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Episode 118 — Justin Goby Fields — IronKlad
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 118! I’m speaking with Justin Goby Fields. Justin has worked on Wolverine, Planet of the Apes, Noah, Goosebumps and lots of other cool projects. He has his own studio IronKlad.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
I hope you had an amazing Christmas and holidays.
I. [-54:02] I’ve been working on a new training: It’s a 10-hour Live Action character-driven performance, shot on the Red Epic-W with a Helium Censor: www.allanmckay.com/decay/. In the past, I haven’t seen this done before. We use digital make-up to have this guy’s face decay. We used 3DS Max 2018 Fluid Solver. There is a lot of stuff we dive into! Plus, I’ve done it in several file formats so that you can do it in Maya or Houdini.
Again, download it for free at www.allanmckay.com/decay/. It’s available until January 12th, 2018.
II. [-52:06] I’m opening registration for Live Action Series 2018.
III. [-51:36] The Best Year Yet Training and Podcasts are available at www.allanmckay.com/bestyearyet/. We will continue doing these Bootcamps in the future.
IV. [-51:17] I will be putting out a Hardware Guide which will go pretty in-depth into hardware for visual effects.
V. [-51:05] The Productive Artist book is out as well: www.allanmckay.com/productiveartist/.
INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN GOBY FIELDS
Justin Goby Fields is a concept artist and owner of IronKlad Studios. After his career in graphic design and training at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, he has worked at such studios as Sony ImageWorks, Imaginary Forces, Aaron Sims Company, Amalgamated Dynamics and several others. Some of his film credits include Jupiter Ascending, Noah, The Wolverine, Ragnarock, Noah.
In this Episode, Justin talks about his career and gives advice to up-and-coming VFX artists on how to stand out and succeed in the games and film industries.
Justin Goby Fields’ IMDb Profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5565518/
IronKlad Website: https://www.ironkladstudios.com
Justin Goby Fields at ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/justinfields
Justin Goby Fields’ Course at Schoolism.com: https://www.schoolism.com/lp/introduction-to-zbrush-justin-goby-fields/
[-48:48] Allan: Just to start out, I’d love to chat about how you started. Did you always want to be an artist growing up or is it something you fell into along the way.
Justin: I always wanted to be an artist of some sort. My mother was an artist. She used to do a lot of watercolor and silk screen type painting, which was always really cool to see. Growing up, I was nuts over comic books and I wanted to be a comic books writer for the longest time. I remember my high school art teacher being fed up because all I wanted to do was comic books and sci fi; and he would desperately try to get me to do other things. But I was obsessed. That’s all I wanted to do!
[-48:01] Allan: He’d be like, “Have you seen Picasso?” And you’d say, “Have you seen McFarlane?!”
Justin: Yeah, “Have you seen Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri?!” This is what I wanted to do.
[-47:50] Allan: I just interviewed Bay Raitt: www.allanmckay.com/102/. He was one of the original creators of Gollum. He got his big break working for McFarlane. Now he is doing VR comics. For you, how did you discover 3D? I did the same thing: I was obsessed with comics, drawing at school all day long. How did you start pursuing that as a career?
Justin: Right out of high school, I was really bummed because where I was living in Illinois, there wasn’t much of an artist culture. There weren’t any schools geared toward pursuing the arts. I kind of gave up for a while and worked dead-end jobs. (My most famous one was delivering pizza). Then I went into doing graphic design — did that for a year and half — but then the market completely dropped out again. I was making more reliable money delivering pizza than I was doing websites or ads. I literally gave up for 10 years and didn’t do anything artistic. Then, a couple of my friends started working in the gaming and film industry and [I realized] it was completely possible.
[-45:51] Allan: Was that a common thing you felt with 3D, that it wasn’t something you could make a career from; that it was more of a hobby?
Justin: When I was taking a break on my hiatus, 3D wasn’t even in my ballpark. I wasn’t even thinking about doing that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It took a friend of mine sending me a copy of The Skillful Huntsman and a Gnomon DVD on how to draw robots. I was like, “Oh, my gosh! You can make a living at this!” After that, I applied to the Gnomon School of Visual Effects. I was there for about a year. I had to drop out; but luckily, I scored an internship working under Jerad Marantz. It’s been a whirlwind since then!
