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You are here: Homepage /  inHouse /  Behind the Screenz / The Blue Project: Dan Roarty
The Blue Project: Dan Roarty
 
 
Posted: Dec 06, 2011
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Maya, Autodesk Mudbox
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The Area:
Hello Dan - welcome to AREA!
You're the artist behind the beautiful image of the girl, titled "The Blue Project". What is this image about -- and why is it called "The Blue Project"?
Dan:
Hi there, thanks for having me! Well the image was an attempt at a realistic portrait of my wife Nicole. The goal was to create a likeness and also work on a completed realistic image that came as close to a photo as I was able to take it. I wanted to be able to use some new pieces of software while creating it so it was a huge learning curve as well.
I think you might be the only one who has asked me why it’s called ‘The Blue Project.’ I think most people assumed it was because she had blue eyes but that’s actually not the case. The reason for the title name is actually my nick name for my wife and what I call her, “Blue.” It just seemed kind of fitting to name the project after her.
The Area:
Before we go on, could you tell us where you work and what you do?
Dan:
Sure. I currently work at LucasArts in San Francisco as a Lead Character artist.
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The Area:
LucasArts! They have made so many great adventure and action games over the years, it's got to be a good feeling, knowing that you are a part of that cool team of people. This is a dream job for many people :) ...
Before LucasArts, what studios and projects/titles have you worked on, and in what capacity?
Dan:
I really enjoy working here. The people are great and the location of the studios is really terrific.
Before LucasArts I had worked at a few different studios. I got my first contract gig with MTV when I was still in college. The project was directing a few class mates on a small animated short for their Canadian TV show MTV Select. It featured an alien character I created called ‘Guzz’ who was being targeted for abduction by a human. What came from that was a small interview between Guzz and the host of the TV show talking about the back-story of Guzz. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot during the project.
After that I went to work as a character artist at a studio called Boogieman in Vancouver B.C. The studio was actually an art studio working for Midway on the game Spy Hunter 3 before the company closed down a year later.
After Boogieman, I went on to Radical Entertainment (Activision) and worked on a few Crash Bandicoot titles and then onto Scarface and Prototype where I worked as a Lead Character Artist. While at Radical I worked part time as a teacher at BCIT in there digital art program which I loved.
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After having a fantastic time in Vancouver I thought it might be time for a bit of a change and some slightly warmer weather. We packed up and went to California where I worked at 2K as the character lead on the NHL title (I am a huge hockey fan!)

When the opportunity came up at LucasArts I couldn’t pass on it and I have been here for the past 2 years.

