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Mike Svymbersky: senior character artist at Crystal Dynamics interview

Crystal Dynamics senior character artist Mike Svymbersky recently wrapped on the assets for Rise of the Tomb Raider, and is currently working on The Avengers project. Find out more...

Crystal Dynamics senior character artist Mike Svymbersky recently wrapped on the assets for Rise of the Tomb Raider, and is currently working on The Avengers project. Find out more...

3dtotal: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
Mike Svymbersky: Hi, I'm Mike. I'm originally from Alaska and have spent the better part of the past eight years working in the video game industry in sunny California. I am currently a Senior Character Artist at Crystal Dynamics, located in the thick of Silicon Valley. My last shipped project was Rise of the Tomb Raider and now I am working on The Avengers Project.

3dt: Tell us about your art: Your style, themes, genre, and some of the favorite projects you have worked on.
MS: Over the years, while working in the game industry, my professional focus and specialization has been realistic character art for video games. Even when I'm working on personal work I typically focus on the same subject matter. Let's just say that I really enjoy making character art. It's creative, its highly technical and it's amazing how fast the technology changes, which keeps the work exciting. There's always something new to learn, as whatevers the latest and greatest today, will be meh in just a few years.

The speed at which the game industry is moving is phenomenal and I think that's why I enjoy working on AAA game projects; as each project pushes the boundaries of what was achievable before it. So its very exciting (and a little crazy) to be on the forefront of artistic and technical change within the industry.

I was very fortunate to have been able to bounce around a few AAA studios early on in my career, as working at different studios provided me with valuable knowledge that I wouldn't have gained elsewhere. There are so many talented people out there and everyone knows something different.

The last project I finished/shipped was Rise of the Tomb Raider and that has been hands-down my favorite project to date. Ive been a huge fan of the Tomb Raider franchise since I was a kid, so it was amazing joining the Crystal Dynamics team. I jumped in about half-way through production of ROTTR and it was a great experience as I got to learn from some very talented people. The asset that I had the most fun with was probably Laras bear. It was something that had to come together pretty fast for a demo and it was really rewarding seeing it come together in the final cinematics.

3dt: Can you describe your typical workflow, and the software/hardware you normally use when creating your artwork?

MS: I typically spend time learning new tools on personal projects when working at home. This way I can go at my own speed, relax, be creative and try new things. I am using the standard 3D tool-kit; Maya, ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, and Substance Designer.

In a production setting, I am always focused on what's going to get me the best results in the shortest amount of time. When working in production, time is always against you so speed is essential. Learning how to efficiently leverage tools like Marvelous Designer or Substance is a must.

That said, the character-art pipeline hasn't changed too much over the years; though I would say, the biggest change has been adopting more of an environment art approach to character art; making modular character systems, using UVs effectively, and embracing tiled textures. Now more than ever, most studios will have their own proprietary tools and editors that you have to learn to use on a daily basis.

3dt: What inspires you?
MS: So many things it makes my head spin! Comics, books, pop-culture, music, technology, video-games, space, crafting, beer, nature, science, history, Elon Musk, photography, television and movies.

I really love the behind the scenes from movies and shows. Whenever I watch something that really makes an impression on me, Ill always pause the credits to see who was responsible for what. It's really fun to watch the behind the scenes for those inspiring shows/movies and see all the artists from different industries coming together to create something amazing. For example, when the show Downton Abbey was airing, I was a huge fan of all the 19th century costumes that the actors got to wear. I thought they were quite special as the clothing itself tells a story. So a quick Google search later and I discovered costume designer Susannah Buxton and her work. Its pretty inspiring to see how artists contribute to different industries.

3dt: How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?
MS: Always have personal work on the go, even when working a full-time job and all of lifes responsibilities. If you chip away at a personal project just a little bit each week, you will (eventually) finish, your skills will grow, and youll level up!

In addition to personal work, enrolling in classes is always a crucial endeavor. The amount of knowledge and motivation from this can be transformational. Always be learning!

3dt: Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
MS: Nostalgia heavily weighs me down. To this day, my most favorite artists are those that I grew up with and shaped my young brain. For instance, my head literally exploded when I discovered Heavy Metal magazine for the first time. Reading the comics of Jean Giraud, Olivier Ledroit, Frezzato or discovering the pinup art of Olivia De Berardinis and Luis Royo completely changed my perspective on life.

I am a big fan of all the master's out there, digital and traditional: Wendy Pini, Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Caravaggio, Alexander Mcqueen, Susannah Buxton, Kevin Eastman, Olivier Ledroit, Luis Royo, Jean-Leon Geromejo, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Olivia De Berardinis, Tim Bradstreet, Katsuhiro Otomo, Mike Mignola, Massimiliano Frezzato, Jean Giraud, the list goes on and on.

3dt: What can we expect to see from you next?
MS: At home I am starting to experiment more with KeyShot, Xgen, and Arnold. Learning new rendering techniques is something quite new to me and I am really enjoying it. Professionally I am looking forward to when Crystal Dynamics reveals more on the Avengers project! Can't wait to share what weve been working on!

Related links

Check out Mike Svymberskys site
Mike on ArtStation
Mike on Instagram

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