3D Artist

MAXDEPTH: Timothy Hanson interview

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We talk to Emmy Award winning CG supervisor and 3D generalist Timothy Hanson about his online training resource MAXDEPTH and what it takes to get get noticed in the industry today.

MAXDEPTH: Timothy Hanson interview

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your history as an artist?

Oddly enough I started my career as a video editor, and CG generalist has been the second phase of my career as an artist.

I worked for years at Google editing some of the first commercials and training videos for Gmail and Google Maps, and it was during that time that I discovered my love of CG by accident. A friend of mine was always nose down in magazines like 3D Artist during our lunch breaks, and I decided to take a look one day. I marveled at the amazing things you could create with some software I had never heard of before called Maya, and I immediately saw it’s potential for enhancing my work. So, I bought myself a copy of Maya 8, and the rest is history!

Being a big believer in the “Outlier” theory I was determined from that moment on to leave editing behind, and spend my ten thousand hours immersing myself in everything CG. I literally spent a minimum of four to five hours a day every day for ten months reading manuals, and giving up TV to watch tutorial videos at night. At the end of that ten month period I had enough work put together for a short demo reel that I used to land my first job in 3D working for NBC Universal / Comcast Sportsnet in San Francisco.

Broadcast news turned out to be the perfect place for me to cut my teeth in 3D because the 24 hour news cycle taught me how to work fast and focus my mind. Most 3D artists come up in environments where they have months to create their work, but I was lucky if I had more than a few days! That experience taught me how to succeed in the face of deadline pressure, and how creativity can be used to thrive while working with limited resources. It was tough, but also extremely rewarding as my work earned four Broadcast Emmy nominations, and I wound up winning the Emmy for Best Graphics and Animation in 2009.

A few years later I moved to Los Angeles, and I’ve been living and working here ever since. Keeping up with my training regimen of at least a few hours a day every day I’ve picked up more software packages along the way like MARI, NUKE, ZBrush, RealFlow, and tracking softwares like PFTrack and Syntheyes. I’ve been able to build myself a nice career over the past 6 years as a 3D Generalist by investing in myself, and being in a position to succeed by continuing to expand my knowlege base. Oh and a subscription to 3D Artist magazine never hurts!

MAXDEPTH: Timothy Hanson interview

What do you feel are the most important lessons you have learned during your time in the CG industry?

The number one thing I’ve learned during my time in the CG Industry is that networking is a skill almost as important as the ability to create the art itself, and attitude is everything.

Easily ninety percent of the jobs I’ve been able to land have come from networking with my fellow artists. When I first moved to LA I couldn’t get someone to pour water on me if I was on fire! I probably sent out about 300 resumes, and never heard a peep. So I started attending local user group meetings for ZBrush and Maya, and I would spend my time listening rather than doing much of the talking. Because of this I would learn about new techniques that I was unaware I should have known, and hear about places that were staffing up for this project or that. Networking alone allowed me to put myself in front of the right people at the right time, and gave me my career.

The number one mistake I see people make in our industry that keeps them from taking the next step in their career is isolating themselves. You’re never going to get anywhere by hiding under your headphones and collecting a check. The easiest way in the world to put yourself into a position to succeed is to be genuinely nice, and talk to people. Taking the time to start a conversation with a fellow artist across the lunch table can be an amazing way to connect with them, and expand your network. No one is an island unto themselves no matter how much experience you have, and there is always something you can learn from a fellow artist.

Being the type of person that takes time to show a genuine interest, and make yourself available to potentially help someone else will put you in a position to be at the forefront of that person’s mind when it comes time to make a recommendation to someone else. That’s how I’ve built my career, by being as interested in getting to know the people around me as I am in honing my own craft.

MAXDEPTH: Timothy Hanson interview

Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to launch MAXDEPTH?

Honestly MAXDPETH was inspired by the positive interactions I’ve had with many of my fellow artists, and is an effort to consolidate the tips and tricks I’ve learned through the years working in the industry.

