I always get a lot of questions when I post photos of my music studio, so I finally added a page showing the design plans and construction photos of my studio, with explanations of why I made the choices I made.
My Top Ten Ways to Be A Better Artist article has been published in the February 2010 issue of ImagineFX magazine. This was originally a more detailed version I posted at cgtalk, and ImagineFX contacted me and asked me if they could publish it. I had to edit the original down to fit their layout, so if you want to some of the missing details, read the original version.
It was quite a pleasure working with them this time around (they interviewed in their premiere issue, and I also did a paining tutorial for them as well. The editors were very understanding in my adamant request to be involved in the editorial process and have final say in the exact wording. I’m very adamant about this matter because in the past, I’ve had publications that tried to paraphrase me or shorten what I said in order to fit into their layout, resulting in technical mistakes, incorrect emphasis, incorrect context, or alteration of the tone for the worse. I vowed at some point to never be put through that again, so my currently condition in being interviewed or published is to be granted full participation in the final editing process. This might make me sound like a control freak, but that’s not really the case. I simply do no like being misrepresented, that’s all.
(EDIT: my previous mention of the mistakes was a misunderstanding. The scan someone sent me for some reason is not the same as what I just received in the mail from Future Publishing. I don’t know how someone got a hold of the pre-publication edit, but anyway, I’m very happy that the final edit is exactly as I had worked out with the editors.)
I recently did a Q&A session with Peter Lucky, and I thought some of his questions were quite interesting–different from the typical questions I get when I do interviews, so I decided to post them here.
Q: I’ve looked over a great deal of your website, including your really long bio. Reading it noticed how honest you are about yourself with other people. Not many are willing to do that, does this translate outside the internet in your everyday life?
A: Pretty much. I’ve always been a pretty candid person, and I don’t know why some of us are really withdrawn while some of us are really open. Perhaps it’s personality, or perhaps it’s outlook in life and also individual values. I believe in constantly striving to become a better person and redeeming past mistakes, so I see myself as a “work-in-progress,” which means I always have the chance to change anything I don’t like about myself, and also redeem myself. This leads me to never having to feel ashamed or overtly embarrassed about anything, because I know I can always improve and learn and change. I also believe that past mistakes are very important factors in our growth, because they are valuable lessons. I think sharing those lessons is a great way to give back to the world so others can maybe gain something from my mistakes, or at least feel like they are not alone in their struggles.
Q: I’ve seen the stunning amount of totally different careers you’ve done over the years, very few people will take the risks you do and prefer to stay with one thing most – if not all their lives. Were there any career decisions you made which you regret?
A: In some ways, I wish I had concentrated on music or film/writing, since they are the most potent to me emotionally, but because art was easier for me to find a job in, I stuck with art jobs even if they weren’t as emotionally involving to me. If I could go back in time, I’d have forced my parents into letting me take piano/music lessons and raised completely hell until they agreed. It’s the biggest regret of my life.
Q: You’ve said you’re a pretty optimistic person, what kept you going through the dark times you’ve had in your life?
A: I remind myself that I’m not terminally ill, am not living on the street, am not living in a country that’s constantly at war, was not born into some remote village in a very poor country with constant famine and disease…etc. Compared to many, I’m incredibly lucky. I also tell myself that tomorrow is a different day, and you can never tell what’s going to happen because life is full of surprises. Another thing I tell myself is that I’ve gone through very dark periods in the past, yet I survived them, and every single one of them felt like there would be no end to the suffering. They all eventually passed, and I’m stronger and better for having being tested, so this current dark period is no different. I’ll survive it and then sometime in the future I’ll be able to look back and think, “Yep, I survived that one as well.”
Q: You say everything you do is self-taught. This is something I relate to completely, most of what i’ve learned in creative pursuits are from my own initiative, research, experimenting, and mistakes. Even being in college now, I still learn most and best on my own. Having dropped out of college and not attending an arts school, did that ever put you at a disadvantage for employment? In the digital world, there have been endless debates about self-taught vs secondary education. From your experiences how has being self-taught affected you during job interviews? Have you ever been treated differently because of it?
A: Almost never. It’s all about your portfolio, resume, experience, and how you interact with people. In fact, most people are highly impressed that I’m self-taught. The only time I ever came across something different was this one art director who told me she preferred candidates that has a degree because it shows they can stick with something long-term until they achieved their goal. When I interview candidates as an art director, I don’t care about their education either, unless it was something unusual, like they never even finished high school. That’s when I get a bit concerned.
Q: Moving onto lighter questions, you’ve mentioned your passion for gaming. I’m very passionate for gaming as well, what would be some of your favourite games?
A: Check the “About Me” and “goodies” sections of my site–I have a page called “Influences” that lists everything I love (movies, music, games, artists…etc).
Q: Games are becoming more like high-budget films at a break-neck pace. Do you think this is a good direction for the video game industry?
