INTERVIEW WITH 3D ARTIST THÉO DOMON
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself; what’s your background?
I’m a French artist who, besides 3D art, is also a mechanical designer in aircraft engines. My main passions are video games, mechanic and all that touches digital art.
Who or what inspired you to get into digital art? What inspires you today?
When I was younger, I used to play a lot of video games but there was one that I liked particularly. This game was Half Life 2 (and the first one too). After I played it several times, I started to have fun with the SDK by creating simple maps. Soon I got in contact with people of the modding community of the game and got into different development teams of Half Life related mods. There was first Hazard Team and then Wilson Chronicles where I was a level designer.
After that, I did my studies in mechanical design where I used CAD software a lot to design mechanical systems. I still had the will to develop games but never had the motivation to really start learning a polygonal 3D modeling software, which are very different from CAD. Then, after a few years, Horizon Zero Dawn came out and it was a revelation. I wanted to do this, I wanted to participate in the creation of beautiful and cohesive universes.
Horizon includes a lot of animal-like machines that are incredibly well designed and as a mechanical designer, I was amazed. I wanted to understand how they worked and started to make models of them on CATIA (the CAD software I mostly use) to 3D print them. I 3D modeled and printed a few machines of the game and was really encouraged by the team at Guerrilla Games in what I was doing. This is what pushed me to learn more in 3D and get where I am now. Making games like they did, this is what inspires me today.
What software and tools do you use for your work, and why?
I mostly use Blender to make my models. It is free and contains all the tools needed to model, texture, rig, animate and render my creations. I also use Substance Painter to texture my models as it is really easy and fast to use. The Substance suite is really affordable and the materials look incredible.
Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?
The one I like in particular is not really one of my design (as it comes from Horizon Zero Dawn) but I’m really happy about the final result. This model is the Deathbringer I modeled in Blender using screenshots of the game as reference. All the kinematics are functional just like they are in the game. I like this design because it’s inspired by the Metal Gear REX (which I love too) and it is a really well designed machine.
Is there a specific type of 3D art that you enjoy doing the most?
Well I really like everything that deals with mechanics: vehicles, weapons, machines, … but I liked everything I experienced in 3D, and I’m happy every time I try and learn something new.
Could you describe your general creative workflow for us?
One thing that I noticed every time I modeled something is that even if it is a fictional object or character, it is always based on one or more existing thing. And so I always take a few hours before starting Blender to just search the internet for references. Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but I always manage to gather information that match with the first ideas I had in mind. Once I have the references, either I start modeling if I know exactly what I want to do, either I draw sketches on Photoshop to see if my ideas make sense or if they don’t. This process can be very long depending on the subject. Then I can finally start Blender and use all of these references to make my model. When the model is done, I use material blending and texture painting with Substance to make the best looking textures.
What do you think is essential in becoming a 3D Artist? What are you continually trying to improve?
Having fun and loving what you do are the most important points. Motivation will come from that love and it will no longer be work, it will just be fun. Just don’t be discouraged by failure, it’s a vital part of the process of learning.
Well of course I always want to improve my skills, but that only comes from the experience I make while playing with polygons, texture maps and other toys. With that in mind, I know I always learn from everything I do, and not only in 3D.
Who are your heroes in this industry and why?
I think my personal hero is Andrew Price (aka Blender Guru) for his incredible way of sharing his knowledge in modeling and rendering techniques, but I’m also amazed by all the artists at Guerrilla, Naughty Dog, Kojima Prod. and other studios who keep surprising me with masterpieces.
What do like about working at Gamma Minus and what would you like to see in the future?
Gamma Minus is a young studio but the team is really skilled and motivated. Everybody is working hard to get the best gameplay and visuals. It is great to see how fast things go and to be surrounded by talented people. It keeps the motivation at a high level.
What I would like to see in the future is of course the best for Cold Comfort, and for the studio. So that we can keep making more and more great games.
Could you share any bits of advice for aspiring artists or practicing artists looking to get into the field of 3d art?
Well like I said earlier, just have fun and don’t give up if you fail. 3D and video games have to be a passion. It’s hard to stay motivated in something if don’t have fun while doing it. Always keep practicing and learning new techniques.
What’s the one thing you think is least known about working as a 3D artist for games?
Probably the performance side. Making assets for real time engines is very different from just making a model which will just be rendered in an engine like Arnold or Cycles. There’s precise workflows to follow in order to get a game ready model but that’s what makes this job fun, isn’t it?
Other than games, where do you go for inspiration?
I look at the world around me and try to understand how it works. Most of the time, the solution to a problem is more simple than we think. Having a solid understanding on how things work like with physics or mechanics really help when developing games. It’s not needed at all, but it really helps when designing a prop, or just making a texture (for instance understanding how the light reacts, and what really is the light, in order to make the right colors and reflections for a model).
What are your favorite games?
I’m a big fan of action, adventure, narrative and story driven games. I think my favorite is Horizon Zero Dawn for many of reasons, but I also love The Last of Us, Life is Strange, the Uncharted, Grand Theft Auto, Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Portal and Half Life series. I also like multiplayer games like Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead or Quake III but I play these a lot less.
You can check out Theo’s Artstation page here.