Bruno Ponte is an animator, visual effects, and match-moving artist based in Barcelona, Spain. Throughout this month, Bruno is letting all Academy of Animated Art students access his models for practice. For our students who’d like to get to know the artist behind these stunning 3D images, we’ve sat down with Bruno for an interview.
Q: Hello Bruno, thank you so much for granting us this interview, your portfolio is impressive! Can you please tell us more about yourself? Where are you from?
A: I’m an Argentinian-Italian artist (my father is Italian) based in Barcelona. I started studying drawing in 1998 absolutely by chance and from then until now I never stop.
Q: How’s the animation scene in Barcelona?
A: Animation is not a big industry in Barcelona or Spain. Making standalone animated movies or series is not common. Usually, animation is combined with advertising, web animations, visualizations, etc. It’s challenging because the industry doesn’t allow a great specialization. But on the other hand, it allows for a very global vision and I prefer it the second way.
Q: We’re curious how you got your start in this industry and what motivated you to work in animation and visual effects?
A: It’s a curious story, I was a literature student at the University of Barcelona when I got a job to review scripts for a cartoon TV series. The first days in the studio, I fell in love with animation and changed courses from literature to drawing.
Q: Animation and VFX have a wide variety of areas in which you can specialize. Why did you specialize in visual effects, animation and match moving?
A: Animation and design are my favorite segments! I think it’s because of the freedom that animation can bring to the creative process. Through drawing, you can explain a scene in so many ways. You can use a computer or a simple paper to draw.
Q: We are especially drawn to the Mr. Bean model, we know it’s painstaking work. We understand that you used an illustration by Jit Leong as a reference but why did you choose this character? Is there an inspiration behind this model?
A: I wanted to make a 3D cartoon because I made many models but never a caricature. RenderMan just released the non-commercial license and I wanted to try it with a character. I chose Mr. Bean because I liked Jit Leong’s drawing a lot and I think Rowan Atkinson did a great job with Mr. Bean. Without me doing much, the caricature is already done and that played in my favor.
Q: How long did it take to set this scene? What were some of the challenges that you came across this project and how did you manage them?
A: It is hard to know how much time I spent working on the scene. It was something I did in my free time. One day I worked a few hours, other days, I did nothing. It took me about 3 to 4 days to complete the scene. The most challenging aspect involved making the hair. At first, I thought about modeling it. In fact, I have a version with modeled hair. But I decided to use the hair.
Q: You used Renderman for the Mr. Bean model; can you tell us how you created the model using this program? What can you say in terms of the usability of Renderman, would you recommend it to our students? What tools did you find most useful during this project?
A: I really created the model in Zbrush. From there, I reduced the number of polygons using the decimation master. Then, I used Maya for the shading and lighting in Renderman. If I had done a model for animation, I would have had to do a retopology but honestly, I did not think it was necessary for what I wanted to do. The work with Renderman was really comfortable, I have not worked with older versions but I find the current one very intuitive.
One of the most interesting features that I used in Renderman allowed me to illuminate the scene realistically, as if you were in the real world. The responses of the software are similar to reality. That’s probably why I can recommend Renderman to any student. I like the idea of learning lighting, and consider what the features can do and cannot do in the physical world. The 3D features are so diverse that it’s easy to get lost sometimes. I like that a scene is accurate and this is a good way to achieve that.
Q: What were some of the challenges that you came across with using Renderman?
A: The rendering time. I know that it has improved a lot in recent years but it seems that we will never have sufficiently powerful computers. Apart from this being very generic, probably the main challenge is to adapt to new tools, shader nodes, etc. In general, Renderman is a fairly intuitive rendering system and if one comes from using Arnold or Vray, it has half the work done.
Q: Apart from having the passion for the arts and being disciplined, what traits do an artist has to have to be successful in this industry?
A: As you say, the most important thing is to be disciplined. Another thing that I also think is important is the ability to self-criticize. Being critical of your own work gives more room for improvement. And from a more practical standpoint, it allows you to use your strengths.
Q: What are some of the biggest problems you have encountered as an animator and VFX artist and how did you handle them?
A: You could write a book with this question. The first problem is with the family members. It is difficult to explain that you will dedicate your work life to making drawings with a computer. But you’ll overcome this challenge over time because eventually, they’ll begin to consider that you have a real job.
The second problem is probably instability, which in my case, is related to the place where I live. It is difficult to find stability in the industry in Spain. I can’t complain but I know how hard it is for some artists to overcome.
Q: You have a long list of clients including Novartis, what projects were the most challenging and most memorable? What was it like working on a tight schedule? How did you manage that?
A: I think the most challenging project that I worked on is also the most memorable. It was for a children’s entertainment program called, “Juanito Jones”. It was my first serious job. Honestly, I had a hard time adapting to the rhythm of production but I learned many things. I remember the the experience with fondness.
Working on a tight schedule is a normal part of a designer’s job. For me, the best way to deal with this is to set a realistic timeline. If you cannot complete a project on time, let the people involved in the project know about it as soon as possible. This way, all the team members could find solutions and resolve the problem among as a team.
Audiovisual productions usually involve many people and communication between all parties is very important. I know that sounds cliché and it’s easy to say it now that I don’t have a tight schedule, but it’s the best way I’ve found to work.
Q: What’s the best way to determine the specific visual effects necessary to complete a project?
A: Personally, I think that to know if a visual effect is necessary, you should ask yourself: Does it help explain the story better? Does it strengthen the story? If the answer is yes then it is necessary. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean the effect is wrong, it can be used purely for decoration.
Q: What are some of the best animation or VFX software you could recommend to our students?
A: For 3D, I use Maya and I think it is one of the most complete packages. I used Zbrush to sculpt and illuminate. Renderman and Arnold gave great results. Personally, I think that companies are not as interested in the software we use as we sometimes think. It is much more important to create nice images that suggest something and that can be done with practically any commercial package.
Q: What software do you use more often?
A: Maya for 3d, Zbrush for sculpt, Nuke or After Effects for compositing, and of course, Photoshop.
Q: What inspires you when making animations?
A: It depends on the project but usually, illustrations or paintings. Paintings are fantastic when searching for inspiration.
Q: How do you keep up with animation trends?
A: This gets more difficult every day. The internet is an inexhaustible source but what works best for me is talking with colleagues. That’s how I normally find out about trends and personally, this way is much more fun than spending hours searching the internet
Q: What projects are you currently working on? Any exciting new projects that we could look forward to?
A: I have been working at Mediapro for the last 4 years. The company manages various sports channels both in Spain and abroad. Next year, the whole image of the Spanish football league will be renewed so several renders of mine are hanging around there.
A more personal project that probably makes me more excited is the series of illustrations I created about the opera, Turandot. I’m working on the adaptation of the opera for a children’s audience. I hope that during the next year, the material from this project will be released.
Q: Any tips or advice for aspiring animators and visual effects artists?
A: Off the top of my head, here are my advice:
Be passionate about what you are doing.
Be a team player. The audiovisual industry is made by teams.
Never stop learning!
Always ask for feedback on your work
Learn how to take constructive criticism
Keep up with Bruno and check out his artworks on his website.