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Meet Jacobus Buitendag

My name is Jacobus Buitendag and I took the Character Artist Bootcamp at GAI.  I was born and raised in South Africa.  Art has been a part of my life ever since I can remember and I always had the ability to draw relatively well.  But, as is the case with many Artists, I was led to believe that one simply cannot pursue a successful career and build what would be considered a respectable career from Art.  So, when my time came to choose a career, I opted to study Nature Conservation.  This, too, received negative responses from most relatives and friends as it, too, is not considered to be a respectable career in which one can experience true success and from which someone can build a sustainable career.

I finished University with a degree in Education and began a teaching career.  I taught a variety of subjects, including Natural Science, Geography, Tourism, Afrikaans, English and Bush Lore.  Education granted me a couple of opportunities; numerous things in Education are also linked to varying Art forms.  It also provided me an outlet for my strong love of poetry, music, prose and all forms of Art.

Still, there was a burning desire to follow my heart and work within the field of Nature Conservation.  I just needed to experience the freedom and beauty that Africa (not South Africa alone) has to offer.  So, in December of 2008, armed with only a backpack, guitar and about 500 rand (about $33USD), I hitchhiked through Namibia, eventually settling in the Caprivi strip and working for meals and boarding alone.

Time passed and eventually I qualified as a professional field guide.  It was also at this time that I met my future wife, a German born lady with the same love for nature conservation and adventure, and we started working as lodge management couple throughout Africa.  Eventually, the time came for our family to expand and my wife became pregnant.  As insane and absurd as this sounds in our modern day and age, it is a harsh reality that children and pets are not allowed on lodges.  That’s how we ended up where we are living today, Germany.

Moving to Germany posed a challenging question for me:  What the hell should I do here?  My teacher’s degree is not accepted and, the last time I checked, there weren’t too many elephants, lions, snakes or any form of wildlife roaming the streets of Europe, so my skills as a field guide were inapplicable.  I started exploring different careers within the Art industry and this, too, was met with intense negativity.  Once again, I put the idea on the shelf to gather some dust.

It was only after I underwent treatment for a disease that I reached the point of saying, “The HELL with it.  I am going to work and give everything and come what may, rain or snow, hell or high water, I WILL make it as an artist. Everything in my bones, in my body and mind, tells me that this is what I am meant to do. It is me against the world, but what is new?”  Above all, I couldn’t help but feel that I came full circle back to my roots.  I am as passionate about Art as I am about Nature Conservation.  So I explored numerous careers utilizing artistic skills, including comic book art, illustration, etc., until one day I stumbled across an advertisement for GAI on Instagram and decided to give it a go.

Experience At GAI

I had never even seen 3D software in action before the Bootcamp, so I personally found it to be fast-paced and intensive, while always valuing and emphasizing the highest quality of work as well as the development in the careers of future Artists.  I found the mentorship superior; the honest feedback and classes were rewarding, as well as the support offered from other students attending the Bootcamp.  The social networking within GAI is well developed and there always seems to be a helping hand if you need to reach out.  And if all else failed, there was always Susan, whose friendly and quick responses to emails gave detailed information and feedback, ensuring that the highest standards are met.

There is a great appreciation for the work that goes into not only the production of video games, but into animation as a whole.  The Bootcamp really offered me a chance to completely understand the processes and inner workings of many aspects of the production pipeline.  It is awesome getting honest feedback and detailed descriptions of what exactly is required from Artists in the industry.  And then, there is the very resourceful video library which provides detailed material which can always point one in the right direction.

From Ryan, we learned: It is not magic, it is Process.
Process and bucket loads of hard work and putting in the hours.

The other day, I was scrolling down the Character Artist May Bootcamp page on Artist Awake and looking through the posts from all students, myself included, from the beginning of the Bootcamp up until the end.  The progress made is remarkable.  One can honestly visibly see the improvement in the work of every student as the weeks went on.


Project: Zoran Lazarević

Originally, I was planning on doing a comic book character.  I also considered doing one of the characters that I created.  But I was asked to choose a video game character by a company I would like to work for.  So I got onto the Internet and searched for Uncharted characters.

The first thing that drew my attention to Zoran Lazarevic is simple: He is the VILLAIN.  I love drawing villains and antiheroes.  It’s not boring.  A hero or a protagonist in a story always has a series of “rules” to adhere to and are expected to look and behave a certain way.  With villains, one has so much more freedom exploring how to emphasize how “EVIL” the character really is.  This just really opens the doors to creativity.

