Student Spotlight: Moises Rejano Arjona

From visual effects to video games, students at FX Animation rely on LightWave to prepare for their careers in real-world production environments.

Posted: Wed 04 May 2016

Founded in 2006, FX Animation (Barcelona) became one of Europe's top 3D and VFX schools. From visual effects to video games, students rely on LightWave to prepare for their careers in real-world production environments. Through this interview, the student and LightWave artist Moisés Rejano Arjona shares his own path to become a real professional with a very unique skillset.

Hi Moisés and thank you for joining LightWave 3D for this interview! We heard about you quite recently and we really enjoyed your artwork! Can you tell us a little more about you and your background as a 3D Artist?

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my experience with the LightWave community!

I’ve been an artist at heart since my childhood. Everything started when I discovered my father’s old DV camera: in that exact moment I realized the real potential power of an image in movement!
Over the following years, my passion for Cameras kept growing. The day my parents offered me my first computer was one of the best day in my life! I could finally start editing videos and let my passion and creativity express themselves. Right after that, I decided to study cinema and communication at University of Seville. There I learned about cinema history, photography, storytelling, filming, big artists and directors, while I also working as a camera-man in a local television, as well as working on some personal projects! After finishing my formation, I felt this wasn't enough, I needed more creativity. I wanted to create things from scratch and make the impossible become reality.

So I moved to Barcelona and spent the last year studying 3D and visual effects. I have only been a 3D Artist for one year, but I worked and studied very hard to achieve the best visuals I could!

You are actually a student at FX Animation (Barcelona), one of Europe's top 3D schools. Can you tell us briefly about the school and the type of 3D productions, visual effects or specializations is offering? 

FX ANIMATION is a great school with wonderful professionals. You can learn 3D for visual effects, video games, animation, architecture, photography, etc. They offer all kind of formation, from initiation courses to specialized ones.

Also its education system is very effective: after only one year of learning LightWave 3D, I was able to create some very professional looking shots. I'm so very glad I've found this school!

Which LightWave 3D features, tools and skills do you focus on and which type of work are you producing during your training lessons? What is your experience with the software?

Working with LightWave 3D is pretty impressive. It's a very powerful 3D software that lets you build a lot of different scenarios. During the formation we have to do all kind of projects and understand the full production pipeline process: I’ve learning how to model, texture, shade, light, render and create some effects like simulations, particles and dynamics. All in LightWave 3D! This software has an intuitive and polyvalent workflow that makes it especially interesting for new artists, such as me.

What do you enjoy the most in LightWave 3D?

Lighting! My favorite part of the workflow is when I just finished a material, setup the lights and see it rendering in VPR. That system is amazing because I can change the lights configuration i and see the effect in real time.

There are two projects that I’ve enjoyed so much doing: a tribute to Audi R8’s ad and a space scene. In the Audi’s project I used some minimalist aesthetics, where the most significant visual weight was in the reflections of the bodywork and the optical flare effect. The space scene was interesting because I had to study how the light works in space. I searched references from movies like “Interstellar”, “Gravity” and documentaries like “Cosmos, a space odyssey”.

Which other software / programs / plugins are you using in conjunction with LightWave 3D? 

LightWave is my main 3D software. Sometimes I need other software in order to finish a specific task. In my list there are ZBrush for modeling, Substance Painter and Photoshop for texturing and After Effects and NUKE for compositing.

In regard to plugins, I like Denis Pontonnier’s Develop Kit with additional nodes, Fertilizer to create a growth effect in geometry and a few, very useful to work with UV: UV Unwrap, UV Relax and UV Creeper. But, definitely, the most amazing is Turbulence FD to make realistic simulations. Its integration in LightWave is perfect, it runs very fast and you can make some very realistic simulations. I used it in a few of my projects combining it with Hypervoxels and the result was great!

If you were asked tomorrow to choose 3 functions/improvements of which you would dream of on the next version of LightWave 3D, what would you opt for?

The first and one of the most desired things was already included in the 2015 version: Constraints. This improvement in Bullet system lets you take more control over dynamics simulations and this is fantastic.

My second would be to include modeling tools inside Layout. For instance, the possibility of making cloud of points directly in a scene. It would be helpful in particular situations, like setting up random positions for instances.

The third would be some improvement with the Band Saw Pro tool, because when you are working with a lot of polygonal subdivisions it can be a little slow.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in the creative phase, and how does LightWave 3D help them overcome these challenges?

"The drone project" was the biggest challenge I’ve faced during my formation. We had to model an entire robot in Modeler, animate it and create a scene.

After thinking about possible references, I decided to base it on the design of games like Doom 3 and Dead Space to create a scene where the drone is walking in a space corridor, searching for the next target. It was a difficult task because I had never modeled anything in 3D before. I also had to model and texture the full environment with the robot. Moreover, I had to make it completely functional to support motion capture techniques.