A: Yes and no. The visceral impact is impressive and can really make your jaws drop, but there’s also less experimentation and innovation because every product has to turn a AAA level profit. With that said, I’m sort of guilty of buying into the big-budget AAA titles and don’t pay nearly as much attention to indie games as I should. This is mostly because my time is precious so I try to only play games that are highly regarded and has made a splash in the industry, so unless an indie game has garnered that kind of attention, I usually stick to the big AAA titles.
Q: Working with Sony Pictures Spider-Man 3 and Surfs Up hopefully would have been an incredible (and presumably well paying) experience. Could you describe how that experience was for you?
A: It was very stressful since half-way through the projects they raised my fee to double, but giving me only a fraction of the time to finish them. At first I had 3 or more days to do each piece, but once they doubled my fee I was only given a day per piece, so I wasn’t sleeping much at all. But it really pushed me to be resourceful and clever and choose my battles carefully when executing the pieces. It’s to date the most challenging gigs I’ve had because the caliber of the work had to be top-notch Hollywood level, but done very quickly.
Q: Soon you’ll begin teaching on CG Society (unless classes start as soon as your full) and I imagine this will be a very exciting learning experience for both you and your students. When you’re finished, do you expect to continue doing this workshop – or offer something completely different?
A: I will repeat the workshop for as long as there’s popular demand. It would be a shame if the workshop only ran once, after I’ve spent well over a year working hard on it. As far as tackling other subjects or focus, it’s all up in the air. For now, I’ll have to make sure this workshop does everything I designed it to do, and I’ll find out after its first run. Also, as creative people, we often go through cycles of learning, assessing, practicing…etc. After working on the workshop for so long, I’m totally ready to start my next cycle, which is to produce a lot of new works and take my own works to the next level.
Q: I saw your house and studio, both were absolutely stunning and being the tech enthusiast I am – the studio is my favourite part. Right now my studio consists of a small bedroom. To me having a studio like yours would really make me think of how far I’d come to be able to even have something like this. What does having your studio make you think?
A: It was also a dream-come-true for me to finally be able to design a studio from the ground up and construct it myself to my own ideals. But even then, compromises were made, since we’re not exactly rich. I wish it could be just a bit bigger so I can have a bit more room to work with–such as maybe putting in an acoustic piano or an additional drum kit. I also wish I’d have the room/budget to do a full-blown room-in-a-room construction so that all structural noises would be eliminated (such as some guy upstairs stomping around or hammering away at something). Acoustically, I’m quite happy with the acoustic treatment, but computer noise is still a problem and I’m working towards a solution right now (building a custom isolation cabinet). But even with the compromises, it’s my little piece of heaven–I spend all of my time in the studio. While we may never be totally satisfied and there’s always that premium piece of gear we want, the truth is, at some point in your studio’s evolution, you’ll hit a point where you pretty much have everything you need to create anything you can imagine, and whatever other gear lust you have are only luxuries, not necessities. That’s where I am now–I’m not missing anything, but I still have gear lust and want to upgrade certain pieces of gear. Knowing this is a calming feeling–that it’s no longer about you missing the gear you need to achieve a particular effect–it’s now all about how creative you can get.
Q: When it comes to software, what would be the most challenging one you’ve learned? Would you like to share your experiences with it?
A: I would say that in general, 3D software are by far the hardest to work with and are the most technical. Music, photography, writing, video, 2D…etc all have complex software too, but they are by nature not nearly as technical. That is perhaps the one thing that really turns me off about 3D–the highly technical nature of it all. Very often I feel like the ROI (Return On Investment) with 3D is not worth it for me personally. The same time and energy spent in music, drawing/painting, photography, shooting video…etc will yield me more creative fulfillment and fun, not to mention less frustrations and technical hurdles to jump over.
Q: You say you enjoy watching films on DVD with your wife, do you watch any television shows as well? Currently airing or on DVD.
A: The “Influences” page on my site lists them.
Q: Is there anything out there in the way of technology or software that you wish would be invented?
A: I fantasize about this all the time. Hand-held medical scanner that can detect any disease and its location, and then treat it ASAP. Completely reliable data storage/backup solution that’s also practical and cost-effective (maybe solid-state drives when they come down in price). Much more advanced and intuitive sample/physical modeling hybrid solutions for realistic musical instrument emulations. Cameras with far superior high ISO and auto-focus performance that’s as quick and dynamic as the human eye, so you’d never fudge a shot again. The perfect headphone that can easily rival the most expensive reference studio monitor speakers, including authentic and visceral sub-bass reproduction. Teleportation devices so we don’t have to fly/drive long distance ever again. The list goes on and on and on.
I finally finished Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 a while ago. My opinion of it hasn’t changed–it’s still a big Michael Bay-esque roller coaster ride with relentless and over-the-top action, and it’s a lot of fun without a lot of subtlety or substance. The credit roll with the museum set pieces were a big surprise, and I thought it was one of the most clever and interesting credit roll ideas I’ve ever experienced–right up there with Portal‘s adorable and hilarious ending song.
