Featured 3D Artist of June 2006 – Balazs Kiss

Below you can read the interview with the 3D Valley’s Featured Artist of June 2006. We are truly honored that Balazs made some time for us to do this interview. Balazs Kiss was one of the early artists who joined our Gallery. Since he joined our gallery in 2003 a lot is changed for him. Currently he is working for Framestore-CFC on Superman Returns and he has worked on many large projects we all (if I may say so) dream about working on; King Kong, Alien vs. Predator, Harry Potter, and Kingdom of Heaven. He is specialized in Lighting and Photo realistic rendering. Read the interview to find out a bit more about him and those great projects he works on.

3DValley Featured 3D Artist of June 2006 – Balazs Kiss. We are truly honored that Balazs made some time for us to do this interview. Balazs was one of the early artists who joined our Gallery. Since he joined our gallery in 2003 a lot is changed for him. Currently he is working for Framestore-CFC on Superman Returns and he has worked on many large projects we all (if I may say so) dream about working on; King Kong, Alien vs. Predator, Harry Potter, and Kingdom of Heaven. He is specialized in Lighting and Photo realistic rendering. Read the interview to find out a bit more about him and those great projects he works on.

Gallery album of Balazs Kiss
Website of Balazs Kiss

Balazs Kiss at Weta with the original Kong (1933) miniature

Can you tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you and what do you do in your daily life?

Balazs: My name is Balazs Kiss and I have been living in the UK with my beautiful wife, Anette for about four years in Bexleyheath, a small suburban town very close to London. Currently, I am just about to finish working on Brian Singer’s forthcoming blockbuster: Superman Returns at Framestore-CFC. Previously, I spent a very busy, but also very exciting few months at Weta Digital in New Zealand, working on Peter Jackson’s King Kong as Lighting Technical Director.

Which software packages do you use for your artwork?

Balazs: Most of the time I use Autodesk-Alias Maya with Mental Ray or Pixar PhotoRealistic Renderman software for my personal works. I also use Apple – Shake for compositing and various software’s for texturing as for example Adobe PhotoShop or Right Hemisphere’s Deep Paint.

At work, I use pretty much the same software packages. Recently, I needed to use Houdini for additional FX work, and many different in house tools specifically developed for the features I am working on. It is common practice that bigger VFX houses are using additional tools to extend their pipeline and solve problems that won’t be solved with ‘off the self’ packages or to be able to maximize their efficiency.

King Kong & Ann Darrow on top of the Empire State Building
King Kong holding Ann Darrow in his hand on top of the Empire State Building

Can you tell us a bit of the way you work on your art.

Balazs: I tried to experiment and move more and more towards the photo real approaches in my personal artworks in the recent years. I have tried to force myself to create as photo real images as possible, mainly, because I was fascinated about how the boundaries are widened in the past few years of the visual effect history regarding this kind of approach, and I also felt it would help in my professional career as well.

The key factor in this kind of art is the attention to the details and to examine the nature, lights, and environments carefully and precisely. Therefore, before I start working on an image, I try to dig up as many reference images as possible and also take similar photos in the subject.

As I mentioned, the lights are crucial, so I try to establish the mood with simplistic objects, and when I have a rough ‘light sketch’, than I try to build up the image in details. Important thing to mention is that I try to be efficient, so I don’t model much details, that could be a lot easier to paint and achieve with displacement maps; also I can’t see the point modeling details being hidden by other objects in the scene, and so on. Of course, the scene and the idea needs to be planned carefully, to be able to save time with eliminating the unnecessary modeling, texturing work. Really helpful to do as many sketches beforehand as we can to help clarify our ideas.

King Kong – Fighter planes in the air above NY
King Kong fighting the planes from the top of the Empire State Building

Do you have a favorite piece of your own artwork and if so, why?

Balazs: This is a really hard question. I am very critical about my work. A short time after the creation, I become very picky about them. If I have to choose one or two, I would still probably say my favorites are my elephant images, not just because more or less it is still quite photo real (in Pal, TV resolution at least ;)) but these pictures helped me to get my first mayor film VFX job at the MPC.

Elephant image 1

Elephant image 2

Do you have any tips for the artists who admire your work?

Balazs: One of my advices would be, to pay maximal attention to the details and also be very passionate about your job. In this industry you have to do really long hours, you also have to develop solutions that have not been approached before, so the key is to be passionate and love the work you are doing. I you have the necessary determination as well, I cant see any problem with achieving your goals, whether it is working on games, commercials, feature movies, or just creating artwork for fun.

How many years are you working in the CG industry?

Balazs: I have been in the computer graphics industry for about ten years now, but I became interested in cg art and the different types of the computer graphics a lot earlier. I remember when I got my first Enterprise computer in the early years of 1990 and started to create pixel art with a very small integrated joystick on the keyboard. I bought my first PC in 1994 and started painting pictures in Photoshop and created (or rather programmed) 3D pictures in Vivid Raytracer.

Later on, I have designed multimedia software interfaces, participated in the development of many computer games as a lead artist designer. My first game was published in 1998 by Midas Interactive, called Cyberball. I moved on to creating visual effects for TV commercials, and movies. And after that I started to work for the Moving Picture Company in London on the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban about three years ago…

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Which projects have you worked on?