The Area:
What is your education background?
Dan:
I went to an Art College called CDIS (Center for Digital Imaging and sound) in Vancouver. It has since been bought and renamed the Art Institute. The program was about 3 years and I was fortunate enough to have digital and traditional art training (including film).
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The Area:
How long have you been using 3D applications; how long have you used Maya?
Dan:
I’ve been using a 3D program in some way or another since I was about 12. I was quite obsessed with digital art in general as a kid and for my 13th birthday I begged my parents to buy me the 3d program TrueSpace. TrueSpace is where I learned most of the fundamentals of 3d and digital characters. I didn’t really use Maya until I went to College (about 10 years ago) since then Maya has been my primary 3d modeling package.
The Area:
Most of your work experience is in games -- but you started out with an animated short. Will you venture into doing work for films in the future?
Dan:
Film is something I have always been passionate and excited about getting into. I really enjoy where I’m currently at and am having a great time but I wouldn’t rule it out. Being at LucasArts and sharing a studio with ILM is pretty amazing and as graphics and tech in video games get better the gap between games and film is shrinking. That being said, I think one day it would be great being able to work on some great film project.
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The Area:
Let's get back to "The Blue Project". What was the goal of this project and did you achieve it?
Dan:
There were a few goals I had when I was creating this project. One of them was the fact I made a promise to my wife that I would eventually create a 3D portrait of her when I had the time. The other was I really wanted to work on a likeness and try to make something as realistic as possible. Everyone told me that making your significant other is a bold move (which I agree) I was happy with the end product and learned a ton along the way and the response and feedback has been great. Looking back there are noticeable things that I would fix for future projects but that’s a great sign of growth as an artist I think. Being able to look back on something you have completed and noticing room for improvements is a good feeling.
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The Area:
The skin details are really subtle and really helps to bring that extra level of realism to the image. What did you use and why did you choose to use it for your image?
Dan:
Thanks! I think there were a few factors that helped with the look of the skin. The first is I started using Vray within Maya for rendering and have loved it. Seeing all the inspiring pieces other artists have been able to accomplish with it was really encouraging and I am glad I tried it out. The texturing of the skin I think helps as well. I relied on texturing the head by hand rather than using photo projections and because of that it gave me more control over the frequency of detail and balance of contrast. When it came time to render I used HDR lighting with a VRay dome light which really helped to sell a realistic environment.
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The Area:
What was your wife's reaction to seeing her remade in 3D? ;-) and how did she find the process (reference images, etc.)?
Dan:
She was totally fine with it and I think has gotten a kick at seeing her face on some of the art forums. When it came time to gather reference I didn’t spend too much time bugging her for photos and even then she is pretty familiar with the process of creating a 3d character from being with me for 10 years. I think her reaction could have gone quite the opposite mind you if the image didn’t look like her and it didn’t turn out well at all. ☺
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The Area:
We won't delve get too deep into the hair and skin creation, since you've already written us an awesome writeup of it here. but what would you say was was the most difficult aspect of making "The Blue Project"? The hair, skin shader, sculpting details?
Dan:
The hair was by far the most difficult. It was my first time using Shave and a Haircut so it took me a little bit of time to get comfortable with it but I loved it as a program. That being said, I was anticipating that it would be a bit of a learning curve. One of the reasons I did this specific project was because I wanted to tackle hair as a major portion of a project piece. Looking back I would definitely change some elements of the hair but at the time I really wanted to wrap the project up. Another element that made it a little more difficult was the fact I rendered the hair in Mental Ray and the Skin and body in VRay. Because of that, I needed to create two separate lighting rigs.
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The Area:
How long did you spend working on this image?
Dan:
Longer then I would care to admit! To be honest, I spent about 4 to 5 months on it I think.. Maybe even longer. I wasn’t in a rush to finish it and part of creating this project was also learning new pieces of software on the side. Parts that I could have completed earlier I spent more time on only to learn a little more about the workings of the software.
The Area:
What is your rendering solution of choice and why?
Dan:
For rendering the body and head I used VRay in Maya. For the hair I used Mental Ray. The reason for this is I wasn’t able to get the same look I was wanting to achieve using VRay with Shave and a Haircut. This is probably mainly due to the fact I was new at using both and was somewhat inexperienced. I found VRay to be great at rendering skin and had a lot of fun learning it.
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The Area:
Asides from Maya and Mudbox, what other applications do you use for your work?
Dan:
As mentioned, VRay as primary renderer and Mental Ray for rendering Hair. I used Shave and a Haircut for hair and Photoshop for comping.
The Area:
So you've seen how the software and hardware has advanced over the years and as seen in "The Blue Project" for example, the level of realism that is being achieved these days, it is getting really hard to tell what is real and what is CG. For you, what do you feel is that last element that will let us achieve the holy grail of CG realism? It's true that artistic talent is responsible for a large part of it, but technological advancements play a part of the role too no?
Dan:
That’s a great question. For this past project I just created I sculpted the geo and hand painted the textures on the head. That being said, I would be willing to bet that if someone was to scan the head and have it create the maps for you (even with some clean up) that it probably would look more realistic. Even then though, you still need an artist to clean up the data and make sure your shaders are set up correctly. It’s a question that could go in several different directions. With current tools like Mudbox, Vray and so forth, it enables artist the ability to better express their artistic impressions with smaller limitations. I think Artistic talent and Technology go hand in hand and they both drive one another. If you look at some art pieces people are making at home right now it’s quite remarkable and that is due to wonderful artistic talent and terrific tools.
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The Area:
Now about technological advancements. California is one of the most advanced cities for technology and software. Since moving to CA, how would you compare the CG atmosphere in Vancouver to San Francisco?
Dan:
I think in general both Vancouver and San Francisco are hubs for innovation and fantastic talent. Vancouver use to be known for video games studios but now it’s also home to major film studios and productions. San Francisco has always been on the cutting edge of technology and the reason I love it here is that I work at a game studio that is shared by a film studio as well. In terms of the atmosphere they are quite similar in my opinion.
The Area:
Would you ever move back to BC..or anywhere else in Canada ;-)
Dan:
I love Vancouver and it will always be home for me. That being said, I am having an amazing time here in San Francisco and California in general. The weather is great and people are amazing. I actually find Vancouver and San Fran really similar in terms of lifestyle and living. I’d love to be able to live in California long term as it’s just a great fit for me and my wife. You never know where your future is going to lead you so I wouldn’t count B.C. out at all but for now I’m having way too much fun living here.
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The Area:
Outside of your CG work, what do you spend your free time on?
Dan:
I’m big sports fan (hockey especially.. go Canucks!) and I love running and lifting weights. I live in a great area so my wife and I have a blast walking around our neighborhood eating at restaurants and having a few beers (I’m Canadian remember, beer is in our blood). I must say that I do spend quite a bit of time working on personal projects and there are a lot more I have planned in the near future. Hopefully I have enough time to complete them all!
The Area:
Well Dan, thank you so much for your time, the detailed tutorial you've prepared and for sharing your Blue Project experience with us!
Dan:
My pleasure!

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Posted by HAPPY01 on Oct 04, 2012 at 09:28 PM
its awsome
Posted by Chandratan on Sep 18, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Its very nice........
Posted by icetears on Sep 12, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Nice photo, and nice critiques. That's why I adulation this forum, you consistently get astute critiques and acceptable appreciation.

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Posted by anne frank on Mar 04, 2012 at 07:16 PM
awsome really very very excellent real shaders of skin
Posted by Rampati on Jan 31, 2012 at 12:33 AM
These all are all just beyond the word to explain, amazing work done here. These are really inspiring , pivoting towards the ultimate creativity which is endless. Great!