Leeis one of my favourite Blender Artists as he is so involved with the community – you may know him better as LohnS
He boasts a rather amazing set of skills, particularly in animation, and has worked on some Star Wars Video Games with LucasArts as well as working on two of the three Blender Foundation Open Movies, namely Elephants Dream and Sintel.
Recently he released an impressive Character Creation training video (Volume 1: Modeling) and is currently in the process of finalizing the second part of it (Volume 2: Rigging).
But this is an interview! So let’s leave the rest for him to tell.
Who are you and what are you doing here?
I just happened to see the door was unlocked so I snuck in! My name is Lee Salvemini and I’m a huge fan of Blender, have also been very lucky to take part in a couple of the Blender Open Movies.
Do you even know where you are right now?
It’s quite dark! There is a sign saying ‘You must answer the following interview questions correctly to live.’ Welp, let’s hope I do ok!
Dude where’s my car?
Where’s your car dude??
Should we start the actual interview now?
Sweet, what’s mine say?? ehem… I mean yes, let’s get on with the very serious actual interview questions.
How did you get involved in the Blender Foundation and it’s films?
Well originally I was doing quite a bit of music and some acting at school, but I was already a huge fan of video games and also loved the Pre-Rendered openings to games like Final Fantasy VIII. I did some work experience at an internet cafe that also taught Maya, I couldn’t afford it at the time but one of the staff mentioned there were 3D programs you could download for free! So that night I went on a download spree, found Blender and never looked back.
I was involved a huge amount with the community over the next 3 or so years, and loved sharing my work on BlenderArtists.org and #Blenderchat IRC channel which allowed me to improve thanks to the critique of other artists. Ton really wanted people involved in the community to be on board for the first Open Movie, Elephants Dream. So I applied and was very lucky indeed to be selected!
What do you think is a common mistake that Blender users make?
For a hobbyist or those wanting to make a portfolio in the hope of getting a job, the biggest mistake I see is not aiming big enough on personal projects, basically not making enough mistakes! People may scoff at you for wanting to make a feature or a big short film (mind you a Blender feature film by one person has been made!), but there are no consequences for failure in your own hobby project, even with a team, so make what you really would love to see made! Worst case scenerio you have a few cool shots for your reel and you know how to get further next time.
For personal projects I work on something that makes me giddy when I first plan it, something so awesome that it will keep me motivated past the tough or challenging spots especially once that initial euphoria fades. And always those tough points are where I learnt the most and my skills really leaped.
Also recruiters for CG or Video Game companies I found are much more likely to hire someone (even over someone who studied CG in university) if they show they’ve made personal work in their free time. It shows passion, which to a company means you will stick it out through the deadlines, something they really value.
What do you think is the best way for a beginner to learn Blender?
I think there were only about 5 Blender tutorials when I started learning, I had to go to 3ds max tutorials and try to translate the techniques.
These days the resources available are amazing! If I could sum up a good method for learning Blender it would be: Read/watch 5 tutorials on a subject (like modeling a human head), give it a shot, fail, read/watch 5 more tutorials and have another go. I found after a few horrible failures trying to model a human head, something just clicked, a mix of about 2 or 3 different tutorial’s techniques making my own custom method, and I was able to model a human head fine every time since! The ‘click’ moment where it just works is so satisfying, and a few of us almost liken it to a ‘level up’.
Has your background in music and acting helped in anyway with your Blender career?
Oh yes having music and acting in my background has come in so handy with various Blender projects I’ve worked on. When it comes to sound and music editing, my background in music has allowed me to do a lot of sound and foley work myself. I also even recentlytookevening acting classes down the road from the Video Game company I worked at a while ago. So it’s never too late to take either up as a bit of a side hobby and enjoy the cross over benefits.
Animation and Acting ‘blocking’ I found are exactly the same, and for most animated shots I do, I’ll video reference of myself acting it out, and the choices I make there I find really make an impact all the way down to final animation, good acting choices = good animation!
What inspired you to start the Character Creation training video series?
I had ideas on doing some video tutorials even as far back as 2006. Though I think being a bit of a perfectionist I really felt I wasn’t good enough yet to teach. It wasn’t until some time after I really pushed myself to ‘give it a go’. I did a couple of video tutorials for 2.49 and started to get the hang of video tutorial creation. This was just as I was about to begin work on Sintel, so I decided I’ll wait until that production is out of the way and we have our fancy new Blender 2.5.
I was talking with Chris Plush (Yo Frankie!) who had already made some awesome video training a few years ago, about the large scale training I was hoping to do. With our complimentary skills as a starting point, and the hope we can invite more skilled Blender users to share their wisdom, we decided to make our own little island for tutorials, thus CGMasters.net was born. Characters were what I spent most of my time creating in Blenderso it felt the right topic to begin with myself.
What future projects do you have?
Oh the future is always exciting with plans! I keep myself looking forward to the year to come. Right now I’m working on the final editing of my Rigging training DVD, as well as a whole bunch of free tutorials to share.
I’m also doing my best to get Blender being taught in most Schools here at my homeland of Australia, as well as around the world.
Past that I have plans for a couple more training resources on rendering and animation/short film creation.
For next year, I’m putting together a team to create an Indie videogame using Blender for most if not all the art assets! Really exciting!
Would you consider making more free tutorials?
Definitely! In between larger training DVD projects I usually will take a month or two where I’ll create only free tutorials and training, and just freelance a little to keep up with rent.
I’m also looking into possibly some free live online workshops using realtime screen presentation! I had done a couple in the past and really loved the instant feedback and questions. Well, it’s just a pipe dream right now but we’ll see if I can make it a reality in the near future.
When you aren’t busy Blendering (or anything else computer related), what do you get up to?
Ah, free time… what is that again? haha. Well I do make sure to balance my time so I’m not being too much of a workoholic. I always keep an evening or 2 free each week to catch up with friends. It’s winter in Australia now so I usually have one videogame I like to play when I get the chance. I also like to keep fit when possible so I sometimes join in my friends indoor soccer team, but come summer you’ll see me out playing a whole lot of Tennis with the local amateur club.
What’s you’re favourite future or present Blender feature?
Whoa tough one to narrow down, Blender development,especially after becoming Open Source, just amazes me to no end. I think being an animator I can’t bear the long render wait times, so even though I haven’t had the chance to use it myself yet, Cycles looks like a real game changer for Blenders rendering system. Go Brecht!
Do you like African snakes and mushrooms?
Yes! And also Badgers!
Thanks for your time Lee!