Juras Rodionovas / Interview

Hello! My name is Juras Rodionovas and I am currently working at Avalanche Studios as a junior character artist in Stockholm, Sweden. During my time at Avalanche until now, I have worked on the recently released title Rage 2, it’s first DLC - Rise Of The Ghosts. Currently, I am part of the Generation Zero project team. 

My approach to personal projects comes down to creating a certain kind of experience for the viewer. I portray that by telling a story through the character - whether it is the shape language, forms, the flow of the design, expression, lighting, materials, etc.

I enjoy doing work that is more on the realistic side of the spectrum, so solid material definition is fundamentally important to me. It can really sell the believability of a character and all the elements of it. I always like taking my main personal work through the stage of texturing and presenting it in a real-time rendering environment.

I rarely present sculpts on their own in my portfolio, simply because I enjoy that part of the process so much. When I think of texturing now, I don’t think about it as separate textures that do their own thing, but rather as “material painting”, where all the texture maps work together as one entity, and establish various material properties. This has made the texturing immensely more fun and enjoyable in the past few years, and I experience a lot of joy in bringing various shaders to their fullest potential - whether it is skin, hair, or cloth. 

A lot of effort goes into making a good specular and roughness map to extensively utilize the skin shader in Marmoset Toolbag 3, and achieve believable skin material.

Inspiration

If there is one thing that I always try to push in my work, it is craftsmanship, and that is why I am a big fan of artists like Adam Skutt, Maria Panfilova, Glauco Longhi, Ian Spriggs, Magdalena Dadela and Rafael Grassetti to name a few. Some of them push their craft not only digitally, but also through various traditional mediums. It is very inspirational to me. 

I think it is important not to get bogged down into the technicalities that can come with the high standard of quality that is required today in the Game and VFX industries. Every so often it’s good to take a step back, and remember that we are artists at the core. The fundamentals of art are the pillars of fine quality work that stand out and create various experiences for the consumers of our entertainment.

 It’s very fun to see how well Texturing XYZ maps can work even on portraits that aren’t 100% human. It’s all about how you utilize your artistic skills to apply various modern techniques and resources.

In my eyes, constantly striving to push yourself and remain growing is part of being an artist. So individuals that have been in the industry for a very long period who still find the time to do that and continue to be raising the bar in some of the recent and upcoming titles (such as God Of War and Last Of Us Part 2 for example) keep reminding me to consistently keep looking over the horizon, and to continue learning new things and techniques. Especially since technology and software are developing at such a fast rate. 

I also get very inspired by those who are great mentors and can push people in the right direction by constantly encouraging them and offering fantastic feedback.

Before getting into the industry, I had met Michel Strömbeck who at the time was a lead character artist at Starbreeze Studios. Michel came to be not only a good friend of mine but also was a great mentor. His positive encouragement and attitude inspired me to keep pushing my skills, and to this day, I still regularly ask him for feedback when working on personal projects. He also influenced me to always keep a positive attitude, share knowledge with others, and personally - set an example of how to provide feedback and mentor others. Michel is a person who has inspired me a lot, and who I always look up to.

My typical day and challenges

My day at work comes down to working closely with the team, where we cooperate towards a certain goal or milestone. I get to produce various types of character assets, and most of the time, implement them in the engine as well. It is quite a big contrast to working at home because that is when I get into my own personal zone. It’s where I focus solely on my own project and don’t have to worry about a deadline. This allows me to concentrate solely on improving various skills within character art. 

One of the more formidable challenges is having to balance professional and personal work, while also maintaining a healthy life outside of all the work. I tend to carry out projects at home that differ a lot from the work at the studio, which helps me keep being engaged throughout the project, even after already working 8 hours a day with character art.

It’s equally helpful when setting up specific goals and challenges for myself, and with the amount of resources coming out nowadays, including Texturing XYZ, it’s becoming easier to focus more on the artistic part of character art, and not waste too much time creating details that can take up a great deal of time when aiming for high-quality bar. I really like that because it provides me a lot more space to focus on skills that help improve my work on a vaster level.

