Author Specs at a Glance
Home Page: www.thelightworks.com
If you're a fan of Science Fiction based CG artwork and have been following the industry for a while, chances are you've heard of Tobias Richter. For those who haven't, you've probably unknowingly seen much of his artwork already. Sci-Fi 3D talks to one of the best artists in the industry.
Sci-Fi 3D: I've been somewhat of a fan of your work since the old Amiga days when it was a regular occurrence to open the page of a computer magazine to find some of your artwork. Can you tell us a little about those early days and your start as a 3d artist?
Tobias: Those days were pretty cool because every month there was some new tool or feature that couldn't be done before. When I started on my first Amiga 1000, ray tracing was something that the big machines like Cray could do, but not this little computer. The basic artist software back then was Dpaint, painting pictures pixel by pixel with a limited palette and resolution. Two years later I got my first animation program called Videoscape. This was Allen Hastings first 3D program and later evolved into Lightwave. It could only shade polygons in single color, no shadows, and no textures. Models were limited to 1000 points and had to be modeled using a text editor! But boy was that exciting! My first Enterprise had that 1000 points and it was great to have her fly by the camera. Then there were ray tracing programs like Sculpt 3D, but those could do only pictures and no animation. A few months later, a new version or another program was out and now they could also animate stuff. So things evolved very fast in that period and I was lucky to be a small part of it.
Last Hope: Winner Sci-Fi Meshes Contest 2002
Sci-Fi 3D: Can you outline some of the key factors that turned your interests in computer generated imagery into a career?
Tobias: Mostly luck and hard work (well, it was hobby as well, so it wasn't exactly "hard"), I would say. I was in contact with a TV company from Cologne during my study of computer science. Plus I developed a game (Oil Imperium) with some colleagues. Those two things - early TV work (using Dpaint and Videoscape, I can hardly believe it myself today) and our success in the games industry led to my decision to move to Cologne after finishing my study and continue to do that as a profession.
Sci-Fi 3D: I understand your company The Light Works has been in operation for over ten years. Could you expand on some of the steps and challenges experienced while building up the reputation this digital imagery studio?
Tobias: While I am doing this for 14 years now, The Light Works as my label or company exists for about 10 years. The biggest step was to move the company out of my living room into a real office (together with Factor 5 back then), having an intern and later some freelancers working together. With that, I could also tackle larger jobs.
Official Star Trek Magazine: One of several special renderings of all the Enterprise vessels, done for the 'Enterprise' special of the official Star Trek magazine
Sci-Fi 3D: Itís enviable that youíve been fortunate enough to make a living from working on so many successful television and film properties. Could you elaborate on what work goes into a successful tender for such well known clientele?
Tobias: Just do a good job and hopefully somebody will recognize you. To be honest, I'm not doing too well in self promotion. I try to keep my clients happy by doing good work.
Sci-Fi 3D: You seem to have a lot of connections in the gaming industry. How did this come to be?
Tobias: As I said earlier, my whole career started with one foot in the gaming industry. Since I like to play a lot, this foot has never left the door and over time, I've been in contact with a lot of gaming companies. I like working in that environment, because on one hand you work very movie-oriented (at least for cut scenes), but you have a lot of freedom to give it your personal touch.
Sci-Fi 3D: You've worked with some other great artists, including the Allister Brimble (of Uridium fame) on the Alien Breed titles. How did such early experiences help shape you and your future direction as an artist?
Tobias: Well, I never met Allister in person (at least I think so) and my involvement in Alien Breed was only very brief. I think I did one intro for them. But I've met quite a few artists during the years that I admire a lot. I don't think shaping is the right word, but I have an open eye on interesting artwork, and try to learn from them as much as I can. I have a very large collection of art books that I tend to look through from time to time and the ideas and visions of those artists amaze me again and again.
Sci-Fi 3D: Your portfolio on game cut-scenes includes Star Wars: Rogue Leader and Batman: Dark Tomorrow. Can you explain the development process used to produce cut-scenes for gaming titles?
Soeldner - Secret Wars: Lightworks provided a large number of high res illustrations for this upcoming game, and are working on the stunning, action driven and fast paced intro
Tobias: The production of those two cut scene projects was very different. For Rogue Leader, all cut scenes had to be done within the engine. Luckily, the talented guys at Factor 5 built a setup that lets you edit those cut scenes in Maya and then export it to the Gamecube. The problematic part begins if you don't just want to have a spaceship flying by, but something special. In most cases, you have to work closely with a programmer who then programs such an event, that you can trigger in Maya (but only see in the engine). So it's a very technical way. Nevertheless it amazes me every time what they are already able to do in a real-time engine that was not dreamable a few years ago with rendering.
