Artist Spotlight: Zsolt Ekho Farkas

While his art is diverse – running the gamut from realistic, to painterly, to cartoony – his tool set is not. He chooses LightWave 3D.

Posted: Tue 07 Apr 2015

Every artist dreams of one day creating his or her own masterpiece – a work that will be admired by many and talked about far into the future. But one 3D artist, Zsolt Ekho Farkas of Budapest, Hungary, did in fact create a masterpiece (actually, a re-creation of one) as well as a range of other digital pieces. And while his art is diverse – running the gamut from realistic, to painterly, to cartoony ¬– his tool set is not. For all his projects, Farkas uses LightWave 3D.

Farkas began drawing at a young age, producing paintings and some sculptures. When he was 17, he began his career as a professional, making T-shirt designs and airbrush pieces. In 2003, he migrated to the digital realm, influenced by the work a friend’s father was doing in LightWave for stage-lighting setups at concerts. “That was the first time I saw LightWave being used, and I fell in love with it,” Farkas says.

He has not looked back since. “It wasn’t because I was bored with traditional art, but rather computer graphics opened a whole different world to me,” Farkas says of his transition.

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Henry the hermit crab images (above)

The initial foray to digital was not an easy one, causing the artist some frustration at the beginning. But thanks to LightWave’s intuitive nature and easy learning curve, Farkas was able to grasp the basics of 3D and eventually master them. Today, he is using LightWave 11.6.3 running on an eight-core AMD machine with 16GB of RAM that’s “overclocked to the max.” For now the system can handle most of his projects – “though barely,” he adds.

Farkas and his friends run a small studio where they tackle mostly Web and desktop publishing projects, including advertisements, illustrations, and some architectural-visualization. However, Farkas also leaves time to do independent projects, and lately has become especially focused on his own “freelancing,” which enables him to explore diverse subjects. “It’s fun to break away from the usual works,” he says.

While some artists have a theme to their art, Farkas instead likes to try different styles, and this is evident in his work – which includes digital fine art, portraits, nature images, and works that are a bit on the bizarre side of the spectrum.

Illustrations are Farkas’ favorite because he can release his imagination and create just about anything: cartoon, realism, and a little surrealism mixed in, as well. “[Illustrations] give me the most freedom to create,” he says. “I have a lot of ideas in mind, so I do a lot of sketches, too, but illustrations are my favorite. I love the colors, but sometimes a simple black-and-white 3D piece can work better than a color version.” Mostly, Farkas uses Photoshop for his illustrations, but for a recent project that involved a matte painting (Farkas’ first), he set out to use Photoshop for the entire piece but ended up turning to LightWave, as well – in the end, at least 50 percent of the image was done using LightWave.

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Mahakala images (above).

Exploring Style Through LightWave

A self-taught artist, Farkas is never short on concepts: “I have more ideas in my mind than time to create them,” he says. “As a professional artist, there is always motivation to create something new, something different than before.”

To that end, LightWave is ideal for Farkas’ artist palette. “What I love about LightWave is that I can use it for everything, from a small illustration to a highly detailed project, like Buda reposession,” he says.

Of all Farkas’ work, Buda reposession is, without question, his masterpiece. Literally. The project is computer-generated replica of the 19th century painting Budavár Visszavétele by Hungarian Painter Benczúr Gyula. The huge undertaking resulted from a challenge by Farkas’ wife, who asked if he was able to re-create a fine-art painting in 3D. Not surprisingly, his response was, “Yes, of course.”

“That is my biggest project so far, and it required an extreme amount of modeling and painting,” Farkas says.

Farkas spent time analyzing the complex Budavár Visszavétele, to determine the character positions in 3D space within the crowded scene. Next, he began modeling the soldiers and horses, as well as all the objects, including the banners, weaponry, and the wagon wheels. At this point, he decided to incorporate a full rig in each character model, a process that was made much easier with LightWave’s Genoma, a modular instant rigging system first incorporated into version 11.5 of the software. “I had no plans to animate the models, but figured I could move them if necessary by adding the rigs,” says Farkas. In all, the artist rigged 32 unique characters, which taxed his hardware, forcing him to freeze the scene before continuing.

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Buda reposession images (above).

