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Interview with Alex Roman,
"Since starting in the CG world – fifteen years ago now – I always dreamt about the day I could easily reproduce accurate, advanced materials and global illumination in a flexible, fast production environment, so that I could focus on what matters as an artist. My dream came true when I discovered V-Ray!"
You have always been connected to the art of visualization in one way or another. Would you tell us more about yourself?
A. I was born in 1979 in Alicante, Spain. After being trained in traditional painting at a few schools, I discovered the world called CG. After school, I moved to Madrid and began working for a visual effects company. That stint didn't last too long due to the lack of demand for visual effects in the Spanish market at the time.
It was then that I switched to the architectural visualization (VIZ) business. I worked for several companies before taking a sabbatical for a year to work on an “already built work” visualization series, which has now been stitched together into a short animated CG piece called “The Third” The Seventh.”
Despite my background, I've always been interested in film-making - both cinema and commercial advertisements — since I can remember. I now have several possibilities heading toward the live-action direction, and I think this may be my opportunity to experiment with actual shooting added to seamless CG environments. I think it will be a huge field for me to explore!
What is the driving force of your inspiration? How is your production organized?
A. I find inspiration in the aesthetics of the fine arts; specifically painting, but even something as varied as architecture. For technical reference, I find inspiration in still image photography for static renderings, and TV and film for animation. Production varies. Although I've worked alone so far, the production of “T & S” has been much more chaotic and relaxed than the "Silestone" project. With the TV commercial I had a customer and deadlines, so I had to follow organized production steps.
Are you working alone? Can you share something about your recent projects?
A. At the moment I’m still working and directing alone, but in the case of “Silestone,” I have had the invaluable assistance of a former colleague and good friend of mine, Juan Angel Martinez.
Right now I’m focusing my career in the direction of TV commercials and films. I will never fully leave my work with CG, but I find that I'm integrating real filming with CG elements more often. Building an entire CG world with a high level of photorealism for a single virtual piece can be draining!
Silestone - “Above Everything Else” is an impressive recreation of real things. Can you share the ideas behind that master piece and details about the project?
A. For this project there was no intermediary agency, only a direct client. As a result, I was lucky to be able to apply a high degree of creativity.
The goal was for me to present a few global concepts for the client to choose from. Once chosen, I began to develop the story-board.
My original intention was to shoot the whole commercial, but after reviewing the shooting-board, and being conscious of the deadlines and budget, I quickly realized that it would be impossible. I would have much more control over the slow motion elements by using a completely CG environment. I thought, “ok … V-Ray can give me the level of photorealism that I am looking for without a problem.” Most of the inspiration for this project came from professional photographers and TV commercials.
Let us go back in time and talk about that other amazing project of yours: The Third and the Seventh, which is a full CG animated piece that illustrates architecture art across a photograp hic point of view. We will be grateful if you tell us more about it.
A. Initially I didn’t intend to make the piece so long! In the beginning it was to be a simple show-reel of some jobs I've been collecting over time. Then I thought of giving it a narrative history, but I couldn't shape it. I think at the end it became a mixture with a character (the photographer and his camera) with no history. I see it as a journey through architectural elements from the closed to the open, and from darkness to light; told through the eyes of a photographer and nature (with lots of surrealist elements).
What was most complicated? Is there a difference in creating and rendering projects so different?
A. Technically, there was not much difference in these projects, except for the fact that in “Silestone,” there were many more animated elements. However, the pre-production and production were two completely different philosophies. With one, I had much more of a margin regarding the final product, while the other was much less flexible with limited delivery time.
How long did it take you for the whole 3D production in the projects? Did you make everything by yourself?
A. “T & S” had a very relaxed process, and I took several breaks, but in general terms it took around a year and a half from start to finish (including the production of SFX and music).
With “Silestone” I had to be faster and much more efficient. The entire production took two months and two weeks for the composition, post-production and music. Juan Angel Gracia was with me in production during several stages of the process: modeling, animation, etc. Two other old friends of mine were in charge of the music (ZipZap Music).
THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE
You have trusted V-Ray for the visualization of your creative projects for a long time. Why V-Ray?
A. Long before spending nearly ten years working in the visualization world, I used CG as a tool in other types of work, but after studying painting I became obsessed with light. I used to spend hours trying to simulate global illumination using very primitive tools . and it was a nightmare! Around the year 2000 rendering engines that integrated GI became popular and I began using them. After examining, testing, and working with several of those engines, I determined that V-Ray was by far my best option for VIZ environments. Surprisingly I gradually realized that it also fits well into other types of work!
Did you find it easy and satisfying to work with all of the V-Ray materials and lights in your scenes?
A. Of course. I've been working with V-Ray materials and lights for more than eight years. In addition, I think both sides (lights and materials) are very flexible and powerful. So far they have covered all of my needs.
