NPOWER Software - Advanced Modeling Plugins for 3DSMAX and RHINO

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UK Designer and Artist, Julian Foster: nPower 3d digital artist interview.
 
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Julian, Chapter Two has been doing visualization and architectural design for international clientele for over a decade. Can you please let our readers know a little about Chapter Two’s history and how you got to the point where you are today?

   
 

My first taste of 3D software was over 15 years ago. I was a product designer and looking for a new challenge. A friend found a demo version of Truespaceon a CDrom in the back of a computer text book. I tried it on a borrowed laptop and was absolutely hooked. Most people were just discovering PowerPoint and I felt I had found something from another world! Eventually a friend loaned me the money for 3DStudio just as it was changing to Max. I ran this on the same borrowed laptop (imagine an 8inch screen split into 4!) but by then I knew this was what I wanted to do. I sold my motorbike for £3000 ($5000) and spent it all on the most powerful computer I could find (I don’t remember much about it other than it had a whole 32Mb of RAM!!) and struck out on my own.

   
 

Since then there has been a steady growth of clients, at first because it was a new and innovative way to present ideas and now because high levels of presentation are simply expected, especially in bigger corporate environments. It does take a while though to develop the trust in these relationships, especially as there can be a lot riding on the results and deadlines are often very tight.

   
 

Most of our work is high res. imagery for Marketing, Advertising and Product design. The product design area covers all levels from concept to manufacture – the experience we have allows us to take a sketch from the back of an envelope (yes it has happened) and turn it into an image so believable that marketing departments get disappointed when they discover there’s still a year of development to go. One of our clients now asks for our initial concepts as monotone images just to damp down expectations and avoid having to explain this every time!

   
 

I enjoy the creative process and the technical challenges that visualisation brings so I am still involved in all aspects of the business from building workstations to making sure print output is up to scratch. I do however import specialists for certain aspects of production, 2D animation for example or graphic design. This approach allows costs to be streamlined and the business flexible, it means I can always use the right person or team for the job. Being small in this way allows us to give a really personal service to big clients that usually deal with bigger agencies and their account handlers rather than the people producing the work. Changes can be actioned much faster and possibilities discussed directly with those who ultimately have to make it happen. The industry seems to be slowly changing and clients are starting to realise that the security they felt was offered by bigger studios is now being matched and sometimes surpassed by individuals and cooperative groups that are faster to respond and have a more personal interest in making a success of every project.

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Julian, reviewing your work I was impressed at the wide range of clients from various industries from Yacht interior visualization to Toy and Box design visualization. With such diverse clientele you must experience some interesting technical challenges. Can you give us some insight into one of your recent challenges and discuss how you solved the issues for your client?

   
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A big UK supermarket wanted to create an aerial shot of their car park with trolleys arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree for a winter ad. campaign. With an image like this scale is very important so we spent time crawling around measuring and photographing everything we could find, from the car park road markings to the thickness of the trolley wires – if you're aiming for realism you cant afford shortcuts at the modelling stage as unlike texturing or lighting which to a degree can be tweaked in post the models themselves are almost impossible to change when you get that far down the line.

   
 

The plan was to get as close to real as possible but as ever time was not on our side and plans have a habit of changing! We like to work and be treated as part of the clients team and will sometimes make creative suggestions if we feel we can add to the result – as the image looked a little lifeless to us we suggested adding people to the scene in strategic places to look like baubles on the tree – an idea they loved and decide to go for but on top of that they decided they wanted some snow scattered around for a more wintery feel!

   
 

The implications of all this meant that we now had a huge technical challenge to get it out of the door on time – and for us this always takes priority over everything else, leaving a client empty handed in a presentation is not good for business!

   
 

Even though ultimate realism had to go, the resulting visual was stronger because of the creative input. It’s easy in this game to focus on visual perfection at the expense of visual impact which ultimately is what creates a winning image.

 
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Julian can you share any information about some of the current visualization projects that you and Chapter Two are developing?

   
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Most of the work we do is confidential so this question always gives us a problem - it’s difficult to be specific about what we are doing right now. The toy industry in particular seems to guard its secrets very closely but creating visual mock-ups of new toy or game ideas is a big part of our business at this time of year. We have an Australian client that has a huge recreational concept that will be marketed with Red Bull sponsorship, so we are getting to do some cool images of that. On top of this we are helping a logistics company with some product design for a ground breaking temperature controlled packaging system for vaccines and medicines – so all pretty exciting at the moment!

   
 
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Julian, your visualization work with Chapter.two is an inspiration. Could you please tell us what illustrators, designers, studios, social ideas, writers or artists inspire your work?

   

Although it was a relatively small job at the time I think having the chance to recreate the Monopoly logo in 3D was one of the best. We were in a development meeting discussing an element of the pack design that I was working on and I said 'wouldn't it be cool if the logo was 3D as well?' they agreed and because I was working for the headquarters of Waddingtons in Europe they had the power to authorise its use across every Monopoly product in the world – wherever I go, from the US to Australia, there it is!

 
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Julian, your visualization work with Chapter.two is an inspiration. Could you please tell us what illustrators, designers, studios, social ideas, writers or artists inspire your work?

   
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Thank you - mostly my driving force is a desire to improve on whatever I have done before whether that’s from an artistic or technical perspective – I will learn a new application overnight if I believe that is going to give the best results for a particular job or just keep adjusting aspects of a composition until it has the feel that I want. Too often my work is the result of extreme time pressure but that can often be the greatest motivation of all!

