Interview with Visual Development Artist Landis Fields
Landis Fields is a Visual Development and 3D Concept Artist working in the visual effects, feature animation, television, film, and video game industry. Landis has been involved in many different phases and aspects of production within the many tiers of visual entertainment and interactive media.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a Visual Development Artist in the Visual Effects, Feature Animation, Television, Film, and Video Game industry. I’ve been lucky enough to work on everything from Star Wars to Transformers to Nike Commercials to Google Commercials and even SuperBowl commercials. I love the entire film making process. At the end of the day I just like creating stuff for people to look at.
What is Visual Development?
High Speed 3D Concept Art and Pre-Viz all rolled into one with an insane amount of creative control. Visual Development Artists work very close to the director/production designer/client to define the look of a project. Sometimes this work is also used to get the project “green lit” (funded). As a Visual Development Artist it is not only assumed that the work will look great but it is expected that it will be done by the end of the day. If it doesn’t make the deadline it doesn’t make the pitch/presentation regardless of how good it looks.
How did you get into Visual Development/3D Concept Art?
I’ve always loved to draw since I can remember. My wife got me into 3D while I was serving as an F16 Avionics Specialist in the United States Air Force. I finished my enlistment and we moved out to San Francisco to chase the dream. Since then I have specialized in multiple phases of production throughout my career which eventually led to me becoming a Generalist. At one point I started to use what I learned from the various disciplines to quickly construct an image/animation for the director, production designer and/or client so they could see something fast without having to send it through the pipeline. While this role is not advertised, nearly every studio has a special team of artists called Visual Developers. To be completely honest, I’ve always admired concept artists and their ability to visually tell a story using just one frame. While I love all aspects of 3D I’ve always liked using it as a tool to make stuff that people can enjoy without any explanations which is what I think Concept Art and Visual Development is all about.
How does Visual Development or 3D Concept Art differ from traditional Concept Art?
While there is some paint-over work, the bulk of a Visual Development design is in 3D, but at a fraction of the time (cost) of running it through various departments. More importantly, a single VisDev design file can contain information that benefits every phase of the pipeline so it’s a huge commodity to other departments (Modeling, Surfacing, FX, Animation, Rigging, Lighting, etc.). Also, 3D Concept Art in general can be packaged up as a digital maquette for rapid prototyping (3D Printing) to show the Director, Production Designer, and/or Client exactly what the design looks like. There’s nothing like being able to hold an idea in your hand a day after it has been designed. Studios and Clients rely heavily on Visual Development because it exposes 3 dimensional issues that a flat design typically hides. If design issues go unresolved in the art department that just adds cost and eats resources later on. For me it’s not a matter of 3D being better than 2D, it’s very different and a team working together to churn out both is lethal. The companies/studios that haven’t adopted this setup are falling behind and are currently scrambling to assemble teams in order to compete.
What are some of the negative aspects of Visual Development and 3D Concept Art in general?
Many artists are against the use of 3D in concept design. To me that’s like saying I prefer a hammer over a screwdriver. They are tools used to contribute towards a common goal and there is a need for both. As for Visual Development, the biggest thing that I see new VisDev Artists struggling with is the speed requirements and how secretive this phase is overall. It’s difficult for some artists to get over the fact that their VisDev work might not get seen because the projects get canceled or are still in limbo financially. This can be tough because as an artist our work is our resume. It’s what I call a “ghost income” because basically you are making money but you can’t show the work to get MORE work. Most of the stuff I’m showing here is personal work for that reason. Also, with excessive creative control comes rapid exploration. As with all forms of Concept Art you are defining the look of the film, game, etc. so it’s not uncommon to churn out 20 versions of the same robot under an insane time crunch. It’s definitely not for everyone but if you truly love what you do it’s as good as it gets in my opinion. The floor is open and you are getting paid for your mind and ideas as opposed to just executing other people’s ideas if that makes any sense. I have had many designs actually influence the script/story whereas it’s typically the other way around.
Do you have any tutorials or time-lapse videos showing your Visual Development process?