In that case, I used Modeler to build all the pieces and assemble them with the rest. Once I had a full part, for example an entire leg, I set the Weights Maps in order to make a better subsequent work with Genoma in Layout. Later I had to fix several problems derivative of mocap system and improve a few pieces so that they could work properly with correct deformations.

The last part of the project was lighting, shading and texturing: I think lighting is one of the most important stages for 3D, so I tend to spend a lot of time on it. Even if you make a great job in texturing, with bad lights, it won´t shine.  I needed a specific atmosphere, different nuances, glows on metal surfaces, corroded materials, fog, shadows. In this sense the difficulty was in the structure of the corridor; I had to find a set of lights that covered the entire environment without overloading the software with a lot of different lights and increasing the render time. Therefore, I started with a basic light set, made all the metal shaders in the node editor, where the hard part was to create a realistic effect in refraction and reflection. While I was creating the materials I also built the textures with the help of Photoshop and Substance Painter. 

At the end, to complete the illumination I used a small trick; I added HDR images to create more reflections on the material and panels with high luminosity in the Surface Panel, hidden from the camera.

Are there any particular techniques in LightWave 3D that you use often?

Well, when I have to achieve an organic look for a 3D object I normally use the same combination of things: Bump and Displacement Maps.

Firstly, I configure the bump in the Surface Editor, usually with several layers of procedurals and gradients. Then I animate the bump rotation or position to make it look “alive”.

Secondly, I use that bump to create a displacement map using the normal directions. I go to the object properties panel and configure the bump displacement and the level of subpatch subdivision, in order to have more details.

Thirdly, if the previous displacement wasn't enough, or if I want even more details, I apply a last displacement inside of the displacement map node editor. In that case a turbulence, a multiply node and a vector scale node is all you need. With the turbulence you can configure the kind of deformation you want, then with multiply node you set the size of variations and finally with scale node you decide the direction of the displacement.

The point is that both kind of displacements can coexist at the same time and can be animated separately.

Could you tell us more about your latest project you've made with LightWave 3D? Could you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

The last project I made entirely with LightWave was a destruction scene that involved a lot of tools and techniques. It took me approximately a month. The main goal was to use all the knowledge that we had gained in the last year in FX ANIMATION.

It's about an ancient tower of rock that it is being attacked. The camera navigates through it avoiding the obstacles until it shows us the hidden landscape beyond the tower.

The most difficult part was modeling and texturing since the camera had to go really near the tower. So we needed a lot of details on the geometry and the textures: we tried with displacement maps but the high resolution textures and the level of subpatch subdivision that we needed to obtain good details were unsustainable in our computers. So we started again. We modeled a base mesh in Modeler, we made the UVs and exported it to ZBrush. There, using a rock texture as guide we detailed the holes and bumps, and then applied a decimation process in order to triangulate the mesh. With that process we obtained a simple “rocky” geometry. Then we imported the mesh into Layout and use the UV to project the same rock texture that we used in ZBrush. Consequently, shapes and textures fitted each other and we had enough details on the surface of the tower.

After that, we had to take care of dynamics: we used the bullet system to make all the rocks explosions and the broken chains at the beginning. We made all the fire and smoke simulations with Turbulence FD. To complete the atmosphere, we created different kind of clouds, using Hypervoxels. For the higher clouds we used voxels and for the middle one’s sprites because the camera had to go through it and this way we obtained some fast render times.

The last difficult part was the render. We had a lot of different things in the scene and render them all at the same time could have been a nightmare. So we divided the project in twelve distinct scenes using matte objects, hiding things of the camera and always keeping in mind their interactions, like the reflections of the explosions on the rock surface. At the end we added fog, the landscape, dust and other effects and we put it all together in compositing.

What’s your favorite part (sketching, modeling, animating, rendering, effects)?

Lighting and effects, and both for the same reason: we always try to replicate the reality and trick our own brain. In that sense, I like nature: discover how things work in the real world. I spend time looking at the light behavior, fire or water movements. Things that happen every single day and got unnoticed, but that are very important for a VFX artist. I love to sit in a park and see how the world moves on while I am looking for the moment of inspiration.

What inspires you? And how do you keep your creativity going?

The inspiration can come from any place. I found ideas after seeing a painting or a picture, walking on the street, in the middle of the nature... However, I believe my best source of inspiration are movies, I always want to see a new film, it is a good way to train our vision and find new ideas. Music is also simply fascinating: when I start a new project I always think about what style of music can go with it and let my mind flows.

Can you offer any advice to those interested in becoming a 3D artist and starting out with LightWave?

Be patient and work hard every day. Becoming a 3D artist is not easy, you must improve yourself every day, step by step. There are always things to do or learn. The industry in constant evolution, professionals must be very malleable in that sense and be always in movement. LightWave is a powerful tool that brings us a perfect way to do that, pretty intuitive and versatile. 

Learn more about Moisés Rejano Arjona on Vimeo

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