Ryan, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, my name is Ryan Drue and I was born and raised in San Jose, California. I’m currently happily employed as the resident artist here at Luxology. I have worked in most all aspects of digital multimedia. My first job in the “industry” was for a small production company creating DVD content. I was just out of school and did not get paid much but it was something. They sort of just threw me into production which, ended up teaching me a lot. I was the only full-time artist so I did all the DVD authoring, video editing and occasional After Effects work, which ended up being the high point of that place. Once they closed their doors I went back to driving a truck for my father’s construction company for another year or so until I was done with that life. I went back to school and took a 3D modeling class and shortly after I got my first real job in the industry as a full time 3D artist. At that company I spent a few years doing tons of 3D and motion graphics work for a wide range of clientele. From there I did the freelance thing for a bit until being picked up by Luxology.
We actually had a copy of 3D Studio Max at my high school, but I maybe only ever spent an hour or two in it. After high school I went to a computer arts trade school of sorts and took my first Lightwave class in 2000. It’s funny I went to that school to learn video production but after seeing 3D my career plan changed very quickly. We were using version 5.6 but once Lightwave 6 came out I bought myself a copy and never stopped with 3D after that.
How did you get the job with Luxology?
That is probably a better question to ask Brad who hired me. I never would have thought I’d be working for a software company. Although I do remember a conversation with an old co-worker of mine when I first started producing a good amount of work in Modo. I distinctly remember saying “Man I just wish I could work for Luxology just making cool stuff”, or something like that. Two years later I received an email from Brad asking if I wanted to create some content for 401. I had demoed for Lux before and was pretty involved in the Bay Area Modo User Group so I knew him and the team a bit at that point. The fact I was local and was somewhat decent in most aspects of Modo made for a good match I suppose. I was freelance then, and had a few projects in production at the time so I did some material presets on the side, but once my schedule freed up I came on full time with Luxology.
What do you find most challenging working in 3D?
For me it would be animation, but probably only because I have never really focused on it. To be honest the most challenging aspect for me is never mastering any one area of the medium. Other than animation I really love exploring all areas of 3D. But that has resulted in never becoming a great modeler or texturing/lighting artist. I focus on one thing for a bit then another, then, try something new altogether. It is also very challenging just keeping up with today’s technology, there is always something new to learn.
I participated in your presentation on The Modo User Group, which was good, what was the main inspiration behind the HDRE Kit.
Thanks Don, I had fun with that one. The inspiration for the kit was to help streamline the process of High Dynamic Range lighting. Obviously you can just add a HDRI as the environment and turn on GI, but that only gets you so far. You still are left with aligning the camera and settings to a matching backplate, which can take some time. Also, we wanted to make it fun to just explore different environments and moods. And that is really the inspiration behind all the kits, making it quicker for users to create. You might not be any good at setting materials thus the PAD kit. You might have a great model and want to show it in a real world environment quickly, well that’s where HDRE comes in. Also, Brad and I both have interests in photography, so when sitting down thinking of the next kit this just seemed a logical next step. Yazan was in the midst of creating a more interior/studio lighting kit, SLIK, so we thought the great outdoors would make for a nice addition.
What process do you enjoy more, teaching or actual 3D creation?
That is an interesting question for me because I never thought of myself as a teacher of 3D. Although at this point I guess I have done a bit… The creation of 3D imagery is my first passion and is very enjoyable, although it is extremely rewarding seeing what others are creating with some techniques I have shown through Luxology.TV. Hopefully I can continue to come up with ideas to pass onto everyone. I know how daunting it can be to learn 3D so any help I can give is actually very enjoyable. I think my personal work had slowed down a bit in terms of the amount I produce, but very few things in life are as fun to me as creating whatever it is in my mind.
You work is great, what type of 3D do you enjoy creating i.e. automotive, product, architectural, etc.?
I don’t think there is any one thing I enjoy the most. Definitely not characters, or at least photoreal humans. I’ve tried and failed miserably many times. Other than that I love it all. If you take a look at my body of work I hope you don’t see a consistent theme. Too often I see people pigeon hole themselves to one type of style. That’s great if that is your passion but there is too much out there to create for me. The most rewarding images I have done are just abstract shapes and colors. I was really into creating these glass like sculptures for a while. For me those are the most fun. Really I just like to explore form, lines and color. Whatever the subject matter may be.
What is a typical day at Luxology like?
Nothing is typical at Luxology… that’s why we all love it here. Brad normally starts the day with a break dancing battle, which he never wins. Normally that is followed by a Segway race around the campus. When we get tired of that we normally hit the pool for some laps, followed by a sauna and massages. The companies’ softball team normally gets an hour or two of practice in after lunch, we got to beat Autodesk this year. After that we are all pretty tired so it’s off to nap time. Somewhere in there some code gets written and I try to make something cool. All in all a pretty normal workday, if you ask me.
Allen Hastings, Stuart Ferguson & Brad Peebler seem like great people to work with, what’s it like everyday working with them?
They are all actually really cool people to work with and to know as friends. I was somewhat intimidated by them when I first was hired. But to be honest they are actually the most down to earth bosses I have worked with. Brad and I chat quite a bit on the future of Luxology, and being a part of something this special is very rewarding to me. Allen loves to talk rendering, as do I. Only problem is I can barely remember most things he tells me. I have asked him the same questions so many times, but things are finally starting to stick. Stuart is the brains behind the code and having the ability to sit and tell him the way I think things should work is pretty cool. Although he is always ten steps ahead of whatever I can think of.
