Time for another exciting artist feature! We're thrilled to introduce our AREA April 2021 Artist of the Month, Ali Cherni. Ali is an awarded Art Director and CG/3D illustrator who has been working in the animation industry for more than 18 years. He's worked for Nickelodeon, DreamWorks TV, Unity Technology, and many more clients.
What was your "this is what I want to do as a career" moment?
I used to work as both a 2D and 3D artist. The golden moment for me was designing the overall look for an animated show. I had to interpret 2D design into 3D and make sure that the overall style supported the story which was really exciting. Combining my skillset in this way helped me discover that I wanted to be an animation art director.
What was your first job in the 3D industry? How did you like it?
I used to work for commercial TV as a modeler - it was so exciting! At the time, I had no idea about the CG pipeline and teamwork so every day was an adventure. Everyone in our team was using different software, so it was a struggle to figure out how to make all the software work through the pipeline.
Though I joined as a 3D modeler, I also did texturing, animation, and storyboarding. Doing such a wide range of things really helped me get to where I am today.
What inspires your work?
The first few Pixar short films I saw like Geri's Game and For the Birds, were incredibly inspiring to me. Around that time, my family had bought our first computer and my mom urged me to take an animation course. That's when I started falling in love with 3D animation.
What do you love about your job?
Being creative is something that I love about my job. I get so excited when I’m creating a character that does not yet exist. I also love designing and developing new and unique visual styles.
Plus, I love teamwork. Working with other artists and helping them create in my role is fulfilling.
What's your least favorite part about your job?
It's always a struggle to have to change a design that I love based on client feedback. Sometimes, it can feel like a client's advice might not work visually, but in the end, they know what works best for their project.
What's the most complex 3D project you've ever worked on?
I think the most challenging project was Santiago of the Seas - which is an animated TV show I worked on for Nickelodeon. It was an animated series with tons of visual FX, and I had to learn lots of new things to oversee the visual effects department. I was also in charge of the aesthetic consistency which was challenging due to the various assets that we had on the project including the FX, environment, and characters. In the end, I think we were successful in overcoming challenges.
What would you like to see change in the 3D industry?
The 3D industry has been changing drastically in the past few years. The upside is that all the software and tools are getting more user-friendly and straightforward for artists. I would love to see this approach reach an accessible platform so that artists can be more creative and less involved in technical barriers.
What project have you worked on that you are most proud of?
I’m proud of most of the projects I have worked on in the past few years, particularly Santiago of the Seas, Middle School Moguls, Astrology, and Unity Technology short animations.
What does your workflow look like?
I have different pipelines, and I chose them based on the projects I'm working on and their scope. When it comes to personal work, I start with a few sketches and color design then do high res sculpting in Mudbox or 3ds Max. Then, I do the texturing in Substance Painter or Photoshop, use 3ds Max for final lighting look dev, and I use Nuke for the final composition.
What is the most valuable advice you've received in your career?
Early on, I was obsessed with 3D techniques and tools, and an artist suggested that I should focus more on the foundations and principles of art to improve my work. This suggestion had a significant impact on my overall work.
Do you have any tips for artists looking for a signature artistic style?
Studying the foundations of traditional art can help you find a new vision. Learning the science behind the art and profoundly understanding how things exist in nature can also help you better understand the creation process. I also believe that we should use the tools more creatively instead of always following the typical workflows.
What projects are you working on next?
Next up, I will be creating a few short animations! Stay tuned.
Want to see more from Ali?