Artist Interview with Ken Liang

In this interview we talk with Ken Liang (First place of the CG Boost Life on a Boat Challenge) from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He will give us some insights of his journey as CG Artist and a look behind the scenes of his winning artwork.

Ken's winning artwork of CG Boost "Life on a Boat" Challenge

Ken Liang
CG Generalist
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Follow Ken:

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?

My name is Ken Liang. I work as a CG artist/generalist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

2. Tell us more about your creative path: How did you get to the point you are now?

I’ve always been interested in art since I was a child and find it easier for me to express myself through creative mediums. I remember that flash was the ‘in’ thing back then. Visiting various cool websites that utilizes flash animations/cartoons were really fun and interesting to me, so I bought myself a copy of Macromedia Flash and tried it out for myself. Through a lot of self learning in that software, I’ve managed to learn about keyframing, inbetweens, timeline, and the basics of creating a 2D animation. After finishing secondary school, I found a newly established college that offers courses specializing in 3D animation and I immediately knew that that was what I wanted to pursue. I then landed a job doing 3D for TVCs and have been doing it till now for 15 years.

3. What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?

I was trained to use Softimage XSI in college, continued using it at work and had never changed applications since as I find it very nice and easy to work with. Even with the news of its discontinuation (2015 being the final release), I’ve still stuck to it for a few more years as I wasn’t comfortable with software migration. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve finished some jobs and had some free time at work that I’ve decided to give Blender 2.8 a try. The tutorials available online were really easy to follow and the software’s UI is also very easy to navigate which made me decide that I’m going to migrate to Blender. Whilst looking for more Blender tutorials, I came across the CG Boost challenge and wanted to use it as an opportunity to apply what I’ve learnt in Blender and use it to familiarize myself with the workflow of different aspects in the software of which I still haven’t tried.

4. Where did you find the inspiration for your latest entry, and what inspires your work everyday?

I am sure many artists out there will agree when I say that we don’t get many opportunities to go all out and have the creative freedom to express ourselves in our work for clients when there are always guidelines/rules to follow. Because of that, participating in a challenge like this is a really nice opportunity for me to do what I want without being hindered by said creative restrictions. This by itself is already a huge inspiration. Too many times have we all seen really awesome masterpieces done by other artists and thought ‘I wish I had the time and chance to do something like that too’.

5. What software (and plug-ins) did you use to create this image? Are there some other tools that make your life as artist easier (maybe not only CG tools but also something you use to organise your work etc.)?

I used Blender 2.8 mostly for everything as my goal in the very beginning was to learn and use it as I would with work and explore as many of its applications as I can. I used Fusion for compositing the final image though, as I am still not very familiar with compositing in Blender.

6. Are there any particular techniques that you use often?

I wouldn’t call this a technique per se but I think it really helps to render out a WIP image at the end of each day you’ve worked on something, and look at it from a critic’s point of view, then list out all of the things you like or don’t like in that render, and then mentally plan out how you are going to tackle/fix those things when you work on it again next time. Once you are confident enough with your work or can’t find any obvious things to amend, then you can share it with a friend or two and get their opinions on it. Having fresh eyes to look at your work may give you feedback that would have never ever cross your mind to begin with.

7. Can you give us a short breakdown of your entry?

As with everything I do, it is very important for me to start with a sketch to visualize and lock down the composition I was going for. I’ve done a few quick roughs (simple shapes) before settling for a more detailed sketch to get a feel of the expression I wanted on the frog. Initial ideas were to add in other ingredients into the spilled concoction such as fingers, spiders, eyeballs, worms, etc. but I scrapped that idea away as I think it makes the scene very busy and takes away the focus from the frog.

Sometimes you have to remember that less is more.

When it’s time to start building the scene in 3D, I started with the simplest assets first and slowly build on it piece by piece. Naturally, the cauldron and bowl were modeled first and then came the part where there were many trials and errors with recreating the fluid simulation in order to get the shape I was looking for. In the end, I ended up using two different simulations – one for the liquid pouring off the cauldron and another that splashes onto the bowl.

Next, I placed a sphere into the bowl as a proxy for the frog and started to light my scene. The camera angle was already decided in the sketch so it was pretty straight forward and there were no time wasted to move the camera around to find the best angle. 

I then started modeling the frog traditionally based off some reference images I found online starting from a cube. Notice that I didn’t model the feet as I knew it wouldn’t show in the final render. I linked the frog into the main scene once the modeling and rigging was done and continued working on its shader/materials.

The spoon was then added so that I can pose the frog with it. Bubbles were also added as particles emitted from the liquid’s mesh, converted, and then carefully placed to help out with the overall composition. From then onwards it was only a lot of fine tuning and tweaks with the textures/shaders, art directing the fluids, smoke, etc.

Finally, compositing was done in Fusion to add in still plates of fire/sparks/smoke effects and color correction for the final image. A little bit of crash zoom was also applied to emulate the effects of motion blur.

8. What was the hardest part on creating your entry?

There wasn’t really a ‘hardest’ part in doing this but creating the entire image in a new 3D software was the overall challenge for me. What may be an easy task if I were to use XSI to accomplish seems trivial at times when it comes to learning the equivalent of it in Blender. I had to look for tutorials of everything I was doing along the way, be it sculpting, texture painting, uv unwrapping, fluids sim, passes, etc.

9. Have you learned something new from participating in this challenge and if yes, what?

Yes. Learning to use Blender, haha! Almost everything I did in it was new to me.

10. Any advice for people who want to learn 3d art or join challenges like this? 

There are so many advice that I could give to someone who is learning 3D but if I were to keep it short, then it would be to be a sponge and keep absorbing all that knowledge, wisdom and criticism. I tend to see a lot of aspiring artists have strong technical skills but poor creative application and vice-versa. You need to have a good balance of both in order to make something good. Find out your weaknesses and work on them.

If you are joining challenges, there are two main advice I would like to share.
First advice is, I know it could be very tempting to quickly rush out your entry and share with the world what you’ve done BUT please, take advantage of the time given and use them wisely. If you’ve finished your work early, don’t submit just yet, use the remaining time to polish/improve your entry instead. 
Secondly, it is always good to plan ahead before you start and dive right into the 3D. Sometimes, I see artists who add or change ideas as they go (or as the saying goes, run around like a headless chicken). This could end up with your artwork not finishing on time or a lot of time wasted on things that are not included in the final render. Try doodling or blocking out what you want to do on paper first. This is a quick way to determine what’s working and not. If it looks good in a thumbnail sketch, it’s only going to look better in 3D.

11. Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?

I’ve always been fascinated with H.R.Giger’s work. When starting out, I’ve always been inspired by his organic and otherworldly creature and environmental designs. Junji Ito is also a favourite as his horror mangas really suck you into its world with his unique stories and original grotesque monster designs.

Thanks for the interview Ken!


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