[-45:00] Allan: How did you score the internship? I’m thinking about other people who are trying to connect the dots. I actually just interviewed my fiance who is also a designer:(www.allanmckay.com/99/) and one of the things we talked about was how she’d been brainwashed that art wasn’t a career and [she should] “get a real job”. How did you score the internship?
Justin: When I went to Gnomon, I was a lot older than my fellow students. It felt like this was my last chance. It was strange to go back to school in my 30s, but it was something that had to try! I approached school in a different way than I see younger students. It was the last chance for me, so I treated every single homework assignment as a portfolio opportunity — and I think my instructors noticed.
[-43:42] Allan: That’s awesome! I think that’s critical to have that fire under your butt. I used to teach at a college 20 years ago. You could identified who came there straight after high school and who was paying for their own education and not their parents; who wasn’t taking it seriously — and who had expectations. I think that’s great! I think it’s important to have that pressure on yourself.
Justin: It comes down to a couple of different factors. More than half of people who go to school are in love with the idea of working in the game or the film industry, but they don’t know what it takes to do it. Once they find out, they fade off or they don’t stick around. The film and games industry puts you through the ringer. And those who survive are the ones that stay for life.
[-42:13] Allan: It’s definitely a natural selection.
Justin: Yeah, it’s not easy. I hate sounding like I’m negative about the industry. It has its ups and downs. But it’s just a hard finish line to get to, and not a lot of people are in a position to cross that line.
[-41:23] Allan: I was talking with my friends. What other occupation that’s out there that’s your entire life? It consumes you. It’s not something you can dabble in. It takes so long to get to a point of doing something worthwhile, it’s a lifelong pursuit. You have to continue growing in your area. What was your first project?
Justin: The first film project that I was on, I believe, was a Sony project and I think it got canceled. The second one was Jupiter Ascending.
[-40:12] Allan: What were these first projects like? Was there a learning curve? Was it something you were proud of?
Justin: I hate to say that it was easy but the only reason it was easy was because I was in a studio setting. I was working with Concept Designers like Jerad Marantz, Jared Krichevsky, Kelton Cram and a few other guys who were really good! Luca Nemolato! We both got into the studio from Gnomon at the same time. Being around those guys and learning from them — it was one of the hardest moments because of the learning curve ahead of me. But it was also one of the best times because it felt like a studio family. Things changed at work and it wasn’t there anymore. It felt like it was time to go. Essentially, I went freelance and never looked back.
[-38:38] Allan: That’s really awesome! I do think it’s an interesting thing with students: Networking as early as being a student is so critical. So many times when they hire a graduate, they pull the rest of the group into their world. It’s critical to build these groups.
Justin: The industry is really, really small. It doesn’t matter what continent you’re working on. People listen and pay attention at how you treat other people. You have to put your best foot forward at all times. Word gets around.
[-37:30] Allan: It’s such a tiny industry, you know everyone, everywhere. What was it like to go from the first jobs to breaking into freelance? Was it a scary time for you?
Justin: It was very, very scary but it reminded me that I’d gone through it once, with graphic design. I did that for good 3-4 years! I still had to build up clients. It was like I was starting over but I understood what it would take. But I had already built up some contacts, so it didn’t feel that rough. But it was pretty rough! [I remember] to stay one more term at Gnomon, I had to sell everything, except for my bed and my dog.
[-35:30] Allan: Over the past 10 years before you went to Gnomon, what were you doing?
Justin: Pizza delivery, pretty much. On and off. I was still doing random jobs for local bands (like CD packages). I was all about branding things [even then]. I’d do that for local bands in Springfield, Illinois. I had those clients telling me that the amount of work I was doing was so detail oriented, I should pursue this. But I wasn’t having fun doing that. It just seemed like common sense to me.
