MEET GUSTAVO YAMIN
SENIOR DIGITAL ARTIST
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I grew up as one of those kids who dream of new worlds and fantastic things. It didn't take too long for me to realize that the crazy ideas we may come up in our heads can be visualized somehow - through writing, drawing, sculpting... you name it.
I used to build some intricate space station sets out of styrofoam to play with my GI-Joes and Playmobil - who I would turn into any other character I didn't have an action figure of. I would then come up with some pretty complicated plots for those characters, which I would take days to play through. Then my dad bought a VHS camera and I decided to do stop-motion tests with GI-Joes and plasticine characters I modeled over wire armatures. (Have you ever tried stop-motion with a VHS camera? Painful. There's no such thing as "frame by frame precision")
Later down the road, I went to university to do Graphic Design and bought my first computer in 1994. Also got a little exposure to SGI machines and Softimage 3D in 1995 through school. And all the university course couldn't teach me about CGI, I learned at home, with friends, and reading heaps of magazines and, later, web articles. (yes, I started learning CGI before there was widespread internet.) I took my 1995 winter break to work on a 30 sec. animation for a TV commercial I created. Locked myself into a room for a whole month with a Pentium 90mhz computer and 3D Studio 2.0 (DOS). The end result was good enough to lend me a job at a local video production company doing "flying logos" for the next couple of years.
Eventually got tired of the sameness and decided to try my luck in São Paulo, where I landed a job at Vetor Zero in 1999. Vetor was already a well-established company at the time and the top CGI studio in South America, and I saw it grow from the small team of 10 CG artists to a crew of 130 when I left - it was an amazing experience. The nine years I worked with them were pivotal. I learned a lot about production, CG technology, team work and project management.
Image Engine contacted me in 2007 at the right time when I was feeling the need to break out once again.
I moved to Vancouver two months later and have been here ever since.
Did you always know you wanted to be a digital artist?
I realized early on that I wanted to be an artist. Back in the early 80's, there was no notion of "digital art". (Apart from experimental stuff in universities and the early-days companies that were doing pioneering CG animation work) My parents were great in supporting an "artistically-inclined" kid with no guarantee that I wouldn't end up selling crazy LSD-inspired paintings on a sidewalk somewhere... heheh. I was already a huge sci-fi fan back then, so when I saw the first works from Pixar and Bob Abel in the mid-80's I was hooked! For me, CGI was the match made in heaven of computers and art. What more could a geeky kid like me want?!
After 15 years in the industry, what still gets you excited about your job?
It has been almost 16 years working professionally with CGI now... wow! (maybe I should stop making that public... hahah!) Looking back to those early years, I'd say I am still excited about the same thing that excited me back then: to create something new. And I would add also this evolving technology that gives me the ability to visually convey something out of mine, or someone else's imagination. All of us in this industry share a common passion for how movies can transport us into the realm of things imagined - and how the technology we have enables us to create images that can portray things that are pretty hard to describe - let alone shoot with a real camera or illustrate by hand.
You moved to Vancouver from Brazil; what inspired your decision to come to Canada, and how did you find the transition?
I had been to Vancouver back in 2005 to supervise the shooting of a commercial for a client we had in Mexico. I loved the city and the vibe then, but had no idea I'd be moving here a couple of years later! At the time, most people who would be trying to venture out to work on film would consider London, L.A., San Francisco, NYC, etc. as the destinations of choice. I knew Vancouver had a solid reputation for film production but not a lot of film VFX happening yet.
Image Engine was still working heavily on TV VFX then, and that helped me come into the fold at a time when my skills were the right fit for the job. I hadn't had the chance to venture into film work and they were also dipping their toes into it. Once again, I found myself in a team of roughly 15 digital artists in a company bound to grow a lot. In less than 5 years, I've seen things change dramatically - not only for IE, but for Vancouver's VFX scene as well. This has been a challenging and tremendously encouraging ride!
You've been at Image Engine for several years now - what does your role currently entail?
I started as a "Senior Generalist" with the old TV Team. Once film work started we all transitioned to roles that fit the tasks we were more regularly involved with for the TV work. For "The Hulk" and "District 9", I was mostly involved in Lighting, and had the chance to work with Modeling, LookDev, Concept Design and Texturing after that.
