Q & A with Manu Herrador
3D Concept Art presents a Q & A with Manu Herrador, a very talented artist specializing in character art. He has been around for about eight (8) years working in the entertainment industry. He has worked with companies like MercurySteam, Pendulo Studios, Out of the Blue Games, Share Creators, or Virtual Toys.
He is currently working at Saber Interactive on several high-profile projects, creating both high-end characters for cinematic game trailers and tripple AAA games. He has worked on titles like Spacelords, Metroid Dread, Agents: Biohunters, and several projects still in development.
With pleasure, 3dconceptart presents Manu Herrador.
| 3D Concept Art: Tell us about you and how did you become interested in 3D modeling, digital sculpting, and to work in the entertainment industry??
| Manu Herrador: → My name is Manu Herrador and I’m currently working as Principal Character Artist at Saber Interactive developing Evil Dead The Game. I think my story is quite similar to that of other artists, whether they are character modelers, environment modelers, concept artists, or game designers, to name a few. In the beginning, I drew as a hobby, it was something I liked since I was a child and I remember spending entire afternoons with my colleagues drawing Spiderman, Goku, or Spawn, but at that time it didn’t even cross my mind that it could be something feasible as a profession, it was just to have a good time.
You have to understand that many years ago the situation was quite different from now, at least in Spain. There was not so much information about how to work in something related to art, let alone working in the video game industry. Internet was not what it is now, where thousands of pages and forums talk about this topic, and where you can find plenty of tutorials on how to model, draw, and even tips on how to get to work in this. There was a feeling that you were not going to be able to make a living “making drawings” and that only by doing a university degree you would become someone. At a certain point, when I was a little older, I decided to overcome all those prejudices and study high school arts, but having in mind to end up doing something related to drawing or illustration, since I still didn’t know everything related to 3D; it sounded like something that was only done outside Spain and that didn’t exist here.
After a few years working in things that had absolutely nothing to do with drawing (to give a couple of examples, as an administrative, or in a consulting firm, all day in an office between Excel tables) I met a former colleague who was studying a master’s degree in 3D modeling and animation in a school in Madrid who showed me the work he was doing at that time for classes and I was shocked. There was a turning point when I asked myself: “Do I want to spend my whole life in the same office buried under excels tables, working in an infinite loop on something I don’t like? So I decided to start saving like a crazy man to sign up for the same master’s degree and at least give it a try. A couple of years later I collected to get all that money together (because let us not fool ourselves, studying 3D in a master is very expensive) and I signed up for the master.
I remember to have invested all the time I had working on the tasks of the master, from the morning when I got up before going to class, when I arrived from class in the afternoon, all night until dawn, I slept about 3 or 4 hours and the next day again the same. That year I had practically no life, but I didn’t mind, since it was something that absorbed me completely and I had a great time modeling and learning. After a year of my master’s, a few months after finishing it, I sent my portfolio to a couple of video game companies. At that time the position they offered was Environment Artist and not character modeler, which was what I liked, but I didn’t mind at all. What I wanted was to work in video games in whatever, there would be time to specialize in characters later. One of them called Freedom Factory Studios, a small studio from Madrid that at that time was starting to develop a videogame based on the movie Kick-Ass 2 responded to my mail, to interview me for the job… and as they say, the rest is history. Over the years I was specializing in character modeling, which was what I liked, working for several companies such as Mercury Steam, Out of the Blue, Share Creators… In these years I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on games like Metroid Dread, Metroid Samus Returns, Spacelords, or Call of the Sea.
| 3CA: From your experience, what are the most difficult part when trying to convey a likeness to the concept art provided?
| M.H: → When we talk about modeling the likeness we mean making a portrait as close as possible to a real person. Unlike other artistic styles, such as something stylized or cartoonish, any different detail, even if it is very little, is going to be very noticeable and we are going to move away from the resemblance we want to achieve. Doing this kind of work I think is quite difficult and I admire very much all those artists like Marlon R. Nunez, Ian Spriggs, Şefki Ibrahim, or Kubisi who manage to match the character. To get good results it is essential to get many references of the person we are going to model, and pay close attention to what we are sculpting.
| 3CA: Where do you get inspiration from and who are your role models?
| M.H: → My inspiration comes mainly from movies. Since I was a kid I’ve consumed as many movies as I could, mainly science fiction movies, which is the genre I like the most. Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek… they come to mind at a glance. I also get a lot of inspiration from playing other video games, which is my other great passion. I’ve grown up playing games like Doom, Unreal, Castlevania, etc.
