Art War 2 Winner- Dzung Phung Dinh

Art War 2 Winner- Dzung Phung Dinh

Dzung is the 2nd Place (3D) Winner of Art War 2. He is the founder of Thunder Cloud Studio- a 3D animation & game art outsourcing company. Although he has over 12 years of experience Dzung wants to continue to learn and grow as an artist which lead him to compete in Art War 2. Here, he answers questions regarding his background as an artist and his workflow.

Biggest inspiration when you started as an artist:

Like almost every artists out there I start showing my interested in art and computer pretty such via watching animation shows and playing video games. When it comes to inspirations, I think “Animatrix” definitely is the one that drive me into this path as an artist. That was like almost 14 or 16 years ago, I was amazed and mesmerized  by the incredible art style and presentation of the CGI and animations shown in Animatrix, that ‘s when I start building up my passion in 3D CGI and animation in general.

Favorite suite of software when working on 3D characters (3D only):

My gears of choice would be :
Zbrush - for block out and detailing

Maya - for accurated modeling, topology and UV and later rigging/posing - this is my primary 3D software.

Marmoset - for baking

Bodypaint 3D - for handpainted-texturing organic assets.

Substance Painter - for texturing hard surface assets.

Photoshop - for quick Texturing base pass or paint-over pass.

UE4 - for ldev and rendering.

Coffee or tea:  Redbull

Good habits:I cook for my wife

Worst habit:  Drinking too much redbull.

Favorite movies:  tengen toppa gurren lagann

Favorite games:  Starcraft

Music while doing art:  Beethoven or Nightcore

How to bounce back from a bad day:  Redbull & bacon

What is a good day: Redbull & bacon

Favorite quote: The drill that will pierce the Heavens!

Future goals:

Career goal: I want my Thunder Cloud Studio becoming a well-known Cinematic Animation Studio.

Personal goal: Having my own booth at comic con selling my own original figures and merchandises  

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Dzung Phung Dinh, founder of Thunder Cloud Studio - 3D animation & game art outsourcing company. I have 12 years experience working in games, movie and advertising industry. Before managing ThunderCloud,  I have been working on projects of various scales from Xbox title games (while at Rare UK)  and feature films (during the time working as creature artist at Double Negative London) and various advertising commercial projects as the 3D Art Director at The Color Club International.

What got you into character art, when did it all start?

My dream is to make epic CGI cinematic. That‘s the reason why I quit my artist career and focused on my own studio - ThunderCloud - with a dream of building a team that can produce cinematic CGI animations. Thus I need to train myself to become a well-rounded generalist. Character art is the most obvious relevant starting field of expertise. Since then I have been continuously training myself in every field that would be needed to produce cinematic animation from 2D painting , directing, storyboarding, concept, character modeling, rigging, animating and even scripting, etc all that needed to become a better CGI cinematic director/generalist. And Character Arts are the most important skill sets I need to master in order to make epic cinematic animation. 

My working experience in the past 12 years also added up to my current goal. Working as a 3D artist at Rare UK for Xbox games I gained experience in the Game-Art industry. Then I started learning about movie VFX production pipeline when I worked as a Creature Artist in Double Negative London. Later on, I focused on Art Directing and the workflow of creative idea/storyboard to final 3D production during the time being 3D Art Director at The Color Club - Denmark Advertising agency. These experiences and knowledge plus my daily training and researching are all added up to what I am today and I am still trying to leap forward learning studio/business management, training and supervising artists, hoping one day I can achieve my dream.

What influences were the most responsible for your current art style?

My current art style is a result of mixing many styles of various artist / games / animation shows along with my own adjustment and personal taste. In term of design, I can say mecha anime shows like Gurren Laggan and Genesis Evangelion. Games like Megaman Zero, Megaman Legend and Starcraft have a huge impact on me in terms of visual design since my teenage days. In regard to Art style in general I was inspired by most Korean artists like Hyung-Tae Kim (Blade & Soul), Monable (Hyper Universe). Their artworks are always so much fun to look at. Their characters are sexy, mature and mischievous at the same time. All these influences are playing big role in how I design and create my 3D works. You would see that most of my inspirations are 2D artists and 2D animation shows/games because I love the feelings of authentic, organic, fresh dynamic of 2D painting and I want my 3D works to have the same feeling. That‘s one of my biggest art goals as well - making 3D works look as fresh and organic as 2D works.

How did you get to the level you are at today? Did you study in any particular way you would recommend?

I still have a long way to go, but I guess it would still be helpful for some people if I share my thoughts on how I have been training myself over the recent years. When learning or training to obtain a certain skills / level I break down into several meta steps:

-lv 0: Visualize your goal and draft out the skills required to do that goal ( ie: making a stylized character, writing a tool to help hard-surfacing modeling faster, building a stylized anisotropic shader in UE4, etc )

- lv1: Learn the tool/platform (get used to the software, learning the basic idea before the technique )

- lv2: Learn the standard workflow (learn from tutorials, studying by mimic  someone works)

- lv3: Master the conventional workflow (doing your own bite-size project using the workflow learnt from tutorials)

- lv4: Re-invent the workflow to achieve your goal better (now that you know about the software and conventional workflow, it’s time to explorer the program deeper)

- lv5: Learn new things. Start over from step lv1 and explore all the possibilities you can combining things you learned and found so far (apply the workflow into your ambitious project)

This is pretty much the basic approach I have to learn all things, not limited to technical stuff like software, 3D techniques but also artistic stuff like design language, color, art direction etc. Most people I know stop learning at lv 2 or lv 3 but totally forgot about lv 4 and 5 that‘s where you push forward and break through your own boundaries and actually come up with new things. You will notice there will be a sharp spike in your learning curve at this point. Doing things this way might be the reason why I can learn multiple things of different fields in short amount of time from coding, drawing, 3D modeling, animating to game engine usage. They all relate to each other to some extent. Background experience of one field boosts me great deal in learning another new field.

