Interview with Katon Callaway
* NUDITY WARNING *
* NUDITY WARNING *
Lead Character Artist at Sony Santa Monica, Katon Callaway, explains how he develops his design skills and shares some of the tips he learned along the way.
Katon Callaway has worked in the industry for 10 years: from learning the ropes as an intern at Whirligig, a small animation studio in Colorado Springs, to working as a character artist with Genuine Games on his first title 50 Cent Bullet Proof, and now as a lead character artist on an exciting unannounced project at Sony Santa Monica.
Katon says that he never dreamed that he would have such an exciting career and considers himself very fortunate, however, with the amazing detail of his sculpts and the realistic expressions of his characters, we beg to differ: his success is clearly down to talent!
Spending his spare time at drawing and sculpting classes, Katon continually endeavors to improve his practice. In turn, he shares his knowledge with others who aspire to create awesome characters, teaching at Advanced Video Game Character Creation at CGworkshops.
3dtotal: Although I imagine youve had many of offers from elsewhere, what it that keeps you at Sony after 7 years?
Katon Callaway: I think Sony Santa Monica is a very special place. There are so many talented people at the studio to start with, and then on top of that the culture is just great! We really try to make a point not to just hire talent but also people that fit the culture.
Also the projects really inspire you as an artist to do your best, everyone is trying to make a great game and really take it to the next level. I havent work anywhere were so many artists take their craft so seriously and love what they do. Also it doesnt hurt that we work in Santa Monica - its sunny and warm almost every day!
3dt: Over this time, how have your personal pipelines and those of the company changed?
KC: So much has changed I am sure I wouldnt even be able to remember. When I first started on God of War 3 we were using ZBrush V2, which only allowed us to use one tool at a time. It was amazing when ZBrush V3 came out with multiple SubTools - our minds were blown!
Also UV tools have really improved over the years, with tools like Unfold 3D, Headus UV and now many others. 3D painting has progressed leaps and bounds. I was doing all my texturing in Photoshop, and now we paint directly onto the character, its great!
Lastly, the material pipeline has drastically changed. What we are using now, compared to when we started, is drastically different. Lighting has improved and everything is looking better. Its a great time to be a character artist!
3dt: What, would you say, are the biggest challenges you face in this role?
KC: Being a lead now brings on new challenges that I didnt have to worry about before. I am now responsible for my teams work to look good, not just mine. Im also more involved with developing tools, pipelines and testing systems that are set in place for the team. Basically, Im just more involved with everything all around.
3dt: All of your character creations are incredibly convincing! Do you have any tops to achieve this?
KC: Thanks for the compliment! More than anything I try to base everything on something real and grounded. So if its a creature, I study animals that are similar and look at their anatomy, and skin texture so that I can apply it to what I am doing. For humans it is very important to study the figure and understand it as best as you can. I am always learning more and more about anatomy, and you can never stop. Even the best of us still struggle with anatomy; it is an ongoing learning experience.
So always keep studying no matter what skill level you might be. You have to remember, people you look up to most likely have been working on their craft for years; it doesnt happen overnight, it takes work and discipline.
3dt: Where do you go to find your references and to learn about anatomy?
KC: I have always liked looking at classical sculptures, I find it really inspirational and the perfect reference for the type of work I do. Other places of inspiration include looking at other peers sculptures and also modern painters - anything really that has the feel I am going for.
You can always rely on great anatomy books such as Artistic Anatomy by Dr Paul Richer, and George Bridgmans Constructive Anatomy, and so many others. I have always tried to take figure drawing and sculpting classes, the repetition of figure drawing will improve your understanding of form better than almost anything else.
3dt: Are you a self taught artist or did you study?
KC: I didnt go anywhere official for art school but I have always tried to study wherever I can. Since I have moved out to LA when I got my first job, I have tried taking art classes whenever I can to continue my learning.
I have also learned more recently about the discipline of working on my own studies at home. A lot of the artists that I look up to and respect are very disciplined in their personal studies, and study master works, peers work and of course work on their own art. There are so many ways to study and I will continue to do so. So no, not self-taught, none of us really are, there are countless people I could name that have helped me along in my art ambitions.
3dt: Now as a teacher, what are the key pieces of advice you offer to your students?
KC: Find your inspirations and study their work, but dont get frustrated - give yourself time to learn and get to the level you want to be. Most great artists have been working for years, so learn to enjoy the process of learning and this will set you up well for the future. Also fewer pieces that are great in your portfolio are much better than a dozen that are mediocre. I often look at portfolios that are full of random CG work that have nothing to do with what the artists ultimately want to be doing, so keep the portfolio focused!
3dt: Although your career has gone further than youd ever dreamed, do you have any new ambitions youd like to achieve?
KC: I want to continue to become a better artist and a better designer. For me, I have worked in games for a long time and have been the one that takes designs and makes them for the game. I want to start creatng my own so that one day I can work on or direct my own game. That would be a dream of mine.
At the end of the day though, if I continue to work with talented peers and grow as an artist I will be happy. I am very fortunate and blessed to be able to make a living working in games and live in southern California.
3dt: If you could work on any project, past present of future what would it be?
KC: I think making characters and creatures for a Final Fantasy game would be amazing. They have such creative and fun worlds and being able to work on that would be a dream. A game of the past for me would have to be any of the original Megaman games, they are by far my favorite games as a child, and to this day I love them.
One other series that I feel like most of us would agree on, would be Zelda. To me, Zelda never gets old, and I would love working on one of those games. Lastly a modern game/ old school game would have to be the gothic world of Castlevania. Those games ooze atmosphere. The most recent game had great art direction and vision, and the creatures and characters alike were great in it. I could go on for a long time, I have so many games I like. Oh, one last one I promise, Legacy of the Cain- Blood Omen. Great Game.