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Maksym Khirnyy: Mondlicht Studios CEO interview

Mondlicht Studios CEO Maksym Khirnyy takes time out of his busy schedule to talk about the growth in interactive projects, VR, architectural design, and the kind of challenges CG artists can be expected to face…

Maksym's Website

3dtotal

Thanks for talking to us today, Maksym! Please let the readers know a little more about you and your work.

Maksym

Hey, my name is Maksym Khirnyy, I was born in Ukraine and had a perfect childhood in the Soviet Union. I studied art at “Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Fine Arts.” My specialization was “Interior designer,” so my passion is strongly connected with architecture and interior design.

I tried a lot of things like silk painting, paper quilling, petrikov painting and so on when I was studying. That helped to boost my imagination, and it really helps me in my projects today, because my job is often connected with finding the right solution.

I started my way in CGI when I got my first PC (Pentium 3). At that time, we had no tutorials at all, every piece of information was like a blessing! And the efficiency of the computers was absolutely different – I remember when I had to wait for three hours to render a sphere.

That could sound frightening for those who are used to modern computers and the amount of tutorials available on YouTube. However, it was a fantastic experience which helped me gain experience and the ability to think outside of the box.

modern office

3dtotal

Your portfolio is quite varied; with CG work, 3D modeling, and graphic design. Where would you say your passion lies?

Maksym

I could say that interior design is my only passion, but it would be a lie because I always appreciate beautiful sci-fi and fantasy images.  Also, I enjoy working on concepts – it's a great way to show your ideas very quickly. Another exciting thing is to create something with your bare hands; I'm trying to do such projects from time to time. When you work with your hands, you have an opportunity to look at things from another angle. Now the industry gives you a chance to see 3D models in real life – you literally can see how it looks like not only on the monitor, if you use a 3D printer.

3dtotal

Now you are working on VR and interactive projects. Could you, please, tell us more about it. What is a VR-project? How it is different from interactive one?

Maksym

Interactive projects are practically all projects where a user can interact with something on an electronic device. VR is just one part of those projects. For VR you always need VR glasses (Oculus or HTC), and other applications allow you to use a touch screen. I began to work on interactive projects 3 years ago at Demodern, it was a fantastic experience. We created several applications, and each one was completely different from the other.

In such projects you are not limited to just one picture, you can explore the whole world that artists want to share with you, that is the most essential difference between "ordinary" CGI and interactive projects. Finally, you can interact with graphics and not just look at it.  Actually, 3D games are using this idea for a long time, but now all possibilities of interactive projects are available in every sphere. The only limitation you have is your imagination.

These two things are like water and earth for the plant, and imagination is your sun. The perfect environment for everyone helps to keep pace with changes. Always be curious about new stuff, and you will be fine.

3dtotal

What problems would a CG artist face working on such projects? Is there any way to avoid them?

Maksym

On the one hand, there are endless artistic possibilities, on the other, colossal hardware limits what CG artist will face on such projects. The first ones allow you to apply the imagination, the second ones limit it at some point of production because you cannot use as many textures and polygons as you wish.

It is also very important to understand that there are many designers and professionals involved in projects, and you will learn a lot from different spheres. A 3D artist will learn about usability, and UX designers will face a lot of challenges working with programmers, whose thinking would make you cry sometimes, but, anyway, it's very interesting, challenging – and exciting!

car in desert

3dtotal

How fast is this sphere changing? What does a specialist need to do to keep pace with changes?

Maksym

I think it is the most rapidly growing industry right now. Two aspects make it grow so fast. First is the technology; every month we have new graphics cards or other hardware that pushes our limits. The second one is advertising, which provides you with clients with very challenging and exciting projects.

These two things are like water and earth for the plant, and imagination is your sun. The perfect environment for everyone helps to keep pace with changes. Always be curious about new stuff, and you will be fine.

modern building

3dtotal

Could you tell us about your recent project with Virtual Studio? Was it easy or hard? What is it? What problems did you face with and how did you solve them?

Maksym

Virtual Studio for KST Moschkau was a really interesting project! The client gave us practically no limitations, just a word “Bodenständig” (German for “rooted in the soil”). We should create a space for people of the present time, no sci-fi or futuristic environment. Also, it should work on 4K resolution screen and have 60 FPS (frame per second).

