Interview with Luis Antonio
Hi Luis can you tell us about the real you? What were you were like growing up and how did you end up working in the CG industry?
For as far back as I can remember I drew. At home, on vacation, at school during classes. All my books are filled with drawings everywhere. I knew inside that this was what I wanted to do all the time, and thanks to some really good teachers in high school I came to realize that this was possible.
The moment it clicked was in my first year of university. I joined an agency and they started to give me different freelance jobs for newspapers, magazines and sometimes TV shows and I loved it. The deadlines were super aggressive, but seeing my work in the Saturday newspapers or in a double page spread would feel so good, and at the same time I was able to understand what it was like working in a professional environment. I was hooked!
Halfway through my studies I found the world of 3D. I knew I had to make a decision as to what my next move would be. With that in mind I began learning 3ds Max, so by the end of my degree I had a strong illustrative and 3D portfolio. I knew I wanted to go into movies or video games, and that Portugal was not developed enough in those areas so I needed to find another place to do this. The United Kingdom was the closest country that was suitable and I was good at English so I started applying to studios that I liked the look of until I got a reply back from Rockstar Games inviting me for an interview.
Have you had to sacrifice much for art such as where you live, etc?
I don't think so... quite the contrary. I never felt it was possible to grow so much in so little time, and the fact that I moved so much has made me aware of what is really important and taught me to not be attached to the material things. We live in great times where Facebook, Skype and technology allows us to keep in touch with people we love and no one is ever that far away.
I also have to say that I feed on going into a new country, coming across new cultures and new ways of being - you learn so much. The things I have seen and experienced in different countries has been really inspiring. Oh, and every weekend is like I'm on vacation since it's a different country.
Besides your foreign travels, where else do you look for inspiration and how does it influence you?
The way I see it is that the internet has revolutionized the way we inspire ourselves as artists. The number of forums and websites where artists around the world can meet is just unbelievable and you can actually talk with some of the great masters that have worked on things that inspired you as you grew up.
Over the years I have found my favorite spots on the web where people I admire and learn from provide constant sources of inspiration. The more you give the art community, the more they give you back; it's really beautiful. If I see a shot in a movie that I like, within a couple of hours I can follow the director of photography, understand where he came
from, what he did, other movies he worked on and what inspired him. Nowadays for me the problem is more about having the time to actually see/observe this whole gigantic backlog of inspiration and art that the community provides on a daily basis.
Can you lead us through a typical day for you as an art director?
The day always starts with a daily meeting where the whole art team gathers together and we go over the overall plans for the week and what we are aiming to do that day. After that I'll usually go over to the rest of the development team, designers, programmers and producers and get all the information needed for the artists to do their work and make sure they are on the right track. After lunch I end up doing more of a one to one with specific artists focused on close milestones and what they have to deliver. I try to give as much support as possible with mock-ups, ideas and inspiration to make sure they can give the best they have.
The end of the day is usually more relaxed, where I try to make sure we all share the cool stuff that was done and get some feedback/critics from everyone so we are all challenged and inspired for the next day.
Has it ever been difficult to translate an artistic idea into a project due to tools and/or pipeline limitations? If so, how did you come up with the solution?
Yes! And I think that the gaming industry, due to the hardware limitations and constant technological evolution, is always struggling with that. Personally my biggest issue is not being aware of the skills and strengths of your team and forcing them to do something they are not strong at. As an example, imagine getting a really strong character artist to create a 2D flash user interface. It won't make them happy and the work they will do won't match their skills.
The best solution I have found so far is to listen and truly understand the passion and what drives every single artist. We are a team and we are working together at least eight hours a day! We need to understand each other and see what makes every one of us tick. There are moments where you just don't have a choice and the nature of the project forces you to do things you don't love, but there is always a little something you can find that will make you enjoy your day and be creative.
How often do you try to step out of your comfort zone and try something new? Would you define that as a key to success?
