Friday, April 1, 2016

The List of Cool Stuff For Learning

I get asked pretty much every day about what ressources to use, wich videos to learn from, etc, so I decided to compile a list of the stuff that really taught me a lot :


The art and science of digital composting, 2nd edition  (Ron Brinkman) 

A huge, complex but complete volume on anything digital composting ; history of VFX, computer graphics math components, the nature of digital images, signal, all the way to production breakdowns of some of the most groundbreaking VFX shots of the last two decades.
I think I read it about 4 times, one of my friend borrowed it but I forgot who that was, so I'm probably going to order it again, just to have it in my library :D

Framed ink  ( Marcos Mateu Mestre) 

Practical examples of framing, lighting and storytelling  (comic book oriented).
Cheap and good .

Alla prima II  (Richard Schmidt)

A must have for every wannabe painter, you can easily apply that stuff to digital painting.

The Color Correction Handbook (Alexis Van Hurkman)

This book goes really in depth about color grading for cinematic images, but it drops some little gems of knowledge about human perception of colors, temperature and contrast along the way.

The VES Handbook (visual effects society)

If you thought the other books I mentioned are in depth, here comes the winner!
This books covers the entire  visual effects (VFX) production system down to the last polygon, it's organised by chapter, each one being a discipline / role in a VFX studio,
prepare for an avalanche of information!



They just recently started a new subscription model, for a hundred bucks  you have access to all the courses (1$ to switch, hehe), it used to be like 500$ a course when I started out , so you guys are so spoiled ! Here are a  few that I recommend :

Lighting fundamentals (Sam Nielson)

This is the courses that transformed me into a lighting geeeeek, I just loved his scientific approach to a seemingly abstract topic, this is a really complete course.

Designing with color and light (Nathan Fowkes)

Listen to this guy's smooth voice as he explains lot of cool stuff about light and composition, great for beginners.

Painting with light and color (Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo)

I was quite surprised by this one, I was expecting to be a bit bored since I learned a lot about lighting already, but they have some interesting way of explaining things, and also the way they use digital life painting to explain is great.

FXPhD: (website)

Same kind of subscription  deal  as  schoolism, you guys are lucky!

I recommend you start out with :
History of visual effects   and I promise you'll have 10.000 more questions by the end of lecture, this is the perfect place to answer them :)
I recommend any courses by Matt Leonard or Mike Seymour, (especially on math stuff), if you want to go deep into software training, they got you covered!
Also they have theses great breakdown and blog post about news and technology advancement.


Free doesent mean bad ! so here's a list of good ones:

Industrial design & entertainment  from my friend Mike Hill, inspiration to do better than just brainless slot machine entertainment, but crafting meaningful experiences.

Illustration vs concept art (design cinema EP 53) 

Visual library (design cinema EP 52)

CTRL PAINT this Matt Korh put so much work into making this library of free videos, high five!
It can cover you from total noob to beginner in digital painting.


THU is a crazy awesome festival that happens in Portugal in September,  but it's also 50 hours of kickass content for about a hundred bucks. The conferences are really packed into content so it's definitely a good one if you're short on time! btw fuck you Andre <3 font="">

IW  is a ton of cool workshops also happening  in London also in September, like THU,  it's getting better every year, like a bottle of wine.

IFCC was kind of a mess last year, a big, beautiful Croatian mess, this year they are ramping up and it's probably going to be amazing!

I will keep adding things as I probably forgot a lot of cool ones, but this is the list so far, I hope you are hungry for knowledge, because dinner is ready !

PS : with all this new knowledge, you will likely need this video  to understand why you think you suck so much, and why that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

From high school to Hollywood in 2,5 years

When I started out, nobody really told me it was possible, all the  success stories I've heard where over two decades old and hardly relatable, so I feel that's it's a good moment to share this story before time passes and I forget that I actually didn't have a plan till the very end . :)

A while ago I filled a piece of paper with two columns with stuff I really wanted to do, the freelance/studio path and "the great unknown ", then drew a box for the title and wrote as a joke "the great 2015-2016 strategy".

I now  achieved every single one of my  goals on the first column.
But that's what I tell people about, the easy part, the tip of the iceberg, now let's go back 2,5 years in time!

PART 1: clueless, fresh outta  high-school 

(Graduated from a 3 years industrial design high-school program in Britanny, France).

The plan didn't really go as intended : I just heard online that the 3D school I wanted to apply to had major administration changes and it was not a good idea to even go there before it was settled,
Then I applied to some  free (but quite in demand) art schools... "Application rejected ",
re bummer.
At this point my parents freaked out and I had to rush to find a school for the  next year.
ESMA, okay meh, let's do it, I have no other choice at this point anyway.
17,000 $  of student loans later, I'm studying there.
And it fucking sucks, like real bad. By the end of the first week I already knew I'd quit after the first year ( my parents didn't wanted me to quit without having  another plan).

So after this series of  unfortunate non-choices, I decided I was going to invest all my  remaining free time into self training.
Let's do the math: There's 24 hours a day, class is 8 hours a day, I need 7 hours of sleep, if I do my homework in 40 minutes that's roughly 8 hours a day to learn  everything I can.
I got to a point where I was watching FXPhD training DVDs at 2x speed and reading "The VES Handbook"  in the bus to maximize efficiency.
This was one of the most difficult year of my life.