I’m not sure which game I’ll focus on finishing next. I did start on Dragon Age: Origins, but so far it’s not as compelling as I had hoped–at least not in the way that Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect were.
I’m currently looking to get one of the room correction products on the market (IK Multimedia ARC System, KRK Ergo, JBL MSC1, Samson D-1500, dbx Drive Rack PX…etc). Even though my studio is fully treated acoustically, it still isn’t perfect, and the room correction products will be the icing on the cake. I would never use one of these products to act as substitute or replacement for proper acoustic treatment, but as that extra icing on the cake, I think these products can be quite helpful. Once I decide on which one and have done the measurements and corrections, I’ll report back on how it went.
I recently purchased two software that I really love. One is the Isone Pro, and the other is the J River Media Center 14. Isone Pro is a plugin that makes your headphones sound like you’re listening to speakers in a room, thus eliminating listening fatigue that’s caused by the drastic stereo imaging inherent in headphones (that uncomfortabler “in your head” sound, which is the most dramatic when there are instruments panned hard right and hard left). Isone Pro allows you to set the distance of the virtual speakers, the size of your head and ears, and type of speaker cabinets used. I’ve tried other similar crossfeed plugins and they don’t come anywhere close to how natural the Isone Pro sounds. Redline Monitor is one such plugin, and it costs three times more than Isone Pro (which only costs $27), and it doesn’t really work all that better than the free Headphone plugin that comes with Media Center 14. None of the other crossfeed plugins actually sound like the sound is coming from speakers in front of you, and Isone Pro is the only one I’ve heard that does it. I’m assuming hardware units like the SPL Phonitor probably does something similar, but hardware units like that cost well over a grand. $27 vs. a grand. You do the math.
Media Center 14 is by far one of the very best media librarian/player on the market. It allows extensive customizing, is very robust and feature-rich, and now has native VST hosting, which was the main reason I finally upgraded from Media Jukebox (the free version of Media Center) to a paid license. Now that Media Center can host VST’s (and you can freely change the order of the activated plugins), one of my favorite things in the world is to listen to music late at night in Media Center while studying spectrum analyzers (Voxengo SPAN, Stillwell Audio Schope, Nugen Visualizer…etc), with the Isone Pro engaged, and play around with EQ’s (Voxengo GlissEQ, Fabfilter Pro-Q, Blue Cat’s Parametric EQ, EasyQ…etc). It helps me understand how some of my favorite songs were mixed and mastered, and in turn will help me improve in my audio production skills.
Quickie movie/TV reviews:
The Sopranos (season two~six) – I finally finished watching the entire series, and although I enjoyed some aspects of the show, I have to say that I feel it’s a bit overrated. While I appreciate the fact it broke new ground when it came out, I don’t really think it deserves the kind of rabid praise like “best TV show in the history of television.” For me personally, it’s important that a story contains some kind of transcendence, where the character(s) actually overcome some kind of obstacle and we see a metamorphosis happening–something is changed, and from that change comes a profound revelation of some kind, or at the very least an emotional catharsis. It doesn’t even have to have closure, but it must be cathartic, and intellectually we must have gained some valuable insight or understanding. With The Sopranos, we don’t really get any of that, or at least not the amount or intensity I had hoped for. In Goodfellas, we got a powerful and sobering closure when Henry looked into the camera and started speaking to us, the audience). In The Godfather, there was poetic and emotional catharsis–that operatic and visceral experience. In The Sopranos, we got a fucking anti-climatic riddle at the end that just wasn’t very satisfying (at least not in the way that we expected the ending to six long seasons to be). I have read all the different interpretations of the series finale, and whether the black silent screen meant it’s Tony getting whacked, or the audience getting whacked (no longer privileged to peek into their lives), it makes no difference–it just wasn’t emotionally satisfying. I so wished that someone in the show could’ve gotten out of that bleak world of violence and misery-maybe just packed up and drove away from it all to begin a new life, but no one did. Perhaps that was the message–that once you’re in that life, there’s no getting out, no transcendence, no redemption, no metamorphosis–just a dead end spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
In season 3, when the mash-up of Every Breath You Take and Peter Gunn played in the episode where the feds were tailing the Sopranos, I grinned like the Cheshire Cat. That was pretty damn clever.
Fantastic Mr. Fox – I was surprised by how well Anderson’s sense of rhythm for dialogue worked in perfect symphony with stop-motion animation. It was by far one of the most interesting and entertaining animated films I have seen in a long time, and I loved the fact that the film didn’t feel like it was aimed at children in any way. Often animated films aimed at adults can be a bit drab or pretentious, and this one really got the balance right in my opinion. Oh yeah, and no irritating and smug references to pop culture–thank God.