Featured Artist: Greg Zorrilla, San Francisco
My name is Greg Zorrilla. I was born and raised in New York City in the borough of Queens, one of the most diverse places in the world. Currently I am working as a Freelance Effects artist in San Francisco (Isn’t everyone freelance now?). I love long walks on the beach and whenever I have time between projects I always try to find new ways to digitally recreate beach scenes. Below you can follow my chat with GridMarkets, my favorite render service for Houdini.
How did you get into 3D graphics and specifically into Houdini?
My first experience with 3D graphics was as a teenager visiting my friend’s South Bronx apartment. He showed me a 3D animated scene of a grand abandoned temple with eye opening visuals of fire, bones and elements of dark ambience. I was already an avid artist, but right then and there I knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living. So I aggressively started to pursue my new goal.
The industry was in its infancy and it was mostly programmers penetrating the 3D graphics job market. Artists had minimal influence, since 3D graphics entailed skills that were heavy on scripting and programming – which I lacked at the time. This didn’t deter me however. I enrolled in the School of Visual Effects and Animation at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. At the same time I worked on my coding skills and developed my artistic and professional skills by retouching photography and by accepting gigs as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator.
During the final year of my coursework at the Academy of Art I took a Houdini course and I was hooked. After graduating with a BFA in Visual Effects and Animation, Houdini became my software of choice.
What do you consider the foundation of your work?
I have always been an avid artist who enjoyed using traditional media. Growing up Bob Ross’s PBS shows had a big influence on my work. He would always paint withering trees and flowing oceans on canvas. I would watch his still paintings and I would imagine those flowing organic elements move. It was only natural that these thoughts would eventually lead me to develop a career in visual effects. However, my faith and my love for traditional media are the foundation of my creative work. To this day, I consider that my understanding of color and light is a crucial skill when developing visual effects.
Of course creating digital art, and Houdini effects in particular, also involves learning math to develop expressions. Thankfully, if you’re a geek like me, it is a treat to look under the hood to figure out how I can mathematically make my work more appealing.
What fuels your creativity?
What helps my work is getting out of my proverbial computer dungeon and actually living life. In my early college years of creating animation, my proclivity was to stay seated for countless hours and, hopefully, I would be able to create something that looked “realistic.” But since then I have figured out that going to the beach and enjoying myself, taking wilderness trips and going on a hike actually helps me tremendously as a visual effects artist. My job is to emulate life. You should have one in order to create it! My wife and I make going out and enjoying nature a priority. It’s important for me psychologically and creatively and it helps me connect with my Creator.
How does GridMarkets help you in your work as an artist?
Visual Effects work is very time consuming and high-resolution effects tend to be computationally intensive. This is where GridMarkets comes in. I tried rendering my work with one lone computer from home, but to no avail. One frame would take 8 hours. My clients had to wait for a long time to get their jobs completed and that was just not an option. Initially I tried to solve my problems by searching online for a good render farm, but that failed as well as I couldn’t find any render service functional enough to complete the renders to my satisfaction.
But finally, hands down, I would have to say that GridMarkets saved the day. Their service was the most effective and efficient avenue to get my work done. Being a visual effects artist is already technically exhausting and the last thing I needed was a meticulous process to submit my renders to a server. GridMarkets utilizes Houdini’s nodes, so connecting a simple node to send out a render was much easier than the complex process other rendering services offer. Now, whenever I send out significant work GridMarkets is my choice render solution.
What do you specialize in and what is your favorite work?
I specialize in dynamics work. I love creating atmospheric elements like fire, water, dust and debris. My previous work as a painter and sculptor pointed me in that direction. Sure, I love modeling objects, but there is nothing more visually satisfying than to watch something fluid and graceful like smoke rising from volcanic activity, leaves blowing off the ground, or a whale splashing against the waves. Appreciation for paintings and works of art conveying such imagery is what drives my visual effects work.
How would you encourage others to survive and thrive in the industry?
I’d like to suggest some key strategies that help me to focus and to be successful as an artist and as a professional.
Firstly: Create personal projects to help you develop your skills. I don’t just watch tutorials; I like to do projects that will help me incorporate the things I’ve learned.
Secondly: Get out of your Facebook and Twitter page for a few days, get up out of your chair, muster some fortitude and actually talk to people face-to-face— network! I love going to local meet-up groups to get the latest updates on the industry and to find new clients and offer my services to them.
Thirdly: Be an aggressive business person and find supplemental income in between projects. What does this look like in practical terms? Contact your local creative agency and find gigs that might be out of your comfort zone. This will help you build supplemental income to pay the rent, stay creative, and have steady work. It will also allow you to build up a clientele that may eventually bring you projects in your area of interest.
Avoid speculative work, that is, work done for free, in hopes of eventually getting paid for it. This may or may not happen. Your work is valuable and so is your time. The only work you should be doing is the one that will help your retirement fund and health insurance. Good clients will want to pay for your creative services and your knowledge – and they are out there. Go find them!
Lastly: Get over your impostor syndrome. You might not know how to model a spaceship dropping crowds of aliens into a pool of lava. But you can learn how to do it. Figure it out! As one seasoned mentor once told me: “Being in this industry is not about having all your ducks in a row and knowing how to do everything—it’s about solving problems.” If you know how to solve problems, then you are an extremely valuable asset to any production.
Look under the hood, be curious and be daring.
Greg Zorilla 2016
By: Patricia Cornet