Ian Spriggs is a 3D artist from Canada, specialized in likeness portraits.
You may have seen on 3D galleries the portrait of his friend Tony. I can’t see a better sign of brotherhood than making a likeness portrait for weeks for your best friend!
As you will have a glimpse, likeness is a very demanding specialty. Ian Spriggs portraits requires hours of practices, knowledge, references, and a little more than that: humanity.
Ian also shares from time to time his knowledge for the 3D community with tutorials on 3D magazines.
Ian Spriggs – Digital portrait of a 3D artist
Hello Ian! Very happy to have you here on Better Digital Artist. Can you please describe yourself to the readers?
Hi! Thanks for talking with me. I am Ian Spriggs, a 3D Character/Portrait Artist. I work as a freelancer, creating digital doubles and creatures. And in my own time, I create digital portraits.
I am currently located in Vancouver and have been in the industry since 2006. Portraits are my main focus. I love seeing and being able to understand someone from how they present us, how they view people. It’s like a window into the subject and the artist. The complexity of this is huge, and it has been a challenge since the dawn of art.
How did you come to the 3D world ?
My brother suggested to go to Seneca Animation school. At the time, I was living in Montreal trying to get some work as an artist, with no luck having a degree, and my money was running low. He mentioned to me that Seneca was still accepting. It was as if a light bulb went off.
I actually didn’t think at the time that working for the film industry was even an option. When you grew up with movies done by artists that were in your eyes at an unreachable level, you really felt that only the best in the world could do this job. Then you find out that it is possible to be part of it. I knew instantly that this was my path.
I started my career at Starz animation in Toronto, working on Veggie Tales, then worked my way up.
” I want to know what makes us human “
Recently, I saw your impressive portrait of Tony everywhere on the web. Who is Tony ? Can you tell us more about this project ?
Tony is my old time friend. And we are friends for almost 20 years now. Believe it or not, he is a high school math teacher. I like the impression he gives that he is a punk, a tough guy, but really he is friendly and always willing to help people. This is what I wanted to show when I did his portrait. He has that friendly welcoming smile but also a contradictory punk tough guy attitude.
You are mastering likeness on 3D. And this artwork and your stunning portfolio speak for themselves. Why did you choose this path in 3D ? Do you like the pain ?
Representing people is the hardest challenge we have faced in art. I can not think of anything else harder to do. Each of us is exploring faces everyday. We look at faces when we communicate. When we look in the mirror, we understand the subtleties more than anything else. You can even tell if someone is faking a smile, which shows how adaptive we have become to understand a face.
However, we still don’t know how to translate this understanding to a digital human. Everything we do understand is unconscious.
There’s an MIT computer program which reveals invisible motion and makes it visible. From a video, it takes the changing pixels and amplifies them 100x, so the tiny color variation you get when your blood rushes through your face is amplified, and you are able to visually see the blood flow.
I believe we see this when we talk to each other. We might not be able to be aware of it but our subconscious sees it. So when it comes to digital humans, how are we able to make these choices to create this when we are not even aware of what we see ? We choose the variables at the top of the list and add them and hope we got enough variables to make a realistic digital human.
I chose the path to do 3d portraits because I want to know what makes us human.
” The challenge for the Portrait of Tony was to make you hear what he was thinking “
You are saying on the description of Tony that no scans were used. Was this image a challenge ?
I did not use a scan in this portrait, but scan or no scan, the image would have been challenging regardless. I do not find using scans diminishes the amount of work needed. In fact, using scans can limit the creative process. You could get stuck by only drawing in the lines and not seeing what else could be possible.
The image was a challenge because it was important for me not to get stuck in the technical aspects. The emotion was by far more important. In 3D it is so easy to get caught up in focusing on the correct render settings, the correct skin shader, the proper shader setups, etc… To make a portrait, it is more important to know what it is you’re expressing.
I heard when they were making the Gollum for Lord of the Rings, they added lines for Gollum when he wasn’t speaking, these were lines for his thoughts, so when the animators animated between dialogue he still came across as being real.
The challenge for the Portrait of Tony was to make you hear what he was thinking.
Do you have a regular workflow ? Which tools do you daily use and why ? What do you need to know as a 3D artist specialized in characters like you ?
I use Maya, Mudbox, Photoshop, Vray and a camera. The camera is for taking photo references, something I find not enough people do. Without reference you start imagining what it looks like and when creating a likeness imagination is not trust worthy.
And I use these programs because I just like them, I know them inside and out so I don’t get stuck on technical issues and I can just create. But I think the real magic to doing 3D is time, patience and a good eye.
I know you want me to give you a specific answer for this, but how to become specialized in 3d characters it isn’t like a “choose path A option or path B option” and your done, there is no path you do what you want.
Every artist has a different workflow, every artist does something different, you can learn some tricks and tips from people through tutorials, but the stuff you need to know to specialize 3d characters is really up to the artist.
It also comes down to life experiences, how much do you want it, what story do you want to share, and what does your character have to say.
” ‘What’s the point?’ – it’s an idea that needs to be erased, it doesn’t offer anything. “
Where does your inspiration come from ?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the masters of art: Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, Van Dyck.
The highlight of art for me was the baroque period, these painting still speak to us today, the people in these paintings you can relate to as if they lived yesterday, the emotion and life you can feel from them is amazing.
This feeling they created is what I want in my work, not sure if I will ever reach it but I want to try.
Do you have any tips to stay inspired?
Not sure how anyone could not be inspired, we live in one of the most exciting times when it comes to technology, we are the pioneers of digital art, we are doing things never been done before.
We have a wealth of art from a span of centuries at our finger tips. We have bigger communities and support than ever before. We can practically create anything we imagine. If you are low on inspiration, open up a book, listen to music, draw something, have a real conversation with someone, travel, just do something, anything.
The thought that I think affects people is “what’s the point?’, it’s an idea that needs to be erased, it doesn’t offer anything.
The point of everything is to live, and how do you do that, you connect, share, create art, move, act. There is actually too much inspiration. Your question should really have been ‘Do you have any tips on how to not get overloaded on inspiration?‘.
Are there any great references of artists you love that you could share with us ?
There are too many to count. I keep a list of all my favorite portraits on my Pinterest : Ian Spriggs – Pinterest
And last question which can brings multiple questions : what did I forget to ask you ?
Hmm not sure, I guess I didn’t answer the question from before ‘do I like the pain?‘ It was kinda a hard question, it is a yes and no answer. Art is not easy, anyone who is successful is successful because they put themselves out there for critique, they open themselves up and risk it all, sometimes it is good and other times not so good, but the feeling that you did something is enormous and that makes it worth it.
Many thanks Ian Spriggs for this interview!
You can find the works of Ian here:
And as always, if you are a digital artist with cool content, and want to discuss about it, please send me an email (top right icon).