[-34:26] Allan: Do you think that a lot of the experiences you had along the way you were able to apply later on? One of my friends Matt Conway is a Matte Painter (www.allanmckay.com/59/). He didn’t start until his 30s. Along the way, having that life experience, makes you able to leverage a lot of the experiences, including when dealing with people. Having approached it later in life, do you think it helped you be more mature and experienced?
Justin: I believe so. In the time that I was doing professional graphic designs, there were photo touch up jobs. I understood that it was about the pipeline, and it wasn’t about the fine art job. How do you get something looking as possible in the shortest amount of time, to keep your client happy? When I jumped into the tv and film design world, it was very much that. I didn’t have any qualms about how the real world works in terms of art creation. And I just adapted, or I looked up more on the subjects or artists and figured out how their brain worked. You have to make sure you understand how your role works in the assembly line and do whatever you can to make it easier for the guy who comes after you.
[-32:10] Allan: I think that’s really solid advice. Looking back, what do you think are your three top favorite projects so far?
Justin: My top three favorite projects? Anytime I work on a film, I enjoy a lot of it. I had a great time working with Section Studios [on] an animated short that they turned into live action. That was really fun! I got to work with Justin Yun and their amazing project leads over there. I’d say my favorite film experience so far has been working on Goosebumps. I did creature design alongside some really great designers like Neville Page. Working one-on-one with the director Rob Letterman was a really great experience!
[-30:48] Allan: It looks like a fun movie!
Justin: I thought it was a lot of fun.
[-30:22] Allan: With that project, what contributions did you have on that?
Justin: I did a lot of Zbrush concept sculpting. I was given a brief and I would design something. I designed the praying mantis for the film, some of the alien robots. It was really fun! We were brought on before it was even green lit. Neville was in the office. I think Carlos Huante was there. It was very interesting: Everyone had different workflows and ideas and everyone would take a stab at different ideas. I remember being called for this job. I walked into this film office and Neville was there. The director pulled this pitch book; and in the alien section, it was mostly my artwork. He was like, “Do you think you could get close to this quality?” “Yeah! ‘Cause that’s my artwork.”
[-28:48] Allan: I love those situations! I love coming in at the end of the projects but I also like coming on at the start and having that input. I just hate getting stuck in limbo with extended deadlines with no direction. What was it like having more input on the creatures?
Justin: It probably spoiled me for every job after! Any job that comes in, I try to gear them toward blue sky. Let us come up with something original and new before you start coming in with a pre-judgment of what you think you want. The worst thing is bringing in references from other franchises: “Get me something like this!” Or you can let us think about something new for you: tell us your passion, tell us why you want it like this, what’s the goal with this character? Getting really in depth with the design is something that the film industry is against at this moment. I think there is something to people who are doing it right like Marvel and James Cameron’s team for Avatar. They’re doing it right! They’re creative thinkers and they’re given time to think and develop. And a lot of film projects that I get on right now, it seems like they’re shotgunning it. It’s like a rough ideation.
[-26:28] Allan: I feel like a lot of input you get on bigger projects is really vague. You’re right: When you find the right people that you enjoy working with, you have fluent communication. You mesh really well. And those are the sorts of people you want to work with.
[-25:24] Allan: You’ve done a lot of really awesome stuff. In terms of something like League of Legends, what was that like?
Justin: League of Legends contacted me to do some variations to make some of their characters more photo real, in term of marketing things. That was always pretty fun. I got to do my versions of characters of Zed and the insect guy. It was always a pleasure to work with Riot on that, but it was definitely more stylized that I was used to. I have a lot of good friends working over there. It’s always fun to see what they’re doing and how they’re creating. Seeing all the magic was really neat!
[-24:19] Allan: Was that onsite? Did they make you get a high score for that one?
[-24:12] Allan: I had a tour of the studio a few years ago and we were chatting about the things they’re doing. HR was really serious [about my getting a high score]. I used to work a lot with Blur that did a few games with them. You have this massive IP with a huge fanbase. For some people, making those photo real version could be nerve wracking.
Justin: Honestly, I don’t even know if it was ever released. I never got clearance to show or share those. They do that quite often to see what other artists come up with.
[-22:28] Allan: What about The Division?
