Interview with Andrei Cristea
We chat with the talented Andrei Cristea about his work on EVE Online and being a Lead Character Artist for CCP Games
Andrei Cristea has lived in Iceland for the last five years, working as Lead Character Artist for EVE Online, World of Darkness, and other projects for CCP Games. Previously, he worked as a freelancer for eleven years on a variety of projects, including video games, cinematics, commercials, advertising, publishing, animation, architecture visualization, and product design.
3dtotal: Did you always aspire to be an artist? How did you get into 3D art?
Andrei Cristea: I dont think so, at least not in the traditional sense. I would say that I come from a technical background. I am definitely not that type of person that was drawing since childhood. Back then I was loading video games from tapes and typing basic code on ZX Spectrum clones. As a child I was fascinated by games and was curious how they were made. I remember my amazement when I first got 3D Studio DOS, and for the first time I pressed the render button and saw a wireframe model being transformed into an image. At that moment I knew what I wanted to do, and I had to learn it by myself. In the late 90s I started to work on game projects along with my friends, joined the demo scene and became a bit more serious about 3D. Sixteen years later Im enjoying it just as much as when I started.
I am extremely passionate about anything related to art and technology, and I consider myself very lucky to have spent most of my life doing work related to them.
3dt: Which tools and software do you prefer to use, and why?
AC: I use a wide variety of tools, plugins and scripts and Im always trying to experiment and redefine my workflows. If there was one tool I couldnt live without, that would be ZBrush. Its the software thats had the biggest impact on the 3D field in recent years, and its brought so many outside-the-box concepts to this field and redefined everyones way of working. I use Maya as a DCC hub, mostly for pipeline and animation purposes. It provides a level of automation that makes it ideal in a production environment. Photoshop and 3D-Coat are great tools for texturing, and for rendering Im very fond of V-Ray.
3dt: Could you give us a general overview of your 3D workflow?
AC: I usually start my models with a pre-production stage. I consider this crucial, and I try to allocate a decent amount of time for it. This is where I start developing the back-story, gathering reference, establishing the art style and start sketching the character. I use ZBrush to block out the concept in 3D. This is the most enjoyable part because I dont have to pay attention to the surface quality, or any other technical aspect, and I can focus solely on design, proportions and rhythm. Most of the work that follows is put into preserving this. When Im happy with the basic forms, I retopologize and UV the model using ZRemesher and Maya. After this, I do a final detail-modeling pass, and depending on the purpose of the model, I bake the normal or the displacement maps. For texturing I use Photoshop and 3D-Coat extensively. Finally, I set up the skinning and rigging in Maya, and prepare it for rendering or exporting to the game engine.
3dt: What do you think is the key to a good design? How do you pursue that in your own work?
AC: Good design is a very subjective matter. It depends on your aesthetic sense and how you cultivate it; the things that you find appealing and the things in which you immerse yourself every day. This is what forms your taste and develops your eye. The choices you make during the design process should come from this, and you should have confidence in making them. Understanding composition, studying design and art history and having a good foundation in traditional art definitely helps. I would say that a bad approach would be copying whatever design style is trending that day without trying to understanding why.
3dt: What are the advantages of being able to work with both 2D and 3D?
AC: There are practical and conceptual advantages that you gain by working in both mediums. From drawing and painting you can learn about composition, design and color theory while focusing on the big picture. It trains your eye into recognizing shapes, proportions, values and colors. 3D develops your sense of perspective, volume and form, and it gives you the tools to understand light and material behavior. I would also like to mention photography, which is another medium that teaches you a lot. On a practical level, using multiple mediums works great for concepting in scenarios where you need rapid iteration, and this has become a very common workflow for artists nowadays.
3dt: Youre currently working at CCP Games, the developer behind EVE Online. Could you tell us about your role and what it involves?
AC: My role is Lead Character Artist and I am part of the team responsible for the characters in the EVE Online IP. This involves producing assets for in-game features, promotional art or cinematics, while working alongside the Art Director, helping establish and maintain the artistic vision of the characters in relation to the rest of the EVE universe. Our team is pretty autonomous and this gives us the chance to work on a variety of tasks and projects, which makes it fun.
When Im not working on art-related tasks, I have to make sure that everything goes smoothly from a production and a technical perspective. This means that our workflows and tools are solid and that we communicate well with the other development teams regarding our dependences.
Eve Online - Combat Suit - Game model
© CCP Games
3dt: How does having a studio job compare to working freelance?
AC: I personally enjoy working in a studio much more than freelancing. I am very fortunate to be working in a great place and be surrounded by amazing people. I love being part of a project and being involved in all the crazy dynamics around it. Its a very different lifestyle than working in isolation and jumping from project to project. It gives you a different sense of accomplishment.
3dt: Self-improement is important for every artist. What techniques, tools, or skills are you planning to work on next?
AC: I would like to spend more time drawing and painting. At the beginning of this year I started oil painting. It was something I wanted to do for a long time, but I wasnt ready for it. It is a brutally hard medium where every small breakthrough feels incredibly satisfying, and Im loving it.
On the 3D side, I have a few modeling tools and scripts in the works. As a bigger project, Ive been considering starting to work on an application-agnostic game content creation pipeline.
3dt: Finally, what do you like to do when youre not making art?
AC: I enjoy traveling around Iceland and spending time outdoors. This place is breath-taking and I'm trying to take advantage of it as often as I can.