05 Nov 2015
Following our interview series, we talked with one of the most important personalities in the Spanish Blender Community: Oliver Villar. Oliver is a 3D artist with deep experience in the industry, but also a teacher, founder of Blendtuts.com and author of Learning Blender, published through Addison-Wesley. We met Oliver at Blendiberia 2015, where he was one of the speakers, and couldn't miss the chance to interview him.
How did the road began for you to get into 3D art?
Drawing was my passion since I was a kid. While the other children were playing football, I would be sitting in a corner drawing on my sketchbook. I loved animation, special effects and videogames: 3D art felt like the next logical step to bring my art further, but I was clueless on where to start.
One day, I read a magazine with some tutorials on creating some awful 3D models with 3Ds Max. I loved it! But it was 2004-2005 and I didn't have an Internet connection at home, and didn't know where to get 3Ds Max. That didn't stop me: I put all my savings together (about 50€) and happily went to a computer store to buy it. My happiness didn't last long, as I found a 3Ds Max license was worth 3500€ (also, I was invited at the store to get it through "alternative channels"). Luckily, I got an student license shortly after that, and could start learning 3Ds Max.
After overcoming the initial frustation with 3D complexity, I was totally hooked. I've been learning since then, and I've been jumping among software suites because of personal and professional reasons: 3Ds Max, Maya, XSI... and finally, in 2009, Blender.
Through Blendtuts.com, you became a reference on Blender teaching. You also recently published your first book, "Learning Blender". Could you tell us the origins of Blendtuts.com, and how did you grow it into your own personal business?
It all began by accident, really. In 2009-2010 I was part of a team working in Valencia. We worked with XSI, but Blender was already around and with each new version it became more and more interesting. And of course, a lot cheaper! My teammates were not into it, but I began to work with it and I loved it.
Shortly after that, version 2.5 was released. I was one of the first people to use it for production projects. Honestly, it was a bit risky: Blender was still a bit unstable and there were options that didn't work as expected. But I got used to 2.5 earlier than most of the people, and as it was a brand new version, there wasn't any online tutorials or classes about it.
My teammates became interested: with the brand new version, Blender looked more serious and professional. I decided to record some video tutorials to teach them. Then I thought I could post those videos on a public blog, to help the Blender community to adapt to the new interface. Then I had another crazy idea: I could record the tutorials in English, in order to reach more people and improve my english speaking.
I managed to create a blog myself, and began making my first tutorials. I was surprised to learn two things: First, my tutorials were attracting a lot of people! On the other side, I discovered that I had a passion for teaching and sharing my knowledge. I kept making videos, and at a certain moment I tested if people were willing to pay for a more extended course (Hologram Project), and they did!
Everything has been evolving bit by bit since then, and I'm working on the third version of the website, on new contents and on some surprises.
The way I see it, it always was something that grew organically with the project. I didn't decide to create a business from the very start. The book was another surprise, too: I was reached by an American publisher through my website, and was offered the chance to be the author.
There's still people who don't see Blender as an option for proffesional productions. What would you say to them?
Get your vision checked by a doctor! Hahaha. Ok, seriously: Blender is a software that got started at the early 90s, and has only recently approched the professional sector, since version 2.5. A growing number of studios and freelances are finding out its potential, but this is a slow process that won't happen overnight. Also, it does not depend of Blender entirely. One of the reasons to choose a software suite for 3D is the ecosystem around it: render farms, plugins, rendering engines... Blender has been around the professional field for a short time, and lacks this kind of support. But the change is already happening!
Another obstacle is the belief that a free software suite can't be as good and flexible as the commercial ones. It is not entirely a false belief: this happens a lot on open source projects, but Blender is a clear exception to that: it really is a well managed project, resources are thoughtfully spent, and has a great community of users and developers.
There's still a long road ahead, but the Blender Foundation is doing a great job with projects like "Cosmos Laundromat" to show what Blender is capable of. A lot of freelance artists and small studios are successfully using Blender with great results (just watch the demos of Cycles engines), which is changing Blender's perception as something amateurish.
Which are the artists or productions that influence you the most when animating, modelling or illustrating?
That is quite a difficult question to answer! I get inspiration from a lot of diverse sources. Movies, books, videogames, music, comic-books. I find it difficult to name artists, but I spend time browsing art at sites like Artstation, Game Artisans, Blender Artist, etc. One of my favourite theme is anything related to the universe, and I love the work of Blizzard (creators of Warcraft and Starcraft) at all levels.
We see a lot of startups and projects appearing lately around the world of 3D art and illustration. Do you think this will continue to grow, or is it some kind of "heat of the moment"? Is there room for the "businessman/woman artist"?
I don't thinks it's a temporary fashion: as a society, we care more about everything related to design, and new technologies need design as much as ever. We move ourselves now in a totally visual territory. It's not enough to have a good product: it has to be attractive and have a good marketing because competition is now global. Years ago, a headline in newspapers would be enough, but nowadays sharing images and video is so easy that you really have to work on these aspects. The entertainment industry has grown a lot, too: games, movies, mobile apps...
I don't know if it's a bubble, but if it is, it's still growing. Design will always be key in any business: we have become accustomed to it, and won't accept everything that is presented to us. Visually prototyping products or architectural projects without phisical costs has made much more easier to sell a product in its early stages.
About the "businessman artist".. everything is possible now if you are able to attract people willing to consume an idea.
And last, but not least: any advice for aspiring 3D artists just starting up their careers?
3D is a complex world, and very technical at the beginning. I've seen a lot of people giving up in early stages out of frustation, and because of not being capable of making a Lord of the Rings Orc or a Matrix special effect on the first day. My advise would be to see it as an enjoyable, long-term journey that doesn't happen overnight.
One of the common mistakes is comparing your early work with the last blockbuster movie you've seen. Those projects were made by hundreds of experienced professionals with a lot of resources at hand.
Don't give up and enjoy the learning process.. results will show eventually, and it will be worth the effort.
Thank you Oliver!
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