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Interview with CG Generalist, Alex Dingfelder
Alex Dingfelder is a look development artist, designer and CG generalist currently living in Los Angeles, working as a CG Lead at BUCK. He has been working in the industry for over six years with work for clients such as McDonalds, Cadbury, Google and Facebook. I talked with Alex to find out more about his background and amazing work. Can you share some details on what you do at BUCK as CG Lead? I work with producers to figure out the resources needed for jobs, as well as managing client comments, requests and making sure all the expectations are met. I also work very closely with the creative directors to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to realize their vision for the project, as well as to help solve creative and technical challenges. Most importantly though, I work with the CG team to strategize and make sure that, in every project, we do our best to get a product we can all be proud of. I’m also “on the box” a lot as an artist. Lately, I’ve mostly been involved with Look Development, Lighting and Compositing. How did you first get introduced to digital art? When I was a kid, I discovered this silly program called RPG Maker 1997. I used to make my own, terrible games with it, and the part I enjoyed the most was creating the character sprites and animations. How did you learn your craft? I don’t think I have one answer for this! Ever since I first picked up a computer I’ve been, in one way or another, learning little things that I apply to my work every day. I did eventually go to college to study animation though, which helped me a lot by cutting out the noise and helping me focus on the things that I enjoyed the most What aspect of the digital art process do you like most? It’s pretty tough to decide. I usually enjoy wearing a bunch of different hats, although my favorite ones are all linked together. I would say that the trifecta of look development, lighting and compositing is what I tend to enjoy the most. It’s incredibly satisfying to concentrate on making a shot look as good as possible. That being said, I’m a simple man. If I can get some coffee and work on something that gets me into flow, I’m happy. How do you continue to grow as an artist? I try to dedicate at least one day of the month to do a personal assessment of the things I’ve been struggling with the most, the skills I feel I’m weakest at, and the new skills I’d like to learn. I then try to decide which one is the one I want to focus on and make a point to work on improving/learning that next. I usually dedicate at least 2 hours on Saturdays for deliberate practice on the skill I want to improve. What tools do you have in your digital arts toolkit? Our main pipeline software at BUCK is Maya/VRay, and Nuke for compositing. We’ve used Modo a couple of times as the final production renderer as well, but it’s lack of robust alembic support keeps us from taking the program more seriously as a pipeline tool. For asset creation, however, everything is fair game. I personally love using ZBrush and Modo the most. They work extremely well together and they are an incredibly strong combo for creating quick Styleframes. Modo is also a huge aspect of my lookdev pipeline. Even if we are using VRay as our final renderer, I tend to start a lot of textures with Modo’s procedural stack, and then bake them down to keep working on them elsewhere. I’ve also used Substance painter and Mari a couple of times in the past, but I’m not in love with them. I keep coming back to ZBrush/Modo/Photoshop for lookdev. I also love After Effects and Cinema 4D, but as my responsibilities shift, I tend to use these tools less and less, and now I feel like I’m too rusty to seriously mention them as a significant part of my toolkit. What are some your favorite projects that you worked on? Seed Matters is definitely one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on. This was one of those rare projects in which we were able to just go crazy with the look of the spot, and I was given a lot of freedom with the final look and style for it. Also, even though they are, for the most part, pretty cookie cutter jobs, the McDonald’s Fresh Ingredients spots I worked on presented a very interesting challenge in the food we had to create for them. Food is just one of those things that is incredibly hard to nail in CG. Our brains are very strongly hardwired towards recognizing whether something looks appetizing or not, and solving that problem was an incredibly enjoyable process for me. What’s a normal work day for you like? I try wake up around 5:30 am and go to the gym every weekday except wednesday. A regular workday at BUCK is 10:00am to 7:00pm but I’ve come to really appreciate the quiet time in the mornings to work on personal stuff, run errands and read. At work, the day usually starts with a production meeting to get everyone up to speed on how resources are being allocated and who’s working on what projects. Everything else really depends on the projects we are currently working on, but most of the time I’ll split my time between supervising and “on the box” artist tasks. What do you believe has changed the most in the industry since you first got started up until now? I’d say that the most noticeable change for me is that the quality of the work that is out there has skyrocketed. There are a ton of studios out there producing consistently outstanding work now. Not too long ago it used to only be a couple. It’s not just the studios, either. There is an insane amount of talent to be found everywhere, which is incredibly inspiring and keeps everyone on their toes. What hobbies away from the computer do you have? I love spending time with my wife, traveling, food (cooking and eating it!), getting together with friends to play board games, hiking and reading. What advice would you give someone starting out in this business? Oh man, there are so many things I’d love to talk about here, but I’ll try to keep it short. I think that a lot of young artists today start their journey with a very specific endgame in mind. And while I don’t think this is wrong (focus is important), I feel it’s worth mentioning that as an artist you should try to ground your happiness in the work that you do, and learn to separate it from the recognition or dream job you think would mean you are successful. The truth is that certain areas of the industry can be impossible to get to. There is a lot of luck and timing involved. But the work, the actual rewarding part of it, is always available to you. Enjoying the process is one of the most unfair advantages someone can have. Besides that, I’d say that it pays off to keep in mind what your goals are when sitting down to practice. “Doodling” can be a double-edged sword if you keep reinforcing bad habits through it. If your goal is to get better at say, artistic anatomy, you should deliberately look for relevant material and practice it. Do not get me wrong, though! Doodling obviously has it’s place in an artist’s repertoire; It’s incredible for trying out a lot of rapid-fire ideas and practicing creative habits... It’s also very fun! But keeping these objectives in mind and not fooling yourself into thinking you are getting better at, say, figure drawing just by doodling with no reference can be, at the very least, an inefficient path towards “Mastery”. What are some of the challenges you face as a digital artist? Getting my voice out there has definitely been a challenge for me. There is a huge difference between saying something and selling something through a pretty picture, and I’ve been pretty unsuccessful at the former. Working on broadcast and motion graphics, it’s sometimes too easy to get complacent and forget why you got into the craft in the first place. What are you currently working on? I try to always keep a couple of pet projects around, usually with a very specific goal in mind. I’m currently trying to get better at character sculpting, so I’ve been doing a bit of that during my free time. When was your last vacation and what did you do? My wife and I recently traveled around Europe for a couple of weeks. We mostly visited family as well as some friends we had not seen in a long time. What are three sites that you visit for inspiration on a daily/weekly basis? There is a ton of people doing amazing work out there right now, so I like to check the portfolio websites of people I admire to see what they are up to. On a more frequent basis, though, I like to visit aggregators and art/design communities, since you can pretty much find inspiration there 24/7. Behance, Motionographer and curated Pinterest galleries tend to be my go-to. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. No problem! Thank you guys for having me. To see ore of Alex’s work, visit his personal web site at alexdingfelder.com