|Name: Tristan Bethe|
|Years of professional experience: 20|
|Started with Photoshop version: 3.0|
|Current Position: Co-founder & Creative Director of Human Alloy|
First in line in a series of interviews with interesting and renowned 3D artists is our own Tristan Bethe. Co-founder and Creative Director of Th3rd and Human Alloy with a respectable 20 years of experience as a 3D artist. He started out as a Multimedia Designer in the late ‘90s, climbing up to be an Art Director & Senior Visualizer for INDG – a well-known advertisement agency in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Almost three years ago he took the opportunity to start his own 3D scanning agency together with his business partner Rudo Bisschop from which they also professionally re-launched Human Alloy as the 3D people shop for affordable & high quality 3d human models.
What do you love most about being a 3D artist?
Tristan: “The knowledge that you can make absolutely everything you want. You can make the impossible or non-existing look completely real and convincing.”
How did it all start?
Tristan: “I liked to draw, but wasn’t interested in doing another general education without any practical focus. I figured the best choice would be to find an education that enabled me to do more of what I liked doing. So I went to an open house day of the ‘Grafisch Lyceum Amsterdam’ [red: now Mediacollege Amsterdam]. Among other studies you could become a graphic artist. And I saw they also offered a class in visualization. That meant drawing! That sounded like exactly what I wanted to do. During my study I learned classical typography, how to set pages for print without using computers. Only paper, glue and sharp knives. They also used Apple Macintosh computers, but this was just in the period you needed to learn both methodologies. Personally I’m very glad those ‘computers’ caught on!
The visualization classes where great. But they lacked a curriculum that taught you techniques to get better, to advance. We learned perspective drawing and such, but overall I didn’t feel I was improving fast enough. And there was still no internet then. Today there are so many great ways to learn drawing all by yourself, through the internet. I for instance love Alphonso Dunn’s youtube channel and book. This is exactly what I was looking for at that time!
Computers used in school
Luckily they also had ‘new media’ classes. So new in fact that there was one teacher I think that had a couple of weeks head start on his students. This was especially true for the 3D animation classes. I always loved computers and was already studying 3D Studio at home, so this was perfect. I could make somewhat realistic illustrations and animations that I was unable to do in the drawing classes! I remember they had a classroom full of SGI O2 computers. Blazingly fast 200Mhz machines with 256MB of RAM. My home computer was a 386 with 33mhz with 4MB, so this was awesome! I had to learn IRIX and Softimage. Since almost nobody liked the class after the first few weeks, I had 20+ of those machines to myself!
Half-way the study you needed to do 2 internships of 6 months each. I was lucky enough to do an internship at one of the few 3D company’s in the Netherlands at that time: Creative Graphics. Even better, they used that newfangled 3D studio MAX! Software did come a long way over the years. When I started out I used 3D Studio R4.
3d studio R4
That was one version before they started naming it 3D Studio Max and running it on DOS. The version of Photoshop when I started using it was 3.0! After the study I had different jobs making CD-ROMs, internet sites and 3D illustration/animation. In the end I focused more and more on just 3D.”
Which of your designs are you most proud of and why?
Tristan: “I guess for any (3D) artist in general it’s probably the project you most recently finished. But apart from that, from the past I think it would be this image:
It is made in 2003 using Brazil Render System and I must say it still holds up. My employer at the time didn’t have enough work for me, so he said: make something awesome! It took me forever to make. I like it because it is one of the few images that I made that actually makes use of the fact that you can make anything you want in 3D. Most of my work is normally trying to match reality as close as possible.
More recently I continue to be very proud of what we are creating at Human Alloy. And within this project the newer models are my favorites. We are really focused on constant improvement while working. This is no longer just my work of course. This is now really a team effort. From the stylist who dresses the models, to the makeup artist to model selection, hair creation, scripting and marketing. So many people together creating one beautiful product! This is ‘being proud’ on a whole new level for me!”
What most important lesson would you like to share with starting artists?
Tristan: “During my study I was glad I could focus more on 3D since my analog drawing skills where not there yet. Although happy I did that – since it gave me a head start in a new industry – I found out it was not a replacement for really learning to observe the real world and why some imagery works and why not. For me at the time, it was much more fun to learn a piece of software or a plugin than composition, shape language, color theory and such. At the time I knew of them, but set them aside as what artist talk about when they want to sound interesting and arty. As a traditional artist you need to learn these skills straight from the beginning, since you need to draw everything yourself. If you don’t learn the right methodology, you simply suck at drawing, simple as that! When playing with 3D applications you can get a half decent result by just moving some sliders and changing some values. So for me at the time, there was no real need to learn all this.
Then later in my career the fun went out of 3D for a while. I did not seem to improve much anymore at a certain point. It got me wondering: why do my images not look as cool as some of my fellow 3D artists? The answer is – I know now – because they had spend time to learn the traditional arts. And by that I do not mean looking at a painting or sculpture once in a while and go: ‘mmmh interesting’ but really learn, use and experiment different techniques. Start to learn to draw, paint or sculpt. Read what artist of the past learned about light, color and composition. This applies to all art forms. I for instance saw the effect we call global illumination in the real world at the time, but since 3D applications could not do that yet back then, I could not make use of it and all my renders looked wrong somehow with dark sharp shadows. When I found the Brazil Rendering System that had GI, 3D became fun again!
