still, it's a pricey event where you want to get your money's worth, and the FOMO is real. That morning we went to Ian Spriggs' talk, which was great. By now you can find online written and video interviews where he talks about his process and the thinking behind him... but my silly conspiracy theory about Ian is that he's just Rembrandt reincarnated in the UK, using 3D tools this time around... dumb jokes aside. He knows his stuff and like many great artists out there, he's cooking with water, as they say. He's just worked his ass off to get to where he is, he has developed an incredible eye for likeness, along with a mastery of the tools he needs and he just keeps tweaking until he gets the result he seeks. He studies the works of masters from previous eras and he brings the feeling that old portraits convey into his modern 3d portraits. He was great to talk to and very generous with his time and knowledge.
After Ian's talk we went to Gio Nakpil's talk on the value of personal work. Gio is an OG master of the modern CG art scene. He started out during the times when people were still using NURBS to model characters. He's someone who had a long and productive career at ILM, where he worked on amazing projects like Pirates of the Caribbean and early MCU films, but in his talk he showed many of his personal projects, including a book where he created dozens of alien creatures with personalities and jobs. At the time of that THU Gio was working at Medium, not sure if he's still there, but the pieces he showed in that presentation, works that he's done with Medium... damn. I mentioned this already in regards to his workshop, but it bears mentioning again. His knowledge of form and gesture are at the top of the list of most artists that know even a little bit about 3D character artists. He's an artist to keep an eye on in social media and whose work you've seen in movies and media before, even if you had no clue you did.
Later that day we went to Shannon Tindle's talk about Kubo and the Two Strings. In it he ties together several personal stories and anecdotes to explain to the audience how these seemingly unrelated stories influenced and inspired key story points for Kubo. I wouldn't re-tell the stories for fear of butchering and remembering details wrong, but the important take away from this talk was about how our experiences and the people we meet in life become important in telling epic stories. People that we meet in life and perhaps lose unexpectedly often teach us and inspire us much more than we ever expected them to. Having those inspiring people in our lives can often inspire characters or aspects of characters that inspire other people in the same way that those people inspired us. It was a great talk and Kubo is a beautiful movie, go watch it if you haven't.
The last talk we atended in the event was Kelly Port's talk about Thanos in Infinity War. The cool thing about THU's association with Scott Ross, was that he has pretty direct access to people who have worked or are working there on amazing projects. In this talk it was interesting to get a small idea of the scope of a project like Infinity War, in which basically every FX house in California, the UK, New Zealand, and parts of Europe were involved. All the big guns like DD, Weta, ILM, Framestore, etc. The other cool part of this talk was seeing the breakdowns of the shots that involved Josh Brolin as Thanos. The technology for performance capture takes a leap every now and then, and this Thanos performance seems to have been another one of those leaps. In the film and in the MCU, I think that Thanos is the closest we've come to a villainous character for the ages at the level of a Darth Vader and Heath Ledger's Joker. The colosal army of artists involved in creating that performance helped make that happen. We live in a time of a weird art renaissance that is digital, takes place in video games and film, and often involves massive collaboration of art and techology. We take a lot of it for granted because to us it's entertainment and much of it is throwaway, but in a few more decades we'll see which games and movies stood the test of time and became classics. Began the streaming wars have, and now with this pandemic, Hollywood is in a lot of trouble and will come out the other end looking pretty different. Interesting times we live in...
That's all for the talks of the 2018 edition. I enjoyed them thoroughly and would recommend them. To many people this seems like an expensive event, and it is, thing is... it's worth it. They book top notch speakers and they give you great access and opportunity to talk to them, pick their brain, or just enjoy a beer with them. Speaking of beer, I'll wrap it up later with the last part about the parties and meeting lots of great people, I'll keep that one short and simple. Cheers!