Mold3D: Hi Pete! Thank you for taking the time to talk to our audience! Can you please tell us a little bit about what you do and what type of work you are currently doing?
Pete: Hey! I've worn a lot of hats in my career, but I usually describe myself as a concept artist, modeler, sculptor and sometimes art director working in film and games and I've been doing it more than 25 years now. I'm currently a freelancer working on anything that comes my way. My steady job at the moment is with Turtle Rock Studios in Orange County. I'm producing game assets for them remotely (I live in Seattle) and the game we're working on is called "Evolve". I think I'll be doing some concept designs for them soon, but for now I'm cranking out environment elements. They're awesome to work with.
Mold3D: You have a pretty extensive skill-set, what keeps you coming back to sculpting?
Pete: I think that since sculpting is what I set out to do when I was a little kid, it's kinda etched into my brain. Even when I create 2D concept art, I'm still thinking like a sculptor. I always see and think in 3D no matter what I'm working on, so it's kind of a natural thing for me, even though I haven't sculpted actual clay in a fairly long time. Now with software like Zbrush, Modo and 3D printing, I can do what I want very quickly. As a guy coming from an analog background, it's kind of a dream come true. But yeah, at the very base level, I've always been a sculptor and really haven't ever left it.
Mold3D: At what point did you take a liking to digital sculpting?
Pete: At Tippett Studios in the old days I was using an input pen to digitally enter a sculpture into the computer vertex by vertex. It was the only way we had at the time to get a model from the outside into the computer. In fact Craig Hayes, the VFX supervisor there, actually made the input device that made it possible. So those were the very, very early days. It definitely didn't feel like sculpting at that time. Even regular modeling, like patch modeling, was so technical and clunky, it didn't hold much appeal for me. I wanted to make shapes quickly and naturally, so clay sculpting was still the best way for me. There was a program called Pixel Putty in the early nineties that just barely started to feel a little more natural, but it wasn't until Zbrush and Mudbox appeared that I started getting into it and saw the promise of digital sculpting. Now Zbrush has gotten so much better, when I use it it feels like second nature to me. It took a while to get over the initial steep learning curve, but at this point I don't even think about what I'm doing, I just get in there and make stuff.
Mold3D: How did you get started in the movie industry?
Pete: I admit I'm pretty old. When I started in the late eighties pre-computers, I just wanted to be a sculptor in the FX industry. I wanted to make rubber monsters and create special effects makeup like my hero Rick Baker. I started on low budget zombie movies and gradually made my way to "the big time" when I moved to LA and worked for one of Rick Baker's protege's Kevin Yagher. I worked on stuff like Bill and Ted, Tales from the Crypt, stuff like that. But getting back to how I started; I just learned on my own. I toiled away in my parents garage, learning how to sculpt by trying to copy work I admired. After a lot of effort I was able to put a portfolio together that was decent enough to get low budget work. That low budget stuff was good enough to get a job at a real effects shop and once I was there I learned almost everything on the job, working with much more experienced people and soaking up their knowledge.
Mold3D: How would you describe your artistic style?
Pete: I'm not really sure. I've always tried for naturalism and realism. Early on, I just wanted to make stuff that looked "real", so I focused on that. I think after 25 years of work, a person comes up with a style whether or not they intended to. I've always tried for a high level of quality whether I was doing something 'cartoony' and stylized or scary or naturalistic. It's a hard question to answer because I never set out to have a particular style. I wanted the realism to hide the maker behind it.
Mold3D: How important is it to learn traditional aspects of art?
Pete: Totally important. I don't think you have to necessarily "master" sculpture or painting to be a good digital artist. But I think spending a bit of your life with actual art materials helps you develop your senses, helps you understand and convey space, form and texture. If you are creating something you intend to pass off as real, it helps to have experience with real things, you know? Kinda obvious, I guess. Sure there's the internet and Google image search. You can find whatever visual reference you need to help create your work. But having your own mental reference folder of experience adds a layer of quality to your work that only looking at pictures won't give you. I don't think there's a substitute for hands on art making and real world experience.
Mold3D: What do you prefer, digital or traditional sculpture, or partially both now that 3D printing is becoming more and more accessible?
Pete: I don't prefer one over the other. In the end you're just talking about shapes. Is it a good shape or bad shape. Compelling or dull? I do think it'll be a while before 3D printing is widely accepted in the fine art world. I too usually want something that a person made with their own hands if I'm buying a piece of art (which is extremely rare because I'm always broke). But it's a weird line. Jeff Koons doesn't make his own art. He has a team of artists and craftsmen make his stuff. With some art you're buying a persons ideas and concepts. The thing in front of you and the way it was made is only part of the picture.
Mold3D: What’s the most indispensable tool in your primary software package?
Pete: In Zbrush I'd say their Dynamesh tool.
Mold3D: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given in your career?
Pete: Phil Tippett drilled into my head that you have to fill your head with reference of all kinds before you can make decent art. He quoted director Milos Foreman who said "You have to eat a lot of good food before you are going to have a good shit."
Mold3D: If you had any advice to give artists starting out on a path similar to yours, what advice would you give them?
Pete: These days I would tell them to have more than one skill. Don't put all your art eggs in one basket. Be a useful person to hire. If all you can do is model creatures, you might find it hard to get a job because a lot of folks want to do that. But if you can model and paint any kind of prop well and also create environment elements and a few other things, you'll be able to work easier. Keep working at the thing that would be your dream job, but if you want to make a living as well, spread your skills out a little.
Mold3D: What do you think of 3D printing?
Pete: I'm a big fan of 3d printing. It's still in it's infancy, but it's going to be an important tool in many aspects of the entertainment industry. Printing out maquettes is fun, but it'll be used more and more for all kinds of things, from printing out "antique" props for period movies to costume elements in super hero movies, the list will be endless as the technology gets better and better. I'm definitely looking forward to printing my designs and maybe selling a few as well.
Mold3D: Do you have any current and/or past artists that you look to for inspiration?
Pete: Citing HR Giger isn't particularly surprising, but he's a big influence. The Oscar winning makeup artist Rick Baker was an early influence for sure. I wanted to be him for a long time. I would look at his work in the magazines and try to emulate it when I was learning how to sculpt. The artists behind the scenes in the Star Wars movies were also super important to where I ended up. It was the same thing; I'd pour over the magazines like Cinefex and try to learn what I could from guys like Phil Tippett and Ralph McQuarrie. Harryhausen was another biggy when I was little. I can't think of any current people I look to for actual inspiration. I definitely admire them, but I mostly look to nature and old paintings and sculpture for the inspiration part. I've actually been looking less at current artists these days. I worry that if I gawk too much at all the great work out there I'll lose some of my originality. So I try to limit my exposure.
Check out Peter's website to see more of his fantastic work : theartofpeterkonig.com