Interview with Alex Figini

Alex Figini is a Concept Artist from Edmonton, Canada with 13 years of industry experience. He likes to work with Zbrush, Keyshot, Photoshop and Marvelous Designer.

What led you into the CGI/3D? Tell us your story.

Well as a kid I always loved comics and film, making art and playing games, so when it came to thinking about a career I decided I wanted to pursue a creative job, initially the thought was to be a character designer exclusively but that changed over time. I went to study a Foundation in Art and Design at college for 2 years then went to University to study Multi-Media Design with a focus on Game Art. After I graduated I was lucky enough to get a role as a concept artist at Evolution Studios working on a PS3 release title, MotorStorm. The rest is history.

Where do you go to get inspired? What/Who inspires you?

Inspiration comes from anywhere, I don’t think its exclusive to one specific thing. When working with others, I find speaking to people and discussing ideas one of the best ways to find inspiration and ultimately problem solve. Obviously reference gathering helps fill your mind with possibilities and ideas. When I am lacking specific direction I like to explore ideas sketching, often you stumble across interesting solutions during the creative process, ‘happy accidents’ as Bob used to say!

How does a typical working day look like?

Well, I was in-house for 12 years making video games, 6 years at Sony and 6 years at EA (BioWare), to put it simply a typical day was basically getting briefed up by the Art Director and then making art. Simple. My day was partly comprised of attending meetings in which we would discuss ideas and try and problem solve prior to putting pen to paper. We would also review work on a regular basis, get feedback and implement changes/iterate. The majority of time time was working to support other departments, character art, environment art, design, animation etc.
Now my day is a little different. The biggest change for me is that I run my own business, so I’m responsible for everything from art creation to accounts and contracts. I freelance from home working on a variety of projects for different industries. As an individual I have been working in film and game as well as foraying into areas such as clothing and product design. For bigger projects I also co-ordinate and direct several other artists, basically working as a concept art outsource studio. That has transformed my role somewhat, I think its most akin to that of an assistant art director. Its actually been an incredible learning experience and has forced me to grow in other areas that weren’t really relevant when I was an in-house artist.

What does your workplace look like?

It varies. I often like to work on my laptop as it means I can be mobile and can work wherever I want. Most often that’s sat in the bay window looking out over the garden. When I have more heavy duty work I go into my office where I have my desktop machine. I have a fairly typical set up, I like to surround myself with fun stuff, lots of art books and reference material as well as a my collection of art toys. It’s a cosy space and I have two cats to keep me company/terrorize me.

How do you stay motivated in this tough industry?

I find motivation waxes and wanes. The thing I have learnt over the course of the 12+ years I’ve been doing this, is to not beat yourself up about it when you’re feeling creatively drained. Sometimes the best way to deal with it is to create and keep the momentum, even if what you’re producing isn’t great initially. Other times you need to step back and allow yourself time to breathe, recharge your batteries and fill your creative tank again.

What is your passion beside CGI/3D?

I love music and art, I love film and design, pretty much most creative outlets. I am interested in a number of things but I have a limited set of talents so I am always admiring people who are exceptional in their field. I am also soon to be a Dad so I guess my new passion will be the ever changing colour of baby poop!

How do you keep your portfolio up to date? Any tips?

Of late I have been focusing on my professional work and haven’t been very disciplined keeping it up to date with personal work, there have been a few things I have been playing about with but nothing substantial. I have about 6 years of work under NDA which cant be shown, maybe later this year I will get the OK to post some of that. I think the best solution to this is to carve out time for personal projects, something I need to get better at.

What Software do you use to create your artwork?

Photoshop, zbrush, keyshot and marvelous designer, they are my main 4.

What Software do you want to learn in future? And why?

I want to get into GPU rendering. Keyshot has been great for concepting and partners really well with zbrush via the bridge. Its very quick and easy to use and great for concept art, I love it. The only thing is that its lacking in certain areas that I feel GPU renderers such as octane and redshift do better. Other than that, I’d like to get into VR sculpting, the tools available already look incredible and I am excited about the potential of them in the future.

Which books would you recommend to the read?

For art related book, Colour and Light by James Gurney, its fantastic. I wish I had that when starting out. In terms of my personal faves I am a big cyberpunk fan, I think Neuromancer by William Gibson is one of my favourites.

What music do you listen to while working?

I like all sorts but I mostly listen to instrumental stuff. I am actually a big hip hop fan…none of that mumble rap though. I am also happy to work in silence, I found that its often a distraction and I can focus better on some tasks when I have peace and quiet.

Any advice for new Artists?

Learn both 2D and 3D. I think they compliment one another and ultimately skills in one area will help with the other. Another tip…. expose yourself to a variety of influences and get out of your comfort zone. I see a lot artists doing the same thing over and over again with little variation. If you do this, you may become an expert at this one thing over time, but its very limiting in the long run and you can potentially pigeon hole yourself down the line. I have found that in my experience, at the studios I’ve worked at, that you need to be able to adapt to a number of tasks, anything from UI work to Keyframes, creatures designs to matte paintings.