Justin: [On] The Division, we did a little bit of concept work and mostly we were lucky enough to do a lot of the marketing animatics. We took some concept art from them and made it fully animated. We did a lot of that in the early days before it was launched.
[-21:38] Allan: I love when you can get a still moment and give it some life. I worked on the first trailer for The Division that came out in 2014, I think. That was a lot of fun. What about Halo? Was it similar?
Justin: On that one, we got to redesign Cortana. And that was for Axis Animation. And that was really, really fun! It was super scary to touch that high of a profile of a character. There are so many cool ways you could take that character, but they wanted subtle changes / differences. That was an interesting job! It was really quick, for 3-4 weeks. Myself and Xander Smith got to do some work on that.
[-20:33] Allan: It’s one of those things. If you have an IP or a well-know brand, you can’t deviate too much. With IronKlad Studios, how [and when] did that come around?
Justin: IronKlad Studios happened right after Goosebumps. I think I took a month off from work because we’ve worked on it for almost 3-4 months. Working for Sony ImageWorks was a pretty interesting experience for me. And I really fell in love with the idea of not being a lone freelancer anymore. I wanted that camaraderie. I felt like I wasn’t growing as an artist because I wasn’t being challenged by my teammates. [I thought], “How do I start a studio under 50K — and how do you do it without a bank loan?” I was thinking about how you could do it in sense [as if it] were a barber shop: Everybody pays desk rent. You could do whatever you wanted. If you have a job but it’s not through IronKlad, you could still work there. We weren’t looking to take a cut off of what you were doing freelance on, on your own.
Once I’ve offered that to the community, we had a pretty full office for a very, very long time. People were coming in and out, really great artists. I realized that I could start pitching IronKlad Studios as a group of people for bigger jobs. After we starting marketing ourselves like that, people weren’t paying for the desks anymore. We were just having them come in and do the work.
[-17:48] Allan: You essentially created an incubator for VFX artists who could have a home. I work a lot from my home office and it’s the loneliest thing in the world where you don’t have other people to bounce your ideas off of. What was that like to create an environment for artists?
Justin: It’s an uphill battle because we’re dealing with things like getting work in but we aren’t getting the kind of work that we want on a regular basis. So it’s a unique way of forcing us to pursue things that are out of our comfort zone. When we first started, we wanted to do visual development for film and tv, and games. We started doing a lot of that. Randomly, we got a few matte painting jobs in — and we really took to that. We saw our work in shows and that was kind of neat! Then we got some random jobs in VR: We got to got to do this Batman animated feature from scratch. We worked with OTOY. We did that job and did several others. We worked with Spil Games on Valerian. It’s really neat because we’re taking the company not only into visual development. We’re definitely rebranding ourselves to be an asset house. It’s an art outsourcing center.
[-15:54] Allan: Do you think that along the way, just by doing these different things, you’ll start to organically niche yourself into an outsourcing studio? Was that a pretty natural progression to fall into a new type of category?
Justin: The strange part is: When it comes to film, we get a lot of pitch work and then a lot of the projects don’t go anywhere. It kind of hurts us in that regard. We can’t show the stuff we’ve slaved over six months and we can’t see our work. To combat that, we took a look at the mobile games world and now we’re getting into that. I think that it’s a mixed bag. It seems like it’s small industry once you’re in it, and it’s hard to keep the same clients coming in [because] the same clients have one project a year to come back to you with. For us, it was a learning curve to have enough work all year around, to sustain ourselves. That’s why we’ve taken a look at a mobile games market. That’s the new section we’re heading into — as well as art outsourcing — doing a lot of the mobile game development in house. We are going to be releasing our own games. Which is really, really exciting! I’ve been working on a few IP ideas and it’s neat to talk to the team and the resounding response is “Yes!”
[-13:09] Allan: What were your contributions to Ironman 3 and what were some of the challenges on that?
Justin: I worked with Ash Thorp…
[-12:56] Allan: That hack! I love that guy!
Justin: We worked on some in title credit designs and ideations. I did some painting variations. I didn’t really do any design work because it’s already been done by the excellent team at Marvel. It was really fun to get an opportunity to paint an Ironman and discuss it in-house. We ended up not getting the job. I really loved Ash’s pitch! I did one or two sequences myself and a big painting for it. It was really fun! There is something about painting Marvel characters that’s always a blast!
