Life as an artist: top tips with David Luong

Blizzard Entertainment senior cinematic artist David Luong talks about working in the industry, offering tips for newcomers and veterans alike...

Blizzard Entertainment senior cinematic artist David Luong talks about working in the industry, offering tips for newcomers and veterans alike...

Keeping it efficient

When a deadline approaches, I try to be as efficient as possible, without staying late for overtime. We've really clamped down on overtime here and I'm very grateful for that. So, being the best you can be in the 8 hours you have is crucial.

First, I check my email to see if there's anything I need to prioritize. Then I check my renders from last night to see if anything has broken, and then fix it and resubmit them if anything is wrong. While that's cooking, I do what's necessary on my shot, be it painting, compositing, or lighting while at the same time getting it ready to show for dailies. Once dailies is complete, I go back and work on it until it's ready again for 'nightlies', which is like dailies but of course for night time. I meet with the supervisor, art director, and director to see what went well or what needs fixing. I can defend myself in any creative judgement I made that they might not have thought of yet and if they like it, then it's in the shot. If not, then no hard feelings. Once nightlies is done, I go back again and finish off the night until the next day. I keep this up until the show is done!

Upgrading workstations and software

At work, I can't really upgrade things myself hardware- and software-wise. We have large projects that need things to be stable so we tend to keep the upgrades to a minimum. As long as it's worked before, it'll keep for a few years.

At home however, while I do freelance work and online teaching, I definitely need a strong workstation as well as continually learning new software to be able to keep up with what's coming out there, and to enrich myself for better techniques each day. Having bigger, faster disk space like using SSDs, more RAM for rendering/painting, and faster CPUs (or dual Xeons in my case) is what I seek in my workstation. Software tends to get really expensive with each upgrade, so I have some older ones to keep me going, except for Adobe software which I subscribe to the Creative Cloud and that's great.

Software staples

Software really allows you to be creative and make art. I really like software that's intuitive and doesn't take a whole army of technical support to get it going. I primarily use Photoshop for digital matte painting, After Effects for motion graphics work, NUKEX for compositing, and CINEMA 4D for 3D modeling/animation. All of these software really combine to work well with each other, and are fast but also very powerful industry standard pieces of software. NUKE's node-based compositing along with its strong 3D engine is just the best that's out there. CINEMA 4D isn't the most powerful, but is the most intuitive software out there as far as usability, and is also strong enough for my needs. As for Photoshop, it's basically the industry standard for painting and I'm an old veteran on it.

Get to know the plug-ins available

For CINEMA 4D, there is a huge plug-in community that create really great tools to speed up and enhance your workflow. I've been using GGreyscalegorilla's LightKit Pro, CityKit, HDRI Pro to enhance my 3D projects. LightKit has really nice light shaders and tools that give you instant realistic results just using the internal CINEMA 4D Advanced Renderer or Physical Renderer. With CityKit, you can create fast and complex cityscapes, which is what I used for my Monolith City digital matte painting in the d'Artiste: Matte Painting 3 book. Anyone wanting to speed up their workflow should check out their website.

Finding inspiration

Facebook has a huge number of really talented artists around the world, and that is my go-to source for seeing daily art inspiration. The commenting and like system on there is a really powerful way to share your work, and other people's work. I also frequent other CG websites such as for more daily dose of inspiration, as well as I'm seeing being a nice up and coming place for artists to post their work, and the new which is a great combination of LinkedIn but for artists of all kinds.

I also collect numerous art books from videogames, to big movies out every year. Soundtracks are also a passive way for me to work while enjoying an exotic world that would inspire my art at the same time. I usually do just instrumentalsynth classical type soundtracks.

Keep calm and positive

Keep as calm as you can, as things can go crazy really fast. I know I feed off the energy from others around me, so try to be around positive people and people who can handle the pressure, and it'll help you be strong as well. Be open and try to take in critiques, as they aren't really personal but it's a way to make you grow to be a better person and artist. Be as efficient as possible, and don't stay late if you can. Staying late and working harder, isn't always the better and smarter choice as an artist. In fact, you should be able to get most of your work done in the 8 hours. Manage your time correctly, or help others such as your supervisors/producers know your pace, as they aren't always aware of your speed/efficiency at certain tasks.

Do what makes you happy!

Follow your dreams! I usually tell a lot of people this who are in a funk and aren't satisfied with where they are now, or what they are doing. Sometimes you just have to do what you want to do, and not what others want. I think this is the best advice I give, because this is how I got to where I am today, despite many obstacles and people who have said I would never work out being in the art field. Do what you wish!

Related links

Head over to David's site to see more of his work
Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Characters book
Take a look at the eBooks on offer in our shop

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