Andrew Brown – In The SpotLight


Andy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m 40 years old, married, with two kids. I live in a town called South Shields, which is half way between Sunderland and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North of England. It’s a beautiful part of the world. Lovely countryside and coastline, I just wish it was bit warmer!

Art and drawing has always been a huge part of my life. My family didn’t have a television until 1978 so I had to be creative to keep myself entertained. I spent a lot of my childhood living in imaginary worlds that I used to create on rolls of plotter paper that my dad brought home from work. I’m still a bit of a day-dreamer.

I was lucky enough to be part of the Star Wars generation. I can still remember my father taking me to see it when I was eight years old. It had a huge effect on me at the time, and not having a TV at home made it even more impressive. It really fueled my imagination.

I graduated from art school in 1993 where I studied Fine Art. As well as painting and drawing I made short movies with a friend of mine. We were both huge film fans and used to regularly go to all night film festivals at the Scala Theatre in Kings Cross, London. I have very fond memories of eight hour David Chronenberg all nighters! Some of the films we made are sill in existence. It was all 16mm film back then, nothing was digital. In fact computers weren’t that available then. We had one room in college that contained ten PCs and they were for writing your essays. It’s no wonder they were universally hated!

After leaving college I set up in business as a printer but it was really tough. Times were changing, and I soon realized that if I was going to get anywhere I had to learn how to use a computer. Back then computers were really rubbish. Everything was slow and expensive and the internet in the UK was even worse. It took a few years for things to get faster and cheaper and that’s when 3D became more accessible.

The angry art student in me still has a problem with computers. I remember watching a film that a fellow student had made in which he smashed an old computer up. We thought it was great. Little did we know the effect they would have on our lives. I’m just glad I jumped on the digital train when I did!

You are originally from London, I think, how do you like it on this side of the pond?
Actually I’m not from London. I was born in Liverpool but moved around a lot when I was a child, although I did live in London for three years when I was studying. I get over to the US a few times a year thanks to Luxology, and most of the work I do is for US clients, so I do have a ‘special relationship’ with you lot on the other side of the water. Every time I’ve visited I’ve loved it.

How did you originally get started in 3D? Modo?
I was working for an advertising company about 10 years ago and a co-worker brought a copy of Bryce into work. From that moment I was hooked. I tried just about every application out there at that time and soaked up as much information as I could about the subject. There were lots of late nights. It was a difficult time, wanting to learn something as complicated as 3D, holding down a full time job, and bringing up a young family, but when you want something enough you go for it! As far as Modo is concerned I just saw it as a natural progression from Lightwave in terms of modeling. I bought it as soon as 101 was released.

You seem to do a lot of traveling for Luxology, what do you enjoy most about going to some of these places?
There are lots of things I enjoy about the trips I go on. It’s always exciting to visit different countries, and the food is always good, but the best thing is the opportunity to meet other 3D people face to face. The internet is a wonderful thing, but at times it can make the world you inhabit appear to be a mirage. When I go on a trip, that world is made flesh.

Where’s been your favorite place that you’ve gone to? Why?
That’s a difficult one. The coolest city I’ve been to is Berlin. The old East Berlin is very atmospheric and has become a hot spot for artists to live and work. I always like going to San Francisco, mainly for the fresh air and sunshine, but I think Shanghai had the biggest impact on me. You read on products that they’re made in China, but it’s only when you go there that you realize the extent to which China has become the world’s factory. I have a vivid memory or driving over a bridge and seeing the Shanghai docks, it was literally container ships and cranes as far as the eye could see.

The best thing about the traveling I’ve done is it’s made me realize how similar we all are. We all share the same hopes, dreams and daily concerns. The only barriers in the world are language and politics. This is where the art student in me love’s the computer, because in terms of global communication, and freedom of expression, the internet really has changed the world for the better.

So the best answer I can give to the question is ‘everywhere’. No matter where I’ve been I’ve always been made to feel welcome, and I’ve always come home with great memories.