Who’s work do you enjoy seeing and who inspires you?
In terms of modo users they are many, but a few always come to mind. Gelmi of course, the man is beyond prolific. It has been a great ride watching him become the modo master. Actually all those Brazilians get me going, Sampaio, Lightshock_Studio. Tim Cooper has always been on my list of favorites. To me his work is the epitome of photoreal. Yazan Malkosh is always inspiring me as well. Khalid Muharraqi might be my most beloved if I really think about it. His work had inspired me longer than any other artist. I could go on for a while here, Sha Ali, Jacques Defontaine, John Hayes, Eric Tobiason, Chris Morris, Rockmed, Boyang Zhu… and so many more. Sorry to all I forgot.
What outside interests do you have besides Luxology & 3D?
My main passion has been and will always be skateboarding. It can also be beyond frustrating trying a trick for hours and never landing it, falling, bleeding, screaming at the gods. Yet there are days when everything just falls into place and words really can’t describe it. Also, you’re outdoors with your friends having fun, can’t beat that. Photography has been quite an enjoyable passion of mine over the last few years.
What was the hardest part in creating the HDRE Kit?
Well nothing was overtly hard. More time consuming if anything. There was a challenge in framing the shots for sure. I was essentially shooting something that does not exist yet. So framing the composition took a bit of imagination. What sort of objects would people put it the shot, how large, and where, those were the thoughts going through my mind while shooting the backplates.
What would be a dream project for you to work on?
Not sure really, that is a hard one to answer. I sort of stopped dreaming of what’s next. Kinda sad really when I actually say it. I used to think I wanted to work on films and that was a dream of mine, but not so much anymore. If I had to pick something I would say any project that First Ave. Machine has done. No other company excites me on every new completed project like they do. I find them to be forward thinkers with an almost flawless track record of artist vision and execution. That is a team I guess I dream of joining.
What feature would you like to see implemented in Modo 501?
I don’t think I am at liberty to say because I already know all the features that will be in 501. So I think anything I say to that would get the conspiracy theories going. I can say I am very happy with everything that has gone into 501 already, and look forward to everything that ends up getting in. It will be a great release.
What other software packages do you use?
Nowadays only Photoshop and After Effects. I used to play with Maya and Lightwave but now it’s all Modo for 3D. If I were to pick up another 3D app it would be Houdini or RealFlow.
Do you find it hard balancing your personal interests with family and work?
I used to, but I think I have found the balance these days. I have no wife and kids so that makes things much easier in that respect. There was a time all my free time went into getting ok at creating 3D imagery and nothing else mattered. Friends would call to hang out and I would just say I am working on the computer today. Also when I was freelancing I always had a couple of jobs going at any given time. I became extremely stressed out and unhappy with my life. Made great money but I learned then money does not bring happiness. It does help, but it can’t be my driving force in life. I get offered freelance work all the time but that requires leaving work at night just to go home and start a new day, which lasts late into the night. Nowadays I do my job at Lux then try to spend the rest of my time with friends. Which is why you probably haven’t seen much work in the gallery from me as of late.
What other training videos do you have in the works, if any?
Nothing in works right now. The Shader Tree series was really the only training that was ever in the works. All the videos on Luxology.TV are just ideas that come to my mind, normally the day of recording. If I get an idea I think is worth sharing I will whip up a video for you guys. There are some 501 videos I have in mind, but again you will get nothing out of me on those.
If you weren’t doing this for a living what do you think you would be doing?
Think I would be doing or want to be doing… I would not want to think of what I would be doing. If it were what I want to be doing it would be a skateboarding videographer. That is what got me into digital arts in the first place. I still work on little videos with my friends and occasionally help out with some bigger videos.
Where do see the future of 3D and VFX heading in the future?
This is not so much where I see things going, but where I would want to see things go. No more 3D, stereoscopic that is. I don’t care if things appear to come off the screen. Just write better scripts and worry about the artistic side of things. I would love to see more abstract imagery that takes the story places you couldn’t other wise. I did not see the new Alice In Wonderland film but from what I’ve seen it seems as if VFX helped create something new and fresh looking. Again I could be way off, not seeing it and all. But the proportions of the Queen of Hearts and Tweedledee and Tweedledum just look cool to me. But I guess saying that takes away from my better scripts comment.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to get started in 3D?
Sit down behind your computer and don’t get up. It takes time to find yourself. I always focused on projects that were not overly ambitious, things I knew I could complete and complete well. If you try to complete a shot you saw in Avatar you will probably get frustrated and quit before you ever get started. That is probably why most of my work is very simple, in terms of the amount of content in a shot. But it gives me the ability to really dial in the materials, lighting, modeling and so on. You could spend a good amount of time just making a photorealistic pencil. I would try that before trying to make the whole room in which the pencil lives. But that is just me, and for the most part it has paid off. 3D is hard to learn technically but that is nothing without the artistic side of things. So you really must spend time learning both if you really want to succeed, in my opinion.
Ryan, I want to thank you for being so gracious in granting me an interview and sharing yourself with the rest of us, this was awesome! I and everyone else, looks forward to seeing what comes from you next, both in your personal work and Luxology work. If you would like to check out some of Ryan Drue’s work go to Luxology.com.