Around the end of the year I applied for an internship at MPC as a junior lighter, and I got an interview in London! Fuck yeahh This is what I've been training for, right ?!
Well nah, they hired another guy (who was way better than me).
(I also applied to Bluesky studios, but I was both not good enough AND no Visa, so nah).
After all this disheartening stuff  I just went mad creating  like 10 paintings a day for myself on top of school, i guess this was both because I really enjoyed it, and also a bit of rage against all this bad luck.
I was posting theses speed painting  in some Facebook groups as well as this blog, I didn't really think about it at first, but I started gaining some traction and followers, I was also using
Keywords and tags on my blog post.
Eventually a recruiter from a small 3d animation company called Cube creative stumbled on my blog, that was both incredible  luck, and me maximizing the reach by being strategic and using tags.
They where looking for matte painters during a summer, and all the experienced guys where on vacation.

PART 2: Sailing in unknown waters

"We need matte painters for the new Cartier winter tale commercial, when are you available?"

I've never worked anywhere before, I'm afraid of taking transportation alone, oh and I also live in a totally different part of the country.


And here's that crazy leap of faith that got me in Paris.
After 1 month of work at Cube creative I enrolled in a part time school part time Studio contract for 1 year, the company pays me and pays for the school, that's pretty cool.
Looking back I'm not sure it was the right decision and I might have wasted some time at the school (New3DGe), but at the same time I wasn't feeling confident enough to take the freelancer's path at 18.

Anyway around this time some cool guys from New3edge introduced me to THU, I had no idea what it was, but ok let's go to Portugal.
Well HOLY COW it was kinda crazy, I realized that all the artist who are my heroes have had their shares of mistakes, stumbling, bad luck, but they pushed trough.
I also realized that if you're good enough, people will be happy to help you get success, and that's a big one, all the sudden it's not a fight to "get in the industry " but rather a personal battle against mediocrity.

Simultaneously was the launch of Artstation, that's where I got my first international clients, (mostly from the US), even tho my portfolio wasn't really great, it was enough to get me some good entry-level jobs in games.
working at the studio during the day, freelance at night, I don't recommend doing that because it's terrible for your health , BUT it gave me some pretty rad looking resume in couple months.

I was starting to make a lot more money trough freelance than at the studio.

Finished my contract ar Cube, one last gig in Paris at UNIT for Ubisoft: "The Division" and I'm back in Britanny for the summer, I really didn't liked Paris as a city and I'm not planning on going back, but what should I do now?

After 2  weeks of rest and wondering what to do with my life, the freelance gigs start pouring in.

PART 3: aaand...liftoff!

At this point I had lived this crazy freelance life in Paris, but I was back home at My parents house, I didn't wanted to go back to Paris (even tho I had some interesting offers from there), I knew I was going to THU in September and that it was going to be very important!
I was planning on maximizing all that summer time living on the welfare and savings from that year of work at Cube in order to not have to work anywhere and just focus on my portfolio.
But I actually got a lot more freelance work and a lot less time to think than I expected, that's when I did my first "movie" work on Iron sky, but that's also  when I started doing tutorials and getting published in 3dtotal stuff, at the time I felt like it was important even tho it paid a lot less than movie work, but this would become super important in 2016.

Around the same time I get an offer from EA and Dice, they want me in for a new  IP,
I'm like  "sounds good :D"  and then they're like " do you have a degree? Not that we care but it's for the H1B visa".
Well, ouch. They abandon the idea of hiring me.
Getting a visa apparently requires 4 year of studies after high school or 4 year of in-house experience.
I learn everything I can about the different categories of visa, mhh O1, people told me it's usually for people with over 10 years of experience, but I don't see that anywhere on the requirements.
It seems doable.

 I've actually made a mistake by trying to do too much, when I decided to go both to IW and THU (both where happening almost exactly at the same time).
Theses events are expensive so it's better to not to fall asleep during conferences, haha, so yeah theses events are super intense, know your limits  !
Oh I also forgot to mention that I had applied to ILM  around April, did an interview, it went great and then.....nothing! They forgot, super frustrating, no idea what happened.

I take the plane directly from London to Lisbon, direction THU.
When you get to an event like this, it's always a special moment, as freelancers we work in our homes, if you don't live in a big city there's often no fellow concept artist around, nobody understand what you're doing, it can get lonely.
And all the sudden I'm on a beach and everyone is there.
My friends, art buddies, heroes and legends I look up to.. people who helped me or people that I helped, they are all there.
Building a sand castle.

It's kind of an opportunity land, you're wandering around with your beer and accidentally bump into an art director. Eventually , I bumped into a recruiter from Riot games, I said something like "hey I know that my work doesn't really apply to what you guys do, but I'm just interested in hearing what you have to say" then after talking over my portfolio for a bit we mentioned the visa thing, and he said something along the line of "don't worry about the visa, worry about getting really good, then we'll take care of the paperwork".

That sounded really cool.

