Creative Assembly Creature Artist Vick Gaza Interview
Total War: Warhammer & Horizon Zero Dawn Character & Creature Artist Vick Gaza shares his studio and personal workflow, and inspirations…
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
Hello! Let me first thank you guys for the interview and for reaching out. My name is Vick Gaza and I am currently working on Total War: Warhammer as a creature artist for Creative Assembly. Creative Assembly is a BAFTA award-winning studio located very close to London, in a charming medieval city called Horsham. Previously I used to work for Sony London on VR Worlds as an asset/enviro artist, and more currently at Sony Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam on Horizon Zero Dawn as a character artist.
Tell us about your art: Your style, themes, genre, and some of the favorite projects you have worked on.
Oh man I wish I had a style of my own, but I'm still working hard towards that. That definitely comes at a later stage when one becomes hyper proficient at their craft. I'm nowhere near that level yet I'm afraid. In terms of art themes, I certainly do have a propensity towards organic modeling and texturing, and more than anything I absolutely love doing creatures, monsters, and the likes. But at the same time in my personal work I tend to do the opposite of what I do at work, or at least try to and do some anatomy/portrait studies here and there.
I think as an organic sculptor, it's important to be able to do realistic/plausible humans, ensuring they are just as appealing as monsters and more esoteric creatures. With regards to projects – definitely working with my current teammates on Warhammer has been a dream come true. Warhammer has great monster lore, with everything from vampires to orcs to skeletons. It's perfect for me.
Also, working on Horizon Zero Dawn back at Guerrilla was awesome too – while I didn't do monsters I did learn a lot of AAA production/tech skills that are so important for a strong well-rounded game developer. After all sculpting is just half of my job. Ultimately though, my personal work at home is what feeds “the soul” the most. I always have a personal project at home and use my free time to grow artistically and learn new stuff. It feeds me both creatively and hones me in terms of game development. It's a win-win for both me and my studio.
Can you describe your typical workflow, and the software/hardware you normally use when creating your artwork?
I’m a game developer so my job is a healthy mix of creating artwork (sculpting/texture painting) and also making highly optimized clean meshes that work in a real time engine. In a nutshell, my creatures have to both look good visually, but also deform well for animators, and utilize as much of the allotted texture space and run without producing overhead to the game resources.
Generally speaking the workflow for this is the same in most game studios. It starts with a block-out mesh (that fits various department requirements such as rigging/animation/game design), then the blockout mesh is divided and sculpted upon. I use ZBrush for both the block-out and sculpt phase, almost entirely. I may use Maya sometimes but generally it’s faster and more efficient to do everything in ZBrush, especially if the character/creature is mostly organic. From there I have to retopologize and UV the mesh. For this I use Autodesk Maya exclusively nowadays.
From there I have to bake the high-resolution details on to the low resolution mesh. This can be done with Marmoset Baker, Substance Painter/Designer or Xnormal – depending on what software the studio uses in its pipeline. And finally, texturing the creature, which I do sometimes in Painter, sometimes in Quixel, sometimes purely with Photoshop. Various studios have different pipelines so I just adapt to whatever tools they use. In my personal work I gravitate toward Substance Painter exclusively.
With regards to sculpting, I start with primary shapes only, focusing on silhouette, gesture and action lines as much as possible. Secondary details follow after that, but I am extra careful to not overpower the primary shapes I've established. This is crucial and is something I'm still learning myself. Same with tertiary details; I make sure that once I lay down my secondary shapes, the tertiary shapes complement them.
I hope this helps on some level, but ultimately practice and tests are the best at answering workflow questions, as undoubtedly people do things differently and achieve great results using different methods. Workflow is a very personal thing to each artist; it's a matter of just putting in the work and running the miles, discovering what works best for you.
Workflow is a very personal thing to each artist; it's a matter of just putting in the work and running the miles, discovering what works best for you
What inspires you?
Oh my… so many things. Nature definitely, first and foremost. Nature is the overall best designer there is. I also watch documentaries about anything that seems interesting (history or animals for example). I listen to podcasts, I love reading books. Everything helps. It doesn't even have to be art related. It can be philosophy, or motivational videos.
Just keeping a curious mind and absorbing the world around me – yes I sound like a hippie! Finally, my character art team at Creative Assembly are highly inspiring to me. Spending 5 days a week with these guys and girls doing crazy characters and creatures is incredibly humbling and inspiring. Seeing them do amazing art on a daily basis inspires me to stay sharp and push hard on my skills.
How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?
Working for Creative Assembly has been awesome for keeping my portfolio fresh. Most of the creatures I work on, I have total ownership of from start to finish, and that means at the end of a project after the game is released I get to update my portfolio with high quality game art that I've done from scratch to finish. That’s quite unique for a studio and something I absolutely love.
Although, of course I still go home and do my own personal work too. I don't post all the personal work I do at home in my portfolio, as some are quick studies or loose sculpts/sketches, but every couple of months I do something bigger that’s worth posting. Even the quick studies I do, ultimately end up in the finished polished works as knowledge and know-how so everything helps in the end.
Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
Oh man there's quite a few! My all-time favorite artist is Carlos Huante hands down. He just nails shape language and hierarchy of forms, proportions, line weight. He is just a beast. Not to mention he works traditionally with pencil on paper.
Another 2D artist I admire is Stephen Oakley. He has great mechanical structure to his creatures and, as a concept artist, that is super important to have. Despite creating imaginary creatures, they look like they could function without weird weight/balance discrepancies. They look very cohesive from a motoric standpoint.
In terms of digital sculptors/character artists, to name a few I love: Gio Nakpil, Mike Kime, Raff Grasetti, Blair Armitage, Adam Skutt, my good friends Ben Erdt and Guilherme Carvhallo, and my lead Baj Singh. All of them I like for various reasons. Some are more realistic, some more stylized, some do creatures and some do humans. All of them are awesome in their own way and inspire me to push myself.
Finally, I'd mention Johann Tan as an amazing artist. I hadn't known much of his work before I joined the team over at Creative Assembly but the way he controls shape and form is absolutely fantastic. Check him out, he is really good! These are just a few, there are so so so many more!
What can we expect to see from you next?
I can't say much about it yet but I'm so incredibly hyped about what our Warhammer character team at Creative Assembly are making. So, definitely, that's going to be one of my artistic/career highlights ever. I'm also currently working on a passion project with some friends in our spare time for a few years already, that will eventually come out too. I'll be cryptic once again. Apart from that, I'm slowing learning to design creatures in 2D and working on my 3D sculpting skills at home. The plan is to keep growing and making sure my next piece will be better than my last.