Interview with Mike Pan

I’ve been working with CGI for over 12 years, my first job was making 3D underwater environments at my university back in 2006. My main workhorse is Blender and it’s my favourite software package by far.

Freelancing 3D generalist and founder of The Pixelary, currently base in Vancouver, Canada. with 12 years of industry
experience. My main working tool is Blender.

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

I got into 3D graphics through my interest in building computers, which progressed to being a hardware enthusiast and 3D benchmarking geek. I was intrigued by the idea of creating realtime graphics that pushes the computer to their limit.  One day, I decided to create my own 3D art, and probably just downloaded the first free 3D package I could find online – Blender.  I dabbled with it for years, learning everything I can online, before finally decided to go with it as my career.

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

In the very early days, Digital Blasphemy was a huge inspiration for me (it was a hugely popular wallpaper site full of CG images). The idea that I could make something that thousands if not millions of people will use was my main motivation. In retrospect the images are incredibly tacky by today’s aesthetics, but back then it was all the rage!

Today, my inspiration comes from everywhere. Learning about film and photography has also trained me to look at art in a much more critical way. I try to keep my eyes peeled for things outside of the CGI community, since it’s always nice to borrow ideas from other disciplines.

How does a typical working day look like?

I work from home with usually more than 1 clients at a time. Currently my main project involves directing a group of 3D artists across the globe to create VR content for education at Vida Systems. Managing a team is all about learning what everyone is good at, reviewing their work, and provide notes for revisions. I probably spend less than half of my time actually producing content.  I also take on smaller projects on the side to keep things interesting for myself.

What does your workplace look like?

My workplace is quite spartan. I have 2 monitors plugged into my workstation and a laptop on the side. I am a firm believer that the faster we can work, the better we can get. So having lots of screens and a fast computer helps me work efficiently.  I also try to work outside the home for a few hours a day so I don’t get cabin fever.

How do you stay motivated in this tough industry?

Seeing the final work being displayed in public is always a huge thrill and I’ve been lucky enough to be part of some high profile projects backed by Google, Amazon Studios, and Harvard Medical School.
Being a huge Blender advocate, I feel like I have more to prove to the world than anyone else. Kind of a „Look Blender can totally do this!“. This mentality is why I started The Pixelary, to show that a lean studio using free software can compete with the big boys.

What is your passion beside CGI/3D?

Photography and films, which both tie in to CGI quite a bit. When I am not looking at a screen, I am probably in the kitchen cooking something.

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

Ha! I don’t. I call it the LinkedIn effect: you only update your portfolio when you have no work, so having an outdated portfolio is a good thing. At least that’s what I tell myself.

What Software do you use to create your artwork?

I use Blender the most since it’s the jack of all trade, and it’s mostly muscle memory for me at this point. I also use Substance Painter and Davinci Resolve quite a bit in my work.

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

I really want to dive into realtime graphics a bit more. So both Unity and Unreal are very attractive to me.

Which books would you recommend to the read?

For CGI work, I think everyone should really learn the fundamentals of the subject they are working on. If you are a lighting artist, you should know what butterfly lighting is. If you are modelling people, you should know every muscle in a person’s face . If you are shading, you better know the difference between dielectric and metal.

Outside of 3D, some of the older Dan Brown novels like Deception Point is always a thrill to read.

What music do you listen to while working?

I blast Kpop. they are energizing, and I don’t get distracted by the lyrics since I don’t understand them.

Any advice for new Artists?

If you just made something amazing, wait 3 days before uploading it. Having a fresh take on it can make you see things you couldn’t before.

But more importantly, don’t forget the to learn the non-3D skills! Eventually everyone has to work in a group, so having great soft-skills like communication means you are able to articulate your vision, offer critiques, and generally be part of a team. This is just as important as any technical skill.