Artist Spotlight: Lorenzo Zitta
An extremely talented digital artist relies on LightWave to deliver incredible (and memorable) results
Posted: Wed 01 Oct 2014
Often the work by Italian Artist Lorenzo Zitta, living in Barcelona, Spain, initiates a second look. Whether the still is computer-generated within LightWave 3D, an artful arrangement of digital photos, or a combination of the two, the composition of the scene – with its attention to detail and unusual merging of objects – elicits a closer look. Zitta calls it “photo manipulation,” and it definitely catches the attention of viewers. A swimming swan with an exceedingly long neck that resembles that of a sea serpent. A dinosaur fossil fleshed out with growing vines and poised along a riverbed. A lively octopus perched on a plate inside a refrigerator, ready to embark on a shrimp feast. A monopoly board with game pieces depicting a crime in progress. An antique-looking stagecoach with driver and horses carved into a wine cork. A jade dragon whittled from a bar of green soap.
“My specialty is working on really high resolution images that catch the customer’s eye, where attention to detail is key,” says Zitta. “I find it very interesting to create characters or objects that are rich in detail, integrate them into surreal situations, and play with the lighting. Basically, I think simple geometry, such as a cube or a sphere, if lit well, can be very charming, and I’m surprised at the outcome every time.”
Zitta began creating traditional art at a young age – painting, drawing, sculpting, and photographing – and then began using the computer roughly 10 years ago. About three years ago, he decided to reinvent himself as a digital artist and started studying at FX Animation Barcelona 3D School, where he was introduced to NewTek’s LightWave 3D software. Thanks to this new skill set, his artistic career experienced a resurgence, both professionally and personally.
Zitta has found a niche specializing in photo manipulation – a term he uses to describe the process whether the imagery entails photographs and/or CGI. “I often use my camera to take photos for references and textures, and for making my own HDRIs that I frequently use on my projects,” says Zitta. “Having a lot of reference images and making my own photo reference library gives my projects a unique look, since I am not using commercial libraries that can be purchased online.”
According to Zitta, there are many factors to consider when beginning a project that will entail photo manipulation and computer graphics. For the lighting, it is important to determine the direction it is coming from, which colors appear as primary and secondary, what the shadows look like and their type – for instance, hard or soft shadow – and so forth. In terms of the camera, he has to think about the type of lens that will be used for the shot, the point of view, the lens distortion, the color aberration, depth of field, the perspective that will be matched, and more. Then there is the look: the photo composition, color matching, color correcting, levels of blacks, filters….
Mostly Zitta creates stills, where attention to detail is paramount. This is evident when looking at some of his creations, particularly “Old Wine,” depicting the stagecoach scene mentioned earlier. “With my work [photo manipulation], I create these types of images frequently,” he says. “They’re my favorite. I love working so close to the scene camera, forcing me to find the smallest detail.” Here, the photo manipulation was accomplished with CGI. The objects were modeled and textured exclusively in LightWave.
He also likes chaining events in the images he creates, correlating situations and looking for funny scenarios to depict, all in an effort to capture the viewer’s attention. An example of this is with his personal project “Octopus in the Fridge,” in which an octopus, inside a refrigerator, is embracing a jar filled with tiger prawns and is surrounded by a selection of various vegetables and a bottle of prosecco; its facial expression suggests, “Shall it be the main course of the day, a fresh and tasty seafood salad?”
For this scene, as well as for his many others, Zitta relies heavily on LightWave, using the tools and techniques within the software to achieve the intriguing look to his images. While there are many fantastic LightWave plug-ins available, he avoids using software that automates processes because he prefers to have to control over every step. Among his favorite LightWave features is the Viewport Preview Renderer (VPR), an interactive renderer built into the software that lets artists experiment with lighting, textures, volumetrics, and shading within the viewport window and see the result of the work instantly. “I can get a perfect preview of my final render. It is 99 percent accurate. The only time I need to push the render button is when it’s time for the final image,” he notes.
Other features that have attracted Zitta to LightWave include: Genoma, a modular, instant character rigging system; Flocking, for easily creating realistic, natural coordinated motion; Instancing, for duplicating high-polygon objects with little overhead; and Bullet Dynamics, an open-source physics engine.
Zitta has been using CGI – and LightWave – for only three years and admits he still has a lot to learn about the technology and the software. Yet, he has accomplished a great deal in that short period of time, and has many interesting pieces to show for his efforts. “What I like most about computer graphics is there are no existing limits – the only limit you may find is where your imagination stops,” he says about this move to CGI.