Yes! I just finished my long awaited High Speed 3D Concept Art training video that explains my Visual Development workflow in detail (www.cgcircuit.com/widowmaker).
What are some of the topics you cover in your High Speed 3D Concept Art video?
In short, I expose a workflow that is used by Visual Development Artists to get the job done as fast as possible. I show you how to design a photo-real Sci-Fi weapon from scratch in less than a day using 3D. It’s not a 3D modeling video or a traditional concept course. Instead it is a lesson showing you how to crank out photo-real artwork using High Speed 3D techniques. Clients and Studios demand results from VisDev artists within 5-10 hours after being briefed and I show you how to make them happy. I think artists are thought of as day dreaming free spirits but instead we are actually pretty technical just in a different way. I tried to address that and other topics that are often left out of design courses. For example, I even talk about augmenting/“hot-rodding” your computer hardware specifically for art and how to setup your own VisDev design management pipeline. There are plenty of free videos out there that show you how to make pretty pictures, my lesson is more about cranking out killer designs fast and presenting it to the client in a way that they come back to give you more work.
You seem to really enjoy teaching.
I care deeply about education. I think it’s important to share knowledge with the rest of the community. I’ve had the opportunity to train others through numerous books, magazines, and as an international CG Instructor for the LucasFilm Jedi Master Program. Lately I’ve been helping my wife with a Concept Art Book/App that’s proceeds go towards a scholarship program at Art Reactor (www.theartreactor.com) for Middle and High School students. We are really excited and will release more details soon for those who would like to contribute some artwork.
What hardware and software do you use?
It varies depending on the job. In terms of hardware I use a tablet PC that I customized for art, a Cintique, a standard Wacom tablet, and a Canon 7D for texture/lighting reference. A couple artist buddies and I also built a MakerGear 3D Printer that I used to print the 3D alien in the sculpture photo. We are releasing a free video in the next few weeks to show other artists how to build a 3D Printer themselves at home. Sometimes I use a NextEngine 3D Scanner for acquiring certain assets to get me started (if it’s a Nike shoe prototype, etc.). Most of the time I’m starting the design from scratch so for my 3D concept model work I will use Sketchbook/Maya/Mudbox. I hate to sound like an Autodesk commercial but they really listen to their users. In fact, for several products they’ve created a “Small Annoying Things to Fix” site (Maya’s is http://mayafeedback.autodesk.com/forums/160518).This lets people suggest small tweaks that would make a big difference if fixed, and even vote on them so they can be ranked by the community. For rendering my designs I use Luxion Keyshot. Conventional rendering packages like Vray and MentalRay are simply too slow for this type of development. I’m not talking about performance as much as the process in general. Right now the hot feature for render engines is progressive-refinement (real-time) rendering which most of them have these days, however, the workflow for traditional render packages is too cumbersome for cranking out concept art but I’m sure that will change. Keyshot is a Concept Artist/Designers dream. It makes me feel like I’m inside of a futuristic paint booth. I can quickly drag carbon fiber materials directly onto the design and see exactly what that component will look like in the real world instantly. It’s ridiculously easy to use which allows me to focus on what matters most, the final product. I know I keep beating a dead horse with speed, but when you have to deliver a fresh new design in a few hours the time spent turning render knobs could be used to generate more designs.
How has the current state of the economy impacted you and this new role if at all?
Generally speaking it’s definitely more competitive now than ever, at least since I’ve been in the industry. The work from the community has really improved across the board. The market is flooded with talent and work is going (and has already gone) overseas. A number of studios have shut down and people are relocating to places all over the world to get work. I can’t speak for 2D concept, however, on the 3D side of things it’s still a young industry but its maturing fast for sure. I can definitely see the line blurring between 3D Concept Art and Pre-Viz which is a good thing not only for the front end but for Studio funding and the entertainment industry as a whole
Thanks for your time, any last thoughts?
Thank you very much for the opportunity to spread awareness about this exciting new Visual Development role and how it’s impacting Concept Art as well as our industry. My friends and I love your site and visit it often for inspiration so keep it coming!
All images used with permission by the artist. © Landis Fields or their respective copyright holder.