Wes McDermott – In The SpotLight


The Real World Modo

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Modo artist and author of “The Real World Modo” Wes McDermott was gracious enough to grant the following interview and share his views on Modo and 3D in general.

Wes, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where you’re from and your background?
I’m from Louisville Kentucky and I’ve lived there my entire life. I’m 32 years old and have an amazing wife and two great kids, Abby (3) and Logan (13 months). Currently, I work for UPS in their Creative Media Department which is part of PR and Communications and I’ve been concentrating a lot lately on freelance work in regards to training through writing books and creating videos. My main hobby, outside of 3D art is practicing Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

What first attracted you to 3D?
Starting off as a photographer, I would say it was the moment I realized that I could essentially have a photography studio in a computer. The first 3D app I ever saw was LightWave 5.0 and I was hooked the moment I saw it opened.

When did you first start using Modo? What software did you start with?
I started using LightWave at version 5.0 and I used it all the way up to 9.0. I started out with Modo at version 201. When I first started working at UPS, I had to use 3ds Max for a small stint, before I was able to talk them into buying me a copy of LightWave. Now, I only use Modo, Maya and Mudbox for my 3D work.

I do remember right when Brad Peebler, Stuart Ferguson and Allen Hastings left NewTek. I remember following Luxology when they first formed. They originally had a website at Luxology.net and they didn’t have a product (Modo) at this time. I remember they had a mission statement in these early stages that referenced something about being dedicated to producing plugins for LightWave and furthering 3D technology. I used to check this site all the time as I was so curious as to what this meant for the future of LightWave.

What was the hardest thing for you when you started 3D?
The hardest thing was modeling and UV mapping. I just had such a hard time figuring out how to create a model. It was something I just couldn’t wrap my head around which speaking of wrapping, UV mapping was tough to understand as well. I desperately wanted to learn how to create my own objects, so I continued to make modeling my focus until I got a handle on it.

What do you like most about Modo? What do you like least?
Definitely the modeling tool set makes my favorite list. I can’t imagine modeling in any other application. I also am very fond of the painting tool set and rendering engine. Setting up materials in Modo is much more artist friendly and quicker than say in another renderer such as Mental Ray.

Sculpting is on my least favorite list. I’ve never really liked the sculpting tools. I think they’re good for simple tasks such as smoothing out a mesh or making rough shapes like ground planes and rocks, but for doing character sculpts, in my opinion it doesn’t compare to Mudbox. That’s not to say the tools are bad. I’ve seen very talented artists do amazing work with the sculpt tools.

What tool or function would you like to see implemented in Modo 501 most?
Without a doubt, skinning! I would really like to see Modo get skinning features in 501.

How did The real World Modo project come about?
Well, in this case, I was approached by Focal Press who was interested in publishing a book on Modo. They saw my profile on the Luxology site and asked me if I’d be interested. At first, I was pretty intimidated to take something like this on, but in the end, I felt if I don’t try, I’ll never know. I felt it was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to take on the project. At this time, they had already had a Modo book proposed, but this proposal fell through and I picked up the project. From there, I started over on the project and decided to take the Modo book in a new route. I pitched a new idea and wrote the outline. The publisher liked the ideas so the gave me the green light. My vision for Real World Modo was to take all of the areas of 3D that I always had a tough time with, areas that just wasn’t covered fully in tutorials and fill in the gaps. I wanted to create the 3D book that I wanted to buy myself. I didn’t want to have any step by step tutorials or as I mention 3D number chapters, but instead shed light on principles behind tough concepts such as UV Mapping.

You seem to be very active, with the forums, your blog, The3DNinja, video tutorials, family; how do you manage the time with all your activities?
That’s a good question! It can be very tough. I rarely work on any projects such as The 3D Ninja Blog until after the kids go to bed. I also make sure to spend time with the wife. We’ve got some favorite TV shows we watch together such as House. Family is extremely important and I’m careful to make sure that they are my first priority. I think what makes it work is that 3D art is my passion, my hobby, it’s what I do for fun. So instead of kicking back to read a novel, I’d rather pick up a new training book or doodle in Mudbox. I’m always reading up on 3D or practicing new things. I’ve very blessed in that my favorite hobby is also my job. It also helps to have a laptop : )

Where do you see 3D going in the future?
I see 3D heading more and more into interactive content. Games are a hot market and 3D is a major part of making games. The Games market is getting to be if it’s not already more lucrative than the film industry. I see artists creating more interactive content for games, web and multi-media presentations. In my full-time job, I work as a multi-media artist and we are constantly pushing what we can do with interactive 3D content. With companies like Unity Technologies creating such artist friendly tools, I just see these some great opportunities coming for 3D artists.

