Steve Rosewell interview
Director KiteStudio – 3D graphics (Props and sets for film and TV productions)
Ric - Welcome to the Art of Making Marks. So Steve tell us a little about your studio’s fascinating background.
Steve - StudioKite started about 20 odd years ago doing theatre shows, circus rings that sort of thing all of the world. Then we moved to Sydney and set up a prop shop. So then for years we were building sets and props and moved into the TV commercial world doing special effects and then makeup right through to large rigs and animatronics work as well as simple model making. At one stage there was a big threat for us of the CGI component in productions that came about 12 years ago. This at first seemed like a big threat to us and then it turned around that all the ‘creatives’ideas were let loose, because they thought that anything was possible with digital and it worked out that it was easier to do it for real in-camera than it was to do it the new computer way.
Then as the years went by a lot of the best work, and especially the large budgets, did start moving into the CG (Computer Graphics) world. We became very disappointed when we found that a lot of clients were calling up when they had absolutely no money and thought it was going to be cheaper to do it for real in-camera than to use CG and so we found that the really low budget jobs were heading towards the model makers. I heard about the $300,000 budgets that went into very mundane special effects that could have been done so brilliantly as in-camera affects. So we started moving towards computers quite some time ago and then realised there was just no way we wanted to sit there and stare at a screen all day. A lot of our guys just love the hands on work so we put it away, that was way back when 3D StudioMax first came out and we were pretty excited about that however the deflating hardware and software costs were a big put off. Basically you had to get a job done with that purchase to pay for the software purchase within a couple of months.
Ric - Yes I remember the equipment costs just had to keep rolling it all through or you would get caught with high overheads and redundant technology.
Steve - Yes that was it and that was really visible. A piece of hardware would be $80,000 and two months later it would be $20,000 and then a few months later it would be useless.
Ric - It’s what gives you the edge in this business though so you have to do it.
Steve - Yes, that’s exactly right. There was certain companies that were given technology and sponsored by companies like Silicon Graphics, and with out being sponsored there was just no way they you could have survived because of the costs and trying to make ends meet that way.
But then what we’ve discovered is as the years went by we started designing and working out concepts in the computer, because it was a quick way, a good way of getting client approval before you started the job. Then I saw the first 3D printer that was on the market. I went to a trade show, manufacturing trade show and I thought this thing is the ‘bee’s knees,’ this thing’s amazing. It was a pretty big investment for us but I convinced my partner to just say ‘lets go for it’ and we did and because of that as soon as we had the printer we needed the software to drive it. We tried Rhino and a few other applications which didn’t sort us out and then finally went with Solid Works. I had a guy working for us that knew Solid Works so we went down that route and really got into some beautiful design work. Designing for the real world rather than designing for animation or the CG world.
It just kept expanded from there. Before we had a lot of problems getting some of the older software to work properly, we just couldn’t get the polygons to do what we wanted them to do for the real world environment. Things would print with holes in them and it became so time consuming to fix. Over the years we have worked out techniques that worked and the software has come a long way to actually be able to pull it off quickly. After buying the 3D printer that lead to us buying a big industrial robot arm for milling out large polystyrene shapes and we got a much more accurate scene seaming machine for doing fine detailed work fast. And we also have a wax printer that does infinite detail for things like jewellery clasps or fine sculpture work. So using those four different machines, we can pretty much cover any size of medium as such, the medium being in the real world of mediums, not CG. So then it was a matter of producing the sculptures. Now Solid Works is not good for sculpture work at all or any sort of organic 3D work.
Ric - Yes is really for industrial design, product design and engineering.
Steve - That’s right and it’s great if you want something square and a particular size with lettering embossed. For things like that, it’s perfect because they come out of the printer solid, there are no holes in the objects. However then went down the organic process and we played around with Maya for quite a while, we still use an old version of Maya which is good for just blocking out some polygon things. It’s becoming less and less useful for us now because we don’t need the rendering and animation side of it, we only need one very small part of it which is the modelling.
But then we discovered zBrush, which for the sculptural work is fantastic, we just loved it. I was very frustrating with the first version because it just didn’t work, they said it worked and it just didn’t. however later versions they got right. We’ve tried a couple of others programs, things like Mud box which we used a little bit but I found that it’s harder to see the object, just literally the way the video is processed on the screen or something, it’s harder to see the shading on the object.
Ric - Now that Autodesk own the product I would suspect they have addressed that issue and I believe that it’s possibly an easier learning curve than Zbrush, but of course zBrush has already become very will adopted into CG pipelines. I guess it is really just about which one you start with and get used to first.
Steve - Yeah, that’s right and once I got used to ZBrush I could literally sculpt, paint and rotate the objects as I went, which was ideal. The final rendering for us is just for a quick impression, because we’re going to recreate the thing as a real world object. We have done a few jobs, simple stills jobs where we’ve spent a lot of time in Photoshop and rendering stuff, like rendering 3D stills out as images but that’s not our speciality so we try to concentrate on what we’re good at.