Alexandra Magócsi: freelance CG artist interview

Hungarian CG artist Alexandra Magócsi talks in depth about transitioning from a fine arts background into digital, and the importance of separating client and personal work...

Hungarian CG artist Alexandra Magócsi talks in depth about transitioning from a fine arts background into digital, and the importance of separating client and personal work...

3dtotal: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
Alexandra Magócsi: I am a freelance 3D artist located in Lisbon, Portugal. Originally I am from Budapest, Hungary where I studied Fine Arts. During my Master Studies I got hooked on 3D and Special Effects and haven't looked back since. I took 3D courses next to my studies. After graduating I got my first job in a small indie games company in Lisbon. Soon after that experience I felt I was not ready yet and wanted to do something different to further improve my technical skills, so I enrolled on a VFX course at The Animation Workshop in Denmark. The school gave me a boost to get my stuff together and explore further opportunities.

3dt: Where did you find the inspiration for your latest gallery entry? What's the story behind its creation?
AM: Creating portraits in ZBrush is very popular right now; sculpting a game or cinematic character has been something I have wanted to do for some time. Digic Picture's Cinematic Characters for Assassin's Creed are absolutely stunning and high standard, something that I was always crawling towards achieving. When I saw the trailer for the upcoming Assassin's Creed movie I was very impressed and could not help but make my own version.

3dt: What software and plug-ins did you use to create this image? Did you face any difficulties, and how did you overcome them?
AM: I completed this project using ZBrush, Maya and Photoshop. For clothes simulation I used Marvelous Designer. It was still a work in progress, so before I jumped into texturing I decided to render a preview in ZBrush. I never used ZBrush for final renders before, but this time I wanted to take a closer look at how I could make a decent looking render and shader without jumping into another software, shrinking my polycount and optimizing the rendering time, with displacement and normal map processes, until I could see my model with the same amount of detail that was present in ZBrush.

Normally, that is the pipeline to get really nice looking renders, but I have seen so many guys getting great realistic results out of ZBrush that it triggered my curiosity about how it is done, so I started to experiment with it. The only difficulty I had with the rendering was that I needed to set up so many lights until I could achieve a nice Global Illumination feel. Also, to set a good looking custom shader was tricky, but when I decided to break down the material properties to different render layers I had the freedom to tweak it in Photoshop until it looked fine.

I am happy to finally get a closer look at rendering in ZBrush. Sometimes there is no time to bring everything through the pipeline, and you need to present your sculpt or concept at the early stage of production in a quick but still appealing way. It's good to know what you are able to pull off from what you have already.

3dt: What are your artistic ambitions?
AM: I am aiming to be a 3D generalist. I could never really specify only one field. I've always been equally interested in every aspects of the pipeline, and tried to learn everything from modeling to FX and animation. My key skills are still in modeling, look development and texturing due to my artistic background, and for now I am focusing on getting the best possible results with these skills which could land me a junior position at one of those VFX houses I am dreaming about working for. If that goal is achieved, then later with more time, I would like to learn more about the rest of the pipeline so I can be a generalist with solid knowledge.

3dt: What software would you like to learn in the future to expand your portfolio and skillset, and why?
AM: I would like to get more into compositing and NUKE. I already know it to an intermediate level, but I want a more profound knowledge of the software to be able to make post-production on my own shots, and properly implement 3D elements to make camera projections for DMP. I want to learn Arnold as well; I am using V-Ray and recently Renderman, but Arnold seems to be the standard rendering engine at many studios so I would like to add it to my skillset.

And last but not least I am playing with the idea of switching from Maya to MODO. I've been using Maya for quite a while and I really liked the new release with the extended modeling toolkit, however it's still very old school in many aspects, with many things MODO just makes more sense to me. I am looking forward to exploring it.

3dt: How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?
AM: I am still pretty new to the industry so for me it is incredibly important to make the most out of my personal projects, so I can present them for future employers. In the beginning you take on every job offered just to get some experience, so you can get ahead with your carrier, but the truth is at the end of the day all that counts is your portfolio. From paid work, you may have nothing to show, because you were a runner; or an unpaid intern doing stuff that you can't put in your reel; or you worked on titles that never got shipped; or on shots that were cut out at the end; or you can't publish what you have done because of copyrights issues; or you just did stuff cause you needed money and you don't want anyone to know you ever did these projects.

All this happened to me, and after graduating I found myself only working on other people's projects, without being able to show off anything at the end except the fact in my CV I was sitting in-front of the computer 40-hours per week for a year at some company. I am not against internships or unpaid work for exposure, every one of us goes through this, it's kind of inevitable at the beginning, and you can get connections and learn a lot of stuff from these experiences, but you should be aware of this all, and be able to show stuff you were doing during these times even if it's only personal.

It's therefore important to create a portfolio with personal projects. No matter what you do, find time to work out your own ideas, to stay inspired. It not only helps you keep up with the industry, and also gives you some balance and inner peace, keeping you from not burning out early on. I visit online platforms every day like 3dtotal to see what the others are doing, but my main inspiration source is still nature. Nature is the most creative in anything you can encounter. I like to turn these experiences into CG with some abstract interpretation of course. I go around and take photos, choose a topic and work on it for a couple of months. I try to keep up with this routine and be able to show something new every once in a while.

3dt: Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
AM: Due to my background in Fine Arts my taste is very classical, almost anachronistic, I kind of cannot help it. My favorites are Turner, Friedrich, Rembrandt, Camille Claudel and above all Michelangelo. I know it might sound clichéd, but when I had the luck to see an exhibition in Vienna at 2010, he became my all time favorite master. It was the first major Michelangelo exhibition in more than twenty years. They displayed more than one-hundred pieces out of the artist's most precious drawings that came from the biggest museums and private collections all over the world.

I was wondering how it was possible that even those little drawings that could fit in your palm had such power from meters away to capture your attention, magnetizing you, spending hours staring at each of them. It was undoubtedly one of my greatest experiences I ever had in art. My favorite digital artists are Rafael Grassetti for his realistic, stunning characters, Alex Alvarez for his great environments and tutorials that helped me a lot developing my technical skills, and Yanick Dusseault for his great conceptual work and matte paintings. His breathtaking concepts for The Force Awakens got me goosebumps. And the name list could go on and on with Maciej Kuciara, Ian McCaig, Scott Eaton, Frank Tzeng and Piotr Rusnarczyk just to name a few.

3dt: What can we expect to see from you next?
AM: In my spare time I am working on a complex gestural figure, where I am challenging my anatomy knowledge and trying to turn human bodies into something symbolic. I am also involving some simulations in Houdini to transform them. It will be a metamorphosis. I would like to build something very dynamic with lighting, camera angle and movement. It's a personal project which focuses on strengthening those skills that are not quite perfected yet. It's about pushing my boundaries and learning new stuff. I am in the middle of the process now and can't wait for the outcome – I'm very excited about how it all turns out and will look at the end.

Related links

Head over to Alexandra Magócsi's ArtStation
Check out the making of Assassin
Grab a copy of ZBrush Characters and Creatures

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