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With a background in the prepress world, Ron Sullivan knows the entire print production process – from film separations, color proofs, scanner operations, to image retouching. His background led to a career at major, nation-wide retailer based in Texas – where Ron develops rich, interactive elements that enhance their customers’ online shopping experience. Ron describes how he discovered modo and how it has changed the way he approaches image production work and retouching, utilizing techniques he calls “photo retopo.”
Ron, please tell us about your background and how you got into working with 3D?
The first 10 years of my career were spent in trade shops working in prepress houses. My responsibilities spanned the entire production process, such as contacting film separations for press, film proofs for visual approval, scanner operations, image retouching, assistant photographer and sales support. I later took a job with my current employer, working in the digital imaging group that traditionally produced print catalogs. This opened a door to a newly formed interactive imaging group, which is where I am today. Our group’s primary objective is to enhance the customer’s online shopping experience by providing multiple color and pattern sku options and linking them to swatches for customer interactivity. We create many of these skus from an original photograph, utilizing image editing software for color creations and an image production system for pattern overlays.
We began to research other tools for enhancing our workflow and 3D began to surface as a viable solution. We wanted a way to create backgrounds for silo’d product shots in order to optimize the use of these images. Further research on the 3D applications available in the marketplace yielded modo as the most viable platform to help us meet our objective. No one in our group had any solid 3D experience and modo had the only interface that we thought was intuitive and user-friendly for the novice user. We began our training with Dan Alban’s 301 Spotlight as well as anything Andrew Brown published. However, I would say the majority of my training came from the no-cost Luxology.tv page as well as the constant flow of information shared in the professional community. I was hooked!
You have a developed a process called “photo retopo” – can you elaborate on what you mean by that, please?
I was first introduced to “retopology” through Andrew Brown’s Bee tutorial. I initially understood this to be a tool for animators to create models more efficiently, going from a high poly model to lower. I began to consider where I could use this tool in my pipeline. It took me a while to figure this out because the start of my process is a 2D image and retopology was for 3D bee’s... I was completely mistaken. I found that this application was the same I had used for years as a retouch artist/illustrator. Often times we are challenged with re-creating an entire part of a photo. So we start with a base and build on top of that: paint-dodge-burn-erase, paint-dodge-burn-erase… I began to ask “what if I could have full control of the base, its perspective, its shading, its LIGHTING?”... and in my best English accent spoke out the words as Andrew himself would say them, “Retopologize”. So I learned to use background images and place geometry on top of an item in order to add to, or in many cases, take away elements of a photo. As a result, the dreaded re-shoot was minimized with this added flexibility.
In addition to this, I had experience overlaying patterns in a 2D space onto different fabrications using another application that attempts to wrap repeatable tiles on to clothing or furniture. modo’s UV Mapping made this possible in a 3D space, which in most cases, creates a more believable result. I was happy to learn that I coined the new phrase, “Photo-Retopo”.
Do you ever create synthetic backgrounds for photographics that have been shot “silo”?
Yes. That was actually our first use for 3D.
A recurring problem when compositing is simply camera property differences such as focal length, lighting, and perspective. We began to demonstrate that a viable option for compositing was to join a silo’d photo with a 3D background. This approach allows us to emulate the original photo’s perspective, lighting, gamma and many other properties. Not to mention we could create backgrounds that matched the style as well as seasonal promotion.
As someone who has worked in both 2D and 3D, please shed some light on whether the effort to learn 3D has been worth it and whether your 2D skills are as valuable as ever?
For a while I did not consider myself a “3D artist”. I assumed that designation was reserved for the game developers and animation experts. I now understand that 3D has a huge application in the 2D world. I was recently approached about a watch that was sizing up to poster size but was shot at a much smaller size for catalog. I was shown an example and obviously the original resolution did not hold up. I was asked if I could create it in modo at poster size. With just a few reference photos, I was able to create the watch from scratch and from modeling to the final render, I was able to produce the desired result. Additionally, we have helped our Product Development team conceptualize artwork with more photo-real renders and have offered our services to assist our Packaging Design team.
In my free time, modo helps me conceptualize designs I introduce to an online inventors forum. I cannot draw. Drawing line for line does not compute in my brain, but I am able to visualize shapes in 3D. modo allows me to create the concepts for my ideas in minutes.
What 3D tools do you use and where does modo fit in?
modo offers everything I need in a 3D application. I am interested in the discussion about the alternative applications but as a “3D artist”, modo feels like home!
Luxology would like to thank Ron Sullivan for his time!
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