Quixel’s Wiktor Ohman On Making Bigger And Better Things … FASTER!
Meet Wiktor Ohman
Wiktor Ohman is a 3D Artist & Art Lead at Quixel. You have seen his work in short films like “Rebirth” and “Azureus Rising”. If you haven’t seen them yet, you should definitely go look for them. Both of these short films represented some of the most cutting-edge technology and stunning visuals with brilliant storytelling in their respective times.
This conversation proved to be such a welcome reminder of the exciting times we live in.
Skilled artists like Wiktor Ohman can now crank out fully fledged game environments in as little as an hour!
Back when he started out, the games industry was focused on creating tileable textures and materials primarily in Photoshop. Seven years later, the tools look almost nothing like they did back then. Artists like Wiktor are always focused on creating bigger and better things, faster.
This is the ultimate dream of digital art. To put the ideas in our minds on the screen … at the speed of thought.
The Ultimate Dream Of Digital Art
We’re not quite there yet. But Wiktor explains how companies like Quixel are focused on getting us closer to this dream.
Quixel does this by taking the burden of tedious, repetitive work off the artists’ shoulders and letting them focus on the creative aspects of their job.
It’s important to look back and see how far we have come as an industry. We are already two decades past vertex modeling in this brave new world.
Scanned data is the slogan of modern asset development. And not everyone is happy about it, unfortunately.
Embracing The Change
There are some artists out there who feel their jobs and their skills would no longer be needed in this new world of photogrammetry and 3D scanning. It’s natural to have thoughts like this, I guess. But it’s not a very accurate outlook.
Whenever a new technology disrupts a set order and introduces a radically new way of doing things, a lot of people feel very uncomfortable before they are ready to adapt.
Factory workers were upset when the industrial revolution started making its presence felt.
Disney fired John Lassater when he first suggested using computers for making a movie.
Many 3D animators felt threatened when motion capture was introduced for the first time.
ZBrush made a lot of polygon modelers very uncomfortable in its early days.
There are many 3D artists who are still not comfortable with the node-based architecture in the CGI software.
And it’s ok. We just have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Most of these innovations that once made us so uncomfortable are now used everyday in our workflows and pipelines.
Industrial revolution gave way to the digital revolution. Disney tries to make the biggest computer-animated movie every year. Motion capture provides the base for nearly all animation today. Zbrush is now the most fundamental skill for anyone working in games or movies. And nodes pull the strings of all the software and game engines in our modern world.
But guess who pulls the strings of those nodes? You do! You, the artist!
Rise Of The Scanned Assets
And it is the same with scanned data. I see the same reservations and concerns about 3D scanning today that bothered animators when they first saw motion capture. They were terrified. They felt their hands were being cut off and their jobs were being snatched away by “The Computer”.
They hated “The CEO’s” and “The Management” for “selling their souls and their art for a few quick bucks”.
And yes, the business executives of creative companies do get excited about faster turn-arounds. But these creative companies today are mostly run by creatives themselves. Creative people with good business sense.
Quixel was founded by artists. Epic Games was founded by gamers and developers. Blur was founded by artists too. These companies are the happy marriages of art, technology, and business.
And that’s great news for you as an artist. The people running at the forefront of computer graphics are not greedy money-worshippers, but passionate artists like yourself. If something excites them, it will quite likely excite you too.
You just have to take a look at the videos Wiktor shared in this interview to see what I mean. The speed with which these beautiful environments come to life in front of your own two eyes is just breath-taking. If you’re anything like me, expect your eyes to well up with tears of joy.
I have seen a lot of my students focus most of their time and energy on creating assets. What I found quite interesting in Wiktor’s workflow was his focus on the assembly. And on building a library of assets that can be used over and over again. This, I think, is a brilliant recipe for creating successful environments at a speed that was unheard of until now.
WIth all the grunt work taken care of by the software, scans, and your own custom libraries … you can truly focus on storytelling. And that is you number-one job as an artist, isn’t it?!
