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Jean-Pierre Le Roux | Faking real life in 3D graphics

Working out of Cape Town under the studio name Arcade, Jean-Pierre Le Roux is a freelancer who specialises in motion graphics, animation and 3D illustration. His work is colourful and upbeat, and leaps off the screen. He also caught our attention via great process gifs that give insight into the technically involved process of animation. As we round off our Graphic Art focus we caught up with Jean-Pierre to learn more about motion graphics and animation. 

How did you get into 3D design and motion graphics? Did you transition from 2D animation or have you always worked in 3D?

I have always worked in 3D, since my days as an animator at Triggerfish Animation. I have always loved the balance of technical versus creative that the 3D realm has to offer.

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What are some of the challenges that are unique to 3D design?

It would have to be figuring out how to get the desired effect by applying different technical approaches to get the look you are trying to achieve, be it realistic or toony. Figuring out which textures to apply, how much displacement to add, lighting a scene correctly, all in the hopes of cutting down render times, which is the bane of all 3D artists.

For someone not familiar with how 3D illustration works, can you please take us through your creative process and tell us briefly about each step.

I usually approach all briefs the same way any illustrator would, by drawing out rough scamps in Photoshop, which then get sent to client for approval. I then start roughing out shapes with basic primitive cubes, cylinders and extruded type (if any), locking down the camera and composition of the piece. After this it’s just details, details, details. Refining shapes piece by piece until I get the desired grayscale look for client to approve. Next it’s the texture phase. Everything that exists in the world has some or other texture and surface which light bounces off to get a specific look. So this has to be done by creating a “shader” for each object. Some objects need to be “unwrapped” allowing the texture to spread equally across the surface, this can be quite time consuming, but very rewarding if done correctly. Next is the lighting. This is a trial and error phase, figuring out where you want reflections to hit and setting the correct mood for the image. Lastly, the most important part. Ending up back in Photoshop. Rendering out “multi-passes” where the 3D software spits out individual passes for colour, shadow, reflection and so forth used for retouching in Photoshop.

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How do you use texture to enhance the 3D aesthetic of your work?

Texture is a big thing. It can make the difference between a photo-real and a flat shaded toony look, which completely changes the style. When done subtly it can really breath some life into a more stylised piece of work. It can be a struggle unwrapping UV’s (the faces of the polygons that project texture), but it all depends on the level of realism you want in your work. I have a more flat shaded style in my work so I can get away with only unwrapping a few objects and keeping the rest more “graphic”.

Can you tell us a little about how you create the different textures like fuzzy fur, shiny plastic, liquids, etc.

Hair and fur is great for 3D illustration, when lit correctly it can take a piece of work to a higher level. It does take a bit of time to really nail though. In Cinema4D (which is my preferred software) hair is created in the same way a texture shader is. It has its own set of specifications, like frizz, kink, twist, curl etc. Combining all of these to create a desired look. Hairstyles though are another ballgame, you actually need to use tools to brush and cut hair over and above the other specifics. Shiny plastics and liquids are quite simple for the most part. It’s all about the reflection and refraction, how much reflection you want from the surface, how much transparency you want through the object and how much the light should bend passing through it.

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Your work is characteristically bright and colourful. How would you describe your aesthetic?

As humans in general we are all different, from our voice down to our handwriting. To me, a “style” as people call it is really just a signature. A type of look developed over time because of the way we see the world. I am not sure why I prefer bright colours. It just ends up that way. Lately I am trying to cut down my use of colour and working more on colour harmony rather than my work looking like a box of smarties.

What is your process when developing characters? Do you have a set style or do you approach each character from scratch?

I do approach each character from scratch. Of course I have a preferred style but it’s always brief specific. I try keep my characters quite simple so I can knock them out quickly. They are very graphic shapes, which translate nicely into the 3D environment. But more complex characters take a lot more time to create and 60% of the time, every time, there’s never enough time. So I try keep a good balance between simple basic shapes and nice realistic textures.

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Do you use real-life references to model your 3D illustrations or just work from scamps?

I always look at references. No matter how stylised, it helps keep some link to the real world. Specifically for textures. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for ol’ Google images.

How does what’s being produced in the local 3D illustration and animation industry compare to what’s going on internationally?

SA is really on the move in the design, illustration and animation field. Of course international standards are always pushing forward, setting the bar higher and higher each year. But for the small community we have, we are producing some amazing work.

What have been your standout projects and why?

It would have to be the Stereotypes personal project I did last year. It started out as exploring some characters for my agent, trying to work out a nice simple character style that I could get through in an acceptable period of time. My idea was to combine a more graphic style with realistic hair and texture. It was very well received online and has won me numerous international briefs for some amazing brands.

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Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re a designer or vector illustrator looking to try your hand in the beast that is 3D, I highly recommend Cinema 4D. It is the most user friendly software available. Giving you the ability to achieve beautiful results in a very short space of time. The online community is fantastic, endless free resources and quality training videos to help you at any level. It’s truly an amazing platform which takes the designer’s way of thinking into consideration more so than other 3D packages. It even allows importing of vector paths from Adobe Illustrator. Game changer…

See more of Jean-Pierre’s work via his studio website, Arcade or Behance.  

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