I had a chance to apply my interior design skills and invent a building that fit the client. The first part of the project was quite easy because I have created many architectural designs during my career. So, sketching, modeling, moodboard, and other usual things were good training for the imagination, but there were no huge challenges.

The part with Unreal Engine was a tricky one. We were working on realization with my dear colleague Serhii Cheban from Ukraine (Cube in Cube). He and his team did fantastic work to bring it all to life. In this part of the project, I was mostly involved as a supervisor and art director.

3dtotal

You are an expert in low-poly modeling. How is this type of modeling is different from high-poly, and why it is so difficult to get brilliant results?

Maksym

Low-poly modeling is like meditation! I began to work in low-poly modeling thanks to my friend and colleague David Schäfer, who had an experience in this sphere and fabulous low-poly projects for the automotive industry. Together we developed workflows and advanced tools for low-poly modeling that helped us to boost the quality by about 100 times in comparison with what we had started with.

Readers may not believe me, but it's really a rocket science. You have to be very attentive and careful in modeling, normal alignment, unwrapping, texture baking, data structure. All those things are very important.

If you made a mistake in modeling one part and notice it when you begin working on unwrapping or baking, you have to go back to modeling; that's why quality control is very important. Low-poly modeling is very exact, you have polycount limitations that give you borders, and you need to follow this rule. With high-poly modeling nobody looks if you have 300k or 400k polygons, only the final picture is important.

sketch of modern office
modern office

3dtotal

Mostly you are working on advertising. How may new technologies, including VR, change it in the near future?

Maksym

Technologies are already changing everything. I would say that in 2 years there will not be borders at all. In the movie industry, there are no limitations, you can do everything with 3D. So it will happen in advertising the same way.

The client gave us the freedom to do the best we could, it was like a "portfolio project" but for money. That was the first project where I worked with Unreal Engine. It gives you so many possibilities to work with any kind of 3D environment, I think we will continue to work in this direction.

3dtotal

Do you have a favorite process within your workflow? Favorite tools and software

Maksym

Every artist has his own workflow and favorite tools. I use 3ds Max for modeling, V-Ray for rendering, and Photoshop for post. But if we talk about low-poly projects, 3ds Max is not enough, which is why we developed 20+ tools to improve our workflow. It was very important to optimize the process, because some things took too many clicks.

Just for the importing of FBX Data into 3ds Max you need to click several times – imagine you have to import 500+ models! We can do this automatically. Also, the models will be in the right layers and have proper names, and I am talking just about importing data. When you talk about big modeling projects, every click costs time, that's why it's so important to have your workflows adjusted to your task.

nike shoes advert

3dtotal

Do you have a favorite image or project that you have worked on?

Maksym

Yes, it's Virtual Studio for KST Moschkau. In this project, I could apply different skills:  concepting, interior/architecture design, moodboarding, modeling, art direction, and so on. Practically I was involved in all steps of the project.

The client gave us the freedom to do the best we could, it was like a "portfolio project" but for money. That was the first project where I worked with Unreal Engine. It gives you so many possibilities to work with any kind of 3D environment, I think we will continue to work in this direction.

3dtotal

Do you currently teach anywhere? If you were to give an overview of your core advice for beginner artists, what would that sound like?

Maksym

There is never any time for teaching. However, our studio is planning to participate in educational projects. Out first masterclass will be in Moscow in August. I think it's very important to give your knowledge to beginners. The first thing that every beginner should do is to decide what he or she likes to do the most, and then look for help. The internet is full of free tutorials; YouTube has a lot of good channels. You should always look for new tools because it will speed up your process and help to improve efficiency and skills.

firefighter on back of truck

3dtotal

Do you have any tips for creating a perfect 3D-model? How do you understand that mesh and the model itself look beautiful?

Maksym

The perfect model doesn't really exist in our world. What is ideal for you now will be not so good for you in a month. Everything depends on your mood, how your day was. I think everyone should decide for himself if it's good enough or not. There are some measures like edge flow, but what will perfect edge flow give you if you set your model in a scene with bad light? It's all relative.

3dtotal

What will you be looking at improving upon, and where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Maksym

I see myself as a part of a medium size studio. I don't want us to be too big, I saw what fast growth makes with good studios. I hope to win some cool awards with our work, especially in advertising. VR or, better say, interactive projects will also be a big part of our business, you really cannot imagine what comes next in future.

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