INTERVIEW George Manolache – how to become a real digital artist and work on Amazon and Disney productions like The Boys or Thor

George Manolache is a 3D artist from Brasov. He considers himself a self-taught artist, as most of the 3D knowledge he has gained so far has been through self-guided learning, with books, forums, videos and lots of practice. He has always been a car fan and his entry into the industry was a concept SUV he designed a few years ago. This animation helped him learn a lot about CGI and also got him a job as a lead 3D artist at a studio in Bucharest. Character modelling came to him a little later as a curiosity and a challenge that gave him more satisfaction than he anticipated.

He currently works as a Visual Effects Artist at one of Australia’s largest studios. Over the years he has contributed to projects such as Star Wars The Old Republic, Farcry, Destiny, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, and TV series such as Amazon’s The Boys. We spoke to him about what exactly it means to be a digital visual effects artist and the projects he’s worked on.

Ozana: What exactly is a VFX Artist? Tell me a bit about your career path, what projects you’ve worked on along the way, and how you came to do what you do today.

George: VFX (visual effects) artist is an umbrella term that includes a wider range of specializations such as modeling, texturing, lighting, layout, lookdev, match moving animation, DMP, compositing, etc. These artists create CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) for film, TV, games or other productions. In RSP, I hold the position of Senior 3D Modeler and I am in charge of creating 3D assets such as: vehicles, buildings, vegetation, people, animals, etc.

For me everything started at a young age with drawing, and when I was at the Art High School (Brasov), I discovered 3DsMax. At that time we didn’t have internet, information was hard to get, I gathered information wherever I could and managed on my own to learn modeling, texturing, lighting and a bit of post production in Photoshop. Although in my spare time I practiced 3D as a hobby, during college I was offered a job in 2D at an IT company as a graphic designer. After some time, I felt the need to make the step into 3D professionally and took a break from the field of work, where I prepared a portfolio.

One of my projects got a lot of attention in the local and international media, as a result of which I was offered a position as a 3D Artist at a company in Bucharest. Since then, I have oscillated between freelance and full time jobs, while constantly improving my portfolio with personal works. Among the coolest experiences was collaborating with one of the most famous studios in the world, Blur Studio, where, as Character Artist, I contributed to the cinematics of games such as Star Wars The Old Republic, Farcry, Destiny, Middle-earth: Shadow of War and others. Some time ago, I decided to apply to Rising Sun Pictures in Australia. The first project I landed was the TV series The Boys.

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Ozana: How useful do you think the traditional education in Romania, high school, college is in a field like the one you work in, as a digital visual effects artist?

George: It’s only useful to a certain extent. If you rely solely on the educational system, I don’t think you can get very far. I’m a self-taught person and 90% of the skills I’ve acquired have been on my own, out of passion. Although my major wasn’t in the arts (I’m an automation engineer), I also learned a bit of programming, occasionally I do some scripting to help me in 3D.

Ozana: What advice would you give to a digital art enthusiast who wants to follow in your footsteps, what should they learn?

George: I still consider myself to be at the beginning of my journey. At least in VFX, “I barely scratched the surface”. What I can say is that digital art is a very competitive and vast field. At first, you have to choose what suits you (probably the most difficult step) and then insist on that choice to the level of obsession. You have to understand that results come after hard work and sacrifice. You should not look for shortcuts, because there are none. From a technical point of view, I recommend being software agnostic, i.e. not being particularly attached to one software. Every studio has its own pipeline, the artist has to adapt. Also, start building a portfolio, post on specialist sites, accept criticism and don’t get discouraged.

Ozana: What editing, creative, production software have you used in your career that you consider most relevant now and in the future?

George: Over the years, I’ve gone through several departments, where I’ve used a wider range of programs. I started with 3DsMax and Photoshop, Illustrator for vector graphics. Modeling in Maya, 3DsMax, Zbrush and Mudbox. Cloth simulation in Marvelous Designer. Rendering engines: V-Ray, Arnold, FStorm. Substance Painter/Designer and Mari for texturing. After Effects and Nuke for compositing and video editing. I also used Mocha for roto, Pftrack for camera tracking and the list goes on. In VFX, with some exceptions, I think the most relevant is Maya.

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Ozana: You work at one of the biggest VFX studios in Australia, how did you get hired there, what was the recruitment process like?

George: No matter how experienced you are in a field, every now and then you need a bit of luck. A friend showed me the advert and I applied. A few days later, I was contacted for a first interview, and two days after that, a second interview. Then an offer came. Getting the visa took a bit longer, but the most difficult hurdle was the pandemic, because of which my flight was cancelled several times.

Ozana: How long did you work on Thor: Love and Thunder and what was the most difficult scene, if you can provide such details?

George: I was on the project for about nine months, during which time I contributed to a lot of shots. In VFX, the responsibilities are shared, and a single shot encompasses the work of several dozen artists. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to give details at the moment. It’s frustrating not to be able to concretely show what my contribution is, especially when it can be seen throughout most of the film.

Ozana: Given the paradigm shifts in the job market in recent years, can you tell me what the work schedule is like where you currently work? Is there a possibility of remote work, do you often work overtime?

George: I live 15 minutes away from my job (walking distance) and have the freedom to work from home. I prefer to go to the studio, but there was a period during the pandemic when the Australian authorities required remote working. Eight hours a day and a minimum of 38 hours a week. There are periods when work is very light, but also “crunch times” when you do overtime. I don’t shy away from overtime because overtime pays OK. You also have the option to refuse (no repercussions).

Ozana: Would you go back to Romania permanently?

George: Of course, if circumstances are right. I have to admit that I’ve had quite a few less than OK experiences in Bucharest, but things are evolving here too, so I don’t rule out the possibility.

Ozana: What do you think will be the evolution of computer graphics in the next few years?

George: A.I. is working wonders. It’s being used more and more, even in VFX. I know some people are wondering if we’re going to lose our jobs. I also recommend the lime tea. We’re not there yet.

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