Surfacing artists bring three-dimensional models to life; they add texture and color to the 3-D characters, environments, and props in an animated feature to enhance their visual appeal. Part of the credit for the ratatouille in Ratatouille looking good enough to eat goes to the surfacing team.
Surfacing artists are master digital painters. They enhance the appearance of characters, props, and environments in an animated feature film according to the visual style set forth by the art director, production designer, and director of the film. The surfacing artist is responsible for technically demanding and complex surfacing setups. They work closely with the modeling and lighting departments to ensure that surfacing needs are met alongside the needs of other departments. These artists use computer rendering environments such as Body Paint, Maya, Renderman, Zbrush, Mudbox, or Photoshop to develop the needed surface materials, textures, and UV maps that overlay 3-D models. They must produce consistent, high-quality work while maintaining a steady flow of assignments into the pipeline and meeting rigid deadlines.
Skills & Education
Being a surfacing artist requires creativity and an eye for design elements such as detail, scale, composition, color, and form. The artist must be able to learn new programs and create in different visual styles as required; an understanding of polygonal and NURBS texturing and UV mapping and layout is necessary. Knowledge of modeling and lighting/shading is a plus, since surfacing artists work in tandem with these departments. Artists will be very desirable if they have additional experience in advanced surface types, global illumination, and subsurface scattering. Educational requirements are not as important to landing the job as relevant industry experience and a killer demo reel, but a bachelor’s degree in computer animation will give you a competitive edge.
What to Expect
You may have been a talented artist in your childhood; now you are painting with complex equations and specialized software. Expect to work “alone in a crowd”: You may be part of a large team, but you’ll probably be interacting more with your mouse and screen than anyone who can talk back to you. Expect eyestrain, incipient carpal tunnel syndrome, and the satisfaction of shouting “That’s mine!” when the most lifelike fur, scales, or lava ever animated pops up on the cineplex screen.
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