Interview with Raphael Rau aka Silverwing

Raphael Rau aka Silverwing is a Artist / 3D Generalist from Ludwigsburg, Germany with 16 years of industry experience.
He likes to work with Cinema 4D and Octane.

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

I had first contact with computers when my brother (who is about 20 years older than me) taught me Photoshop when I was around 9 years old. I had a lot of fun doing photo editing creating new pictures or altering them on basis of scanned photographs (there were barely any digital cameras back there).

Of course like a lot of 3D artists from the 90´s. I also watched movies in the cinema and tv and was amazed by the revolutionary computer effects some of those movies had. This together with the development of the home computer was a huge inspiration for me to get into the field of 3D and CGI.

Back in the days I had a rather slow Intel 80386 or just called the „368“ processor in my computer and I can´t even remember the amount of RAM. I think it was 2 or 4 megabyte. Also there was no Internet (or at least not for us mortal beings) So when I first got C4D there was no one to ask, so I had to leach all the info out of the manual and build upon that by trial and error. That was exciting but due to the circumstances it took me about 2 years of almost every day „training“ till I got to an acceptable level.
I think I owe a lot to that kind of learning experience that I had in the beginning of my career as it formed me and thought me that even if there is no information you can still learn something by trial and error. Learning it the hard way also means that its much more memorable.

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

I find a lot of my inspiration in small daily situations so I do not have go far. Sometimes just a couple of steps from my desk.  I get inspiration of the way the light falls and interacts with an object. Sometimes it can be the arrangement of objects. Which really can be found everywhere. Just look around you and open your eyes and look for it.
Sometime I sketch something. I of course looking at stuff online as Behance / Vimeo ect. While I mostly really like what I see, I often find myself stuck rather rebuilding what I just saw, not making something creative. So I use the net to keep me up to date whats going on and what other great artists are working on while I like to inspire myself in reality.
Of course there are also a lot of people that inspire me. Mostly contemporary artists in the visual field like Cornelius Dämmrich who I am lucky to call my friend to Simon Stålenhag who is a master of atmosphere and mood over to legends like HR Giger.

How does a typical working day look like?

I stand up rather late mostly at about 9:00 am to 9:15 am. I cycle to work. I do little detour every day for training effect.
A colleague of mine and his wive who also do 3D and design work share their office with me. Sometimes they´re already there when I arrive sometimes I´m first.
Once I am there I get me a big mug of coffee, and if being first to the office open some windows because this place is usually really hot (26° C-28° C in the wintertime) by the GPUs that usually render stuff over night.

When I sit down at my desk I allow my self 30-40 minutes of checking the internet. Social media sites, news etc. After checking my mails I go on working on what ever task I set for the day. Mostly of course that will involve working at the workstation in C4D. But sometimes it´s stuff as answering mails, telephone meetings, setting up an offer or doing the taxes.
I repetitively go to lunch too late as I can be really involved in my work and do forget the time. Lunch time therefore varies around 3-4pm.
My „client“ workday officially ends at 7pm. Sometimes, as most of you definitely know, one has to work a bit over time. But I try to keep that at a minimum. After 7pm I work on private stuff and it is not unusual that I leave the office at 1:00 am to cycle back home and go to bed.

What does your workplace look like?

My Workspace is located in the ground floor in the „Film and Mediacenter in Ludwigsburg“. A old barracks complex that was refurbished to house smaller companies in the media sector.
In our office which is located in the I have about a quarter of the main room reserved for my big desk where I sit most of the time. The workplace is not really special. More or less a typical workplace you would expect from a 3D artist. I work with two screens to host all the little windows that you usually have opened while working in a 3D environment. There also is some audio equipment installed to my desk to record tutorials. Maybe the only unusual thing  are 2 more workstation computers under my desk equipped with some more GPUs to help with the rendering.

How do you stay motivated in this tough industry?

Actually my philosophy always has been to have enough spare time to do your own private projects. I try to get up to 50% / 50% work to spare time ratio. This allows me to work on my own artwork or just learn about new CG tech, look at new renderers ect. Stuff that I find important or interesting enough to waste some time on.
I am so thankful that I am able to do it that way. I would have gone crazy otherwise in the industry filled with long working days, tight deadlines, indecisive clients.

One other big influence to stay motivated is my network of other artists / friends. Its really cool to connect and talk about this and that and to simply have a good time. Its really motivating to nerd out with someone and just have a good conversation about how fun some of our tasks are.

What is your passion beside CGI/3D?

