The Gnomon Workshop

Interview with Alex Oliver

Alex Oliver

by Travis Bourbeau Alex recently moved from Brazil to Irvine, California, where he works as a senior character modeler for Blizzard Entertainment. He's also freelanced for National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Gentle Giant Studios. We look forward to checking out what he has planned for us.

GW: At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?

AO: So long ago. I spent I guess seven years just sculpting with clay and drawing. My great influence to do art was a "making of" for Disney's Rescuers that watched when I was eight years old, and in 1982 when I saw the movie E.T. When I saw the creature in the movie I really knew what I wanted to do for all my life.

GW: There seems to be a wealth of 3D talent coming out of Brazil. How did you become familiar with 3D?

AO: Well, it was hard because there in my state Fortaleza, in Brazil, it was very hard to find books or any tutorials to teach me how to start in 3D. I spent many nights just trying to find tutorials about how to create a realistic character in 3D. It was a really hard time, but I got some help from friends.

GW: You started out as a traditional artist drawing and sculpting in clay. How much of your work these days is still done in these mediums?

AO: I taught traditional sculpting in Brazil at a 3D school for three years. It's still really important to learn traditional sculpture if you intend on starting 3D. Today I still work with clay, but just for my own art.

GW: You seem to use ZBrush as a sketchbook. Has ZBrush replaced clay and pencils for creating new characters?

AO: Yes, sometimes I just use ZBrush when I want create something new. I guess people need to discover how to use ZBrush this way, and not just think about it for production. I really love ZBrush and it has all the tools that I need to keep my sculpting process close to traditional sculpture. I love brushes like the clay tubes. Pixologic really cares about the way artists think and what artists need. ZBrush also has one of the best communities on the Web. There I've found information and inspiration that I needed and got great support from Pixologic.

GW: Where do you find inspiration for your character designs?

AO: Wow, in so many ways and artists. Movies are really a great influence for me. Star Wars Trilogy, E.T., Lord of the Rings, Aliens, Predator, Terminator 1 and 2, Jurassic Park, Ben Hur, King Kong, Congo and Disney's The Rescuers, Pinnochio, Aladin and The Lion King. I also find inspiration in movies like Dead Poets Society, Awakenings and the Fisher King because these movies talk about real life, passion and dreams. Alex Oliver

GW: What kind of 2D work are you drawn to?

AO: I love to draw people and study anatomy. Drawing from life enables you to create any creature.

GW: Working as a freelance character artist in Brazil, what kind of work were you hired to do? Was language a barrier at any point?

AO: Well as I told you, I spent some years teaching at a 3D school and doing some freelance work. I worked for two years at Cinevision studio in London, where I made some dinosaurs for the Discovery Channel and for National Geographic.

GW: What technical advice do you have for young 3D artists getting started? What mistakes do you most often repeat?

AO: Well, my more important advice is to study anatomy. Don’t just try just sculpting monsters or stylized characters. The mistakes that I always see are when guys are trying to sculpt real people using just two pictures from the Internet. You need to have good anatomy books and good reference images also. Also, try taking some drawing class.

GW: You're presenting at the upcoming Gnomon Workshop Live event. What can you tell us about your presentation?

AO: I will show show how ZBrush is great for creating characters and how to use ZBrush as a digital sketchbook. I will start from a simple mesh and show how it can be used in your pipeline to create anything. I will talk about my experiences and history and give some tips. It will be a good chance to get inspired.

GW: Last but not least, which artists inspire you the most?

AO: Wow! So many! I will try say some here, Michelangelo, Bernini, Glenn Vilppu, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Jordu Schell, Miles Teves, Steve Wang, Joey Orosco, Aaron Sims, Scott Patton, Paul Mejias, Rick Baker, Stan Winston, Zack Petroc, Kolby Jukes, Fausto de Martini, Kris Antropus Costa, Fabricio Torres, Walfrido Monteiro, Diego Maia, and so many others! Every time I start a new project I just go to some of their images on my computer and spend some time just looking at their work.

To see more of Alex Oliver's work, go to: