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You are here: Homepage /  inHouse /  Behind the Screenz / Into the Fold: Kenichi Nishida
Into the Fold: Kenichi Nishida
 
 
Posted: Aug 28, 2009
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Mudbox
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The Area:
Hello Kenichi and welcome again to the AREA. The last time we spoke was two years ago, when you won 2nd place with your rendition of a small lizard in the Mudbox contest. We never got a chance to talk indepth about your personal and professional work -- until now. Thanks for this opportunity to share with us your wonderful sculpting work.
Kenichi:
Not at all, I’d like to thank you for giving me this chance to talk about my work.
As well as having the honour of winning the award itself, since the contest I have received comments from many artists, which I appreciate very much. I’m looking forward to the next contest.
The Area:
So let's start from the top. Before becoming Digital Modeler at SEGA, you've already worked for numerous years in the industry. But how were you introduced to 3D?
Kenichi:
It’s been about 10 years since I seriously started working with 3D. Before then I had worked for about half-year as a Graphic Designer for a video game magazine, using 2D software. At the time I was in charge of articles for specific titles such as Final Fantasy. Seeing those high quality images that were created in 3D every day was what initially made me want to work with 3D too.

I looked for a company that would take me on even though I had no experience with 3D software, and it was after this that I started learning about 3D from scratch.

Of course, I was always very interested in modeling and painting, which I studied in depth at university. Even now, I think that these experiences have proven extremely useful for me.
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The Area:
Can you tell us about your time at Takushoku University as a student in Industrial and Graphic Design and about the things you learned, how they are relevant to the work you do today?
Kenichi:
During my four years at university, I studied hard about the fundamentals of art. Nearly everything I did was non-digital, including the design of industrial products, drawing, oil painting and sculpting. I made lots of different things and studied up on them further.
I hardly worked with computers during those four years, so I didn’t even know how to use them properly.

Now it’s the other way around and I hardly ever use non-digital techniques. But I still think that the drawing and sculpting skills I learned are useful to me in this day. I also studied color science and lighting. I wouldn’t have the skills I do today without this knowledge.
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The Area:
What did you do after graduating from school?
Kenichi:
I joined a company that published video game magazines as a Graphic Designer. I used Illustrator and Photoshop to create articles about games. At this stage, I was not using any 3D software.

But it was here that I first started using computers. If I hadn’t had this experience, I don’t think I would have had a chance to learn about 2D software.
The Area:
As 3D artist at ARUZE, what kind of work were you specifically involved in?
Kenichi:
Because ARUZE was hiring people without 3D experience, I joined them as soon as I could. At the time, software was still quite expensive and not many companies would hire non-experienced people like me, so I was lucky.

I worked mainly on video production for the LCD displays on pachinko and slot machines. Because I was just starting out, it was a lot of fun. I remember occasionally staying overnight at the company just to test out the software! Although I wasn’t there to see the end of the project, I was also put in charge of movie production for the company’s original game -- a 3D action RPG that was being developed by a special team of people brought in from some of the top companies around.
The Area:
Have you always been interested in character and creature design?
Kenichi:
To be honest, back then I was mainly working on background production. Although I did have some interest, I had almost no experience of designing characters and creatures. It seems unbelievable to me now, but at the time I wanted to be a background modeler *LOL*.

About three years after I joined the company, I won an award from a CG magazine for an original character that I had created just as a test. It was from that time on that I really began to be interested in characters.
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The Area:
What was your first 3D application?
Kenichi:
The very first software that I used was STRATA. The next one that I used a lot was LightWave 3D. This was when I really started learning about the basics of 3D. Also when a project required us to produce movies, we used 3ds Max, which if I remember correctly was Version 3 back then. Around that time Maya was released, so I tested out Version 1.0. I had also used PowerAnimator a little.
There was also Softimage… Anyway, I was able to use a wide range of software, so I was very happy.
The Area:
Now Mudbox hasn't been around for as long as other the 3D packages that you just listed -- how would you say it has impacted your modeling workflow?
Kenichi:
It’s made a dramatic difference. First of all, it’s enabled the almost simultaneous use of a large number of Normal maps, which makes them easier to incorporate into the modeling workflow. It creates a workflow where you can concentrate on the details without having to worry much about the polygon count, which I think is a huge advantage.
At the moment, I use about the same amount of Mudbox as I do with other 3D software packages. Actually, I probably use it more often.
The Area:
After your time at ARUZE, where did you go and what did you do?
Kenichi:
I moved to a company called Spice, where my main work was creating video for commercials and game movies. My main tool was Maya, and it was here that I became really familiar with all of Maya’s functions. Our commercials had to be produced to extremely tight deadlines, so I had to apply my skills in a fast-moving environment.

