|Name: Mike Golden|
|Started with Photoshop version: CS4|
|Current Position: Founder – Three Marks|
Next in line for our interviews: Mike Golden. Known for his serene, hyper- realistic 3D architectural scenes and great eye for detail & composition, we’re very proud to have him in our interview series. His work shows what a great sense of design and art-direction can do. With a background in Architecture, he soon realised that his talent lies in making great visualizations instead of designing buildings. He opened his own agency two years ago, after working as an Art Director of CGI at DBOX and in-house with Architect Thomas-Juul Hansen.
What do you love most about being a 3D artist?
Mike: “Oh, man. Starting with the big guns. Can I just say everything? Well, almost everything. There are some things that are endlessly frustrating with being a 3D artist. Whenever I look at the work of architectural photographers, I think to myself how much work would go into modelling, texturing and lighting that scene, and all they had to was click a shutter. This is obviously an incredibly unfair treatment of the talent, time and work that photographers put into their craft, but it does bring me in a roundabout way to what I love about being a 3D Artist. I don’t particularly love the initial modelling and shading work. I see it as a necessary evil. What I do love is the control and freedom we have once all that is done. If halfway through making an image, I want to move a camera or add an accessory, adjust a material or change the lighting, I can. Photographers are bound by little bits of reality such as the actual relationship of the earth to the sun, what a building is actually made of, the time of year, the locations and solidity of built walls. We are not. And that gives us an incredible amount of freedom. I believe that the best architectural photographs and the best architectural visualizations don’t simply show what a space looks like, but also what it feels like. We have to do a lot more work than photographers to accomplish the former, but we have exponentially more freedom and flexibility in achieving the second.”
© DBOX 2012
How did you become a 3D artist, how did it all start?
Mike: “Certainly not by any sort of straight route! I studied philosophy in undergrad and then I promptly put that degree to its proper use by working on charter fishing boats way off in Alaska. At the age of 25, I decided it was time to get started on a more permanent career path. I had always enjoyed drawing, photography and building things. And back in high school I had taken a single CAD course, back when the plotters used to pick up different pens for different line weights. So with that barely-an-ounce of experience, I decided to become an Architect. When I started a Master of Architecture degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, I had never opened Adobe Photoshop – let alone a modeling software. I started fully with the expectation that I would go on to become an Architect, but very quickly into my studies I realized that I much preferred making images of buildings to designing them. So I finished my degree with a thesis on the techniques of visual storytelling as applied to the design process and headed out looking for a job in visualization.
In 2011 I got a job at DBOX. I worked there for two years, departing as an Art Director of CGI. There I opened 3ds Max for the first time. Of all the things that I learned back then I value most the development of my eye. It’s one thing to look at an image and know that something is off. Anyone can do it and in my experience, when clients start asking to rotate a chair a few degrees or scoot a camera a few feet to one side or the other, that is their reaction to a much bigger issue with the image and their best guess as to what would fix it. It’s an entirely different thing to look at and know exactly what it is that’s off.
After DBOX I spent about a year and a half working in-house for the Architect Thomas-Juul Hansen, creating presentation images for his clients rather than marketing visuals. Then a little over two years ago, I set off on my own and founded Three Marks.”
© DBOX 2013
Which of your designs are you most proud of and why?
Mike: “Professionally, it is almost always the last project that I’ve completed. I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last to say that. It’s something that I think all artists should strive for, because it means you’re improving. At the same time, it frequently means that you never get to share your favorite project, because by the time it goes public you’ve moved on to the next thing. Even though I take a great deal of pride in my finished work, my favorite part of the process comes much earlier. I love and derive the most joy from the quick studies and sketches made in the process of creating a finished image. Whether as a proof of concept for the client, an in-house test to nail down a composition, or even just a quick 3d sketch done purely for fun. There is always that moment where an image starts to take shape, where you get a peek of what the final product will be. It’s the searching for and finding of that glimpse that is easily my favorite part of the process, and also the most important. Everything after that is just finishing.”
What most important lesson would you like to share with starting artists?
Mike: “How many do you want? ? You have to wear a lot of hats as a 3D artist: there’s the technical side of things, the artistic side of things, there’s the business side of things and the salesman side of things. Here are a few bits of wisdom that I wish I had learned earlier – or am still trying to learn:
– Every image looks awful and feels hopeless at some point in its creation.
– When you’re stuck, the best solution is to just do something. Anything.
– It’s easier to fix a mistake than to waste time trying to avoid one.
– The only people who care how an image was made are other 3D artists. It’s all about the results. Do what works.
– Client management and selling our vision is just as much a part of our job as making the images themselves.
– It’s okay to say ‘No’ to your clients.
– Read Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. and listen to Mike Monteiro.”
Who are your heroes in this industry and why?
Mike: “Since the new models were released I haven’t had to populate a large scene, so I haven’t picked up the Basics models yet, though I’m psyched that they are ready and waiting for the next time I do. As for the Premium models, I love them. People give us such opportunity to build narrative, story and added depth into our images. But traditionally the work of going out and photographing someone in the right pose, in the right perspective, in the right lighting, cutting them out and integrating them is an incredibly time consuming process. Especially when they are in complex scenes and close to the camera. Particularly for photorealistic work, putting in an obviously 3D person into an otherwise realistic scene is just not an option; it breaks the entire spell so to speak. So for the longest time the only options were time-intensive photography and integration, or nothing. These models present a third and much needed option, which is 3D people that are easy to drop into scenes and are somehow able to hop over that uncanny valley. I look forward to seeing Human Alloy’s library and our options continue to grow.
As for the future, I would love at some point to see lightly rigged Premium models. I – like many artists – prefer to use a bit of motion blur on the people I add into my scenes, and simply scooting them forward results in a very unnatural blur. Being able to animate even small parts of a model easily would be a godsend. My current method, combining animated box transforms and amputating limbs to key them individually, is rather limiting and time-consuming. Light rigging would also make it worlds easier to fine-tune a model’s pose in-frame or adjust it for varying heights of chairs, counters, rails, etc. Lastly, as I’ve made the switch from Vray to FStorm as my primary renderer, I would love to see Human Alloy models shaded for it or for corona since neither use a dedicated SSS shader that requires manual conversion. The tutorial you’ve written on Converting Vray to Corona helps, but it would be nice if it becomes fully compatible in the future.”
What are the things you’re looking forward to in the near future (say the coming 12 months)?
Mike: “I’m excited to start building some time into my schedule to be more experimental creatively. I am not yet sure what form that will take, perhaps some personal projects that I’ve started but not finished, perhaps some work outside of the arch viz world or maybe just some smaller, faster competition projects rather than the larger marketing campaigns that typically fill my schedule.
Over the past two years of building Three Marks, I have spent a lot of time and energy developing and refining my process, largely trying to balance keeping rounds of revision to a minimum (typically only one and frequently none at all) and delivering a final product that both my client and I are excited about. It’s been a long, educational road, and I am finally at a point where I am satisfied with that aspect of work. Now that I’m a bit more content on the business side of things, I am excited to be able to return my full attention to the images themselves. I’ve got a laundry list of ideas and concepts that I want to test out and this year those are going to be my priority; I’m excited to see what comes out of it!”