Interview with Rafael Ghencev 3D Generalist / Director

Starting out, tell us a bit about yourself?

First of all thanks for the opportunity. My name is Rafael Ghencev, I am a Brazilian 3D artist and Director and have been working in this industry since 2007. Mainly in the advertising industry and have worked for brands like Coca Cola, Ford, Chevrolet, Fiat, Volkswagen, Nestle and so on and now I have just started working at DNEG as Lead Environment Generalist.

Tell a bit about your background in art and how you get into the VFX/ Animation Industry.

Since I can remember I love art in general. When I was around four, I used to sit with my grandpa, who was a hobbyist painter, and watch him creating his art. That of course, made me fall in love with art, but more than that, what really got me was the bucolic, the loneliness of the Romanian landscapes he used to paint (My surname comes from there by the way). Those distant worlds from his childhood memories he put to his paintings always left me looking at it for hours.
Around the same age, I remember going to the movie theater for the first time. I have watched Snow White, the classic, and I was completely in love, transported to that magical world.

That’s when my love affair with cinema began.

Spielberg, Zemeckis, Ridley Scott and all those guys creating unbelievable worlds just made me a fan of filmmaking.

But I never imagined working with it to be honest, it was a passion to me, and coming from a poor family, it never crossed my mind that I would be able to work with films or animation.
Only after watching Lord of the rings in 2001 that I knew I would pursue it as a profession and start to find a way to study and learn it.

Challenge and experiences in the early years?

I think the biggest challenge for me was during the time I was doing my 1 year graduation in animation. As I said, I came from a poor family here in Brazil, my parents couldn’t pay for my study, I had to work on different jobs for some years to save some money to study what I wanted. Even then, the money wasn’t enough so I worked hard learning by myself to create a portfolio that could help me get a tuition discount or something. And that happend, I got a 50% discount on the tuition and moved to another city (São Paulo) to start the classes at Melies School.
But then other challenges came up. I didn’t have money to pay for an apartment there, so after a lot of searching, an old friend offered one bedroom of his house with no fee. I didn’t have anything in the bedroom, just the mattress and nothing more, but it was enough to start.
After that everything was looking promising but the money was running short, and some days I didn’t even have enough money to eat, so I had to find some cheap snacks (a cheap Arabian food that I found near the school) that used to come with limon to season it. And it costs just a few cents. That way I would eat something and use the lemon (usually half lemon) to make a juice.  Everybody in the school who tried to eat that snack with me didn’t feel well after eating it. Lol 


Was a hell of a year. But I tried to maintain the focus and have used all my time, 14 to 16 hours a day to study and try to be the best student I could be. 

After 6 months my money just ended and I would have to leave the school and go back to my family. But thanks God, the school owner gave me a full scholarship and even paid for my transportation and food for the rest of the year so I could finish the course. I am so grateful for all the help I got from them, I wouldn’t be here without them.
I had so many other challenges along my career but these, at the beginning, was definitely the hardest.


You used to be a character artist, why did you become a generalist after that?

At school I was a generalist already, but I used to have a good eye for character sculpting, so that ability opened doors to start my career as a specialist.
But I have always loved to study and do different things. I get bored too quickly doing just one thing. Lol 

So I started studying filmmaking and producing my own short films and that brought some nice job offers to Lead 3D teams and then to direct commercials. (Of course it was not easy and I had to work very hard to get a lead position and then to Direct was even harder)

But the nice thing is, everything I learned shooting live actions improved so much my 3D too. From lighting to composition, to editing, to design, knowing better the types of lenses that would suit the shot, etc.
But I still love characters, and I still do it a lot.  But I love to put them in a context, on a film or something. Now my plan is to continue producing my personal short films and create the characters for it. 

So your preparing another short? When can we expect to see it? Will it be animated or live action?
I am writing right now two shorts, one I plan to do in animation and the other one in live action with VFX. But it will take some time since I only work on them in my free time. And now I am learning houdini to help me with some shots I will need. So, I need so much more free time. LOL

You said studying filmmaking helped you improve your 3D. Did 3D help you in filmmaking?

Absolutely! I did a project called Another Song, an experimental Music Video where I didn’t have enough budget to pay for more than 24 hours of equipment and I didn’t have money to pay for a crew. (I just had a producer friend of mine, and 2 assistants).
What made it possible was planning A LOT before, and wearing many hats.
I had to do the art direction, cinematography, camera operation, direction, writing, some vfx (object removal), the storyboard and a very rough animatic.

So I went to the set knowing exactly where to put the camera, which lens I would use, the composition, the blocking of the actors, the rhythm of the film and so on. 

I have learned SO MUCH from doing it and without my 3D knowledge I couldn’t do the music video the way I wanted. 

All the artists have influences and references. What are yours?

It is a tough question, I have so many artists that have influenced me. 

I would start with the guys that I found on the internet when I discovered 3D back in 2002/2003. There wasn’t youtube, neither all these websites and all that tutorials and stuff we have today. There were just a few forums that the big guys use to share their work and process. 