Which do you enjoy more, training or working on actual projects?
I like both, and they go hand in hand. Working on design projects gives me the ideas and inspiration for tutorials, and because I also get paid to do tutorials I don’t see them as being of any less value, although I have to say I find making tutorials harder. When you work on a design project you may have a week to build some models and you put as much time into it as you need, but with a tutorial you have to boil something down into 90 minutes, not make any mistakes, and also entertain people, it’s tough.

What was the hardest thing to grasp when working in 3D?
When I started I found everything difficult, mainly because it was such an alien way of making things. I found topology a difficult thing to grasp initially because back then you had to model things in a very technical way. Nowadays we have sculpting, which is bringing more and more fine art people into the industry, and the quality of some of the modeling you see these days is insane. Topology is still there, but it’s now just a technical problem.

I also had to learn how to look at things differently. When I was drawing and painting I always looked at things in terms of two dimensional areas of color and tone. Suddenly I had to think about three dimensional surface qualities. I still find that tough!

Something I tell students all the time is that computers and software don’t make the business of creating something any easier. They allow you to do different things, and some things faster, but at the end of the day you have to deal with the same creative issues that you would face if you were using a pencil and paper. The hardest thing is to get past the software, so you’re being creative without worrying which button to push, and the only way to do that is through experience.

Race car Model

What part of the process do you enjoy more; texturing, modeling, animating?
Modeling. The reason is it’s such a direct process. When I’m building something I can see what’s taking take shape in front of me and everything happens in real time. Creatively that’s very important for me. I find texturing and rendering a very technical and slow process which is why I find it less rewarding.

What other software products do you use to create your images?
I have a number of 3D applications, Modo 401 of course, Maya, Z-Brush, an old copy of Lightwave which I still use for some things, and also Cinema 4D. For images I just use Photoshop CS3 and Illustrator CS3. I think people can get obsessed with tools, and collect them like trophies. I’m a great believer in the phrase ‘less is more’, which by chance is a Modo development mantra.

What do you feel are Modo’s strengths? It’s weaknesses?
Modo’s strength is the people involved in it. Not just the developers but also the users. 3D software is very similar these days. We have a phrase in the UK ‘you pay your money and you take your choice’. At the end of the day you use the software that suits your needs and your pocket.

What I love about the Modo community is you have such a wide variety of creative people involved in helping to move the product forward. When I started in 3D it was quite a narrow field to work in, now it’s everywhere, and Modo really reflects this.

I’m also lucky enough to see Modo from the inside, helping directly with its development and communicating with the developers. The people working for Luxology are a wonderful collection of eccentric individuals, extremely bright, and totally dedicated to the cause.

Modo’s weakness is also a strength. Luxology is a small company. We don’t have the financial muscle of an Autodesk so development is perhaps not as fast as people would like. But I know what type of company I would rather deal with, and work for.

Salamander Model

When starting a new project what is your work flow process?
Reference is always the starting point. It’s very difficult to experiment in 3D so you need a very clear idea of what you’re going to create before you start. Consequently good proprietary drawings and photographic reference is vital. Then you have to do a lot of looking. Before modeling something I spend a long time looking at images of it so I understand its form and structure. Once that’s clear in my minds eye I’m able to plan a modeling strategy, and only then do I start creating polygons. There are also other things to take into account, like what the intended use for the model is, is it going to be animated, and how close to the camera is it going to be. This all has a bearing on how you start the project.

Who are some of your inspirations and work you enjoy?
3D is a funny thing because the work you see in films is very rarely the work of one person so it’s difficult to pick out specific 3D artists who inspire me. I love the work that Passion Pictures produce. It’s very creative and they’re not afraid to use different mediums. 3D is just another tool to them. I know some of the artists at Passion and visit the studio when I’m in London. A lot of studios I visit are quite corporate, but Passion just feels like an art school. My kind of place!

