Gareth Jensen - Texture Supervisor / Interview

Rogue One - Princess Leia - ILM

My name is Gareth Jensen and I am a professional Artist who is lucky enough to have worked on many high-end visual effects projects over the past couple of decades. My work history includes Weta Workshop, Weta Digital, Double Negative, and most recently as a Texture Supervisor at ILM in San Francisco. Other fun facts, I met my wife Alison working on Avatar and I appeared in Lord of the Rings, geektastic!



It has been a fantastic time to work as a Texture Artist, the tools and resources at our disposal just keep getting better. For example, when I was at Weta Digital and Mari was in early development we had no layers! We had to paint our maps and commit to them for that version, which was both awful and remarkably educational.

We were also working closely with the Mari Dev team and as we would constantly push them for new features it wasn’t uncommon for projects to become totally corrupted with updates. I believe we all became better and definitely faster artists for it. “It’s always faster the second time” we’d say.


"It was also clear that being able to handle very high-resolution texture maps was imperative for reaching the next level of realism."

Ironman Mark 85 Avengers Endgame - ILM

I do believe that as far as 3D art goes, a huge part of the advancements in quality is related to artists understanding qualities of a surface at a micro geometric level. This is something we have focused on at the big VFX houses for years. But now with high-quality scan data availability including TexturingXYZ and software like Substance Designer the days of highpass filtered bump maps are thankfully behind all of us.

"We can create surfaces that will receive light as they would in nature."

As far as my methodology goes for painting a character for the film goes, I find that you definitely need to be fluid and adaptable. The builds for these characters are a huge team effort and the better you can communicate, negotiate, understand, and compromise with your teammates the better the results will be. Nearly every project I’ve worked on has been trying to push a new technique or technology, so there may be times when you have to adapt the methods you usually rely upon to fit the briefing.

Your VFX or CG supervisor might want to use a different renderer or shading system. Or you might be working on a character that lives in the same world as something your Texture Lead painted and you might need to follow a recipe to a degree. Generally speaking, when I’m starting a character I take the time to establish a few things. I want to know any technical limitations of the project and any requirements of the other departments working on the character that I need to fulfill or be mindful of.

Avengers Endgame - Smarthulk - ILM

Then I start drilling into who this character is and how I plan to make them look and how they relate to the world around them. I may do a 2D paint over to show the VFX Supervisor or client to make sure we are all in tune, as often there are a few unanswered questions in the concept art. What maps and references do I already have available, what materials do I need to make that I will probably need later.

In VFX the model will usually come from another Artist, they have already spent their valuable time and effort tuning into the character and an important part of my job is to take the work they have done and make sure it reads in the final product. I will sometimes take several days or even a couple of weeks to organize a plan for a hero character before I even start texturing. I know this sounds insane with production schedules as they are, but experience has taught me that preparation will always pay off in the long run.

Warcraft from Hell Scream - ILM

I believe that all art is on some level technical and I’m not fond of when people try and make them sound like opposing forces, art vs technical. I’ve often heard texture artist’s describe themselves as “not very technical” and I think that is detrimental to artistic development and selling themselves short. I think that Artists have to be technical to execute the vision they have in their mind as much as I believe more “technical” people have to be creative to be the wizards they appear to be.

Especially in computer graphics where everything pretty much boils down to RGBA and points in space, never limit yourself by expecting that you can’t understand something a little more technical while also not being afraid to admit when you don’t. 

Rogue One - Star Destroyer - ILM

It is definitely important to keep developing your painting and sculpting skills and why would you not want too, it’s the most fun part of the job. I’m a huge fan of procedural texture generation and leverage it as much as possible, but at the end of the day I always end up hand painting some amount of my textures to get them to completion.

I spent the first few years of my career working at Weta Workshop in New Zealand, mostly in the paint shop with my brushes and an airbrush. Gasp! I still apply what I learned there today. Especially in an industry where you often have to come up with imagined creatures, characters, and objects you can’t always rely on scan data or procedural solutions.

"Absolutely leverage them, but you want to have the skills to complement them when you need to."

I think we can all agree that Texture XYZ has brought an incredible resource to both the professional industry and hobbyists alike. Providing very high quality and ever-growing library of scans in a standardized and consistent format has given Artists everywhere access and insight to the nature of surfaces. Not to mention the wealth of high-quality polarized photos! It wasn’t that long ago that this quality of data was remarkably restricted due to the share cost, I am incredibly happy to see this sea change. I have used a range on these maps both professionally and for personal projects in the past and I’m sure I will continue to do so!

Ironman Mark 85 Avengers Endgame - ILM

Lastly, I would say that no matter where you are in your career, take some time to live. There are definitely times when work can be all-consuming and I have seen a lot of crunch periods in my career. But when you can, take a step back and see the world. Go on a hike, travel if that's an option. See art, nature, technologies, and different cultures. The world is an infinitely inspiring place and we need to stay inspired.

You can follow Gareth on Artstation - Instagram

We would like to thank Gareth for his helpful contribution.
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