Jason Martin believes in the power of hard work.
That’s a good thing, because his first job after graduating from 3D Animation & Visual Effects at VFS was with California-based Blur Studio, which has won the respect of the entire industry for the quality of its visual effects, animation, and design work. Blur’s game cinematics are second to none.
For a character artist like Jason, it’s the big leagues. And it’s not hard to see why: his professional portfolio is a rogue’s gallery of instantly recognizable game characters. The Joker from the upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum 2. A Big Daddy for BioShock 2. Key characters from Dragon Age: Origins, Dante’s Inferno, and the acclaimed sequel to Mass Effect.
In fact, when you pick up a physical copy of BioShock 2 in the store, it’s his iconic Big Daddy staring back at you on the cover.
We recently caught up with Jason – while he had a tight deadline looming, no less – to find out more about his work and his career since graduating from VFS in 2007.
Hi, Jason. First of all, let’s hit the real basics – could you explain to our readers what, exactly, a character artist at Blur is responsible for?
Jason: One thing I really love about Blur is that we both model and texture our characters. The characters stay with the artist from creation to the end of the line. We rarely ever hand off characters unless something unusual comes up requiring such.
That being said, having ownership of a character brings on a great bit of responsibility and pride. It’s always an awesome feeling to see the final product knowing that it’s your hard work. Generally, we’re handed some concept or possibly a game asset, and from there it’s off to the races. The concept or game assets vary in quality and detail so you never know when and where you have to fill in the blanks of the design. Personally, those are the most fun! I think we all enjoy being able to put a little bit of our own into a design.
You’ve gotten to work with some huge IPs and characters – the Joker, Big Daddies… Wow. What kind of turnaround time do you usually get with something like that? Does the fact that these characters are so high-profile push you as an artist, do you think, or does it just add to the pressure?
Jason: Schedules for characters vary depending on the budget and shots you see them in. Generally, for “Hero” characters, we’re given around 15 to 18 days for the whole package.
Getting the chance to work on Big Daddy and the Joker was amazing. Such a great opportunity. I consider myself blessed to get the chance to breathe life into such iconic characters. It was scary at first, but you just put your head down and get to it – soon enough things start falling into place. There’s always the pressure, but I just do my best to harness that and try to take the character to the next level.
That Big Daddy… I take it that was actually used for the Bioshock 2 box art, which is beyond awesome. What was it like to see that?
Jason: I was totally taken by surprise! I was actually walking by a game store and saw a poster up for BioShock 2 and was, like, “Is that my character?” So I ran in there and sure enough they had used him for the box art! An awesome experience all around.
Looking back a few years – briefly, where are you from, and what drew you to Vancouver and VFS in the first place?
Jason: I’m originally from Manchester, Maryland, a small town just north of Baltimore. I was finishing up college out west in Las Vegas, Nevada when I first stumbled upon VFS. I was wrapping up my Bachelor’s in Media Arts and Animation and found myself having just a general knowledge of 3D. I knew I wanted to model characters but I also knew I wasn’t where I needed to be just yet. I started seeing some amazing reels coming out of the modeling stream at VFS and I was hooked on finding out more. I researched the school, talked with a few graduates, gathered some more info, and worked out my finances. The next thing I knew, I was in Vancouver, eager for the next step.
Was Blur your first paying gig out of VFS? Looking back, what was the transition to the big leagues like?
Jason: Yes, Blur was my first paying gig. My transition into Blur wasn’t necessarily an easy one. Blur is a very high-tempo work environment and moving into that right out of school wasn’t easy. It was kind of like being thrown into the deep end, my first year there was sort of like a boot camp. I’m very lucky to work with such friendly and talented artists, and they were always there to help me along the way. It was hard, but such an amazing learning experience. I look back and realize just how much I learned in that period.
VFS and Pixologic entered into an official partnership earlier this year, which means ZBrush is going to be a strong part of the curriculum in the 3D program going forward. From your perspective as a pro who uses ZBrush, what’s your take on that?
Jason: I think it’s excellent. ZBrush is such a huge part of my workflow. I look forward to it growing and becoming more and more production friendly. It’s so widely used these days, I think making it a larger part of the curriculum is a very good thing.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps, what would it be?
Jason: You can’t get anywhere without determination and a strong work ethic. If you really want it, be prepared to do the ground work to get there. Focus on your base skills over learning programs. Developing your eye is far more important than learning all the latest applications. Your software is going to be always changing, they are just your tools. In the end, they won’t make you a better artist. Spend the time to develop your eye and form first.
Thanks, Jason! Readers should check out Jason’s portfolio site at BelieveDeceiver.com – some incredible artwork there. You can also glean some insight on some of the work on this ZBrushCentral thread.
And, as an extra bonus, here’s the 2007 demo reel Jason created at VFS. Metal Slug-y goodness that still holds up today!