Michael Defeo

Michael Defeo is a sculptor whose specialty lies in translating 2-D character designs into fully-fledged 3-D models. He hand-built the modeling and sculpting studios at Blue Sky Studios and served as the head of each for 15 years. While at Blue Sky, Michael brought countless characters to life for Ice Age series (1-4)  Robots, Horton Hears a Who, RIO, and Epic.

Michael has also worked with Illumination Entertainment, helping to create characters for Despicable Me 2 and The Lorax, and the upcoming The Secret Life of Pets.

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Michael and ask him some questions regarding his career and experience transitioning from traditional sculpting to digital 3D modeling.

Mold3D: How has transitioning from traditional sculpture to digital affected your career?

Michael: I was always interested in digital modeling. But the real start was when Jurassic Park came out, at that point I knew I had to learn digital.

Up until then I had been making stop motion puppets and mold building practical effects.

Afterwards, I worked digitally for many years with Alias and Maya while also doing clay maquettes. Then ZBrush came along and like most 3D modelers I was hooked, however it wasn't until Rio that I fully transitioned to ZBrush for maquettes.

Mold3D: What are your favorite tools in ZBrush ?

Michael: I only use a few tools regularly, Clay Build Up, Move, H-Polish, Dam Standard, Pinch. But I also use Dynamesh and ZRemesher all the time. Also I love ZModeler!

Mold3D: What are the strengths and weaknesses of clay and digital sculpting?

Michael: Clay has an immediate response from the client and directors, they see the work right in front of them. Also there is tactile feeling that is satisfying, and I personally can create nicer hair sculpting effects in clay. Digital has tons of benefits like saving iterations, mirrored sculpting, zooming in on details and the ability to send a file via the internet.

Mold3D:  If you could give one piece of advice to a newcomer in the industry today, what would it be?

Michael: Learn your foundation sculpting skills and anatomy. Look at physical sculptures to understand good sculpting practices.

Mold3D: You have worked on a lot of great films in studio and as a freelancer. Where do you see the industry going over the next 10 years in regards to people looking to get into this industry?

Michael: Good question, I think being flexible and having multiple skills is helpful. For example, be open to work for toys, collectibles along with film. Producers are all about saving money so you need to provide as much value as possible as well as being ready to move around.

Mold3D: Is ever too late to acquire new artistic skill sets?

Michael: Never, All artists should continue learning. The minute you stop learning you become stagnant!

Michael Defeo is currently teaching at Mold3D Academy for our Character Sculpting in ZBrush Course.