So anyway, I'm back home, and then... Nothing, no work, no freelance, no offers, no jobs. At this point I was really depressed, where did I failed?
Actually I only failed to realize that companies can take a fair  bit of time to make their mind.

I went from "omg I'm such a looser " to "wtf I don't know what to choose!" Within 3 weeks; it started with some work for a Dreamworks  theme park, to blockbuster films with MPC.
And then all the sudden I had too much companies interested at the same time , guerilla games, DontNod, Qantic Dreams,star citizen, bungie, bioware, framestore, CD project RED, and many others.
I was almost going to go for Guerilla, but once again I felt like I could get something much better for me by waiting a little bit more.

The casual chatting with Riot quickly transformed into an interview as I was more and more interested after talking to the team, they where interested enough to invite me for an interview in LA.
Around the same time, ILM suddenly remembered me, wich was funny because I crossed it out of my list after my unsuccessful application.
This time no fiddling around, no art test, 15 Minutes chat, it's for star wars, here's the offer.

Now is the time to tell you about a whacky concept that I call "strategic honesty"
It can be translated to "Within the limits what feels right, according to your guts and your values, taking the strategic decisions wich are going to maximize success ".

A lot of people who saw the post on Facebook messaged me to ask why I made that choice, and while I won't go into details, all the friends I asked told me it was the best decision of my career.
There was a lot of factors involved into making this choice, ILM was easy, quick and very rewarding for my career, and Riot seemed very far away , even with a probability of failure of the visa, etc.
But there was other parameters like : London VS LA, games vs VFX, World building for a new project vs production concept art on a established franchise.

I really had enough of freelance and I wanted a change, there didn't seemed to be a way to get a visa before a year, so I was about to accept ILM, but then I created a huge Dropbox folder with all my publications and awards and list of interviews, podcast, conferences, letters of recommendations, etc.
And then I asked "do you think we can go for a O1?"
"There's a good chance "
And then I made my choice.

That brings us to about now! Writing this article from Los Angeles,
 I'm running out of funny anecdotes I think, so I'm about to close this chapter!

Now even though I've just rambled about my journey for way too long, there's some things  I sort of omitted because I'm too used to write interviews for magazines.
It's that holy shit, it was hard, during periods of grind I sacrificed lot of stuff, confort, health, social life.
 I feel the need to mention that because I don't want to be misleading, this is the main reason why things clicked at the right time, looking back i could have done much better without being so hardcore, but at the time it was the only thing that felt right.
I also had heath issues, not life-destroying issues, but still, the only times I was "going out"  it was mostly to go to the hospital.
And that's what haters never see, they think you don't deserve, that luck just fell onto you from the sky.
"Luck" is taking advantage of opportunities that you create by being at the right place and the right time.

Now some closing thoughts ; I had some concerns writing this article, I want to inspire people who are wondering if it's worth it, how this stuff happens behind the scenes, who want to get into self training,etc.
What I don't want  is convincing people to go on a path they're not made for, no matter what industry you want to get into, you have to be sure that's what you want, yes it's a pretty amazing way of earning a living doing art, but does it fits your lifestyle to make these kind of sacrifice during the first  learning period?
Also it's totally doable to make it at a slower pace, this way you can get more art fundamentals, skills that someone who has rushed in will need to consolidate later, (like me with drawing for example, hahah).

I hope you enjoyed the read, and good luck on your own journey! :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

2015-2016 interviews

  • Most up to date interview on CGSsociety
  • Podcast 1H30 interview with Film Concept Artist Maciej Kuciara on YouTube
  • Some thoughts on concept art and creativity on Momenta
  • Interview containing a list of recommended ressources (books, tutorials that I learned a lot from) on Pixelstains
  • An older interview on 3dtotal :

Hope you enjoy theses and maybe find some informations!

PS: planning on using this blog as a timeline / editorial / educational tool, ( so you better bookmark that shit right now). :D

Flower Season

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Temple Guardian process

This Design was created for a Freelance concept art guide that I wrote for 2Dartist magazine,
you can donwload the magasine  or view the design process and presentation renderings

Art Cafe, interview with Maciej Kuciara

Low key period

This one got me a 3DTotal exellence award

                           I made some interview and tutorial for folks over at 3Dtotal!
                           (click on the links if you wanna check it out).

Friday, October 23, 2015

Long time no see !

Wahou, it's been a while.
Things have gone absolutely Crazy with my career in the last couple months, I worked on a movie, did my first color script for game cinematic, then some more games gig, working directly with indie director on creature work, then Magic the Gathering work coming and Dreamworks too.. it's been hard to keep up with everything.

But I kinda want to keep this blog maybe for educational content ? we'll see.

FIRST BATCH OF NEWER STUFF (so it's like not so new )
Here's some personal stuff I've been working on:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dongeon and Dragons !

Getting back to my childhood love for dragons !

Land Speeders



(c) Efflam Mercier

Hey there, it's been quite a while since I updated this blog !! theses are Blender/WM experiments.
Tons and tons of things happened, even the scientist girl in this sketch can't keep track !  :)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

concept art experiments

concept art using matte painting techniques