Today, I am officially a "Senior Digital Artist", and engaged in the 3D aspects of production. I have been trying to focus my efforts on tasks more related to asset development - specially texturing and look-dev.
And I also keep a close attention on the R&D efforts that go on at IE because of my own passion and curiosity about CG technology, but I am not a programmer... art is still "my thing". So, after these 5 years
(as that title suggests), I am in some ways, still pretty much a generalist.
Which of your projects are you most proud of, and why?
As with a lot of us who have been in the company since the TV years, "District 9" was the coolest project I've worked on so far. It was my first full-on immersion into film. And not only we were realizing a pretty unique vision design-wise, but here was a movie with substance. Working with VFX doesn't always mean you get to "create" something. Most of the time, you (individually and as a team) are realizing someone else's vision. So, the movie as a whole becomes important to you because no matter how cool something may look on the screen, it "disappears" within a weak plot, shallow story and overall "underwhelming" theater experience. "District 9", for me, was a "full experience" - very challenging and exciting work for a budding team, and extremely rewarding as a movie-going experience.
What are your tools of choice?
As a generalist working with CGI for so many years, you end up touching a vast amount of tools... For the 3D work I do, I would point out Maya and ZBrush as primary items in my toolbox. I have been using Maya for 3D work since 1996, when Silicon Graphics formed Alias|Wavefront and released the first beta. Very hard to switch boats after so much history... But, after all these years, Maya is still here as the tool of choice for IE and so many studios out there. I also have great respect for ZBrush as a concept design and organic modeling tool. I've used it extensively and really like the people and company philosophy behind it. On the rendering side of things, I've gone through Maya Software, PRman, MentalRay, 3Delight and I am now investing some time in testing and learning Arnold from SolidAngle. I've also been recently picking-up Mari as IE has adopted it for texturing work. And there are my unavoidable graphic design tools like Photoshop, AfterEffects, CorelDRAW, Painter, etc.
What's the most unusual creative challenge you've ever had to face?
Wow... after almost 16 years it gets tough to remember specifics... I think the challenges you face working on TV commercials are very unique... film work tends to be a lot more "straightforward" because of the extensive approval process an idea has to go through before it can actually be put into production. Commercials have a more "direct" path, and a lot of freedom to experiment and test things out - even if they seem outrageous. I remember this commercial I had to work on where the client (an airline company) wanted to show shots of an airport where the "competition" airplanes were actually jumbo-sized pterodactyls. I c ouldn't say it was THE most unusual creative challenge I've ever had, but it was a serious amount of artistic and technical work to make that look good 8 years ago.
Do you have any interesting personal projects on the go?
I spend most of my time outside of work building good relationships with friends and doing non-CGI things. My current challenge is to systematically allocate "study time" to to sharpen my drawing, painting and sculpting skills, and to focus on some software tools I am interested in learning.
What currently inspires you?
Life inspires me. A lot. And, basically, anything that conveys an idea - abstract or not - with great visual success. I can't work without music either. My life has to have a soundtrack!
Your artistic skills are also called in for the all-important crew T-shirt designs, what is your personal favourite to date?
Ha! Yes, I get to flex the rusty "graphic design muscles" once in a while here at IE. Posters, banners, website graphics... The crew T-shirts happened somewhat "by accident" and have been great fun to work on ever since! I still have a special fondness for the "Siggraph 2011" shirt. I think it was quite successful design-wise and print-wise too (which is always a huge challenge when doing T-shirts).
What advice would you give to artists starting out in the industry?
- First of all, LOVE this. It is very hard to succeed on something you are not passionate about.
- Do not be afraid or lazy about learning. In this industry, it NEVER ends.
- Start from the start - don't be impatient and try to cut "professional corners". Building a career takes time, obviously.
- Cultivate an "artistic eye" - having the ability to critically screen things around you and specially your own work is HUGE.
- And this is key: learn to relate to people well
This industry's foundation is "team work", and you will spend more time with your team than with your own family. If you are not mature enough to relate to people with genuine care and respect for them, go see a counselor or choose another line of work.