How did you begin the process of creating your piece? What was your inspiration ?

Since Pisciasa is an ambitious project and I have to finish her in a limited time line of Art War 2 I needed to have a very clear goal in terms of visual and quality of the final piece. I spend the first 2 and 3 weeks of the challenge just to get the concept right, getting all the details and mood into the concept, then used a strict guideline. I based all my 3D works closely on the concept.
Doing it this way allowed me to maximize my artistic direction and creativity during the 2D concept stage. I can quickly render things out by hand in 2D concept to see and test how they should look without worrying about anything technical-wise. If I were to make major changes on fly during 3D stages like modeling, sculpting or texturing, etc it would take me a lot of time tweaking back and forth until I got the right feeling. So, leave the entire artistic and design decision purely to the 2D step.

Regarding the inspirations I got when working on Pisciasa- I had to choose either darkness or light. Darkness is my obvious choice since most of my preferences lean toward dark tones and I think it would be more interesting and easier to light a dark than a well-lit environment in UE4.

I was working on my personal piece “Aries” before I heard about Art War 2. She is one of my OC collections in the theme of mecha horoscope & sexy girl. I had to put her on idle to join the challenge. I wanted to integrate the horoscope theme into my entry piece and she will be part of my OC collection as well. Pisces is my horoscope sign. So I used it as the base design and name the character as “Pisiasa." The main design will be a badass looking sexy female character escorted by her twin mecha fishes.

Talking about darkness, I immediately think of the deep sea where the water is so deep and dense that light cannot reach. They say there are little knowledge of the ocean known to mankind than of the outer space. I am always curious about the deep sea, looking at the footage of deepest point on earth ( Mariana Trench) surrounded by the vast utter darkness gives me the same feeling when I am looking at the outer space images - endless mysterious, fascinating curiosity and somewhat fearsome . So definitely I would go for a deep-sea theme for Pisciasa.

What was your biggest hurdle during the process? What did you do to overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges I set myself for Pisciasa is that I want to push the look of the final 3D piece of Pisciasa to be as close as possible to the initial 2D concept in terms of every aspect- from modeling, texturing, shader, lighting and render. In most of my works so far I have always tried to match the 3D works to my concept, however there are always areas that seem off here and there because little differences in every stages from the model, texture to lighting, render etc that will roll up into a big deviation at the end. As for Pisciasa, I tried to push further every steps in 3D production and use the 2D concept as a strict ultimate guideline and standard for the 3D.

If you had to do it over would you do it differently? Why?

If I were to participate in Art War 2 again, I think I will have to rebalance my time and my design. I would not spend much time on the duo fishes but rather spending more time into the Pisciasa character more since she will pop out more than the fishes most of the time. Especially her face, right now her face is the regular generic anime-ish cute girl. I would re-design her facial features to give more characteristic into her personality. I could possibly shrink down the design of the 2 fishes and make them as part of her costume or weapons, thus enhance the overall feeling toward the character more.  Looking back at the piece now, I can see that while I spent time toward the final image, making sure everything going well together (lighting, compositing, rendering etc ), but putting each individual asset as stand-alone piece it would look quite pale. So the final words are “focusing more on the Pisciasa character” if I can travel back and time and tell my old self.

What do you think the Art War 2 challenge experience taught you, and would you participate again next year if you could?

Pisciasa is actually my first ever project that has full character rendered in UE4. Art War 2 not only gave me tremendous inspirations working on the piece but also posed many challenges in terms of time frame and design that I have to refrain myself under. The challenge of pushing the 3D quality closer to the 2D concept, the challenge of overcoming technical limitations within UE4, the challenge of keeping myself under a strict time-frame and timetable. And most important, I know that with better organization and self principal I can achieve a result far more than I expected within a 3 months time frame. Apart from the prize, Art War 2 already gave me a lot more than the award itself and it keep me way more fired up to keep producing projects that even better than Pisciasa in the upcoming time. Yes! I would definitely jump in anytime Art War 3 popped up!

Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring artists out there who might be looking to get to your level one day? What's your recipe for success?

I would have many things to share with fellow artists. I think the critical point that I realized and always talk to remind myself is keeping a balance between technical and artistic aspect of artists. To me it‘s 2D painting skill ( Art Direction, Design, compositing, etc)  vs 3D techniques (modeling, texturing, shader development etc ). If you lack one side, the other will suffer more or less. It‘s also more efficient to train under both 2D and 3D since it’s good to give your brain a break from one side and train the other.
Also, when you get to a decent level, knowing coding/scripting really boosts everything up. Not only can it automate and speed up your working process it also changes the way you work as well (ie writing a tool and resolve your workflow around that)

Any final thoughts?

If you are interested more in-depth into how I created Pisciasa from concept to final UE4 renders, you can visit my Art War 2 thread on Cubebrush.

I am currently working on another character in my OC Collection named Aresia, If you are interested you can visit my Art Feed.

Follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Check out Dzung's Cubebrush store. His work flow of the winning piece, Pisciasa of the Deep Darkness can be found here