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Interview with Tor Frick

3dtotal speaks to 3D generalist, Tor Frick, about his love of all things mech...

3dtotal speaks to 3D generalist, Tor Frick, about his love of all things mech...

Tor Frick is a 3D artist currently living in Uppsala, Sweden, where he works as an art director at MachineGames, with recent projects including Wolfenstein: The New Order and its prequel Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. Tor has worked in the games industry for over eight years, doing a bit of everything on the art side. He started out as a character and prop artist before gradually moving over to environments and dabbling in tech art. He'd classify himself as a 3D generalist, though hard-surface modeling is where his heart really is.

3dtotal: Who or what inspired you to get into art - and then into 3D art?
Tor Frick: I have always loved creating things in different ways (drawing, woodcarving, etc.) and I got into digital art very early, which quickly led to modding sprite-based games on my father's Mac due to the lack of actual games to play. That evolved into basic 3D in Bryce, which I used to make prettier animated sprites. Making spaceships using only Boolean spheres doesn't seem like a very good idea now! After some time I started learning other 3D apps, and that's when I really started to get into proper 3D modeling. When I was picking a university education I discovered you could study game art, and that was when I realized I could actually make a career out of this!

A high-poly robotic wanderer Tor created as an exercise in modeling and look development. Built and rendered in MODO with a 2D/3D background

A high-poly robotic wanderer Tor created as an exercise in modeling and look development. Built and rendered in MODO with a 2D/3D background

3dt: Which tools and software do you prefer to use, and why?
TF: MODO is my 3D app of choice: I like the workflow and the quick and easy ways to improve your own workflows and interface - I feel like I am constantly improving my efficiency. I put a big focus on improving my own modeling at all times, and I keep finding new ways to speed things up without sacrificing control, which is what I like.

I don't do as much sculpting as I would like to, but I've been using both ZBrush and 3D-Coat for that, depending on what I'm working on. I'm looking forward to diving back into that some more when time permits. For texturing, I mainly use Photoshop combined with procedural masks and textures I generate in MODO.

A back view of Tor's robotic wanderer, experimenting with telling a bit of a story with the scene

A back view of Tor's robotic wanderer, experimenting with telling a bit of a story with the scene

3dt: What is your usual 3D workflow like? Could you give us a quick breakdown?
TF: My workflow depends a bit on if it's personal or production art, and how complex the model is. If it's something that will impact any other disciplines at work, I tend to be stricter and do a proper functional block-out first, and figure out all the workings of the model. If it's a technically complex model I try to figure out the best approach beforehand, and design around the limitations a bit more.

With smaller personal pieces I just tend to wing it instead. I try to achieve a good mix of doing a block-out of the general piece first, and establishing a quality bar for the model early on, so I get a feel for what I am doing. If I am doing something in a new style or for a new project, it's also important for me to get a feel of shape language as early on as possible, so I can get into the flow.

A detail shot of the robotic wanderer, showing off some of the modeling on the back

A detail shot of the robotic wanderer, showing off some of the modeling on the back

3dt: You've worked at MachineGames for a few years now. Could you tell us about your current role and what it entails?
TF: My current role is Art Director, which is a position I share with my partner in crime Axel Torvenius. My main focus is establishing the art direction of our games, and making sure everyone is pulling in the same direction and making a game that looks as good as we possibly can. Another part of it is making sure that technical guidelines are followed, as well as the games running as intended performance-wise. I try to squeeze in as much time as I can to help with producing the actual art, but it's mostly bits and pieces here and there, depending on how much time I have left over for that kind of stuff.

Tor made this quick exercise to experiment with texturing a sci-fi design in MODO

Tor made this quick exercise to experiment with texturing a sci-fi design in MODO

3dt: Which project (personal or professional) have you enjoyed working the most on, and why?
TF: Very hard to pick just one! Professionally I have to say Wolfenstein: The New Order was the most fun to work on. I got to make a lot of very different art pieces for it, with lots of varying styles and challenges. It's also probably the project where I got to build the most fun models that challenged me a lot both modeling- and workflow-wise. I am also very proud of what the team at MachineGames created together. It was our first game so it came with its own challenges, but I am really proud of the end result.

I always jump into my personal art with the same positive feeling: I don't finish half of it, but I enjoy working on all of it equally, even if it's for different reasons, creative or improvement-wise.

This sci-fi driver's helmet is for one of Tor's current projects. High-poly render from MODO

This sci-fi driver's helmet is for one of Tor's current projects. High-poly render from MODO

3dt: What's your process for planning a design? Many of your sci-fi creations are super-detailed – how do you stay in control of designs like that?
TF: A lot of the time I actually lose control of my designs, for better or worse. Even if I have a strict plan from the start, I often find new shapes and designs as I go that I feel work better. Sometimes I try them out and like them, sometimes I discard them. As long as it fits with the general design's purpose and feel of the original idea, I tend to just go with it. Some models end up closer to what I envisioned, while some come out totally different. I am not a very good 2D artist, so even if I'd made some sketches to start with, I sometimes find out that other shapes work better when transitioned into 3D. I'd rather abandon a bad idea early on than fight to make it work even though my instincts tell me it won't.

A really chunky rocket launcher design that Tor built to test out some new workflows

A really chunky rocket launcher design that Tor built to test out some new workflows

3dt: Self-improvement is important for every artist. What techniques, tools, or skills are you planning to work on next?
TF: Substance Designer is something I am looking forward to incorporating into my workflow. I feel my texturing is one of my weak spots, often due to the large nature of my projects – I almost never take the time to really polish things up. I also want to start using MeshFusion more in MODO, which I have tried before but never properly integrated into my workflow. It's a great tool, especially during the conceptual phase of designing something. Anything that can improve my speed will allow me to spend more time on the actual design and polish of the art, which is the end goal, after all. To be honest I have so many things I want to learn, that I know deep down I will not have time to learn half of them. In general I try to just absorb as much knowledge about art as I possibly can, no matter what the subject is.

A close-up of the rocket launcher to show off some of the automatic texturing and shading that Tor created for this model

A close-up of the rocket launcher to show off some of the automatic texturing and shading that Tor created for this model

3dt: What key piece of advice would you offer to a 3D artist aspiring to work in the games industry?
TF: When working on your portfolio, set up clear goals of what to accomplish with each piece that you make. Having something that you set out to learn or accomplish, however small that goal is, is a great way to make sure you push your skills as an artist forward. Many people fall into the temptation of making too-large portfolio pieces early on, but that can backfire and end up creating large discrepancies in quality if you're still learning so much along the way. Keep it smaller, more focused, and get things done!

Real-time screenshots from Unreal Engine 3 of a baroque, abandoned house environment

Real-time screenshots from Unreal Engine 3 of a baroque, abandoned house environment

3dt: Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
TF: When I don't spend my spare time doing even more art (which there tends to be a lot of, to be honest) I try to relax and watch documentaries, mostly art and history-related ones, spend time with my girlfriend, or work out at the gym.

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