The Batman sequences were done the classical way - rendering it in Maya and then they were played back in the game. Since we rendered it, we had much more control over every aspect of the picture and animation, adding fog, glows, subtle animations and such. There were a couple of companies involved in doing the cut scenes (the total amount of running time was close to an hour) and the time schedule was extremely tight. In this case, we had to stay as close as possible to what was already established. Nevertheless, given the short timeframe the result was quite good.
Sci-Fi 3D: Can you elaborate on the work youíre doing with Lucasarts & Factor 5 on ROGUE SQUADRON? In particular what parts of the game should we look out for that bears the signature of The Lightworks?
Rogue Squadron III - Rebel Strike: A set of 95 new cutscenes were created with the in-game engine for this Gamecube hit.
Tobias: I just finished the work on the cut scenes for Rogue Squadron III - Rebel Strike, which should be out in the shelves early November 2003. So all new cut scenes are done by me, plus around half of the old cut scenes from Rogue Squadron II (that are accessible in the Coop levels). As I said earlier, despite the rather convenient setup Factor 5 provided, it was sometimes very hard to get the sequence to look like how it was originally planned. But we managed the job quite well and I hope the game will be a success.
Sci-Fi 3D: Apart from game titles, what other forms of work have you been involved with and what do you find most enjoyable?
Tobias: My company does almost any graphical task. We do a lot of illustrations, industrial animations, motion rides, architectural visualizations, special event videos, commercials and visual effects. For me, personally, the most interesting part is always visual effects work, especially with real footage. And, of course, everything related to Science Fiction in general.
Sci-Fi 3D: How and why did you get involved with your various non-profit projects like fan films and Fedcon?
Tobias: I've been involved with FedCon since around 1995. The first animation for them was for Fedcon III. Over time, this has established itself as a basic part of the conventions opening ceremony. Since the convention does not have the budget that such a movie would normally cost, they pay what they can and I consider that mostly fan-work. This gives me the opportunity to try out new stuff every year. Over the years, there have been a couple of self-made fan films that got my attention, e.g. the "Starship Highlander" series. Since I liked what they are doing, I offered them my help for their visual effects. In total, there were made 5 no-budget movies of that series, some of them even shown on German television.
NYDENION: Lightworks is collaborating in an effort to produce a big Sci-Fi movie with limited resources. Visit the Nydenion website for more information on this project!
Today, I'm involved in two larger productions - one is "Nydenion", another ambitious Sci-Fi fan movie production, and "Real Buddy", a 50 minute HDTV Sci-Fi production. We'll see how those turn out.
Sci-Fi 3D: I love your work on Fedcon XI, and consider it the best for them to date. Tell us about some of your techniques and tools used for this animation.
Tobias: I basically use 3 tools - Maya, Photoshop and Fusion. All models are built by me or one of my employees. I very seldom use models from the net (I just hate the conversion process). With FedCon 10 I started to model even the (very basic) interior of the ships, so I could do real close flybys and still notice movement behind the doors. I haven't done that for the D or E, just because they have too many doors. With the FC11 movie I wanted to try out the new Fluids of Maya, because they were quite promising. So this was a good testing field and it turned out pretty nice, although not entirely how I would have liked it.
Federation Convention XI: Opening movie for the biggest regular European Star Trek convention
Sci-Fi 3D: Where do you think the industry is heading both from a business standpoint and in terms of technology?
Tobias: I still think this is a growing industry, even if the times are a bit harsh at the moment. Real-time engine applications will be the big market of the future. With the next evolution of graphics cards they can achieve almost the look of things that we render today, so more and more will be done in real time. That's not much of a change for us, of course, because todayís "low poly" models would have been "high poly" models a couple of years ago (e.g. the "Real time" Star Destroyer in Rogue Leader III has over 100k polys!). I'm looking forward to whatís happening to the whole human modelling and motion area. Motion capturing still has to get easier to handle and cheaper, but is on the right way. As for the software-side - I notice that all major 3d packages move closer and closer together in their feature list and possibilities, but that there is still no real good solution for interchanging models. This is probably the biggest wish I have on my list...
Sci-Fi 3D: And to stroke our own ego's; Why do you visit SCIFI 3D?
Tobias: I have a few forums and websites I regularly visit to view and share artwork. And Sci-Fi 3D is definitely one of them! Keep up the great work you guys are doing!
One of several 'wallpapers' available from The Lightworks website