Q & A with Chris DiPaola
3D Concept Art presents a Q & A with Chris DiPaola, a very talented artist specializing in digital sculpting, visual development and concept. For about fourteen (14) years, he has been around in the entertainment industry. He has worked with companies like Weta Digital, Digital Domain, Industrial Light & Magic, and many more.
He is currently working as a freelance artist on several high-profile projects, creating both high-end characters, concept and visual development artwork. He has worked on titles like Thor: Ragnarok, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Endgame, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and several projects still in development.
With pleasure, 3dconceptart presents Chris DiPaola.
| 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??
| Chris DiPaola: → Hey there! I’m Chris DiPaola and I’ve been working in the film industry for over the last decade primarily as a production modeler and concept artist.
Growing up in the ’80s, I was heavily influenced by movies and comic books. From a young age, I was constantly drawing and sculpting with every spare moment I had. Sci-fi and Horror genres played the biggest role in influencing my creative fuel – with films like Robocop, The Terminator, Predator, Aliens, Nightmare on Elm Street, Ghostbusters, The Howling, Starship Troopers, and so many more. Monsters and robots have always been a consistent theme since I was young.
In college, I originally wanted nothing to do with 3D modeling as I enjoyed working with something tangible that I could physically touch. I was taking a lot of traditional sculpting and entertainment design courses with a big interest in becoming an SFX makeup artist. I garnished awards for my sculpture and design work while there and thought landing at a practical FX shop was where it was for me. After I discovered ZBrush, I quickly switched gears in favor of digital sculpting. I loved how fast I could work and iterate on a design – it changed everything for me and opened up a whole new world.
After college, I packed my car with everything I owned, no money to my name, and set out to move to Los Angeles. I worked some odd jobs to get by like QC stuff, encoding trailers for Blu-ray, and a bit of editing for TV. One night I was at a bar with some friends and I overheard a conversation about a project that piqued my interest. I made my way into the conversation, introduced myself, and the next thing I know a week later I’m a concept artist on this Terminator show. Since then, I went to work on many different projects primarily for a feature film – living and working in places from LA, Montreal, to Vancouver, BC on properties such as Marvel, Star Wars, and Transformers.
| 3CA: You have worked in different fields in the art department, from concept to visual development, and production modeling and sculpting? In your experience what is the most challenging?
| C.D: → Every opportunity and project brings new challenges in different ways regardless of the type of work. I am fortunate to have worked on both sides of production as it has allowed me to experience both perspectives. They are both challenging and prove to be problem-solving situations but in different ways. I find I am most happy in a more creative and less technical atmosphere.
With production, you need to be aware of how you will be affecting departments downstream and must know how your asset will be used in the production process. Generally, there will be a lot of people contributing to an asset so you need to make sure it passes through the pipeline flawlessly for others to be able to do their jobs. At times, in production work, you have the opportunity to expand upon the initial concept to explore further which is a cool way to be able to contribute. With pre-production, your focus is solving problems, producing believable designs from a brief, figuring out how something works (its function, answering the how’s, why’s), and setting a mood.
| 3CA: Where do you get inspiration from and who are your role models?
| C.D: → For me, inspiration can come in so many forms – anything that evokes a mood or feeling. It can be a film, a piece of art, a song, a book, an atmosphere, and even just surroundings and nature in the world around you.
I highly admire the talents of Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Stan Winston, Ron Cobb, Carlos Huante, Simon Bisley, and Wayne Barlowe, to name a few. There are so many incredibly talented individuals out there I could probably fill an entire page. I draw knowledge and inspiration from many of my colleagues as well. I feel so humbled and fortunate to be able to work alongside so many individuals that inspire me every day.
| 3CA: Keyframe art, what are the most important things to think about when making artwork at that production level? What is your advice?
| C.D: → It’s all about story and composition. Whether it is eerie, dramatic, suspenseful, moody, or action-packed it’s all about evoking feeling, and emotion and telling a story. I like to come up with a small backstory as well to help evolve the designs – I feel it helps give context to the visuals that broaden the idea and drive it forward. I generally start by gathering references and doing research. I use PureRef to organize my ref board for inspiration. Once I have that in place, I digitally use simple shapes to thumbnail out ideas for the composition before getting started. Then I move on to choosing the point of interest – focusing on lines to guide the viewer’s eye through the image, and breaking down the feeling of what you are visually trying to say with the key scene.
| 3CA: Any good advice for artists and students who want to get into the business as a 3D Artist in fields like cinematics, commercials, and feature film?
| C.D: → My advice would be to choose a singular path and stick with it. Find what you are passionate about, then commit and work hard. It helps to find people that are doing what you ultimately would want to do. Look at their body of work to see how you compare and what areas you can improve on – focusing on achieving something close to that level.
I think that less is more, especially when starting – with an emphasis on quality over quantity. If you can do one thing at a high level it will stand out more than having multiple pieces at a mediocre level.
At the end of the day, you are always judged by your worst piece. One last thing that I think is also just as important as the art, is to work on your soft skills (communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, etc.). Any project you get involved in within this industry, you will always be a part of a team coming together for something bigger than any one person. You want to make sure you are a team player and people want to work with you.
3D Concept Art Community thanks Chris DiPaola for sharing his know-how. Less is more, quality over quantity and lastly choose a singular path and stick with it!