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Raphael Lacoste Interview
Could you introduce yourself?
Raphael Lacoste, I was born in Paris in 1974, I grew up for 2 years and a half in south Algeria, after, Bordeaux, south west of France. Now I live in Canada and work as Art director. I’ll soon be the father of a baby boy!
How did you come to 3D?
I was always looking outside the windows when I was at school… I was a boy in the moon (I’m still :) I drew a lot during the courses… finally I went to the Fine art school of Bordeaux where I studied photo and video in the “art and Media” option … Fine arts were very “conceptual - Art” oriented and I didn’t find my way in this very closed area, very hermetic and like the new temple for sophism… During my studies I worked for a theatre company, I was photographer and did also a few sound tracks for theirs shows. When they had the opportunity to work on “The little Prince” of St Exupéry, they offered me to do pictures that would be projected on a giant screen behind the stage! I was very exited to work on this project and did my first 3D pictures for this show. I used the Atari TT of my father with a script 3D software called Renderay… This is how I learned to be patient :)
What are your main sources of inspiration?
I think that the best way to learn and take inspiration Is to know well the history of art, I love the art of Vermeer and Jean-Léon Gérôme for example, 17th, 19th century Painters … I also find inspiration in Photo, Movies, and life! I always bring my camera with me, I love to catch atmospheres.
Where do you work at the moment?
Actually I work for Ubisoft Montreal, I’m Art Director in the Cinematic Department.
What are some of the projects you worked on? What was your role?
My last project Was the awarded Game “Prince Of Persia The Sands Of Time”, I had the Chance to be Art director on this one.
What is your favorite genre, theme?
I love to work on settings, Matte Paintings, I’m very found of Dark fantasy universes like LOTR, SF, in other words I love to be carried by Moods, immersive but not realistic universes.
In your opinion, what are your strong points?
As I’m also photographer, I have a good background in composition and lighting.
Tell us a little about "JuJol".
I did this picture after the lift originally designed by Jujol, an early 20th century Architect, friend of Gaudi.
Did you see the original lift in Barcelona?
Unfortunately not! But if someone knows where I can find it, I’d be really happy to go there, the next time I’ll be in Barcelona, send me a mail :)
What reference material did you use?
I used a photo I found in a book on the Art of Jujol, the design of the lift cage caught my eyes and I really wanted to challenge myself doing this scene…
How accurate is your scene compared to the original?
My version is different because I added the spooky mood … the original is not light in this way and doesn’t carry the same atmosphere. I worked more on the feeling of it than on the details of the modeling
Are you particularly interested in architecture?
I’m particularly interested in Environments and Architecture… I like the story buildings have in their walls, this is the reason why I prefer old places…
The textures in this image are very realistic. How important is texturing for you compared to modeling, lighting, ...?
I’ll be fair, I don’t think that a very beautiful model can do a beautiful picture, If the light and the textures are not good…Modeling is important to catch the rays of light and represent the proportions, but the real challenge is to set a mood, a feeling, an emotion, this is the goal of Art …I think in this step, lighting and texturing are very important and that makes very often the difference between demonstrative works, too technical in my eyes, and a nice picture.
What kind of lighting did you set up for this scene?
I used a mix of different point lights, to enhance the Ambiance locally, also negative lights to create contrast in the actual 3D scene, in fact, a lot of omni directional lights with falloff and a key direct light for the skylight coming from the ceiling.
You used VRay to render this image. In your opinion, what are its main advantages over the default 3ds max renderer?
I used this renderer because it’s quite fast and so sharp! Also it is really easy to use, as I really don’t want to loose time with technical stuff; this is helpful, the default settings are already very convincing, this GI renderer is very good to ground the objects.
Tell us a little about "Malik Sha's Sanctuary".
I did it last summer, just after the production of “Prince of Persia”, I needed to do a high-res render after all this months doing real time modelling!
Where did you find the inspiration?
I found inspiration in 19th century Orientalist paintings and LOTR illustrations (John Howe, Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith…) .
I suppose you saw the LOTR movies. What did you think of them?
I really loved this movie, and particularly the third one, because the environments are very varied and the picture is like a living painting composition wise, color wise!
How is the lighting for a night scene different from one for a day scene?
I won’t say that it is easier; you have to play with contrasts and reveal subtle details in the dark areas. What I particularly appreciate in night scenes is the monochromatic feeling and the contrast between warm and cold tones. Also I like to use an other kind of blue, not too cliché, more peacock blue, this is one of my favorite color :) The challenge is to keep the nice contrast and equilibrate the light in the composition.
Just like your other works, there are a lot of details in this one. Some details are so small they are only a few pixels large in the final rendering. Do you pay particular attention so that these details do not distract the viewer from a main point of interest?
When I start to figure out a composition, I try to focus on a part of the picture, it could be a detail in the foreground like a broken pillar or an object, as I don’t have a lot of characters in my scenes…I try to equilibrate the details and have a nice detailed foreground, this helps to create the proportions. Usually, the composition and the lighting are there to drive the eyes of the viewer, this is not a problem to have a very detailed texture in a shadowed area, if the light is highlighting the subject.
Tell us a little about "Dawn on the Ancient Hall".
This picture was first a personal project; finally it became a reference for the cinematic project we work on actually at Ubisoft.
This image looks very detailed. Do you prefer your objects to be as precisely modeled as possible before beginning to texture them or do you heavily rely on textures to add details to the objects?
My level of detail is not that high, I model mid-res, (this is maybe because I learned a lot from Game :) but it is very important to represent proportions in the modeling, In other words, it’s important to have very small objects and huge ones to create a certain range of scaling. In this scene I took the time to break pillars and modeled small stones to give nice shading to the small details, but It is not necessary to go crazy with the details, as we don’t want to be lost in details but focus on the main feeling of the picture.
Do you rather draw your textures from scratch or do you start from real life photos or other textures?
I’m not doing a lot of texture from scratch, because I’m quite impatient, I use a lot of pictures, also a lot from my personal digital photo bank, I try to mix a lot of different sources as I can have nice and fast results.
Do you use existing commercial texture libraries too?
Off course, I use 3D total and a lot of Mayang textures, they are really good, I bough the CD’s for my team.
How big do you usually paint your textures?
It depends of the size of the object to map! It can be from 256 pixels up to 6 000!
Does it mean this image would only look good with this point of view, camera angle, lighting?
Exactly, this is the reason why I draw a few sketches before getting crazy with the details, I also used Camera map, it is like matte painting, you know what is your frame and you detail your picture where you’ll need it, with camera mapping, you can’t really move a lot your frame ! … When I work for cinematics or videogames, I have to texture and model after the story board needs, and sometimes it has to look nice for 360°, this is the challenge of Game Graphics!
What are the sub-maps you particularly pay attention to?
Well, they are all essential, usually, I prefer to de-saturate my diffuse texture, then I can really control the palette of my picture with the lighting. Specular map is as important as the bump… Actually I’m found of realism in texturing, so, I try to be subtle when I use these sub maps, just enough to give the right aspect to the objects.
What kind of lighting is used in this scene?
Very classic, no GI, just a spot and a few point lights…
How did you achieve the volumetric lighting effect?
I used a standard volume effect in max. But as I used a separate pass for the volume effects, It was easy for me to control the contrast, the falloff and the intensity of it. I think it is not honoring to finish the picture in one pass, you have a better control in separated pass, for the fog, the volume effects, specular etc…