Too often I have come across artists that have chosen to adopt a more standoffish posture, whether by ego or by hubris perpetuating the notion that the less you help other people the more likely you are to maintain your own position. I don’t prescribe to that line of thinking, but rather I believe the more you can positively impact those around you the more fulfilling your experience will be.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with and for some amazing artists and supervisors, and I’ve made it my mission to learn as much from each of them along the way as I possibly could. People like John Leonti at The Mill, Mike Wynd at MPC, Andrew Cochrane, and Julian Sarmiento at Mirada, these are the kind of people you WANT to work for. Artists like David Hackett, Matt Johnson, and Carlos Fueyo friends and colleiges one and all that have made their knowlege available to those wise enough to seek it out. These are the people that inspired me take what I’ve learned, and to pass it on. MAXDEPTH is my outlet for giving back to the CG community I know and love.

How do you intend to differentiate MAXDEPTH from the other training blogs that are out there?

There are many wonderful online training resources out there already, but sadly I find that many of them focus entirely too much on minutiae amounting to little more than someone reading you a manual.

What we may lack in snazzy production value we try to make up for in substance and value. I would have loved to find a resource like MAXDEPTH when I was coming up in the industry that focused specifically on easily digestible concepts that can actually be used on a day-to-day basis. The majority of our tutorials thus far have focused on essential topics like linear workflow, building shading networks, and how to maximize texture resolution.

Choosing instead to focus on concepts I’ve relied on day in and day out like render optimisation, and understanding how your responsibilities relate to the other artists in the pipeline rather than following in step with conventional paint by numbers tutorial structure. My aim was to build a solid foundation covering fundamentals first, and then expand our training to more exiting topics that take the artist step by step through the process with a more pipeline based perspective. We have some exciting project based training that will be rolling out over the next half of the year, so stay tuned!

MAXDEPTH: Timothy Hanson interview

What topics do you think are most important for young artists entering the industry to learn today, and why? What is often overlooked?

I’ve often observed young artists putting the cart before the horse. I see a lot of people focusing on fine details like pores and wrinkles in their ZBrush sculpts long before they’ve clearly defined their silhouette, or major forms. I see them adding tons of unnecessary subdivision to their models creating extra work for themselves, and the riggers. You have to be thinking multiple moves ahead as you work. Lets say I’m modeling the facade of a building. If I know that I’m only going to see the exterior I will immediately delete the inside faces of the model before I move on because they will only add to the polygon count, and I want to get rid of them before unwrapping my UVs.

I’d say the most important things to focus on early in your career should be personal discipline and focus. Things like following your studio’s naming convention protocol, and following the pipeline protocol. I don’t think it’s said enough that there’s more to being an artist than just the art; you have to be able to work well with others. For example, one of the worst things a compositor can do is to jump the gun and import files from CG that have not been been properly released to them. Impatience is a deadly sin in our business, and that kind of rookie mistake can throw a wrench into the pipeline causing many a headache for all involved.

What do you feel are the most important tools for young students to learn today?

I try to stay software agnostic as much as I can. I don’t think its wise to get caught up in arguments like Maya vs. Max vs. Houdini etc. Everything is just a tool, and there is tool for every job. Obviously I have a personal preference for Maya because I work in film and commercials, but if you want to work in games they tend to lean towards Max.

I’d say focus on what interests you, and let that be your entry point to the core 3D package you choose and learn as much as you can about it. However once you reach the point of specialisation that’s when the choices become more clear cut. For example, I instantly knew the first time I worked with MARI that I would never use another texturing package again. I felt the same way the first time I got my hands on NUKE. It really is that fantastic!

ZBrush is absolutely essential, as are Houdini or Realflow if you want to work in dynamics. The one line in the sand that I will draw though is when it comes to my rendering package of choice. It pains me to say, but mental ray is dead. It’s a dinosaur, and with options out there like V-Ray and Arnold it just doesn’t compare. Arnold is taking the CG world by storm, and V-Ray is easily the most pleasant renderer to work with in the world. The V-Ray frame buffer functionality is a major time saver, and the photorealism of Arnold is revolutionising the industry. I’d say that if students can get their hands on either V-Ray or Arnold they need to jump at the chance. I use both on a daily basis, and I’ve never looked back!

I’d like to thank 3D Artist Magazine for taking the time to reach out, and I appreciate all you’ve done to help promote MAXDEPTH online and in your magazine. 3D Artist is an essential resource for all of us in the CG community, and I’m obviously a huge fan. Thanks again!

MAXDEPTH: Timothy Hanson interview

  • abdelhamid serghini

    thank you for this interview, very inspiring for me.