Another challenge is that once you reach a certain level, it is natural that at some point, you hit walls where it’s more difficult to discover ways to improve your work. It can feel like you hit a plateau because it tends to come down to smaller things. At this stage, I try overcoming that by stepping outside my comfort zones. Creating projects of various subjects, asking others for feedback, focusing on weaknesses, and refining my pipeline for character creation. I try streamlining it as much as possible, and at the same time maintain a consistent level of quality. By achieving that, I can start shifting towards improving my character design skills, and areas that are not directly connected to producing production-ready art.

Texturing XYZ and how I incorporate it into my workflow

I can’t remember exactly when I discovered Texturing XYZ, but I picked up on it once I noticed that progressively more artists in the industry were using it. The detail in their projects certainly stood out from the rest and at that point, I really wanted to learn how to use maps from Texturing XYZ to my advantage, and incorporate it into my workflow. 

I believe that anatomy, good proportions, gesture, primary and secondary forms are some of the most critical aspects of solid character art. But when it comes to realism, details are what usually ties everything together and makes the properties of a material look believable. Having to sculpt and place details on a face that looks believable and matches various types of skin regions can take hours or even days. Having Texturing XYZ as an addition to my workflow has not only improved the quality of my skin, but significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to finalize a realistic portrait. The quality of the texture maps that Texturing XYZ provides is really impressive and is a fantastic resource for digital artists. 

For portraits, I typically use the multi-channel face pack that comes with displacement, albedo and utility maps. I try choosing a multi-channel face that matches my character’s age and has details that I think will complement the sculpt. To project the textures to the head, I utilize a slightly different version of the “killer workflow using XYZ and Zwrap”. Instead of using Zwrap, I use Wrap3 software. I really like this process because it is quick, very straightforward and makes it easy to match the features of the face when aligning the texture maps. 

Once I have a solid projection of the displacement on my sculpt and done a bit of cleanup, I don’t stop there. I incorporate a few other steps to make the details feel even more organic and integrated into my head. The way I like to look at Texturing XYZ displacement details is that it gives me a solid roadmap. It dictates how pores and wrinkles will sit on the various areas of skin on the face. With that roadmap in place, I can easily go in and start adding manual details, while enhancing some that come from the displacement channels.

For example, I might make some of the wrinkles and cavities deeper, inflate the details on the lips, or add features like moles, pimples, and bumps on a tertiary level. 

Another example would be using the standard Alpha 08 in Zbrush. I drag it out with very low intensity on areas that contain extra fat tissue and are less bony. This helps break up the secondary forms and give the face a nice organic feel.

Here is a high-level breakdown of my detailing thought process:

  • I divide my details into the following categories: tertiary, secondary, and micro.
  • Texturing XYZ displacement provides me secondary and micro, while giving me a solid base for tertiary detail. 
  • I enhance and add the tertiary level features myself, to break up the skin and give a more organic look.

 

  • I separate my manual details into different frequencies, which creates a hierarchy and areas of interest/rest on the face. That way the face is interesting to look at from various distances.

Apart from skin, Texturing XYZ provides some great fabric tileable maps as well. This helps to bring the big and minor details of the clothing together without needing overly high-resolution textures.

Conclusion

The game and VFX industries are growing at an exceedingly rapid rate, and I feel like it is very exciting to be part of one of them at this time. Just looking back 5 years ago, there was so much less insight into the industry, and resources for artists out there compared to what we have access to today. Resources like Texturing XYZ, have helped push the fidelity of digital characters, because of the quality and efficiency it provides for the artists. It makes me very eager to see what new software and resources will be coming out in the next 5 years. And I am definitely excited to see more from Texturing XYZ. 

With technology developing at a fast rate as well, I think it’s also very important to not neglect the artistic side of our industries. Therefore to stay relative, it will be important to have a strong artistic foundation and not get too attached to the technicalities and various software that exist today.

Special thanks

I want to thank my closest friends and colleagues who warm up the days and make me feel as I am part of a vast family in this industry. Being surrounded by positive and love giving people is one of the keys to success, and having so many great friends has really been fantastic so far in my journey within this career. 

Thank you Texturing XYZ, for giving me an opportunity to write this article and share some of my insight into this ever-growing community! And to all aspiring and professional artists - be nice, humble, and always eager to learn. 

Thanks! -Juras


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