Working as a 3D Lookdev Artist in MPC Film's Character Lab

Working as a 3D Lookdev Artist in MPC Film's Character Lab

David Blaya, a Lightbox Academy alumnus and 3D Lookdev Artist at MPC Film London's Character Lab, shares his journey into his career in Visual Effects.

Want a successful career working in VFX? David Blaya, a Lightbox Academy alumnus, is a 3D Lookdev Artist at MPC Film London's Character Lab. David sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

Key Lookdev Artist. I am responsible for creating the shaders for hero assets.

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

I work at MPC Film. This is where magic happens and many of the blockbusters you watch are made here. In this last year I had the opportunity to work on films like Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, and in an upcoming Disney’s live action movie.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

I grew up loving dinosaur documentaries and drawing monsters in my spare time. However, I never thought that the film industry was an option to me so I decided to study Advertising in University.

Personal work, David Blaya.

I like Advertising but I realised that my passion was in another place. What makes me feel more excited is nothing but movies, video games and animals; that’s why I wanted to share that passion and spread it among other people.

How did you get your first big break?

Surprisingly, it was during the pandemic. At that moment I was working as a freelancer from home and I received an offer from Belgium to join Walking the Dog as a Texture Artist. They considered me during a very difficult time, and I am really grateful to them!

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

To be honest it was a happy accident that brought me here. After working as a generalist for more than 4 years in a virtual simulator company I decided to jump into the film industry. I joined a master degree to learn Organic Modelling with ZBrush.

Personal work, David Blaya.

But I felt that my renders didn’t look too good so I found a Lookdev course and I thought it could be great to learn something in order to push my models to the next level. Surprisingly I found that stage of the pipeline quite fun and that’s why I’m doing it now.

Why did you choose to study at Lightbox Academy?

It’s all about the instructors. When I’m about to join a course, the first thing I investigate is about the person who teaches that discipline, and Lightbox Academy has amazing professionals always happy to help you and make you feel like working in a real studio.

How does your education complement your work?

The education I received was a boost to bring me where I wanted. I had the opportunity to give my first steps with ZBrush taught by Manu Mané, learn about anatomy with Gaël Kerchenbaum, and discovering lookdev with Miguel Castrillo.

All of my mentors, and the [instructors at Lightbox Academy] shared with me not only their knowledge, but also their experiences in the industry.
Personal work, David Blaya.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

Me and the team usually have a catch up with the Lead to see what’s priority in the day. Once the tasks are clear we start the production! One of the most common assignments we have is addressing the notes given in previous dailies.

We have daily sessions almost everyday. In these sessions we have a call with the VFX supervisor, where we show our work and they give us notes or ways to improve the asset. With this constant follow up we all make sure that the asset is in good tracks. At the end of the day we set the renders to submit in the next daily session.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

Usually I work with Katana, Mari, Substance 3D Painter, Maya and Nuke. When sculpting, I go with ZBrush.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

When I’m texturing, I work closely with the modelling team. For lookdev, we are in contact with lighting. In case the lookdev step implies some groom, then the grooming team is added too.

Real-time render engines are something that have to be taken into account!

One thing you’d never change about your job?

The VFX industry is constantly evolving and upgrading itself. That means that there is always something new to learn and skills to improve, if you enjoy the loop that’s exciting.

Personal work, David Blaya.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

As I said before, lack of pre-rendering is time consuming. It would be great to have a more standardised software with the best of both worlds being part of the industry.

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

Not really. It is more about what you can offer as an artist rather than where you learnt. However, having good instructors definitely helps you to grow faster and can guide you in this journey as well.

Why would you recommend your school to others?

Lightbox Academy is definitely one of the best choices for Spanish speakers. The different degrees are not hermetics. Just as a business, there is a strong connection between all the disciplines and the people inside.

But also it has been like a family for me. The treatment received was excellent, I was a student more than four years ago and we are still in contact.

What do you wish you knew about the industry before you started?

There are so many disciplines and probably in the future there will be even more. Don’t get upset for not being aware of all of them and do not hesitate to ask, this is a narrow industry and the artists are always happy to explain what they do!

If you could give one piece of advice to artists trying to get a job, what would it be?

Keep updating your portfolio. When you are working in a big studio you’ll probably work with the same asset for a long time, which is cool for one side,  but don’t forget that they also encourage artists to keep learning beyond those projects.

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

When a company is hiring it is because they have a necessity and they are looking for someone who helps to solve it. As a candidate your mission is to prove that you’re gonna solve it.

Personal work, David Blaya.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?

Real-life world is the main inspiration. I often watch documentaries taking hundreds of screenshots I use as references, so my library is getting bigger and bigger.

When you’re outside, try to take macro pictures of any material you find and try to reproduce it in your favourite software.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

It is important to understand how the different materials react to the light and how to reproduce them in CGI. A good exercise is to start a project with an organic character with cloths and metallic ornaments, so in a single project you can play with a wide range of materials.

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?

I often see demo-reels with too many projects to show. It’s hard to cut our beloved projects but only add the ones you consider they are gonna like. Quality over quantity.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

Don’t be scared of getting out of your comfort zone, it’s the only way to improve.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

Enjoy the journey!

You can find more of David's work on his website, Instagram. Reach out via LinkedIn and email: [email protected].

If you want to learn more about VFX roles, this is a great article to get started!