[-12:06] Allan: Makes you go back to being a kid again! I’ve had Ash on the Podcast (www.allanmckay.com/56/). That guy is insane! He is hardcore.
Justin: I don’t know how he does it.
[-11:39] Allan: What about Wolverine? What were some of the big challenges on that project?
Justin: I was on that to do Viper designs. So we worked on her and what she would like her if she was mad: Could you see venom coursing through her veins? It was a lot of either CG alteration or practical make-up changes, subtle things to make it look like there was something underneath her skin. We did that for quite a while, 5-6 iterations. I was really bummed because I was hoping to move on to the Silver Samurai. I really wanted that one! I heard that we were going to do the next Wolverine and I really wanted to do a take. That would be so fun to do!
[-09:59] Allan: You’ve been doing a lot of training as well. What’s your experience been with sharing the techniques you’ve been developing? What has it been like to interact with your students?
Justin: It’s been a blast! I didn’t think that I would enjoy this as much as I have. I’ve gotten to teach at places like Red Engine. I’ve gotten to speak at places like Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn. I get to teach for Schoolism online, Brainstorm School and Art Center. I never knew I’d really like it — but I’ve ended up loving it. For us as instructors, it reaffirms what you already know. It makes you really need to know your stuff because you’re passing on the information. I try to be as real as possible with my students and give them the advice that they need to hear.
[-08:38] Allan: You’re absolutely right about that! In a way, having to teach helps you solidify information in your brain. That way it does make sense to everyone else. Talking about students, do you have any advice for artists on how to stand out? Especially in concept and matte painting, there is a lot of noise out there. How can people get their name out there and stand out?
Justin: It’s a hard world to give good advice in that regard. You could pigeonhole yourself if you’re not careful. I see a lot of artists get trapped in fan art but they can’t do original work. They get trapped in the “Like” Machine: They’re posting things on Facebook and getting thousand of “Likes”. I think it comes down to a strange issue where people don’t know the difference between an illustrator and a concept artist. Illustrators are calling themselves Concept Artists. You have to look at the industry and know that if there is nothing but fan art going on — do something different! Because you’re just going to blend in. Or wait to do it later. Do it before the game comes out. It’s a tough call. Personally, I like to see more original stuff. I love seeing Alex Konstad’s work. Every new piece he does is something new and exciting, and something you haven’t seen before; and I think he has some IP’s in the works. Dan LuVisi. Those guys who are trying to create new IP get me excited more than new Batman fan art. If I’m looking to hire someone, I want to see someone rise to the occasion and actually do design work: Create, not emulate.
[-05:08] Allan: Another thing is discipline. A lot of people who get into the industry don’t realize how much work it takes. The most common thing I get from people: “I wish I had more time”. How do you manage all the things you do and do you have any advice?
Justin: You know, I’m still learning that myself: I’m still learning how to use my time better. In the last year, I’ve fallen into a rut of management and less art creation. This is not why I got into this! It’s been a rough year for me creatively because I haven’t had time to experiment or make weird stuff, just to make it. I’m trying to make changes this year to correct that. I’m trying to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, stay focused longer, get in and get out — do that stuff that I have to. I’m looking to automate a bit of our interoffice meetings and collaboration times. I can’t have 2-hour meeting every day where one meeting a week will do. That’s what I’m trying to get into. I want to make at least back-of-the-house stuff more procedured. I’m trying to make sure all of it gets done. I’ve never owned or ran a studio before, but I’ve been running IronKlad for four years now. Everything is a lesson!
[-02:40] Allan: Finally, where can people go to find you online?
[-02:16] Allan: That’s awesome! Thanks again for doing this! It’s been awesome.
Justin: Thanks for having me!
Thanks for Justin for this Episode. It’s been a blast. I hope you enjoyed this one. Please review it on iTunes.
If you want to check out the Live Action Training, it’s available until January 12th: www.allanmckay.com/decay/. Please share this! It will be my Christmas present.