Have you used any of the effects that the V-ray Physical Camera provides like the depth of field (DOF) effect or the motion blur? If yes, were you satisfied with the result?
A. Yes and no. I rarely use these camera effects for the final image because I think I have much more control and flexibility when I apply these types of effects in post-processing programs.
However, such effects implemented in the V-Ray Physical Camera are extremely accurate to emulate the real lenses. In my daily workflow I've always tried to replicate, in detail, all of the factors of a real camera.
I know in advance what depth of field will have a lens and how much blur there will be in a particular scene. It is invaluable.
Did you use render elements ? If so, how were they integrated into the pipeline? Were they useful and easy to use during the postproduction stage?
A. I try to keep this issue as simple as possible. Actually, I need passes like depth and speed to make motion blur and DOF effects in postproduction. Sometimes, when it's necessary, I also compose the parts related to the caustics and volumetric lights. The object ID is really useful in some cases where you need to refine this or that particular object, but I rarely completely disintegrate the final image in sub-elements such as direct light, GI, reflection, etc. ... to re-compose again.
The entire composition of elements is mounted in postproduction (AE), but I spend the most time color correcting.
Were you satisfied with the capabilities that V-Ray provided in terms of mat ching real footage and CG images?
A. In this sense, I have not had much experience yet because all of my work that has been officially released is based on full CG. But yes, I'm very satisfied with the internal tests I've done so far.
Did you take advantage of the V-Ray GI solutions? Did you find them useful while rendering your animations?
Of course! I couldn't imagine V-Ray without GI. The GI has always been a fundamental requirement for me. I couldn't imagine a high degree of photorealism without GI, so for me, it is one of the most important aspects of V-Ray - if not the most important! In addition, I have not seen a better relation of GI quality and speed.
Regarding animations, well, there was never any problem to animate fly-through cameras with static environments, but things began to get quite complicated when objects were also animated in the same space. Fortunately the new improvements implemented in V-Ray 2.0 successfully resolved these problems in a very high degree. I am very satisfied when I meet with this kind of plane; I no longer think, “Oh my gosh, another plane-nightmare!” It is one less thing I have to take care of because V-Ray takes care of it.
What types of shaders were used for the creat ion of the objects in your scenes? Did you take advantage of the capabilities of the V-Ray sub surface scatter materials?
A. About 90% of the time I use the default VRayMaterial, which is extremely flexible and has solved most of my problems. Other shaders are very useful depending on the situation in which I need them. The effects of sub-surface scatter are one of my favorites. V-Ray offers many possibilities here: the SSS effect integrated into the VRayMaterial, VRay2SidedMtl, and VRayFastSSS2. For example, in the "Silestone" TV commercial I used three shaders in many situations!
What were the main things you are concerned with when aiming at photorealistic images? Can you choose and point out one feature of V-Ray that contributed the most for the realism in your scenes?
A. Actually, I think it is a complement of all the elements: GI, shaders, lights, etc., but, it's true that the implementation of the AO algorithm in its VrayDirt form has completely changed my way of thinking and working. Now it's definitely faster to achieve better photorealism.
What other V-Ray features were useful for the working processes of Silestone and The Third and the Seventh?
A. It's hard to enumerate some features in particular, because the beauty and utility of this engine lies in all of its aspects as a whole; but of course, it would have been impossible without the help of VRayProxy.
Q. How do you evaluate V-Ray in terms of rendering speed?
A. It's very fast. Every day I see V-Ray as an extension of the real tools that you can actually use in reality (materials, lights, cameras, etc.) in the CG virtual world with great precision and convenience. This is mainly due to its speed.
Q. What would you recomm end add ing in future versions of V-Ray?
A. For a long time we (the user community) have been asking for lens effects which are already implemented in version 2.0! I think the combination between Vertex - Paint and VRayDirt produce great results, but they have separate workflows and can result in very complex materials. Maybe it would be possible to have an integrated interaction such as a combined shader (or material).
Q. Are you satisfied with the overall result and what knowledge do you find important to be shared to other 3D art ists who also use V-Ray?
A. I am very pleased overall and I see that the V-Ray evolution is headed in a good direction! With regard to the inspiration, I always recommend that the artist finds references outside of the CG community; there is too much obsession in using the work of other CG artists as a reference, and that ultimately creates copies of other copies, of other copies...
With regard to the technical aspects, I think the key point is to understand the functionality of V-Ray and the possibilities it brings. May people only base their learning curve in tutorials, and that is good, but they do not use as much of the official help (manual) which has tremendous value in being able to understand the true performance of the software!
Q. Do you plan to include V-Ray into the workflow on future projects?
A. No doubt!
Cross posted from Chaos Group/V-Ray News Letter