But Wait, Isn’t That Cheating!?
No, it’s not cheating. It’s just smart work in service of the final product. In service of what really matters: the story!
Your job as an artist is not to create every pixel and every vertex by hand.
I once heard a friend say something like, “Renaissance artists used to make their own paints with eggs and what not. If digital art is cheating, then probably buying ready-made paints from the market is cheating, too.” A radical thought, perhaps. But something worth thinking about.
A few years ago, concept artists were having a very similar debate about using photo textures and references vs drawing everything from scratch.
I think it was Shaddy Safadi of One Pixel Brush who said, “If you’re starting a piece of concept art today by putting pencil on paper, you’re at least 15 years late.” Or something like that.
It’s all about greater speed, greater efficiency, and greater quality.
Wiktor is right when he says you can’t get all the tiny details right when modeling or texturing by hand. Scans give you that detail by default. It’s not very different from using references for your artwork.
You can think of scanned assets and textures as references on steroids. You take them as a very solid base to start from, and then use it to create something that is uniquely your own.
The difference in quality is of the same magnitude that you get when you draw, paint or sculpt from a reference for the first time.
And it’s a lot faster too!
The fruit of this approach is films like Rebirth, which was produced by … guess how many? THREE artists only! This is the power you now possess in your hands.
Except you don’t have to travel to Iceland and endure rains and storms to capture the assets like they did. Because Quixel has already undertaken those adventures for you. And they have made the results available to you with powerful tools like Megascans and Mixer.
Mixer enables you to create your own materials. You can create them from scratch, procedurally, from your own assets, or from Megascans library. It’s a beautiful example of how tools are increasingly focused on making life easier for artists. The small demo of Mixer in this video is a must watch!
The idea, according to Wiktor, is to focus on the fundamentals of art (lighting, color, composition, etc.) rather than spending your time figuring out what toilet leaks look like in the real world. It’s the fundamentals that really move the needle. And no computer, no software, no AI can ever take that from you. Terminator is not coming. Not in computer graphics, at least.
Lighting, Wiktor believes, is the absolutely fundamental key to creating great environment art.
Stick with the fundamentals, and embrace whatever new tools show up to help you create bigger, better, faster art.
Wiktor’s Advice To Beginning Artists:
So if you’re just starting out, you might (and should) already be feeling excited about the possibilities lying ahead. You can follow Wiktor’s advice to accelerate your path to your dream career:
- Focus on art fundamentals (especially lighting and composition)
- Learn as many tools as you can
- Network as much you can
- Work your bottom off
- Don’t end up on the street just because you want to work on games!
Immersion is the fastest way to acquire a new skill. Wiktor was so engrossed in his craft in his student years that he literally listened to Gnomon DVD’s as audiobooks as he drifted to sleep.
The hard work sure paid off! But there’s 20% of luck involved too, Wiktor says. He met the right people at the right time.
But then again … you tend to get luckier the harder you work and the more prepared you are.
Wiktor got in touch with the founders of Quixel when it was still a tiny startup. He stayed in touch with them, kept sharing his work, and eventually got hired a year later. The first employee at Quixel!
Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of networking. But make sure your networking is backed up by solid hard work.
No amount of networking would help you if you can’t deliver what you promise. So make sure you’re good.
And until you’re good enough for your dream job, you gotta keep your kitchen running. Don’t end up on the street just because you want to work on games!
There might be some tough choices along the way. Keep your passion alive. It is your burning desire to succeed. And it your passion that will take you all the way through.
There are many aspiring artists out there who do multiple day jobs and then work on their art for however long they can everyday.
The key is to work on it everyday. Doesn’t matter if you have an employer or client paying you for it. Do it for the love of it.
The Coolest Conclusion
Guess how we concluded the interview? With Wiktor critiquing a project of one of our students at Vertex School! So cool!
So check out this conversation of awesomeness with Wiktor Ohman. I am sure you’ll be overwhelmed with the value you’ll gain from his insights and advice.