Warner, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Jackson, MS. My parents both were visual artists and my brother Scott is an accomplished screenwriter and theater artist. I grew up drawing, painting and doing creative projects. I studied art at the Savannah College of Art and Design where I majored in Illustration. Worked for 3 years as an illustrator for American Greetings. I’ve been freelancing since 1995. Most of my career has dealt with juvenile subject matter in some form. I do a lot of work in the Children’s book market and work with all of the major publishers. Some of my clients are Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop and Big Idea. I work from my home based studio in Savannah, GA. My wife is a writer and my 2 young boys keep me laughing.
I love your style, have you always done the cartoon style?
I never really considered myself a “cartoonist”. I never read comic books or strips either but I was always drawing. I started off drawing caricatures and portraits and still do to some degree. I love animation and character design too. Of course the Disney artists were always a huge influence on my work early on. Then Pixar and DreamWorks came on the scene and really raised the bar even higher. The style that I enjoy working in is very structural but flowing. At least that’s the idea. Regardless of subject matter I love structural things. That’s why I’m drawn to 3D I guess.
When did you first discover Modo? What software do you use?
I’ve been with Modo since 101 when it was only a modeler. I was truly amazed at how cool the images coming out of that app looked. It was affordable and I’m glad I took the leap. It was was first 3D app. I also use Zbrush and am getting into C4D right now. C4D seems like a very nice compliment to Modo. It does things in a very “modo” way (intuitive) and I really am enjoying the dynamics module. Of course Photoshop and Illustrator are my 2D tools. I dabble in motion graphics too and enjoy Apple’s Motion and Final Cut.
What is your workflow process? Do you always start with sketches?
I always start with sketches. I draw better in my moleskin sketchbook with a ballpoint pen but it’s hard to beat the flexibility of working digital with my Cintiq tablet. I’d say about 95% of my sketches for my paying work are digital. Because I’m all digital from start to finish I work very fast. I’ll develop some sketches, fine tune them, drop them into my final document PS, IL or Modo and finish the project.
Do you also do other styles of 3D styles like realistic?
Yes. I work with some regional advertising clients that call on me from time to time to do things like Medical illustrations, industrial products and the like. Not very interesting work to me but it pays okay.
How do you balance work, family and personal interests?
I work from my home based studio with my door open. When the kids are not in school I love the sounds of “life” going on in the background. Working as an artist can be lonely at times unless you stay connected with people and the world around you. I love what I do as an artist so I “work” a lot. I’m passionate about making cool imagery so even in my down time you can find me sketching or building a model or some similar creative endeavor. My art is woven into my life with my family.
It’s hard to balance it all and especially as a freelancer. “If I don’t work then we don’t eat sort of thing” you know. That kind of pressure can weigh heavy on you if you let it. I pretty good about staying busy doing the right things and always working on my balancing. My family is great! They support and love me.
I’ve noticed that your work is primarily print, do you prefer to do that rather than animating?
I’m known as a character designer and illustrator. Over the last 8 years my work has largely been in Children’s Publishing. Most of the art styles in these books don’t lend themselves to 3D so my growth as a 3D artist has been slow until a few years ago. As my needs and interests change or evolve from still images to moving images I’m sure I’ll grow in that direction as well. As long as I enjoy the work and can make a living at it I’ll do it. Modo (my primary 3D tool) does not currently offer Character animation tools and I’m not interested really in animating robots (ha ha). C4D however can do character animations of course among other things so I WILL be getting into animation as long as it makes sense professionally speaking.
What would a dream project for you be?
Lead artist/character designer for a major film or licensed property. Working with other talented artists on an kick ass project like this. I do my best work when I’m surrounded by people that are better than me.
What was the most important thing you pulled from Savannah College of Art and Design?
How to draw really. I mean how to draw better and more structurally. Of course my illustration classes were great but this was at a time before computers so drawing and painting were pushed more. I benefited a lot at the time by asking a lot of questions of my instructors and visiting artists. I really enjoyed critiques too.
What would you like to see implemented in Modo 501?
64bit for Mac. Animation tools that humans can use and understand. Right now the power seems to be there under the hood but the interface tools are not there to make it easy to follow an understand. More fur controls would be nice too. I think it’s too early to wish for things like dynamics and particles. Maybe for 601.
If you weren’t doing art & graphics what would you see yourself doing?
Well, I am doing art and graphics. I want to do more ad work for sure. More highly detailed images that would pay more than books do.
In your video presentation you did a lot of work in post or Photoshop, is that your preference?
I know PS very well and what it can do so sometimes it’s easier, quicker and better to do things in post than in the Modo render. However the better I get at rendering the less I lean on PS. Yazan Malkosh has been a big influence on me regarding rendering. He goes to great lengths to get it right in the Modo render so there’s very little post work needed. I really appreciate his skills and have adopted some of his practices.
What part of the 3D process do you enjoy more; modeling, texturing, concept?
I like to both draw and build so it’s hard to really choose but I’d say the process of modeling is what I really enjoy most. Of course it’s nice to see that really clean render in the end but sometimes I’ll just stop at the end of a good model and consider it as a success.
What was your career path once you left Savannah college?
I was recruited by American Greetings right after I graduated SCAD in 1992. Worked there as a staff illustrator until 1995 when I moved back south to Charleston, SC to freelance full-time. I live in Savannah, GA now and still freelance.
What type of equipment do you use to create your projects?
I’ve always used Mac computers. I have a 21″ cintiq tablet and a 20″ Apple display run by my MacPro. I run Modo, Zbrush, C4D, PS, IL. I use Screenflow 2 for video captures, Transmit for transferring files. iWeb for my site, I use my Canon 30D with various lenses to photograph reference etc. iPhoto and Aperture to catalog my photos. iMovie, Final Cut and Motion for any video work I do.
If there is one area of 3D that you would say you need improving in, what would it be?
There are lots of areas that I’m interested in and even more than I need practice with. Modeling I’d say. I’m a good modeler but I can always get better and faster. I’m far from mastering it. I’ve not put in my 10,000 hours yet. 🙂
Was it a difficult transition incorporating 3D into your traditional artwork?
The learning curve was hard to deal with in learning 3D. Once I gained some confidence with my 3D skills it was more natural. It’s no different than a painter moving from watercolor to oil really. They have to know what the tools can do and what they can’t do before they produce their best work. I’ve had some successful 3D projects but I don’t consider any of them my best. They are the best I could do at the time.
Where do you think the future lies in 3D whether it be print, movies, videos and more?
I see 3D moving in all directions. Still images, moving images , interactive imagery and combinations of them all like Augmented Reality. This is a very exciting time to be an artist. We have 3D tools that can make amazing images and experiences. It’s important to align yourself on a growth path with tools that are powerful but not at the expense of losing the art in what you make. That’s the unique part of the equation.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in the wacky but fun profession?
The 3D world is growing daily with people that can do amazing things. There are many directions and career opportunities. Focus on what you’re passionate about doing. Do the thing that you LOVE to do and be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to get there. Don’t spread yourself too thin or you’ll never reach your full potential.
Warner, I’d like to take this opportunity for taking the time out of your busy schedule and sharing some of your insight with my readers. You truly are a blessed artist and am glad to have met you. Hopefully in the near future you’ll grant us a video interview with us. If you would like to see more of Warners’ fantastic work you can visit his website, www.warnermcgee.com.