But it’s not only from movies and games that I try to get inspiration. When I’m working I usually play music in the background and it helps me immerse myself in what I’m modeling, whether it’s game soundtracks or music from bands like Deftones, The Smashing Pumpkins, or Korn. I also have a library of art books that I turn to for ideas. For example, if I have to model a fantasy creature, I browse through the art books for the Doom, God of War, or Darksiders games, which are great for seeing what other artists have done and I almost always get an idea that I can use for my model. Other artists I get inspired by and see as a model to follow are for example Glauco Longhi, Jason Martin, Ben Erdt, Frank Tzeng, Pascal Blanche… there are so many.
| 3CA: As a Principal Character Artist, tell us what your job requires of you daily?
| M.H: → A normal day in my job? For example, when I start modeling a new character, the first thing I get is the concept art of the character or creature to model.
Usually, a producer or the lead artist comes in and in a short conversation, they tell me what I have to do. This conversation usually doesn’t last more than a few minutes, but it’s great to get a rough idea of where they’re going and what they’re looking for. After studying the concept, I like to chat a bit with the concept artist who has done it, or with the art director, to see how to approach it, if I have come up with an idea that I think would look good in 3D or if I have any doubts about a particular part, I take the opportunity to ask him/her before starting it.
Also, sometimes, if the character is going to have some kind of specific effect or some complex detail (for example a cape with a lot of hair, or maybe an arm that transforms into a weapon when attacking or whatever crazy thing you can think of), meetings with people from other more technical departments such as Rigging or VFX are also common. I think these meetings between departments are essential, not only for everything to work well, but because it is a way to feel that you work as a team, in a chain where there are many departments and that the dialogue between all is key. I have been in places where this communication did not exist and sometimes each department ended up making war on its own, without looking at the needs that others might have, and this is not good for the good atmosphere of the studio in the long run. Once we have done these initial meetings I usually start modeling in ZBrush. Depending on the type of character I can start from a base model, to go faster, because in this work productivity and finishing things fast with quality is very important.
Once I have what is usually called the high poly model I would do a quick review, to see if the way it is modeled works or if any specific change is needed. If everything is ok I would make the Low Poly model, which is the one that is going to be used in the game. To make the low poly model or retopology I usually use 3D Studio Max although there are a thousand alternatives to this program, such as Maya, Blender, or Topogun. After that, I would texturize it in Substance Painter. This tool when it came out a few years ago was a real revolution compared to how texturing was done until then with Photoshop. It is super powerful and in a relatively short time, you can get very, very good results. Once the model was textured, I passed it to the Rigging guys, so they could put the bones and the animators could give life to the character. On top of all this, as Principal Artist, I have to supervise my colleagues, give them a hand and give them feedback.
| 3CA: Any good advice for artists and students who want to get into the business as a 3D Artist in fields like games, cinematics, commercials, and feature films
| M.H: → The first and most basic thing is to practice, practice, practice. Spend as much time as you can to make a good portfolio and learn more every day. If that means not going out to party, it doesn’t matter, in the end, it pays off, this is what you are going to dedicate the rest of your life to. Think that there is a lot of competition and that everyone is going to work as hard as you to get a job in this field.
The second thing is to show your work to your friends, your colleagues, your family, and get feedback. You learn a lot from feedback and we get used to other people telling us the things they like least about our work. When you work on this, whether in video games or film, it’s common for our boss, art director, or project manager to ask us to make changes to our work, even if we think it looks great. It is very normal that when you finish a character, you are super proud of your work and they come and tell you “Hey, this is very good, but this part here does not convince me, you have to change this and that too”.
You have to learn to receive it with good humor since it is not an attack or a negative criticism towards us or our work, it is rather the opposite, it is to improve what you already have. Another piece of advice I have is not to be in a hurry. Lately, I see around me that guys who start in this field take it as a race, and want to reach high positions even in Lead too fast and without having the necessary knowledge to face it. This can only bring them frustration and a lot of anxiety. So I recommend enjoying the journey, everything will come in due time when you are ready.
3D Concept Art Community thanks Manu Herrador for sharing his know-how. The most important thing is, practice, practice, practice and make a good portfolio, and learn every day. Everything has its time.