You only meet a few people in life who are truly inspirational, and they’re never pop stars or celebrities. My lecturer in University was one of them. When you’re young you surround yourself with things in an effort to hide your insecurities but he had a talent for seeing straight through it, realizing what you were good at, and making sure you released what you were good at. I can honestly say I’m a better person for meeting him.

You have a wide variety of tutorials out, what do you enjoy working on; characters, automobiles, architecture, products?
I enjoy making something that allows me to learn something too. I loved making the real time content tutorial a couple of years ago because Seneca Menard answered lots of questions for me when I was preparing it. I learned a ton of stuff which was exciting, and if I’m excited about the information I’m tying to convey then that excitement is likely to come across in the video. I made a few mistakes in it, but I found out later that Black Rock Studios (Disney) used it to train new members of staff on Modo, and I’ve met people who had watched the videos and gone on to get jobs in the game industry. I’m not claiming credit for it but it’s nice to know I was a small piece of the process.

So to answer your question it’s not so much the content, but the motivation behind the tutorial that’s important.

modo 401 demonstration by Andy Brown from Brad Peebler on Vimeo.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?
Ten years ago I would have said to work on a Pixar film, but at my age and with my responsibilities I would find it very difficult to live the nomadic lifestyles that studio artists seem to live these days.

If I’m honest, every time someone is prepared to pay me to make something it’s a dream come true. It’s the best validation for all the hard work I put in at the beginning. Long may it continue!

What are some of your other interests outside of 3D?
I’m a big football (Soccer) fan. I used to play when I was younger but I wasn’t that good. Now I just shout advice from the crowd, sing songs and verbally abuse the opposition supporters. I take my son to watch Sunderland AFC struggling to survive in the Premier League every other weekend. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s great fun. It must be really boring supporting a team that always wins! Haway the Lads!

I also like to cycle. We have lots of cycle paths up and down the coast here which is really convenient. It gives me time to think, and helps me avoid the 3D artist physique!

What are some of the challenges in maintaining a family with your work and travel schedule?
When I’m not traveling it is ideal. My wife works full time so I get to do the school run. That’s definitely one of the advantages of working from home. When I’m traveling it’s hard on my wife as she has to deal with everything, but she’s very understanding and more than capable. Last year was crazy for traveling. I made eleven trips. That’s a lot of time sitting in airports.

What are some of the differences you’ve noticed between the English culture & American? What are some of the similarities?
We’re very similar, but the British have fewer guns. Seriously though, I’ve always found us to be very alike. I actually have close family in New Jersey so my connections to the US are closer than you may think. What I love about America, and Americans, is your willingness to take a risk. You seem to be hard coded for it. Us Brits tend to be more cautious, but we’re better at soccer!

How has your family and personal life helped in your 3D?
I couldn’t have done anything without them. It’s as simple as that. They’re the reason I get up in the morning. My wife had to put up with all the late nights I spent fueling my 3D obsession, and she supported me emotionally and financially when I left my job and started out freelance. I have a lot to thank her for, but don’t tell her that or she’ll want my credit card!!

What would be your favorite 3D movie and why?
That’s a difficult question. There are lots of films that have had a profound effect on me, but not many are 3D films. Films like ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Dr Strangelove’, ‘Videodrome’, and everything David Lynch has ever made to name but a few. If 3D had been around then I’m sure they would have used it, but it would never have detracted from the story.

To many films these days are just a series of VFX set pieces held together by the thinnest of storylines. The 3D may be impressive but that’s not enough. Pixar gets it right though. Their films are so beautifully written that you forget you’re watching a 3D film, so I guess ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters Inc’ and ‘The Incredibles’ have to be some of my favorites, mainly because I watched them so many times when my children were babies.

More recently I really enjoyed District 9. It reminded me of the early Peter Jackson films that I used to watch when I was in college. If you haven’t seen ‘Bad Taste‘ then you’re missing a life changing experience!

Andy, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule and talking and sharing with us and hopefully you’ll grant us a chance to do a part 2. I really enjoyed it and like everyone else love your work and your great tutorials. Can’t wait to see what comes out next.

Thanks Andy!!

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