At this company I was given the job title of Chief Artist, so I became responsible for checking the work of others and managing quality.
It was around this time that I started my own website, which gave me the opportunity to network with many different people.
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The Area:
After Spice, you went on to become Lead Character/Creature Modeler at SEGA. Personally, growing up playing all the classic SEGA games, this would have been a dream come true. How did you land the gig at SEGA and what titles have you worked on?
Kenichi:
It was an introduction from someone I got to know through my website that led me to join my current department. SEGA was in the process of setting up a department dedicated to high-quality video production, so my timing was just right. I had heard that they were gathering together experienced people from many different industries, so I thought it would be a great chance for me to further my growth.

Since joining them, I have been mainly working on movies for SEGA’s own titles.
Most of them involve Sonic the Hedgehog. Recently I was in charge of character production for Sonic Night of the Werehog.
The Area:
Can you describe to us what an average day is like at SEGA?
Kenichi:
Since our department has spun off into an independent company, we have been able to accept work from sources outside SEGA, so we have freedom in the work that we do.
My core work time is from 10am to 7pm, and because I don’t have much overtime, I usually go home at a reasonable hour. Of course, I might go in on the weekend if we’re busy, but compared to other studios in Japan, work at our department is not so stressful.
The Area:
What software was used in your day-to-day work?
Kenichi:
We use Maya and Mudbox most often. To assist us, we also use other software such as ZBrush, Photoshop, BodyPaint, UVLayout and TopoGun. For rendering we use RenderMan for Maya, MentalRay or 3Delight, depending on the project. We use an extremely wide range of modeling software too, because of course we have to perform texturing and rendering that is specific to the project. We also apply our in-house tools throughout the production workflow.
The Area:
What is your own software pipeline for your personal work?
Kenichi:
My main tool is Mudbox. I’ve been a Beta tester since Version 1.0, so there’s no way that I can do without it. I use Silo to create the basemesh. For UVs, I use a free software called RoadKill. For rendering, I use an open-source renderer called Sunflow.
I also use other Blender and Python tools to assist me when needed, such as for conversion during rendering. I can’t spend a lot of money on my work at home, so I try to work smart instead!
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The Area:
Your current post, as Digital Modeler at SEGA SAMMY Visual Entertainment Inc. -- other than the title and company name change, is your work any different from before?
Kenichi:
As I mentioned earlier, since we are now an independent company we can now accept work outside of SEGA. At the moment we are involved in various different projects, though I think you'll see us release a new title not too long from now and this is going to cause some surprises.
In terms of the physical work environment, we are still in the same location as before, so there is no change at all. I'm hoping that we can move to our own place soon.
The Area:
If you can say, what title(s) are you currently working on?
Kenichi:
Sorry, but I can’t answer that at the moment. But it won’t be long before you find out!
The Area:
Now let’s talk about your personal work - what is your attraction to organic modeling?
Kenichi:
It is work that has a lot of depth. The technology is developing very quickly, which makes it easy to do a lot of different things. Mudbox is one example of this. But I don’t think that what is required of designers has changed at all throughout history. The basic needs have always been the same.

This applies to traditional sculpture and painting too. The key thing for digital sculpting apps such as Mudbox isn’t the usability of the software, but rather the performance of the modeling itself. This is what makes organic modeling so attractive. It truly turns the designer into an artist or craftsman. Recently I created an image of a Niou-Zou sculpture, and I realized that in terms of technique, we’re not even in the same league as the ancient craftsmen. I’ve still got a lot to learn!
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The Area:
In particular, you have a very keen eye for subtle but vital details as seen in your lizard sculpt. Where did you learn to make this kind of meticulous observation?
Kenichi:
Thank you for saying that. Thinking of that lizard makes me remember how hard the work was. At the time my computer wasn’t very high spec'd and I was using Version 1 of Mudbox, so the performance was nowhere near as good as it is now. I really wanted to reproduce all the small scales of the lizard, but in the end I couldn’t do it.
When faced with this problem, I had the idea of concentrating on the basic skin only. After that, work progressed smoothly with comparatively few problems.
I collected together lots of different materials. I looked not just at lizards, but also at many other creatures that have similar sagging skin. It was this that led to the image which you now see. I concentrated on the skin and the layers below, such as the musculature.
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The Area:
Can you tell us about the image of the scorpion, where did you get the inspiration to create this arachnid?
Kenichi:
When I was a kid, someone gave me a specimen of a real scorpion as a souvenir from Singapore. I still keep it on display in my room, and I’d always wanted make something based on it. I was also inspired by the locust on the Weta Digital website.
To be honest, there are some aspects of the scorpion that I’m not satisfied with, so if I get a chance I’d like to rework it.
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The Area:
What was your workflow for the creation of it?
Kenichi:
I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, but I did pay special attention to the basemesh and UVs. I made a reverse calculation of how much I would divide the basemesh, and I thought deep and hard about how many polygons I would assign to each section. The polygon count increases by four times for each subdivision, so this work is really important, even though it’s not very exciting. I’d really like Nevercenter to bring back the Local Subdivision function that they used to have in Silo. Work can be redone for UVs, but once the map has been created, this work becomes much more laborious. Because of this, I gave careful consideration to how much resolution was required for each part. And of course, unwrapping had to be performed without any deformation. So I paid particular attention to these two points. Otherwise, I didn’t do anything special.
The Area:
How did you create the texture maps and how many were there?
Kenichi:
Basically, I did everything with Mudbox’s preset stamps and stencils. These maps are very easy to use and are extremely convenient.
Of course, on some occasions I also created my own maps.
I used an average of about 2 maps for each attribute (Diffuse, Specular, Bump, Gloss) in 4K, which I merged together at the end.
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The Area:
What did you use to generate those tiny hairs?
Kenichi:
I created many base hair patterns with polygons, and I then positioned them one by one. It was hard going about it!

