Q&A: Gio Nakpil

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As a child growing up in Manila, Giovanni Nakpil was greatly influenced by the magic of sci-fi and horror films. After relocating to Canada, he began his art career by studying Computer Graphics in Toronto. Giovanni's last position as a digital model supervisor for Industrial Light and Magic allowed him to work on model creatures for "Star Trek," amongst other Hollywood films. His latest achievement, the model on The Hulk, can be viewed on Marvel's blockbuster "The Avengers."

Giovanni currently works at Valve Corporation.

Mold3D: Hi Gio! Thank you for taking the time to talk to our audience! Can you please tell us a little bit about what you do, where do you work and some of the past projects you have been a part of?

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Gio: I'm a digital artist with a main focus on 3D modeling. I love anything and everything related to sculpture and design. I worked for Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco where I modeled creatures, spaceships, robots and digital humans. My last project there was "The Avengers," where I was the creature model supervisor. I, along with several talented ILM folks, worked on bringing The Hulk to life. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I'm currently at Valve, where I'm pushing myself further than what I thought I was capable of. I'm having the time of my life.

Mold3D: Your personal work has such a unique look to it, almost impressionistic in technique. How did you build an aesthetic style?

Gio: Fortunately, I was able to develop my style from my mentors, as well as emulating the works of artists whom I greatly admire. It is through this that I was able to develop certain techniques of my own and to come up with ways of building form in CG.

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My advice is to examine the works of really talented artists and study how they do things. Build a strong library of artistic influences so you have an awesome well to pull your own art from. Go beyond comic books, sci-fi and fantasy references (things I love by the way) and expand to other things that may even be outside of sculpting or modeling. I love to go out and take pictures to observe and watch people since it keeps me outside and not always in front of the computer. The more you live life and experience surroundings outside of your studio, the better your art will be.

Mold3D: Who are your influences?

Gio: I definitely look to a lot of brilliant artists such as Carlos Huante, Stanislav Szukalski, Jose Fernandez, etc. These folks have a certain strength and design in their forms that's always a pleasure for me to look at and study. Of course, I always have to mention old masters such as Michaelangelo, Bernini, and Rodin, whose books are always within reach from my desk.

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Lately I've been looking at a lot of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walter Evans, and Vivian Maier for inspiration on how to compose shots. Eventually I would love to start doing full scenes to place my characters in, so their works always give me ideas for that.

Mold3D: What is your favorite modeling and sculpting app?

Gio: I really love using Zbrush. It's the only tool I use for any push and pull type of work. For my other modeling needs, I use Maya. Although after seeing The Foundry's Meshfusion for Modo, it made me want to get back to using Modo as a modeling package once again.

Mold3D: What other artistic avenues do you enjoy?

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Gio: I love photography. The act of roaming the streets, trying to find that moment or scene that I want to capture is a very therapeutic and rewarding feeling. Also, I love studying good cinematography in movies. My trusty Leica camera is the closest tool I can get to compose images with a cinematic feel.

Mold3D: Do you think students starting in digital modeling for 3D printing can benefit from traditional sculpting? What do you prefer, digital or clay?

Gio: If you're a CG modeler, it is in your best interest to take up clay sculpting. For me, having had the exposure of sculpting in clay made me a lot more confident in my CG work. Since clay does not have the safety net that CG has (saving, symmetry, etc.), it has forced me to be a lot more decisive with whatever mark I put on the surface. Creating traditional art requires patience and discipline that sometimes is lacking in CG. If I had to really choose, I prefer digital sculpting because it makes sense within the demands of the CG industry where the need to iterate and produce things quickly is a reality.

Mold3D: What did you learn from your own traditional training that you wouldn't have if you’d only worked digitally?

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Gio: Because clay is tactile, by feeling a dimensional object with my hands, I found a much better understanding of the form, rather than with a 2D screen. This also gave me the training to never stay on one area of the model for too long. I'm always constantly checking for the silhouette and cross-section of my forms, looking in all directions to check the sculpture. In CG, this translated to me always tumbling around the model, looking over the silhouette to see how the form turns. It's looking beyond the flat 2D screen to see the form on the other side as I turn the model, if that makes sense.

Mold3D: What tip would you give to a young artist who wants to do what you’re doing?

Gio: Nowadays things can look grim with regards to the job market. It's very hard to stay positive and create things for the love of creating. For me it really boils down to that though. Love what you're doing. It's that very passion that will carry you through those bleak times. Also, take advantage of the benefits that social media can offer you in terms of exposure. Connect with fellow artists on Facebook. Share your work and love what you're doing as you're doing it. My success has always been based on that philosophy. I do things because I love doing it, not because I want to be the most popular modeler. It's that unwavering passion that pushes me to want to learn and expand to other things and be better at what I do.

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Mold3D: How long do you spend on a typical piece and what would you say the most challenging aspect at this point for you when you create a piece?

Gio: Outside of my day job, I am able to devote 2 to 3 hours a night on my models. I've been fortunate to have a wife that allows me to spend that much time on my art, so I really should take this time to thank her for it.

The most challenging aspect is finding the focus and energy after a long day at work. I sometimes meander on what I want to do exactly. Once I find my goal, however, I go at it full blast with utmost excitement.

Check out more of Gio's work at his personal site: gionakpil.com