Digital Sculpture in the VFX Industry
On this occasion to celebrate International Sculpture Day, let’s talk to our own in-house Master Sculptor, the very talented Surajit Sen.
In the last few years, 3D modelers and other CG specialists, Gaming, and VFX industries are rapidly upskilling themselves to include digital sculpting in their skillsets. Digital sculptors now have access to many industry-recognized applications and software that have been incorporated with traditional software.
Do you think the demand from a variety of industries, like automotive, medical, defense, and of course gaming and animation has increased enormously to demand realistic digital twins and models – what are your thoughts on this unparalleled detail and accuracy?
3D models allow us to construct any shape we think of and bring creative visions to life. They bring out depth and details in the design that 2D sketches cannot.
As artists, we can explore the physical world of a design and manipulate it without being held back by physical limitations. As collaborators, the level of detail makes it easier to communicate and discuss visions with other teams and stakeholders.
Tell us, what is Digital Sculpting and how is it different from 3D modeling?
Let me start by defining the term and art form of sculpting:
Derived from the Latin word sculpere ‘to carve’, a sculpture is often carved out of wood, stone, or other material.
Process Sculpting is the creation of 3D objects by carving, forming, and modifying malleable materials. The term sculpting is also used in other design processes like wax and clay modeling.
3D modeling is used to create an object digitally using computer graphics. A 3D artist uses a polygonal mesh to map out the shape of a design. This is mainly done by controlling the edges, vertices, and polygons that make up the shape.
Digital sculpting uses voxel-based geometry, in which the focus is the volume of the object. A voxel, comparable to a pixel in 2D, represents the quantity of material in a 3D space. So, much like traditional sculpting, it uses 3D tools to manipulate materials by adding, removing, pushing, pinching, smoothing, and cleaning to create digital sculptures.
Many tools available to digital sculptors use multiple geometric representations. But, the advantage of using mesh-based programs is that artists can sculpt on a single model at multiple resolutions. Sections of the design that have fine details have smaller polygons and other sections have larger polygons.
You have been doing sculpting for ages now. I know yFX is fortunate to wake up to a new piece from Surajit in their mailbox every other day. What is the inspiration behind your unique artwork?
This question itself inspires me! All the appreciation, comments, and criticism boost me every day. It's very difficult to pick one source of inspiration. I’m inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomy, Michelangelo’s patience, Pablo Picasso’s madness, Satyajit Roy’s creativity, and our interns’ hunger for knowledge.
Someone once asked me, “What is your hobby?”
Before I could answer, she said, "Watching sculpting, riding sculpting,drinking sculpting, eating sculpting, and sleeping sculpting."
Her answer wasn’t entirely true, but it wasn’t entirely false either.
Sculpting to me, doesn’t feel like a chore, it's a part of my life. I have sculpted over 5000 characters to date. As a Character Sculptor, I constantly try to visualize something new before I create. It’s almost as if my characters provide me with ideas and concepts to create more characters.
Digital Sculpting is an essential part of a VFX and Animation pipeline today. What do you see as the future here? How will the art form and the technology evolve?
I believe that currently, digital sculpting is the most important part of the VFX industry.
From previz to post viz, endless detailing, character buildup, facial expressions, and speed production, we need hyperrealist output. VFX is, without a doubt, a creative space. Among other innovations in the industry, technology and digital sculpting tools have raised the bar for creative movie production services.
I know our interns at yFX benefitted greatly from your mentorship. There are other students and aspiring modelers. It would be great to give them some advice on succeeding in this challenging world.
I was once asked, "What is the key skill for being a good digital sculptor?"
I couldn’t think of a better answer than, "Madness!”
Madness itself requires skill. I believe in ‘skill over software’ because software is only a medium that artists use to create their art. If you know how to sketch, it doesn’t matter what pencil you use. Having said that, of course, artists have software preferences as per the output required.
The knowledge of anatomy and basic traditional sculpting will help you grow into a professional digital sculptor. If you know the fundamentals, you can visualize your sculpture before creating it, and the software will help you execute it.
Kudos to all the interns at yFX for always having a never-ending thirst for knowledge!