   
 

There are so many fantastic digital artists out there it would be difficult to mention all those whose work I enjoy. I think the shear technological achievement of people like Liam Kemp with ‘This Wonderful Life’ (www.liamkemp.com) is an inspiration and you only have to take a brief look at the Zbrush galleries (www.pixologic.com/zbrush/gallery) to be inspired by some frighteningly talented sculptors. As a 10 year old I used to love Chris Foss’s space age scenes (www.chrisfoss.net) – vast planets and machines that drew you into another world and I would spend hours trying to create my own versions. The love of that kind of imagery has transferred to film concept art where again there are many exceptional artists but the likes of Ralph McQuarrie (www.ralphmcquarrie.com), Doug Chaing (www.dchiang.com) and Ryan Church (www.ryanchurch.com) really stand out for me.

   
 

It can be quite a juggling act to be commercially viable and create the work you want but it seems to me that the greatest artists are those that push visual boundaries without having the latest hardware and software gadgets – they just solve the problems as they come, often with ingenious work arounds or just plain hard work, maintaining their enthusiasm to chase their vision above all else.

 
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Julian what are some of the publications web or print that you would recommend to our readers?

   
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I do get 3D magazines and they can offer a certain amount of inspiration and technical help and are great for keeping up with the latest industry trends but often I find looking away from 3D to photographic magazines for example can provided the most forward movement in your work. Learning about lighting and composition is so crucial and yet it is so often overlooked in preference to learning about new functionality or workflows. There are some really great tutorial sites out there though such as Gnomonology (www.gnomonology.com), 3D total (www.3dtotal.com), the CGchannel (www.cgchannel.com) and personal sites like Neil Blevins (www.neilblevins.com) whose education pages helped me to raise my game few years ago – understanding the physics of light and materials can make a huge difference when dealing with the virtual environment, especially when it comes to controlling the new bread of physically correct renderers such as FryRender but actually this knowledge allows you to push the most basic renderer to achieve the results you want instead of just settling for its default output.

   
 
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Julian, What are some advantages to using 3ds max nPower Products in your workflow?

   
 

I tend to use whatever tool fits the job best and always keep my eyes open for better ways to do things. Having said that I really do use power nurbs most of the time, the nPower products have made an enormous difference to my workflow from many points of view. It sounds like a contradiction but I have tried to use polys for product design and haven’t yet found a way to get something on the screen quickly that can then be moulded into the finished item without some kind of rebuild. It takes a lot of planning to work with polys and get smooth flowing lines and fillets of precise dimensions whereas with Power Nurbs I can create a 2D outline extrude it out, add a few blocks, hack and chop with the boolean functions, create fillets and details and then go down the stack to the first 2D outline and make adjustments that will propagate through the entire model – everything else, fillets, booleans and details will then adjust to the latest sketch - brilliant! If there is a complete change of direction often particular parts such as detailed areas or Boolean cutters can be extracted from the original and used in a new version without having to make them again from scratch.

   
 

The quality of the final model is superb because you don’t have to worry about polycounts and flat lines on curves, usually the automatic render settings are good enough to forget about this aspect of the output completely.

   
 

Recently I produced some fully engineered Polypropylene parts for manufacture in China – they cut steel for the injection moulding tool from the power nurbs models I created in Max, that’s pretty impressive for a plug-in to a visualisation app!

 

 

 

The translators product is essential for me as well - being able to import an IGES file from a client without having to take a day off while Max goes into meltdown has reduced my stress levels no end!

   
 

Overall it’s a simplified workflow even though it’s a challenge to begin with especially if you’ve come from a poly-based background but it pays off in spades once you get the hang of it.

 
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Julian over the past 10 years Chapter Two has worked on many CG and Design visualization projects. Of all the projects that you have worked on, are there any that stand out as a favourite and why?

   
 

Although it was a relatively small job at the time I think having the chance to recreate the Monopoly logo in 3D was one of the best. We were in a development meeting discussing an element of the pack design that I was working on and I said 'wouldn't it be cool if the logo was 3D as well?' they agreed and because I was working for the headquarters of Waddingtons in Europe they had the power to authorise its use across every Monopoly product in the world – wherever I go, from the US to Australia, there it is!

 
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Julian, quite obvious from your work that you been pushing the edge of CG and design visualization tools your entire career. What innovations do you think will drive the design and CG field into the next decade?

   
 

Tricky – a time machine would be a good start, impossible deadlines would be a thing of the past! Seriously though, like many others I have hoped for a standardised CAD format for a long time. Not particularly exciting I know but it would open up possibilities no end for collaboration and save a lot of time fixing import problems. At the moment it seems to be a way to lock users into a certain application or brand but I think the bigger picture means that eventually this will become a fruitless pursuit and mark developers out as having a lack of awareness of the needs of users rather than giving them the exclusivity that they are trying to achieve.

   
 

The open source community is really worth watching and I think what we can see now is just the beginning – really strong and powerful products are being developed by the users themselves and this is good for competition and pushing boundaries. In a professional environment you can’t beat having predictable product support and updates but I think the Open Source approach can teach traditional developers to focus more on the customers needs rather than the bottom line.

   
 

Workflow seems to be the buzzword at the moment, often in terms of cramming more into our busy lives but I would like to see more innovations from software developers that allow the artist to create and produce rather than being distracted by what the software demands of them. This is definitely a tall order but some seem to be rising to the challenge. My hope is that technology will become so powerful and software so well designed that the technology itself will fade into the background while at the same time opening up creative possibilities that we can’t yet imagine!

   


 
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Name: Julian Foster
Location: UK
Software: nPower
URL: chaptertwo
   
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Past nPower Artist of the Month

 
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Neil Blevins
 
 
 
Jens Mondry
 
 
 
Carlos Fueyo
 
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Rudolph Lagarrigue
 
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Thom Schillinger
 
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NPower Products Below.
 
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