Ruben Alba | Concept Design & Visual Development | Mastering concept design INTERVIEW
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Mastering concept design INTERVIEW

25 Jan Mastering concept design INTERVIEW

Here the Whole interview!  Thanks 3DTotal!


Ruben is a pro at merging 3D and 2D to bring concepts to life. We learn more about his inspirations, workflow and education.

Ruben Álvarez is a freelance concept artist working for the entertainment industry, he’s been freelancing in the Netherlands for the past two years and is involved now in projects for mobile games and the film industry.

3dc: Hello, Ruben! Please could you tell us a little about yourself: who you are, where you are, and what you do?

Ruben Alvarez:

Hi, My Name is Ruben Alvarez, as a concept artist my job is to generate visual ideas helping art directors and vfx supervisors to visualize certain aspects of the creation of a game, movie or entertainment product. This goes from pre-production to production itself and includes character and creature concept design, environment or props design and key frame illustration among other things.

3dc: What inspired you to get into 3D, and what inspires you today?

Ruben Alvarez:

In my opinion, 3d is nowadays in my opinion on of the best ways to quickly generate accurate and fast ideas during the concept design pipeline. I think 3D is a key skill to learn in the entertainment industry. Strong foundations and 3D helps you to add this extra quality to your work.

I am in love with what the 3d Software companies are developing. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Zbrush, Modo, Keyshot, Sketchup…

Artist Inspire me. The art community is full of really talented artist and I feel small when I see the quality of work that this people is able to create. This makes me push myself to keep learning and designing original content. Family, friends, movies, music…you can always find inspiration in the things and people that surround you.

3dc: Could you tell us about your education at Gnomon School of Visual Effects, and what you learned in your time there?

Ruben Alvarez:

I wish I could have spent more time at Gnomon School back in 2008. It was my first time ever overseas! I was there for one term and I have to say that it was the best summer I had in my life. Not because the beach or the California weather, which was amazing, but the time I spent in front of a computer listening and learning from amazing and skilled teachers. At that time I didn’t know you could make concept art a professional career, and Gnomon School showed me the path. I attended six classes at the school in total, all of them related to concept art: production design, environment design, imaginative landscapes, and so on.

I remember feeling my jaw drop looking Jerad Marantz just making a silhouette! This was the moment I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life. Can five minutes change your life? The answer is YES!

At the end of the term I won the Best of Term contest and most importantly, I decided to become a concept artist.

3dc: Tell us more about your specialisms and favourite subjects to create.

Ruben Alvarez:

I don’t consider myself specialist on one certain concept art subject. I like variety and I feel curious about different process and techniques. I like using Zbrush for creature concept art but I don’t want to forget MODO or Sketchup when I design environments, vehicles or props.

Keeping the mind active with a variety of subjects help me to stay focused and be creative. I think the specialty of a concept artist is to be creative, no matter the subject, no matter the tool.

I really enjoy Sci fi mainly because it’s a difficult matter. Nobody knows how the future or   unknown civilizations (buildings, creatures, transportation…) are going to be. This is pure joy for a concept artist´s brain!

3dc: What software and tools do you use for your artwork? Any useful tips, plug-ins or underrated programs that you’d recommend?

Ruben Alvarez:

The programs I use are Photoshop, Zbrush, MODO and Keyshot. They offer me the main range of tools that I need for each specific task. I work with a cintiq 21UX.

Photoshop is the program for the beginning of every project as it allows me to generate sketches; I also use it to add different effects at the end of the project (color correction, composition, final presentation).

MODO and Zbrush are the programs I use for fine-tuning the sketches. This is a very useful way to communicate ideas to your art director or supervisor. Maybe you spend a bit more time sculpting a creature sketch or blocking a vehicle in 3D, but at the end of the process this is a huge advantage. Making changes in 3D is a lot faster for me. Imagine if your art director asked you for another pose of your character; 3D allows you to quickly solve this kind of thing.

I have recently introduced Keyshot on my pipeline simply because this programs is really powerful for rendering difficult materials in 3D like glass, metal and gold. Saving time is one of the most important things you learn when you are a concept artist. It is difficult and time-consuming to render chrome materials in Photoshop!

I would also recommend Marvellous Designer as a complementary software to learn.

3dc: Could you describe your general 3D workflow for us?

Ruben Alvarez:

First I begin with quick silhouettes and sketches. I feel more comfortable working with volumes and shapes rather than line drawings. If the silhouette is recognizable you have a lot of the design work done and you just need to polish the design.

I usually add some grayscale interior shapes and quick details to the silhouette and then I jump into 3D.

I work progressively on details in 3D, adjusting the design all the time, to the point I am happy with the balance and shapes of it.

Sometimes I quickly render the 3D in grayscale and photo bash or paint over it. Other times I will render in Keyshot to add materials, and just add effects in Photoshop.

3dc: For a 3D artist, what are the benefits of being able to work on concepts in 2D?

Ruben Alvarez:

I think 2D is the route map for 3D. Having a 2D design before modelling saves you time and helps you to avoid getting lost.

Sometimes it’s okay to go crazy and try new things directly in 3D and there are programs out there that are really good as sketch tools. There are clients that prefer to push the sketch further with more detail while and others ask to jump directly into 3D for a better visualization.

It really depends on your workflow and style. A bit of pre-production is always needed and I think 2D helps with that.

3dc: What do you think makes a successful concept design?

Ruben Alvarez:

Difficult question… I wish I knew the answer!

I think a successful design is the design that fits the needs of the project and the client and at the same time is original, doable and lasts over time.

Today, a successful concept design is not a matter of just concept artists. It needs the talent of a lot of people: 3D artist, animators, supervisors, technical directors, lighting artists, previs guys… all nder the direction of experience art directors and VFX supervisors.

I would say that with all this elements together, the design will be 20-percent successful.

The other 80-percent is what audience think about the design. We create to entertain people who will evaluate our work, going to the cinema or buying games. Surprising people with something new and fresh is really difficult and that’s also what makes a successful concept design so difficult.

3dc: What is one key piece of advice that you’d pass on to other artists

Ruben Alvarez:

After Gnomon I spent one year working on my portfolio. At a certain point, I sent my work to an art director and his feedback was something like: “A four-year-old kid can draw better than you”. Some could say that the guy was rude or that’s not the answer you should give to an aspiring concept artist (I wouldn´t say that to anybody!). I was very sad reading that, but instead of giving up I deleted my whole portfolio and began again. A few months later I got my first job in the industry, so maybe I have to thank him for this words!

If you have a goal and you dream it, work hard, never give up and be passionate about it, make the dream happen!

 3dc: Finally, and most importantly: if you were stranded on a desert island with only one of your belongings, which item would it be?

Ruben Alvarez:

A pair of running shoes. Running helps me to clear my mind. I am not sure if they would save my live on an island, but if there were dangerous animals around, they could certainly help!

Thank you very much for speaking to 3dcreative today!