So my most important lesson to starting 3D artists is: learn to observe and really see. You start seeing an image only by doing and trying to replicate it. Be it in sculpture, drawing or painting. When doing that you realize how poor your vision is. And then I found another very important answer in the whole concept of ‘seeing the real world and replicating it’ in a second hand book store. A book called ‘Drawing on the Right side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards. It’s actually a very famous book and you can find it everywhere. What she does is, she shows us why we have trouble seeing the world and how our brain tries to be helpful and in the process messes up our drawings. Take a look at her students before/after drawings… it’s amazing. Ans most are made only a few days apart: http://drawright.com/before-after/. I now give this book to our own interns as well. Even if you are just interested in sculpting in Zbrush this book and learning to see properly is still vital.”
Which model from the Human Alloy collection is your favorite and why?
Tristan: “This one. For various reasons. Kids are so spontaneous just by themselves. They are not yet so self-conscious and it shows in the scan. I like older people a lot as well, since their faces have so much more character than younger people. It makes the scans even more realistic and much more interesting. A nice detail for instance: notice the little bit of stubble on the man’s head? We could have easily left that out, but taking the time to add and perfect it makes exactly the difference and the quality we want to offer in our 3D people models.”
How was Human Alloy found and where does it stand now?
Tristan: “Actually, I’ve been at it since 2008. INDG, the company I worked for at the time was doing a lot of architecture visualization. While working on lots of renders and animations for a famous Dutch shopping mall called ‘Hoog Catharijne’ in Utrecht, we really struggled with all the people that had to go into the shopping mall. I had to redo them often when the clients kept changing their minds on the camera angle. It just wasn’t ideal. And in the animations we simply did not have an adequate solution. We downloaded 3D models that where all hand modeled at the time and they just didn’t look as real as the architecture surrounding them. They stuck out and drew too much attention.
One of the first 3D photo montages of the new shopping mall ‘Hoog Catharijne’ in Utrecht, The Netherlands
A project manager sighed: ‘guys why is it so hard to get nice looking people in there?’ A valid point, I thought. And that started my journey to find a solution. It involved buying expensive – and ultimately inadequate – 3D scanners & learning a lot over time. Taking months of unpaid leave and a very patient and encouraging wife to try to get the Human Alloy site up and running. After a lot of failure and frustration I found out I needed a scanner based on photogrammetry. At that moment I was scanning objects using this method and the results where amazing! Great textures and amazing meshes. However, to use it on humans and have the flexibility in poses I was looking for, I knew I needed more camera’s… lots more. Those devices were going to cost serious money and I needed a space to place them. My former master bedroom turned into scan studio was not going to cut it anymore ?
So then it started to dawn on me. If I really wanted to do this, I had to go at it full on. I knew I would need to start a real company and start doing this fulltime. At the same time, I know what I am good at and playing company is not one of my strong points. So I was looking for somebody that would want to invest in this and also help exploit the scanner. Literally 2 weeks later I received an email from Rudo, my eventual co-founder to be. He saw my work and was impressed. He was also seriously thinking of setting something up in the 3D scanning industry and he has an MBA background. That’s almost 3 years ago now and everything started to move much faster from then on. We started an agency: Th3rd and build one of the biggest photogrammetry scanners in the world with a 130 reflex cameras. We hired our first artist (besides myself) and started doing tailormade 3D scanning projects as Th3rd and making the 3D people collection available now on Human Alloy.
It has been an exciting ride so far! And although I’ve been at it for a while, it really feels this is still just the beginning!”
What are the things you’re looking forward to for say, the coming year?
Tristan: “For Human Alloy one thing is very clear: we need many more models! So on one end we want to hire more top talent to help us out with that, and on the other hand we’re looking at ways to automate much of the non-creative parts in the whole process, that take up a lot of time. The good thing is we are getting actual feedback now on our models and therefore know much better what our (potential) customers are looking for.
From this feedback we’ve defined two new products that we will launch within this year. The first one will be released around the end of this month. We’ll be offering a new kind of model, this time in the more affordable spectrum. I’m really excited about that. The second new product I’ll have to keep a secret a little bit longer. The plan is to launch that somewhere after summer. Also I would like to help my fellow 3D artists. For instance, I have a whole list of little tutorials I would like to make to show how to get the most out of our 3D people. Like the one I wrote on Converting Vray to Corona recently. I’d love to try to convince a few of my fellow 3D artists to join me in this! But that’s probably something for next year. Oh, and we’re also planning on making our models available for Unity and Unreal Engine.
Last but not least: I’m really excited about getting to know the talented 3D artists out there better. How do they work, what are their secrets? That’s why I really wanted to do this series of interviews with 3D artists and possibly also agencies. There’s a lot of exciting things going on in our market, why not share it?
As you can see, we have so many ideas and plans but we need to make choices. First we need to get a solid and well filled base with interesting enough 3D people models. Only then are we of true value for artists and agencies around the world and do we offer enough quantity, diversity and quality to really obtain a solid position in the market.”