To improve his computer graphics skills, Zitta continually observes the work by other digital artists, trying to figure out “how they did it.” He contends that using tools he is familiar with, like LightWave, to mimic someone else’s work is a fantastic way to develop CG techniques.
While LightWave is Zitta’s primary software, there are a few other key tools that he uses for his photo manipulation process. For instance, Photoshop is important when finishing his images, as well as creating textures, maps, and HDRIs. On occasion, he also uses a sculpting program to add micro detail to meshes and to create displacement, normal, or bump maps.
When asked what makes his art unique, Zitta answers, “Attention to detail and my dedication to the highest standard. Plus, I always tell a different and original story.” And LightWave has been invaluable in this regard.
“Thanks to LightWave, I can quickly test many different approaches for my projects. I love bringing models into Layout and switching on Radiosity, then start working on shading and lighting, bringing in more elements, and keep testing and improvising,” explains Zitta. “Most of my personal jobs come from testing and trying different approaches when I don’t have a clear idea in my mind.”
The artist was introduced to LightWave when he began classes at FX Animation, and he counts himself fortunate that this is one of the programs taught at the school (along with RealFlow, ZBrush, Nuke, Unity, and more). “[LightWave] is intuitive and easy to learn, and it offers everything I need,” says Zitta. “The lighting, shading, and rendering quality cannot be beat. Additionally, modeling is fast, and the tools are extremely powerful. What matters most to me is finishing a job on time and on budget, and LightWave helps me do that.”
Unlike other 3D modeling and animation software, LightWave separates Modeling and Layout into separate functions, and Zitta likes this. It allows him to focus first on modeling before taking his object into his “photography studio,” which is Layout, to organize his scene and complete the final “picture.”
Because of Zitta’s photography background, he especially likes working in Layout, as it makes him feel as if he is in an actual studio. It is also where he starts shaping his projects and defining the look that the final image will have. “In LightWave, I love the broad options I have when lighting,” he says. The lights he likes to use most are: Linear, which works as a fluorescent and he finds great for specularity and highlights; Spotlight, which is very useful, particularly for interior lighting to mimic artificial light sources; Area, which is similar to studio lighting and he finds is the best option for photoreal rendering; and Dome, which simulates sunlight and lets him modify shadow softness easily and render quickly.
The Monopoly still image (above) is the result of Zitta imagining Grand Theft Auto entering the world of Monopoly. The scene is illuminated by a Dome light with the aid of HRDI. A deep pass gives the impression that the viewer is looking at something small in size.
When in Layout, the artist also likes using Bullet dynamics, which is an easy and powerful way to simulate hard and soft bodies, as well as cloth. Additionally, he cannot fathom being without VPR, which allows continuous and real-time feedback when rendering and finishing tasks.
The “Gold Skull” image (below) was a test of Bullet dynamics whereby disks were dropped over a sphere. The metal in the image was made using Surface Editor, without the use of nodes. The main lighting is a multi-Point Area Linear, while silhouettes help show the various elements. HDRI was included for reinforcement.
Zitta mostly works as a freelancer for various studios in Spain and Italy. Presently, he is employed with i-real Studios, a visual effects and animation facility for feature film, TV, and commercials in Portugal, where he creates models, textures, and matte paintings. However, Zitta also likes the freedom of creating personal projects, never knowing where his creativity will lead him.
Initially, Zitta began using LightWave 10.1 for his artwork, and after a series of updates, now works with 11.6.3 running on a PC with an Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti graphics card. He finds that the software has so much to offer within its tool set.
“When modeling, I like to use the Bridge Tool to connect edges and polygons, and to add extra detail to my models. I also use Chamfer to smooth geometry borders, Thicken to add depth on flat models, Slice to generate geometry from selected point and edges, and Heat Shrink to mimic cloth simulation without the need for any complex simulations,” notes Zitta. “Overall, though, my favorite tool is Edit Edges, which enables me to modify, delete, and create edges amazingly fast.”
A gingerbread cookie inside a glass (above), clinging to a spoon. A handshake, with one arm humanoid and the other made of water. A roasted chicken whose body is shaped like a man’s torso. A violin with arthropod appendages, made to resemble an insect, perched atop a sheet of music. These are all representative of Zitta’s photo manipulation style of artwork.
Thought-provoking. Attention-getting. Stylistic. These are all descriptions of his unique work.
Visit his web site at www.zittart.com.