Always an Artist: Ms. Amy Ash’s Craft and Dedication

by Joshua Diokno   

Xeno Ceatives is no stranger to artists who had carried their craft from childhood to their professional lives. And while it might sound romantic to the everyday Joe or the more pretentious, holier-than-thou crowd, we find that there is something completely admirable and compelling with artists who did not give up on the dreams of their younger self.

Ms. Amy Ash is one artist who had not only kept creating art from her early days, but had developed it into an actual craft.  When asked what she would be working as if she weren’t a 3D artist, Ms. Ash had this to say:

I honestly have no idea. Maybe a 2D artist? I can’t imagine not doing this job or at least something creative.

On top of that, Ms. Ash also has genuine concern for the members of the digital art community. She believes that it is,

…just as important is the need to build connections and a reputation as a friendly, communicative and reliable team member. On top of that, we need to make sure we are doing our best to help out fellow artists in the community as much as possible, whether that’s going out of your way to talk to a junior artist who’s just joined your team, sharing job opportunities or recommending good artists you know, or publishing tutorials online.

So let’s get to know Ms. Amy Ash in this interview and see how a professional artist like her conducts herself and what kind of mindset she keeps.

Xeno Creatives (XC): We understand that with just about any craft, passion takes precedence. In your case, how did it start becoming a passion? Would we be right in assuming that you consider it a “calling”?

Amy Ash (AA): I drew and created whenever I got the chance from an early age. Art was always my main passion and the subject I most excelled in and I’m not sure I ever seriously considered doing anything different. It was just too big a part of my identity, and I always have a strong drive to scratch the creative itch. I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve maybe lost motivation for it a little; everything naturally ebbs and flows. But right now, I feel much energised to keep pushing myself and keep trying to progress and learn.

XC: Was there ever an art piece (digital or otherwise) or artist who served as a catalyst for your involvement in the craft? When did you get involved fully in the 3D industry?

AA: I wouldn’t be able to point to one piece, there’s been so much that’s inspired or influenced me over the years. When I was younger, I loved the illustrations by Arthur Rackham and Turner, Toulouse-Lautrec, Durer and Holbein’s paintings, as well as the movie posters created by Drew Struzan. I went to art college and studied natural media illustration, but switched to using Photoshop before graduating, and then got a job as a texture artist and illustrator. I learnt 3D on the job and ended up being a very broad generalist; I did everything from modelling to lighting, to rigging and animation, concept artwork and character design, but character sculpting was always my favourite task. The CG industry was at this time starting to expand and websites like CGSociety, Deviant Art and a little later Artstation helped raise the profile of so many great artists. Seeing the work of people like Adam Skutt and James Cain helped me decide to focus solely on character modelling; they are truly incredible artists. But there’s so many now doing amazing work and there are young artists in my team who inspire me all the time.

XC: We saw your works over at ArtStation and we cannot help but admire how versatile your style is. How your output looks morphs into an expression relevant to the concept. Your works are indicative of your attention to the specific needs of a project. How do you go about the process of creation? Do you have any favourite pieces among your works?

AA: Firstly, thank you for the kind words! I’ve always had to be versatile due to the needs of my career and I love the variety in the work I now get to do; it’s exciting to go from realistic sci fi characters on one project to stylised fantasy characters with hand painted textures on the next. For my work, regardless of the style, I like to try to think about the story of the character I’m creating and let that inform the decisions I make in order to add interest. Asking simple questions like who that character is, where are they from, what is there lifestyle and day to day environment like can all help add authenticity to a model whether its stylised or realistic. I also thing that when it comes to stylised work, whilst there is a sense of rhythm and flow needed to create a character with appeal, knowing realistic anatomy enough to be able to break it is very important.

After building up a healthy collection of reference, I prefer to start with sculpting the main forms of the character so I can get a feel for what I’m creating; I find it much better to be able to push and pull the shapes around and not worry about topology until the forms are a bit more locked in. I try to force myself to push some shapes a bit too far and reign it back; it’s important to be aware of your weaknesses and in the past a conservative approach to volumes and features was perhaps one of mine.

Once the primary and main secondary forms are in a good place, I’d then move onto retopology, UVs and detailing before taking the asset into Substance Painter for texturing. For some assets I will use Marvelous Designer for cloth just before retopology. For personal projects I’m currently enjoying doing fast sculpts solely in Zbrush without production ready topology that don’t take too much time and let me focus on developing my sculpting skills.