I saw the images of Zoran.  Everything about the character spoke VILLAIN, and I was sold.  One of the first things I noticed was the scarring on his face and my immediate thought was: “That is going to be a challenge to do… Bring it on!”  After deciding on the character, I spent a lot of time studying his bio watching clips from Uncharted 2.  I bought the game in order to better understand the character.  (The dude is a complete psychopath!!)

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Mastery is not magic. It’s process.

Evolution #1: High Res

I spent a lot of time on the head and face.  Apart from the weaponry and clothing, there wasn’t a great deal of opportunity to showcase my abilities.  I also love anatomy and faces.  A face is the first thing that draws the attention of the viewer and I knew I had to nail the face.  An incredible amount of time went into sculpting the scars and molding the face into something I believed would do the character justice.

With regards to the rest of the character, I spent quite a bit of time modelling out all the other details: all of the pieces, shotgun and props were modelled out.  My thought was, “Even if people don’t see this now, the day might come when you need a model of a shotgun and then I will have one already modelled out, high and low res.  Just do it.”

Clothing was done in Marvelous Designer, which I do not find particularly hard, thought it can test one’s patience.  The strings holding his vest together were done using Bezier curves in Blender.  The Shotgun Pouch was also done in Marvelous Designer and with a lot of luck; I had to lay out the material around the shotgun, hit the Simulate button and freeze the simulation as soon as it wrapped around the shotgun and before it fell to the ground.  The boots were modeled in ZBrush.

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Evolution #2: Low Res

This stage was by far the hardest part for me.  I spent the past couple of months learning as much about all the different 3D softwares as I could.  I started with Blender and slowly moved on to others.  Given the ultimate power and advantage each program has, I worked hard to learn as much as I could all at once.

I was least comfortable with the workflow in Maya, so I explored possibilities doing retopology in Blender.  Acquiring RetopoFlow, proved extremely useful, to a point.  The clothing and folds that I created with Marvelous were extremely hard to do.  With all honesty, I was grateful when the low res process was done.

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Evolution #3: UV + Baking

This part was pretty straightforward.  Unwrap all the different parts, pack them on maps, get it all into Marmoset and bake out the maps.  We had a session with Mario Stabile that helped a lot.  He took us through the entire baking process in Marmoset and really took the time to explain how to set it up for good bakes.  There are some that I did numerous re-bakes on.  Especially the head of Zoran, as it was important for me to pick up the pores, scars and facial features on the normal map.  So I would revisit the high res, do some sculpting, improve here and there, take it to Marmoset and re-bake it again.  Until I had a result I was satisfied with.

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Evolution #4: Texturing

Texturing was done in Substance Painter.  Not having a background in 3D was no handicap for me at this stage.  The year and a half I had spent trying to find my way as an Artist meant I had studied a lot of methods and techniques on digital drawing and painting.  In so doing, I had gotten to know Photoshop quite well and, more specifically, the importance of masking techniques in Photoshop.  I personally feel that having a clear understanding of how important layers, layer management and selective masking works gave me an understanding on how to set up texturing within Substance Painter.  An extreme difficulty in the process was only the difference of how every texture reads in Substance as opposed to Marmoset where final rendering is done.  I spent a lot of time jumping between Substance and Marmoset, trying to get the best possible result.

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Evolution #5: Engine Setup

I should re-phrase: Retopology isn’t my real nemesis.  Lighting is.

I don’t know why.  When I am drawing, painting or, in this case, working with 3D, I find it challenging to set up lights in order to create the correct mood.  Setting up lights isn’t hard, but setting it up in a way to communicate information correctly to the audience is quite a challenge.  During this process, I studied a lot on YouTube, followed Ryan’s lessons and just kept trying until I got a setup that I felt worked best.  I still have the file and will surely revisit the setup in the future as my skills grow.  The goal is to continue to improve.

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Put in the hours.  Set clear goals for yourself and give it all you’ve got!  You might only have one shot to make it work.

When I look at the Bootcamp, I wonder, “Are you going to look back on this Bootcamp 5 or 10 or 20 years from now and say, “Yeah, it was fun, but I could have done more…”?  Or are you going to look back and say, “I gave it everything!”?

This is simply how I do things; I am all in.  I am just an extremely passionate person.  I think all Artists are.

Having a half-ass attitude isn’t going to help you succeed in your goals.  In my opinion, this Bootcamp is structured to develop well-prepared Artists.  Whatever personal goals you set for yourself, make sure that you do everything in your power to reach them.

So… Once again, give it everything you’ve got.


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