This isn’t a very smart work method. I don’t recommend that you copy it!
The Area:
It is undeniably a breathtaking sculpt; the proportions, the details on the armour and the texturing job - doesn't get much better than that. How long did you spend working on it?
Kenichi:
On some days I could only work on it for about 10 minutes, so I can’t give you a precise figure. Somewhere between two weeks to a little over three weeks.
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The Area:
Which renderer do you use for your work and why?
Kenichi:
I selected mental ray because it makes SSS relatively easy to create. However, this has issues in areas such as the bump map, which I avoided by using a custom shader. I was helped by the fact that many shaders are available on the Internet. My impression is that mental ray is easier to use than RenderMan for Maya.

Recently, I’ve also liked using V-Ray.
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The Area:
What is the Niou-Zou sculpture about and can you tell us about the production of this sculpt?
Kenichi:
The Niou-Zou are sculptures of fearsome guardians that you often see protecting the entrance to Buddhist temples. For a long time my number one goal was to create an image that captured the power of these figures. But to be honest, I don’t think that I quite succeeded this time.

Working on this project gave me even more respect for Unkei, the ancient sculptor who created the most famous Niou-Zou in Japan. If I get the chance, I’d like to redo this image.
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The Area:
Have you ever considered getting your models 3D-printed?
Kenichi:
Yes, of course. I’d like to decorate my desk with a model of my own work! I’d like to try it some time.
The Area:
What new sculpt are you currently working on, can we have any sneak previews?
Kenichi:
Can you keep a secret?!
I want to create something new over the span of next six months or so. This time, maybe an alien or a reptile or an amphibian.
If anyone has an interesting concept, please let me know, I’d like to try it.
The Area:
Can you offer some advice for those who wish to seriously get into sculpting?
Kenichi:
I think that the most important thing is to practice on lots of things. If you have any spare time, spend it all on modeling! Since I’ve had children, it’s made me realize the importance of time. Time is so precious! Please use it as effectively as you can.
Also, it’s crucial to get as many people as possible to look at your work. This includes people who have no interest at all in CG. After I make something, I always show it to my wife and children. I often make changes after seeing their reaction. It’s important to get lots of feedback.
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The Area:
And now, some final questions :)
Your favourite 5 movies?
Kenichi:
Lord of the Rings
Terminator
Transformers
King Kong (Peter Jackson)
Starship Troopers
The Area:
Types of music you listen to?
Kenichi:
I’ve been into hard rock and heavy metal since elementary school.
The Area:
Do you have any real lizards or scorpions as pets?
Kenichi:
No, I don’t!
Although once I wanted a lizard.
The Area:
Favourite food?
Kenichi:
Fried chicken.
The Area:
Ultimate dream job?
Kenichi:
I’d like to be involved in a big movie project, with my name coming up on the end credits. I’d love to be involved in one some time.
The Area:
Kenichi - thanks very much once again for sharing your portfolio and time with us, we wish you all the best in your future endeavours and hope to meet up again.
Kenichi:
Thank you very much! It’s been a great experience for me too. I’m not sure how many people will see this interview, but if anyone reading is interested in what I do or has a question, please contact me.
(kenichi.nishida@gmail.com)
I'd like to thank all the staff at Autodesk for providing me with this opportunity.

Kenichi Nishida
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Newest users comments View All 18 Comments
Posted by Docku on Aug 17, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Nice work, i am inspired......
Posted by goktugg on Apr 08, 2010 at 06:37 PM
Kenichi's work's are great, congrats! and thanks for this interview.
Posted by polybuilder on Mar 29, 2010 at 10:11 PM
great stuff... very interesting interview.
Posted by Alter Cuca on Mar 14, 2010 at 09:32 AM
awesome work
Posted by samir 3D_Modeler on Dec 09, 2009 at 04:25 AM
hey its really amazing work..