All of them are great artists until today.
Antropus (Kris Costa), Fausto Demartini, Alex Oliver, Peter Syomka etc.

Besides the 3D artists, I am always looking to the tradicional great artists. My favorites are 

Bernini, Rodin, Richard Macdonald, Rembrandt, Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper to name a few.

In the cinema world I would definitely mention Spielberg, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Bob Zemecks, Wes Anderson, Coen Brothers, David Fincher and Denis Vileneuve.

When you work for clients, how do you satisfy your creative urges in projects that don’t look appealing? 

I am always trying to make them look appealing to me in some way or another. No matter how simple, or how small a project is, I am always trying to put a little bit of myself on it.

For example, I try to create subtext and meaning on every choice I make, from the colors, to the editing, to composition and so on. 

That way, the work becomes a challenge to me, and the challenge is always appealing to me. But sometimes it is not even possible to create subtext, or anything else that motivates you.  So, in this case, you just have to be professional and separate the project for yourself and do it. When that happens, it is the perfect timing to start a personal project. 

The Future of film making would be in the Virtual Production?

Hard to tell, but I don’t think so. Not entirely, at least. Of course It will be used a lot more and probably replace most of the greenscreen.
But I think, in the future, when this technology gets cheaper, it will help the small and middle budget films that don’t have the money to travel around the world to shoot amazing scenes otherwise impossible to shoot. 

For example, to shoot a film in the middle of a desert, like in Mad Max Fury road, it is extremely expensive, dangerous and needs so much bureaucracy and planning that would be impossible for a low or a middle budget film to make it happen. In that case, virtual production will help a lot of artists and directors to bring their visions to life with a small budget. 

When that happens, It will be the democratization of blockbusters. Which is already starting to happen by the way. We can already watch short films with more quality than some big films from 10 years ago.

But at the same time, this democratization is already standardizing the look of the films and arts in general, everything looks kind of the same now.

In response to that, we can already see a lot of Directors and new directors embracing the real world again. What I mean by that is that it is getting common nowadays to create at least a good amount of real environments, miniatures and real prosthetics and we are even shooting again in film stock, which I love by the way, and that breaks again the digital feel of the films, making them unique. Nolan and Villeneuve are examples of this.
So I believe Virtual Production will be one more tool on the belt of a good filmmaker, but not the only one.

The future 3D Modeling will it be AI originated or will it evolve?

I don’t consider myself a technical guy, so I look at this question in a more artistic way. 

I believe AI will be very useful for reproducing real things and procedural things. But I think, or maybe I just hope, that humans will always be necessary to create designs, create characters, ships, worlds, etc.

Sometimes the design doesn’t need to have a function, or to replicate reality, sometimes it just needs to be beautiful, sometimes symbolic or metaphorical and I don’t think the AI would do that.

Advice /tips to Young artists how they can grow fast and be more efficient?

The first tip I can give to the young artists is to forget about growing fast, nothing good comes fast, it will take a good amount of time and hardwork.
Having said that, I think the best way to improve and get better is to have discipline and constancy. You probably don’t need to study 3 or 4 hours a day for the rest of your life. Maybe you just need 30 min to an hour a day, everyday., every week, every month, every year. That way you will have constant growth without getting mentally exhausted. 

It is ok to not be productive all the time. Sometimes, I get a week off, sometimes even months off to enjoy my family, my friends, watch movies and read books.
Don’t be too hard on yourself wanting to produce 24/7. The secret is to find a balance, of course this will come with the experience as well.
Another problem nowadays is the amount of information on the web. We have so many places to look for tutorials and information. But at the same time, everything, in general, looks superficial. The majority of tutorials help you to emulate it but not to assimilate it and use the principles in anything else.
The people learn how to replicate things but don’t know how to create things.

And it is getting worse with the amount of free stuff you can download, like free scans, free models, textures, plugins that make everything automatically and it is very rare to find an artist that can improvise, create something from nothing. (Just to be clear, there is no problem in using the assets and plugins on the internet, I use them, but I don’t recommend using it in the beginning).

So finding the right mentors and teachers is the best thing you can do. Don’t try to learn from everybody, learn from a few. And try to learn from the hard way.
What do I mean by that?
Do you want to study anatomy and shape? Turn off symmetry or even get your hands dirty with real clay. 

Want to learn drawing? Get paper and pencil, or on the computer, don’t use layers.

Do you want to tell stories? Learn about storytelling, about the visual language, about the lines, about blocking actors (characters), about subtext, about rhythm and so on.  

Forget just a bit about softwares, they change completely in a year or two, but the concepts behind art are (basically) always the same.

And always, always asks for help. I would never grow nor I would be working in this industry without the help of so many friends.

vfxexpress- Ritto prabu – Thank you Rafael Ghencev for sharing with us

Rafael Ghencev – Thank you Ritto

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