Balazs: During my MPC years I have been working on many different visual effects driven motion picture movies. I was working on the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as digital texture artist and also lighting technical director. I have painted textures for the digital aliens and the digital Queen alien in the Alien vs. Predator movie. I had a great pleasure to be able to work with the amazing director, Ridley Scott on his latest epic movie Kingdom of Heaven, where I was Lighting TD on many epic siege shots of Jerusalem. Finally, as MPC had been awarded by Warner Brothers with the vfx works of the third challenge (The Maze) in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire feature, I had the chance to work on this very complex but interesting sequence.

I had spent an amazing few months working on Peter Jackson’s latest blockbuster: King Kong at Weta Digital and as I mentioned before, currently I am working on the Superman Returns at Framestore-CFC in London.

Kingdom of Heaven
Kingdom of Heaven

Which one was your favorite project and why?

Balazs: I wouldn’t say I had favorite project, I enjoyed working on many of them and I have certainly gained and learned a lot from every one of them. If I have to choose, I would mention King Kong at Weta Digital. Although the months I spent there were extremely busy, I enjoyed it a lot and managed to get to know many talented and amazing people and probably one of the most sophisticated pipeline in the VFX industry.

King Kong on top of the Empire State building viewed from a fighter plane

Can you tell us a bit what it means to be a lighting technical director for such a large project as King Kong?

Balazs: Being a Lighting TD means, that you are responsible for the lighting, rendering and any technical issues of around half a dozen to a couple of dozen shots in the given motion picture. Particularly, on King Kong I was working mainly on the New York sequence where I did the lighting on around 10 -12 full CG shots, and I have also worked on the ice skating and the rampage sequences at the end of the production doing some really nice miniature CG Kong shots.

King Kong – Central Parc NY

How important is the lighting in a scene and do you have any tips?

Balazs: I would say probably the most important, but very likely if you ask a modeler; he/she would say the modeling is the most important 😉

I would quote a line from the Advanced Renderman book: “When asked to explain how lighting contributes to film making, I often show a completely black slide to emphasize that without light, it does not matter how great the composition and acting are – nothing can be seen.” It is exaggerated a bit, of course, but might show what I am referring to. A good lighting can sell even the not really well modeled objects, can give feelings to the picture, set up the overall mood, emphasize the theme and so on, meanwhile a bad lighting can trash the hard work we have invested into the modeling, texturing or animation.

I would suggest to try to establish the lighting of the scene with few, well positioned lights, try to establish the wished mood and do not rely on any GI solutions. Use it as a helper if you wish to make your images more realistic, but do not have it as the only solution. I know, it is very comfortable just switch on a raytracing switch, go for a holiday and 10 days later you have an image, but something should not be forgot: this is not lighting, just makes your image flat, boring and makes it only one of the other thousand images on the web.

You’re also a great texture artist. You have worked as a texture artist on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Alien Vs Predator. What do you use as references for your textures?

Balazs: There are a couple of different ways if you need to handle texturing job for feature films. You can paint everything from scratch, but most of the time you have to follow designs that has been created by concept artists, set designers, so, you have limited creativity regarding the texturing work. On AvP we had many high detailed photographs from the set and from the costumes, do not mention the ‘life size’ Queen Alien head in the office, ah, we needed the help of at least four runners when we wanted to move it.

So, I had to realize early on, that the most important texture of the alien (or the Queen alien) will be the displacement map. Every other texture must be based on the displacement map’s details, and that is the texture which you can not source from photographs, I had to paint them from scratch. All together I had a month or so to do the hero alien, the grid alien, the Queen and the nuke and battle damaged Queen alien textures. We have also developed a technique at the MPC to be able to use floating point displacement maps for the very detailed body parts of the monsters (in this case for the crown of the Queen alien). We had layered the different displacement maps above each other and multiplied in Shake. In this way we had a lot wider range of detail we were able to use, and render out with Renderman to achieve the fine detailed result the VFX supervisor was going for.

Alien vs. Predator

Which area of your work do you enjoy the most?

Balazs: Technical Directors are responsible for many aspects of a visual effects shot. I would really enjoy doing lighting all the time, create the overall mood of the shot or sequence, but this is rarely the case. Most of the time we also have to tackle different technical challenges, put together the shots from pieces, and sometimes we are doing the shot layout as well. Our job is also to create a pre-composite of the shot, to test the various render passes and also giving full support to the compositors with additional outputs.


The golden age of battle ships

Is there any personal or work related project you are working on right know which you can share with us?

Balazs: Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, I hardly have any time to do personal projects at the moment. I have many ideas in my mind, ready to reborn in pixels, but this is a really early stage to talk about them. I try to get into photography again, especially after finishing on Superman Returns in a few weeks time.

As for the next feature project: I am still going to stay and work in London in the following year, very likely on a major feature film (remake) what will be released later on next year. The project sounds really exciting, with loads of cg characters are involved, but sadly I can’t tell you more about this show yet.

When you are not working or creating something what do you do?

Balazs: First of all, I try to spend as much time with my family as it is possible and also try to concentrate on my few other hobbies, such as landscape photography. I am very passionate about traveling, visiting places I have never been and try to get to know people and cultures. This is such a hobby again, where you need certain amount of time to reach destinations, and time is something, I am really poor about. Would be nice to keep in touch with friends I have not seen for ages, there are so many things I would love to have time for to do.

Milford Sound – New Zealand – Photography

Milford Sound – New Zealand – Photography

Christa: Thanks again for your time and this interview Balazs!

Gallery album of Balazs Kiss
Website of Balazs Kiss

Interviews with other artists

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