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Robert Smith: character artist interview

Robert Smith

Character Artist

Character artist Robert Smith has worked on AAA titles like “FIFA” and “Need for Speed” and helps run the Ten Thousand Hours Facebook group. Find out more…

Robert's Artstation

3dtotal

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?

Robert

Hi there, I’m Robert, a character artist from Australia working in the game industry. I’ve been in the industry for roughly two-and-a-half years now, spending most of that time in Canada working on some of the biggest game franchises like FIFA and Need For Speed. I specialize in creating realistic characters and I have a passion for creating likenesses, as I always feel l learn a lot from making them.

base model 3d male

3dtotal

What was the workflow behind your latest gallery image? Where did the idea come from?

Robert

My Jonathan Ingram personal project was really driven by a few key ideas and goals of mine. The biggest being I felt the need to create a new personal project for my portfolio to demonstrate my skill set. I was very inspired to create a full game character while using an actor’s likeness as that combines some of my favorite aspects of character art.

At the time I was really excited about the prospect of all these AAA game remakes and that partially inspired me to make a character from an old videogame but with modern graphics, current technology, and workflows. I’m a big fan of Policenauts which is the original 1994 videogame where the character I made is from. The character was created using an industry standard workflow for character art.

The clothing began in Marvelous Designer and went through a couple of iterations to make sure I got a result I was happy with. Further fold sculpting, detailing and cleanup was done in ZBrush and the low-poly and UVs were done in Maya. The maps were baked in Marmoset Toolbag and the PBR textures were created in Substance Painter. The likeness was sculpted in ZBrush, the high frequency skin pore detail was created using TexturingXYZ displacement maps, and the skin texture was created using a mixture of photo reference and TexturingXYZ.

I actually made an article on texturingXYZ detailing my head workflow using XYZ textures, so if you would like more info on that please check it out! Presentation was really important to me to get right. I had so many ideas for how to present my character, in the end I basically did all of them. It came down to a variety of lighting setups based on sci-fi and noir films and games that inspired me. Going the extra mile for alternate poses and a variety of different presentation shots made me feel like I covered all my bases when showing off my work, and that was really satisfying despite taking a lot longer than just doing one lighting setup and one pose for example.

male police officer 3d model

3dtotal

What challenges did the project present? Did you learn something new?

Robert

The Jonathan Ingram project was a game changer for me, between that project and my previous personal artwork I’d already learned so much, and then putting a lot of that new experience into practice pushed me even further. It’s why I was so adamant about making a full character as it sort of felt like this was the project which engrained these new skills I’d learned. Just like working professionally, there were challenges but in this case most of them came from myself being a perfectionist.

I was really pushing myself to do better and when I wasn’t very confident with something I made, I’d remake it. For example I tried focusing on learning Marvelous Designer and because of that learning curve I remade the character’s jacket at least one time because I wasn’t pleased with the quality. In the end it was a really good idea and I’m glad I did, but it’s always frustrating to redo work. I always deal with that frustration by making sure I remember that it wasn’t time wasted as I’m learning from those mistakes.

Practically all of the software I use for personal projects I use professionally too which has really streamlined my workflow and keeps things from getting overly complicated. Those programs are ZBrush, Maya, Substance Painter, Marvelous Designer, 3Dcoat, Marmoset Toolbag and Photoshop. However all studios have their own in-house tools and add-ons for certain programs like Maya for example which always shake up how you use a program at work.

3dtotal

How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?

Robert

I think the best way to keep a portfolio up to date is basically treating it as an extension of your day job, especially if you're on a temporary contract, and the game you’re making won’t be seen for 3-5 years. That might sound obvious but a lot of people don’t make the time to do personal art which results in portfolios getting outdated. Obviously not everyone can make the time as professional work can be incredibly demanding, but sometimes you need to sacrifice a social life to study or to improve your portfolio.

A more exciting answer would be to try new stuff on each project. Set goals to like learning a new program, technique, art style, whatever can keep you interested enough to make something new. I’ve found that if you have a specific focus for your project it’s a lot easier to work on as you’ve always got an objective beyond “just making a new character.”

3dtotal

Are you a member of any social media groups? Any favorite hashtags you check on a daily basis?

Robert

Yes actually! I help run the 10 Thousand Hours facebook group which is currently at 82,000 members and is always growing. For years it’s been a good place to share work-in-progress pics of your art and get feedback, as well as seeing what other people are working on. Joining groups like this and posting regularly is a great way to imbed yourself in the online game art community which is one of the best things an aspiring developer can do.

male with mullet 3d model

3dtotal

What are your artistic ambitions?

Robert

I love likenesses and I still feel like I can improve so much more at it, so I’m expecting to plan most of my personal projects around likeness. I also follow so many amazing 2D artists who do stylized character concepts, and I’d love to make them as game characters. I plan to take the time to learn how to do more stylized character art so I can do faithful adaptations, however I’m not sure when I’ll get around to that. If only there were more than 24 hours in a day!

base maps 3d modelling

3dtotal

What can we expect to see from you next?

Robert

Right now I’m working on another likeness project which I plan on doing a full-body game character of. I’m looking forward to when it’s progressed so I can share it online, right now it’s really early on. I’d like to also give a huge thanks to 3dtotal for taking the time to interview me, it’s been really fun and I can’t wait to share my future work with the community!

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