I don't think there is a key to success; it's like a producer asking his team to do a 95%+ game. If your aim is to do what you love then you will naturally be successful, at least with yourself (I guess that's the key). I always try to leave my comfort zone and expand my skills and knowledge.
It's hard and I think we naturally try to get back to it, and in a way travelling and being in a new place really helps to keep it new and fresh. I would say it's important to have our roots, the people we love and the little things that keep us inspired and once you find those you can kind of move all the other ones around.
I noticed the excellent and detailed tutorials on your web page. Do you have any thoughts of turning them into a book and/or taking a teaching role?
When I was in university I wished there was a teacher that could give classes on 3D art, but at the time in Portugal there was no such course so I had to learn everything by myself. I've always wanted to go back and give others the opportunity I never had. While at Ubisoft I had a chance to mentor some students (they have a program for internships for students to participate in game development) and I really liked it. Right now work is too busy and I hope once there is more time that I can do it again. As for tutorials, I've received really good feedback on what I've done so far. I have some other ideas in preparation, but it's too early to talk about them, just stay tuned...
From pencil drawing to ZBrush sculpts, your work portrays personal stylized characters. Did it take years to develop?
That's a hard question. I would say that my style is naturally evolving and has grown from what it was a few years ago. When I look back I see a huge evolution, but when I look at where I am now I still feel I have tons to learn.
What drives your personal and work projects? Is it the new beginnings, work phases, finished artwork or the game play itself?
I try to guide my professional work by the essence of the gameplay of whatever game I'm working on and let it dictate the visual. It's easy to get distracted and make it personal or just to do what you feel is cool and start to lose focus on what is actually important. I like all the phases of a project and even though I look forward to the finished artwork it's the day to day process that is the most fun. I've noticed in the last few years that the games I have more pleasure working on often don't end up being the best ones.
As for personal projects, I usually use my free time to do what is not possible at work. If I'm currently doing something extremely stylized I will try to work on something realistic at home. Or sometimes I'll just focus on learning some new tools and trying to leave my contort zone.
Did you ever change your entire focus towards the end of a project and start from scratch? What did you take from that experience?
That is a really good question since it happened recently. When I started to work in games I would be very attached to everything and would be very frustrated if I had to change it or if it ended up not being used. After a few projects I started to see the overall picture and how it wasn't my personal work, but a team effort.
On my last project we got away from that overall picture and had to re-design the art direction from the ground up. It was a really big ask for the artists and producers since we were supposed to already be in production, but in the end everyone was really happy with the results. I learned that it is important to always keep in the back of your mind what the real objectives of your project are. You can even write it in big letters on a whiteboard and whenever you start to stray, just look at it and make sure you get back on track.
You must always have the next step in mind - where do you see yourself over the next few years?
I want to elevate games to the art form I believe they deserve to be. I've had a chance to work on triple A games with Rockstar and to lead a team at Ubisoft. Both experiences were amazing and I grew a lot, but felt something was missing.
The current economic climate is forcing the big companies to be money driven and forget what games are about (or maybe it was always their nature and I only just noticed it). I think every game developer has the responsibility to make good games. Games that actually have something to say and aren't just fast food or another sequel with no new gameplay evolution. I need to be part of an environment like this and see if it's actually possible to do something that will give gamers something deeper than just entertainment.
Do you have any big future projects lined up or any more moves on the horizon?
Yes! I'm working on a project called The Witness right now, with someone I greatly admire: Jonathan Blow. He is an amazing designer and programmer.
I moved to San Francisco about a year ago to work on The Witness and it was a big change going from a 300+ team to a small group of 5/6 developers. It has been an amazing journey and I've learned a lot more than I thought I would. The creative process inside such a small team is incredibly rewarding and I feel, for the first time, that I'm working on something that is truly meaningful and that can be called a work of art.
I've also started to learn how to program so I can have a shot at trying to design some games. The future feels really bright and full of possibilities!
Thank you for answering all of our questions and good luck for the future!
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts as an artist. I think you guys are doing an amazing job and helping to make the 3D artist community grow in the right direction.