While I have some passions beside 3D, I have to admit that 3D is a really central passion of my life and therefore is woven into a lot of the things I am doing.
Maybe the thing that is the most disconnected to 3D is Cycling. I love sitting on the bike, racing past different landscapes feeling the air (or sometimes even rain) in my face and doing something physical.
One other really strong interest is going to the cinema. I normally go at least once a week. Sometimes even 2 or 3 times. I also have a small home theater at home so I can experience some of the great cinematic moments right inside my own four walls.
I started photography in a rather young age although I never pursued a professional career the fascination still lasts to this day and I love to take my camera with my. For example on vacation and take some nice landscape photography (I also update my „2D portfolio“ on my site with new photography but its hardly ever noticed / commented).

Actually back when I started 3D I learned quite a lot through my photography background. Its a really nice way for artists to learn about image composition, lighting etc. in a more hands on manner and I can only recommend it to everyone trying to get into the photo-real / hyper-real field of CGI.

But back to topic. Some other things that I really like doing but not to such a great amount are: Building Computers, Reading, Arching and Tracking / Hiking.

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

I really like to keep my portfolio up to date by just forcing me to update it every time when I have made something new. It´s much easier to update it peace by peace then to have to update a Year worth of work at once. Also you will still have all the details of the project in your mind. So it should be not as hard to write a couple of sentences about it. You still know where the files are located so its not that hard to pull out some of them and do a breakdown of some of the shots.
Also if you have written the texts to one of the distribution portfolio sites, got the final pictures / videos ready and maybe some breakdowns, its easy to adapt it to other sites.
I mostly publish on my own website together with Behance, which is where my work gets most of its views. Then I also have a Artstation account but since Artstation is rather concept art / painting driven, my work has a really shadowy existence there. But I upload it anyway because even a small amount of attention means exposure. And that´s a good thing.

What Software do you use to create your artwork?

I mostly work in Cinema 4D to do the 3D part of my work. I worked with it since Release 6 (Now its at Release 19).
Since I started with it and got to know a lot of functionality over the years its not an easy replacement.
A lot of my work is based in shading / lighting and therefore rendering. Since this is a bigger part of my business I utilize a lot of different renderers. As of now I am mostly using Octane for my projects. But I am also familiar with Arnold, Corona, Cycles, Indigo, Maxwell, Redshift, Thea, and Vray.
For comp work I use Adobe After Effects. It is a good price / ratio performer and ultimately has all that I need for my workflow.
I often use Adobes Illustrator and Photoshop to create decals and textures for my scenes.
Lately I also use the Allegorithmic Substance product line for texturing and Unfold 3D for UV editing.
Also I have been working with Houdini for some of my projects. More and more Artists are using it and its become a really well known name in the industry.
There is more software that I use. But I am not as deeply invested as in the top packages.

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

Like I said before probably some more Houdini because it is basically (as the name suggests) the magic bag of the industry. They have a immensely devoted team of developers and they regularly make big waves in the entire industry. They just deliver and if you have some (basic) math knowledge of how 3D works it opens all kind of possibilities!

Which books would you recommend to the read?

I am not really into reading topic related literature but if I have to recommend something off topic it would be:

  1. Lord of the Rings
  2. A Song of Ice and Fire
  3. All of Phillip K Dicks short stories
  4. Ready Player on

What music do you listen to while working?

I listen a lot to Spotify playlists. I really like the „Discover Weekly“ section. I think the algorithm works quite well. Mostly it ends up being a mix of Rock, New Metal, Electro Rock and Grunge.
More specifically I like to listen to Linking Park, Billy Idol, Nirvana, Muse, Marilyn Manson but also The Prodigy, Die Antwoord Daft Punk and Gorillaz.
By now you should know me quite well so it comes to no surprise to you that I am also listening to soundtracks quite a lot. As with the books I really like the Howard Shore Lord of the Rings soundtrack but also most of the works by Hans Zimmer, Ramin Djawadi and Steve Jablonsky.

Any advice for new Artists?

Think about what you really want to do in the industry and plot the path to your goal.
Take your time to learn that skillset / the skillsets that lead there.
Stay consistent and stay focused on your goals.
Don´t give up even when its unbearably hard and you fail the first couple of times.
See it through.

It takes time to get up to speed. Over the years I was asked by a lot of people to help them get up to speed with CGI and „getting good“. A very high percentage of them are not in the industry anymore because they had false expectations, did loose their focus (or it changed) or they simply gave up.
Unfortunately its not as easy as just taking a couple of lessons. You have to be really determined and put a lot of time and afford into it. Even so much time that you might loose other aspects of your life as practicing for other talents you have or even loose friends. Continuous hard practice and learning will make you get better and a valuable artist in the industry some time.
Don´t get stuck in slow processes. Always try to learn something out of the situations you are in and try to move on when you think you are stuck in a position where you are not learning anything new. If you find your self failing and struggling all the time in the beginning, rest assured that this is a normal process. It can be utterly frustrating but its the best training you can get as every time you fail you are learning some new valuable lesson.

I think Steve Jobs said it very well: „Stay hungry, stay foolish“