Jose Alves DA Silva
Jose Alves Da Silva

Interview with José Alves da Silva

One of the best character creators in the business and member of the THU Advisory Board shares his thoughts about his career, techniques and even bowling tips.

José Alves da Silva is a passionate artist. That’s why he decided to leave the comfort and security of company that he helped to create 14 years before…and dedicate himself to character creation as a freelancer. A bold decision but one that paid off, giving the CG world an accomplished artist with several awards and praise from all the major websites and magazines. José could also have been a great pro bowler, if it wasn’t for a wrist injury. The sport might have lost a good bowler but we’ve gained an amazing artist.

When did you get your start in the industry?

I began my work in 3D Architectural Visualization back in 1996 when I created my own company Pura Imagem with 3 friends. However, I only started my work as a freelance character artist in 2009 after my leap of faith.

Can you pinpoint the exact moment when you decided to leave architectural visualization behind and dedicate your career to character creation? That had to be a tough decision…

It was a tough decision because I chose to leave the company which I had created from the start and worked in for 14 years. Also, I was 36, married and with 2 little children. But professional success and self fulfillment are not the same thing… Being at the top meant that I was no longer doing what I loved. My days were passed dealing with clients and using Excel. I found myself working in personal pieces at night and weekends to fulfill my creative needs and compensate for the dryness of my days.

In 2009, I decided to participate in CGSociety’s XXIV Challenge without any aspirations and surprisingly won the First Prize. For me, that was an indication that I could survive from doing what I loved. A few months later, after much thought and huge support from my family, I took the leap. One day I was a company owner, the next I was a freelancer. Best decision of my life.

Can you run us through your process when creating a character?

I usually start with research to get familiar with the subject, which will provide inspiration and help to avoid pitfalls like adding a pouch on a male kangaroo (like I did). Then I sketch the character loosely trying to establish a good foundation. I try not to define it too much, I like to leave some space for further concept development during the 3D sculpting stage. Moving to Zbrush I establish the final proportions and block the 3D concept. After approval of the 3D concept, I refine and detail it. Depending on the type of work, I can retopologize it or not. Then I will create Uvs and textures and finalize the character by creating the materials and rendering.

As a portuguese artist we’re sure you had to overcome a lot of obstacles that artists from countries with other visibility don’t have to deal with. Tell us about that journey. I only manage to work as a character artist without leaving my country due to the development in technology and internet speed. Back in 1996 it wasn’t possible to work remotely. I am quite sure that if I lived in the United States I would have tried to embrace character creation a lot earlier and would have tried to work at one of the major studios.

Apart from that, I think that the playing ground is leveled at this time. The internet speed makes it as easy to work with someone in another city as to work with someone on the other side of the globe. Companies also take advantage of this and search for top talent around the world to work on their projects. Today, artists compete with talent from the whole planet. Physical location is the least of an artist’s problems these days.

Although you’ve made some more realistic models, most of your work tend to be more cartoony. How would you define your style?

Absolute photorealism is not my favorite dish. I like doing it from time to time because I learn a lot from it. Learning real world anatomy, physical properties of materials and light provide excellent tools/rules to bend in non realistic characters. Some of my characters, especially humans, tend to be cartoony/exaggerated because I like the form to reveal their personality beyond real world physical limitations. This leads to caricatural form. I also love stylization and the ability to reduce form to its most significant lines/shapes. In some characters I try to explore this, searching for the most significant geometric features and exposing them, resulting in a more sculptural form.

You’re one of the co-creators (with Serge Birault) of Fury, the THU Festival official mascot. Guides us through the creation of Fury, from concept to final image.

I am a big fan of Serge’s work and it was the first time I had the opportunity to work with one of his concepts. Serge was very gentle because he adapted his style to fit mine. He created a unicorn with some very strong/clear lines that translated beautifully into 3D. We had some fun launching a few ideas, getting inspiration from Manowar and Mr.T. Serge made a sketch with an idea for the overall composition with a flag and a pile of bones, helmets and weapons and a dark stormy background. Serge gave me total freedom, letting me introduce my own ideas. There were some hard challenges on the image, like displaying a dark horse against a dark background or dealing with horse fur which is very peculiar.

The 3D creation sequence started with a Zbrush sculpt of a neutral pose followed by retopology. Then, the character was posed and polypainted. It was then exported to 3DSMax in which I applied fur with Hairfarm and rendered with Vray. The character was going to be used in the THU challenge, in which people have to create a friend or opponent to Fury, so I tended to make the character a bit more powerful powerful and bellicose to stand against his opponents. However, I guess it might have lost a bit of Serge’s humor. It was a great opportunity and I am thankful for it.

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