Meet the artist
The art director talks to 3D World about his background, studio setup, inspirations, and day-to-day life working on lighting and effects at Blender Animation Studio
We interview art director Andy Goralczyk about his role at Blender Animation Studio
Blender started making short films in 2006. These Open Movies are a testing ground for open source software and a showcase for what’s possible with those tools. Since 2007, the Blender headquarters in Amsterdam have employed developers in tandem with a thriving animation studio.
As a Blender veteran, Andy Goralczyk has contributed to numerous film projects at the studio. He made furry rodents for Big Buck Bunny and rendered robots in Tears Of Steel. In Cosmos Laundromat he was responsible for simulating a colourful tornado, and recently he directed the short film Spring, inspired by his childhood in the mountains of Germany.
Can you tell us about your background in 3D?
My journey in 3D is tightly knit with the history of Blender. I started learning 3D as a hobby while I was in high school. That was roughly 20 years ago! Back then Blender really was the underdog of 3D graphics, but it offered me my first steps in this exciting universe. Over the years, my hobby turned
into my job as I became more involved with Blender’s development. My first professional gig in 3D was also Blender’s first Open Movie project: Elephants Dream in 2006.
I returned to Amsterdam numerous times starting in 2007 for various film projects and finally took a full-time contract when we made Cosmos Laundromat: First Cycle in 2015. Since then, Blender has grown as a company thanks to the Blender Cloud and Blender Development Fund, and along with our studio art team I’ve worked on several more film projects.
My biggest learning experiences recently have involved working as a production designer on Agent 327: Operation Barbershop and directing my own short film Spring.
What is your day-to-day life as an artist like?
I try to keep as regular a schedule as possible with sane, normal working hours. I get to work around 9 AM, look over the previous day’s work, read and respond to emails. Usually we have a daily with the studio artist crew at 11 o’clock every morning.
We are currently in pre-production, so I have a range of tasks related to setting up the main production of the film. Giving feedback to the concept artists, mocking up sets, modelling props, lighting and shading tests, and hair grooming.
During peak production I also light film shots directly. In the past I’ve often found myself working on around five to
Among other tasks, Goralczyk directed and oversaw the lighting
eight shots a week, depending on their complexity. In many short movies I also did smoke, fluid, hair and destruction simulation, so that’s still an area I end up working in.
My day will often end with some video calls in the evening since Matthew, our current film director, is based in a different time zone.
Goralczyk’s pre-pandemic workplace at the Blender Studio
“AT THE BLENDER HEADQUARTERS, WE HAVE A STRICT POLICY OF USING ONLY OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AT OUR WORKSTATIONS”
How do you keep things interesting for yourself as an artist?
It’s definitely a good idea to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while and pick up a new skill that’s not directly related to your everyday work. I went to university after I decided on computer graphics as my main career path. I studied media arts, which was very refreshing.
Although we had a 3D department at our school, I tried to avoid it and do more experimental stuff outside the realm of 3D art. Having the resources to do this was a huge luxury: I learned a lot about audio, both the art and engineering side. I spent about five years with fellow students creating a very ambitious stop-motion film set in a post-apocalyptic world. That was absolutely mind-boggling! Furthermore, I did some electronics and robotics, and even built my own synthesizers.
Finally, when it was time for my diploma project, I combined everything I’d learnt and added 3D printing to the mix. I built a ‘garden’ out of 3D-printed (designed using Blender of course!) robotic plants that absorbed light and reacted to the viewer.
In that sense I went full circle, and I’ve been trying to fuse art and technology with playful tinkering ever since.
Can you take us through a typical project for you, from conception to final render?
In my workflow I hardly leave Blender. Recently I have been doing a lot of concept art using Grease Pencil. This allows me to have a full 3D scene set up, but instead of models, I just have Grease Pencil lines. Having such powerful 2D drawing tools in your 3D viewport is really a game changer and saves a lot of time later in the process.
As a next step I block out the main geometry using low-resolution meshes, which I detail in sculpting. Often, I also model poly-by-poly rather than a more common retopology workflow. I’m a bit old school that way.
In general, Blender’s texture painting tools are solid enough for my line of work, so after unwrapping I just dive right into colour and bump painting.
Of all the different processes, I enjoy lighting in the Cycles render engine the most. However, as recent projects have been relying on the new Eevee real-time renderer, I’ve been using it more and more to put together images.
What kinds of tools do you use in your work?
Working at the Blender headquarters, it’s a given that we’re using Blender most of the time. We have a strict policy of using only open source software at our workstations. This way we can contribute to many FLOSS projects all around the world. Krita is my main painting software. I also use Inkscape a lot for vector-based graphics and naturally all our systems run Linux.
On the hardware side, I currently have an NVIDIA Quadro P6000 and a Quadro RTX 8000 in my workstation (its CPUS amount to 56 threads) which also doubles as a benchmark machine to test and debug new Blender features. All that GPU and CPU power makes rendering a breeze. Still, I always seem to find ways to push the detail quality higher and slow the render again.
Can you tell us about your current studio setup?
I really enjoy working in our upstairs open space office at Blender. There are usually six to eight of us up there, so it never gets too loud. But the constant buzz of ideas is really inspiring and keeps the energy up.
Like many of my fellow artists, I enjoy keeping lots of figurines and models on my
desk. However, I try to keep a strict balance between commercial statues and ones that I 3D printed and painted myself. Otherwise, I might go on a shopping spree and have no money left for rent!
When we all moved our desks home during the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to have a spare room in my apartment. It’s small and light, and can be closed off from the rest of the apartment, so I have a clear separation from my work life.
Another plus is that I didn’t have to sacrifice my ‘home desk’, which houses most of my music and audio equipment. It’s very important for me to have a healthy work-life balance and still have time for my hobbies.
How do you get inspired to create CG art?
When I was first starting out, I was deeply inspired by the newest, dazzling special effects summer blockbuster, like many young artists. However, in the last ten years that’s died down a bit. I still watch a lot of movies, but now it’s for their photography, production design and costume design. I’m a big fan of Roger Deakins’ style of cinematography and I’m constantly trying to use traditional film lighting methods in my work.
What keeps me inspired above all is the buzz of creativity among my colleagues at the studio. We have a large variety of artists and developers from all kinds of backgrounds and different parts of the world. Their interests range from game design, model-making, role-playing, electronics, design and more. Everyone always wants to push the quality of their work further. It’s incredibly inspiring to be part of such a passionate group of people. Finding people whose feedback you can trust is the best source of inspiration and can really help you when you’re in a pickle.
How do you keep your Blender skills sharp?
Since our studio uses Blender as its primary tool, hardly a day passes when I don’t get to use it. Recently I started doing a bit of scripting and add-on development, based on a tutorial series we published on the Blender Cloud by my colleague Sybren Stüvel. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone, but helped my workflow immensely. I can highly recommend getting into Blender’s Python API.
The development of Blender is so fastpaced, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the new cool features that are being developed. Even if I don’t manage to keep up with Blender development for a week, I get all the news from my colleagues. That’s pretty neat!