XC: Now that you’re an active part of the industry, would you say you have pegged a solid place in it?

AA: I’m honestly just happy to be where I am and able to do something I love, surrounded by so many inspiring and creative people. In my job, I work with such talented people and that helps drive me forward on a daily basis, and I hope I can use my experience and position to help other people in the industry wherever I can. Most of us have relied on people sharing knowledge throughout their careers and I’m no exception, and now I’d like to try to share what I have learnt in the last 20 years of working.

XC: How does your day look like in production?

AA: There’s no two days that are the same, but they always start with checking emails and planning out what I need to do. If I’m leading on a project, I’ll attend meetings and review the work that’s being done, give feedback to the artists either in calls or with paint overs and jump on any tasks that need urgent attention. As a Head of Department, I’m also responsible for line managing the team, and working with the resource and recruitment teams to crew up for projects, as well as planning out long term goals for the department and supporting the artists as best I can with any day to day challenges. I also try to get involved in pitch work wherever I can so I can get a little bit of hands on sculpting time.

XC: What are the common challenges that a 3D artist like you encounters day-in, day-out in a project?

AA: I think the main overriding challenge is always balancing the needs of the client, the quality of the work and the time/budget available. There’s also often times when you may receive feedback or direction that you don’t agree with or that is difficult to achieve in the time because maybe it contradicts earlier direction or increases the scope of the task too much, and for me putting aside any personal frustration and approaching things in a calm and professional manner whilst being honest about the situation is very important. Finding creative solutions to some of these problems that keep everyone happy can be difficult but it’s very rewarding when it works out. There’s always technical challenges and times when you need to learn something new to complete a task, but these are part and parcel of the job, and no matter how good hardware or software gets, there’ll always be bugs and crashes!

XC: As we had already mentioned, we had the chance of seeing your works online. It was such a delight. Your concepts are endearing. Do you have favourite pieces amongst your works? If so, what made them your favourite?

AA: I think one of my favourite things I’ve done was a fairly quick sculpt of Robert Pattinson’s character in The Lighthouse, Ephraim Winslow. I really enjoyed seeing how far I could push some of the shapes to bring out the character. It’s the kind of sculpt that you don’t get the opportunity to do much in commercial work as well, and there were no limitations on the decisions I was making, so it was pure fun from start to end, and it’s in a bit of a Dishonored inspired style that I personally love.

XC: What would you consider your biggest or most exciting project to date?

AA: There’s been a few; I was proud to be the Lead Character Artist on the Deathloop E3 trailer, and the first season of Tales of Runeterra shorts we did for Riot. But some of my favourite projects have been for internal proof of concept animations for clients that will never be released, and there’s one project in particular that will be released shortly that was a major challenge and that I’m personally quite proud of. But like many artists, I’m quite critical of my own work and it takes me a while for me to be able to look back on things with a clear mind and not see all the things I’d like to fix!

XC: If you were to market yourself what would you highlight as your edge?

AA: I expect I’d probably try to highlight my versatility and sculpting ability, plus the experience I now have at senior levels on high profile projects. But I’m a big believer in ‘work hard and be nice’… it’s honestly helped me a lot in my career over the years, and everyone wants to work with good team players.

XC: If you weren’t a 3D artist today, what would you be working as?

AA: I honestly have no idea. Maybe a 2D artist? I can’t imagine not doing this job or at least something creative. I once had the opportunity to walk through the set for Captain America when they turned part of Manchester into 1940s Brooklyn, and I was amazed at the way they’d designed it and made it so convincing, so I could imagine doing something like that would be hugely rewarding.

XC: What is your message to other artists especially in these troubling times?

AA: In our industry, some of us have been very lucky in that demand for our craft has only grown in the last year or two, but for others such as those working in the VFX industry it has been a rocky time and it’s only now really starting to get back to where it was before the pandemic. It’s as important as ever to work hard to keep progressing and improving your skills, but just as important is the need to build connections and a reputation as a friendly, communicative and reliable team member. On top of that, we need to make sure we are doing our best to help out fellow artists in the community as much as possible, whether that’s going out of your way to talk to a junior artist who’s just joined your team, sharing job opportunities or recommending good artists you know, or publishing tutorials online. We do work in an industry where demand will only grow and where there will always be opportunities for talented hardworking people, so have confidence in your abilities, tackle your weaker areas head-on and make sure you make the most out of any opportunity.

Want to see more of Ms. Amy Ash’s amazing works? Click here!

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