To texture the models, Farkas used planar projection and then painted additional maps – color, bump, specular, reflection/occlusion – to enhance the original image. With the polygon count already exceeding 8.5 million, he had to forgo displacement maps, although the scene was quite detailed without them.

At some point, the artist decided to generate an animation, which required some revisions to the work he already did, including repainting the characters that were partially obscured in the densely populated scene. Photoshop’s Clone Stamp Tool was helpful, making it easier to retouch the models by copying pixels from one location to another, but the task was a large undertaking, nonetheless. To enhance the movement, Farkas added some smoke to the scene. Because of the limited hardware power, making a full simulation was out of the question. Instead, he used layers of masks for the smoke effect and enhanced the feeling with depth maps, employing the DP Kit plug-in (from Denis Pontonnier). For the actual smoke, Farkas created his own film footage with an e-cigarette, two LED lights, and his blacked-out computer screen.

In all, it took nearly 10 weeks to complete the re-creation: four weeks for modeling, three weeks for painting, and a few weeks for masking and effects.
“It has almost everything that LightWave can do, except Bullet dynamics and hypervoxels, which were not needed for this picture,” says Farkas. He did, however, use most of the standard features within the software, including Compositing buffers, Smoke/Fog, Genoma, Instancing, and much more.

Farkas has already begun his next big project, which is similar to Buda repossession – “but on steroids!” – with more camera movement and much more animation. The theme, however, remains secret for now.

In contrast to Buda repossession is Henry the hermit crab, a photoreal image created in Modeler. “The modeling part was easy – the shell, legs, and sand. Yes, that is 3D sand, not sand copied from a photo,” says Farkas. “Back [when I created the image], I did not have the cool Instance generator that is available in the more recent versions of LightWave. It would have been much easier to do with instances.” The crab is fully rigged, though the image is static, giving the artist an opportunity to make the crab crawl and jump during some animation tests. The creator notes that he still has some plans for this model in the future.

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Carlos 3D portrait (above).

Carlos, inspired by an old newspaper photo, is Farkas’ first 3D portrait. “A big thanks to Ten24 [a scanning facility] for the skin-shading technique,” he says. Farkas created the hat (using a fiber setting of small and large) within LightWave’s FiberFX, but the tiny fibers of the cords, just a few here and there, were done in post. The man’s beard was also generated with FiberFX and controlled by two main maps: a density map and another for the size and color. The lighting was achieved with the plug-in DP Infinite as well as standards area lights. Overall, the poly count for the realistic CG portrait Carlos was 156K.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Mahakala, inspired by a Swedish thangka painter. Farkas spent some time on the character’s skin, making it more mystical than plastic-looking. He tried using ZBrush on the model but found that it did not work for him, so he turned to Pilgway’s 3D-Coat digital sculpting program, and was happy with the result. For the rocks in the background environment, Farkas created an extreme node texture. The image is a bit chaotic, but reflects the artist’s mood at the time it was crafted.

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Kodi’s Adventure (above).

Kodi’s Adventure features a style that Farkas plans to use in a cartoon series, if he has time to pursue it. Texturing was the key to the image, as he used a lot of nodes to achieve the cartoon style. “This is not typical ’toon shading. The essential part of the textures is the gradient setup connected with the usual textures,” he explains. “I played a lot with the incident gradients but finally found the balance. And with this kind of node setup, I only have to change the base colors, and then paint a few textures here and there.”

During the past several years, Farkas has pushed genres and boundaries with his CG art, and he plans to continue developing a variety of work, venturing into CG territories that are new to him while learning and growing in his artistic endeavors. As he points out, LightWave has been growing “hand in hand” alongside him and his art. While there are a number of LightWave tools and features that have influenced his work, one that comes quickly to mind is the Instance-generating engine. “It’s so easy to use, and I can do a lot of things with it that used to be such a pain,” he adds. In fact, Instancing is one of the LightWave features he would miss most, along with Bullet. “I have something strange in mind that I want to do with this combo,” he says with a tease.

Indeed, Farkas is always thinking, always planning something new to test his skills. And that means testing LightWave’s ability to support his imagination.

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Budapest Wasteland (above).

Ekho Farkas, LightWave, LightWave 3D, LightWave 2015, 3d art, 3d artist, 3D graphics, Rendering, animation, 3d modeling, 3d, vfx, hungary
Maya warrior (above).