What part of the 3D process do you enjoy most? Modeling, texturing or animating?
I would say modeling. I enjoy zoning out, cranking some tunes and just modeling. It’s a great satisfaction to create something from nothing, to bring an idea to life to speak and in 3D.

What type of formal training do you have in 3D?
None really. I went to a small community college for graphic design and photography. I’ve never taken any formal 3D classes. I just wanted to learn it so bad, I read every book and watched every tutorial I could get my hands on. I always considered my limited college experience as a joke, but I did learn one valuable thing and that’s my education is up to me. Tutorials are great, books are great, but they should always be considered starting points, or jumping off areas for your 3D education. Doing your own self exploration into 3D techniques is where you’re going to truly learn to be a 3D artist. One can’t rely on finding all the answers in a book or tutorial. No matter how good a book or tutorial is, it will always leave some type of gap and this gap can only be filled through your own research and practice. Being a 3D artist is like any other of art discipline, you must learn to be a problem solver and think like a detective. Before long, you’ll find that you’ve become your own best teacher. The 3D Ninja Blog is just as much for me as it’s for the community. The day you stop exploring and learning is the day you stop growing as an artist.

Which way do you prefer to learn 3D? Tutorials, videos or books?
Videos. I am a visual person and I like to see things demonstrated. However, I also like books as well to just kick back with.

What would your ideal project to work on be?
If I could suspend reality and work on any project, I think I would have loved to work on creating characters for Star Wars Episode II. That was a magical movie for me as I was really getting into 3D and I used to watch the 2nd behind the scenes disc over and over. I was blown away by the digital Yoda and the start of digital characters being placed in major roles.

Who are some of the people you admire or work you like to check out?
There are so many talented artists, especially in the Modo community it’s very touch to single anyone out. I greatly enjoy Warner McGee’s character designs and renders and Wayne Robson’s sculpting and Mudbox work. I also greatly admire the work of Weta Digital and ILM as I’m sure we all are for their amazing VFX work.

Where did the concept of The3DNinja come from?
It’s hard to remember. I’m a big fan of Kung Fu as I’ve studied Wing Tsun for a long time. The best way I could incorporate Kung Fu into a term or character so to speak for myself was to use Ninja. I know Ninja is a Japanese discipline, but I liked the idea. Practicing martial arts, I know that it takes hard work, you have to learn to adapt and think for yourself. Wing Tsun is about knowing a set of key principles and then letting go, relying on key reflexes to react. Wing Tsun is alive, always adapting to situations, never relying on fixed movements and this is the same approach I take to my 3D work.

Do you plan on writing another Modo or 3D book?
Yes, I do have plans. I can’t say much at this time, but there are hints on the 3D Ninja Blog entitled “Project X.”

What do you find most challenging about working for UPS?
The challenge lies in maintaining creativity in a strict corporate environment.

Do you prefer working in a Mac or Windows OS?
I like both actually, although I ultimately feel 3D apps tend to work better on Windows, I am now mainly working on the Mac. The great thing about Mac is that with the Intel machines, you can have the best of both worlds.

What advice would you give to the person just starting out in 3D?.
Work hard, practice often, read a lot and most importantly have fun. We become 3D artists because we like it. If it gets to where it’s not fun anymore, then it’s no longer worth pursuing. Get involved in 3D communities by sharing your work, posting ideas and asking questions. Make it your passion and you’ll go far.

Wes, I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us. I know I look forward to learning more from you and your training materials. If you would like to check out more of Wes’ work or check out his blog to find out all sorts of tips and tricks go to The3DNinja.com.

Thanks Wes!

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