In this interview we talk with Philip Hofmänner, the 1st place winner of the CG Boost Futuristic Transport Challenge from Zürich, Switzerland. He will give us some insights of his journey as a CG Artist and a look behind the scenes of his winning artwork.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
I’m a CG Artist and Filmmaker based In Zürich.
2. Tell us more about your creative path: How did you get to the point you are now?
I’ve always been good at drawing, and I’ve actually always wanted to be an artist or a
filmmaker, but since my parents wanted me to learn a “real” profession, I first became a carpenter.
Since I wasn’t really happy in the profession and because deep down I always knew I wanted to do creative visual work, I decided in my mid-twenties to pursue a different path and then attended the University of Art in Lucerne and completed my design bachelor in animation.
My graduation short film Evermore also had some success and was shown at countless festivals around the world and won the NIFFF award for best Swiss short film.
Since then, I founded a small 3 men CGI company with friends called Trixer and worked for over 10 years mainly in advertising and architectural visualizations.
Since we don’t have much work at the moment due to Covid, I finally was able to work on some personal projects.
3. What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?
To launch my social media presence, I have been searching for CGI challenges.
The theme of your Challenge appealed to me immediately.
4. Where did you find the inspiration for your latest entry, and what inspires your work every day?
I tried to approach the topic in a somewhat unconventional way. While thinking about it, I came up with the idea of this portal.
I find inspiration everywhere.
One of the most powerful triggers for inspiration is listening to music or atmospheric soundscapes. And of course exploring great portfolios on ArtStation and Instagram. Watching series or movies.
Many good ideas come to me while walking (I love to take long walks). Talking with my girlfriend, friends or listening to podcasts (of all kinds) are great sources of inspiration as well. And sometimes I even find Ideas in my dreams.
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 used to organize your work etc.)?
I tend to be a slow and lazy learner when it comes to complex CG-softwares.
That’s why I’ve stuck with Cinema 4D and Corona Renderer for years despite the fact that there are arguably more powerful and complex software out there that go way deeper such as Blender or Maya.
However, the simplicity of Cinema 4D and Corona Render have always appealed to me and are exactly the strengths of these programs in my opinion.
Corona Renderer, although not very fast (compared with GPU based render engines), helps me get great renders pretty fast because the renders look great without much tweaking.
Lately, I’ve also been using Octane sometimes when I want to render animations or when I need complex volumetric effects. Corona unfortunately still does not support the VDB method.
Apart from a well organized material and object library, I really don’t use much third party tools. My setup is pretty basic.
What really made my life easier with this image is the great Mograph cloner with which I made literally a crowd of 20,000 out of 5 models of people.
One trick I used in this picture that might help some people, is adding a lot of simple planes with transparent smoke from textures (as alpha). Smoke, fog, and atmosphere don’t always have to be render-intensive volumetric effects.
I also added some more atmosphere afterwards in Photoshop using the Z depth layer.
Over the years I’ve learned that my renders don’t have to look perfect when rendering and I can still get a good 30% out of them in post using render passes and light mixing.
6. Can you give us a short breakdown of your entry?
When I had the idea with the portal, it was triangular in my imagination.
I started without much sketching directly in 3D with the portal as it was the central element in the scene. After I had a rough model of the portal, I first defined a composition, and then started to build everything else around it.
Later I changed the shape of the portal to a ring and changed the camera to a central perspective, because I wasn’t really happy with the appearance of the image.
Because the dystopian city in the background is not well visible in the dust and the objects are relatively small, I have built the objects rough, and I didn’t care much about topology or imperfections.
The most difficult task with this image was to create enough detail without running out of memory. That’s why I tried to work with as many render instances as possible. Many of the objects are copied countless times in the scene.
Originally, I wanted to create a rather yellowish desert atmosphere. But since I wasn’t really happy with the result, I changed the mood to an evening scene almost at the end of the process.
7. Have you learned something new from participating in this challenge, and if yes, what?
I’m always learning new things with every artwork.
In this case, I learned a little more about colors, composition and atmosphere.
8. Any advice for people who want to learn 3D art or join challenges like this?
I see many people doing tests and small exercises all the time and never starting a real project that they are planning to share.
Personally, I’ve found that you learn the most when you start working on bigger projects right away.
Of course, assuming your goal is to create entire images or scenes. I’ve noticed that I try harder when I’m planning to publish the stuff too.
Such CG challenges for example are therefore a good opportunity to push yourself! And finish what you start.
I’m guilty of that sin as well of not finishing projects. But no matter how great or bad your artwork gets, try to finish most of it as good as possible (in a reasonable time frame).
And set yourself Deadlines and goals.
I personally realized that I learn the most when I have to struggle through the last 10% of a project (which is usually the most difficult part) and that I often find creative solutions when I’m facing deadline pressures.
What I’ve also noticed is that many CGI artists tend to be over-perfectionist. Try to invest a lot of effort where it really matters. And do the things that are not that visible “quick and dirty“.
One last important tip is, you shouldn’t just work in CGI. In photography and cinematography or also in drawing and painting, you can learn a lot about composition and lighting.
Also look at the real world from time to time and study how things actually look like.
9. Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
The list of artists I admire would blow up this Interview by far, and dropping some names would not do it justice…
I literally like artists from all eras, leading back to the Renaissance or the Baroque painters who revolutionized the painting of light or the romantics with their new way of capturing ordinary sceneries and of course the surrealists who have explored their subconsciousness.
I also love many contemporary genre and concept artists, and I’m always impressed when someone manages the nowadays almost impossible to invent a distinctive new style.
10. Any good books, podcasts, YouTube channels or other useful / inspirational content you can recommend to other aspiring artists?
Good question, I actually don’t read many books about CG techniques or art in general anymore, and I don’t watch a lot of CG or techniques related content as I feel that I have the tools I need today.
If I struggle with a specific technical issue (like a new Plugin) I google and watch specific tutorials.
When I consume Art related content, it is more like interviews with artists because I’m interested in the backstory of the person, or I listen to Art Talks on YouTube.
Recently I found the YouTube Channel LUCIDPIXUL of Adam Duff that is great if you are a struggling artist. With his vulnerability, honesty and gentle voice, Adam’s art talks are really therapeutic for me when I’m having a bad day.
When I do read, it’s mostly novels in pretty much all genres.
And when it comes to podcasts or YouTube videos, I mainly listen to interview style podcasts about science, history and philosophy. And I love video essays about pop culture, movies and politics from various YouTubers.
For me that kind of content is best and most inspirational to listen to while I’m working (besides music of course).