Mr. Dmitrij Leppée: On His Life’s Turning Points and the Development of His Art

by Joshua Diokno   

It is no longer a secret: our passions define us. To borrow from pop culture, it’s not what who we are inside—it’s what we do that defines us.

Mr. Dimitri Leppée is exemplar with the popular aphorism. Though not specifically mentioned within the interview, the development of his art was strengthened by his quest to find who he really is in a chapter of his life. And boy, aren’t we just in awe of the art his realized self has produced.

They say that artists have non-conventional view of the world. More often than not, it affects them deeply, leading them to go beyond the confines of themselves. To search for themselves, as Mr. Leppée terms it. And we are definitely glad he had found himself.

Xeno Creatives (XC): ZBrush brought a lot to the industry. Beacuse of this, especially with its many developments, we understand that it requires a lot of work to get used to. What technical processes did you have to learn to be skilled in ZBrush?

Dmitrij Leppée (DL): Coming from a traditional background, entering the world of digital art was at first a bit challenging—I started out with more technical software such as Maya or 3Ds Max. But upon discovering ZBrush, the transition was practically overnight. Everything felt natural. I’ve read somewhere that Pixologic keep traditional artists in mind when developing their software and I am very grateful for that. Learning the features of the program naturally takes time, but Pixologic is always benevolent  with providing free video classes for each new feature they introduce. In addition, the community on forums such as ZBrush central constantly push the bar and inspire progress and ideas.

XC: How has this been helpful to your art?

DL: Zbrush has set me on a road of discovery and interest as nothing before in my life. It’s been a life changer for me. It led me to greater self-development, discovering things I love (such as comparative anatomy and nature) and delving into them deeper through the tools in Zbrush. It also gave me financial independence.

XC: When did you realize that you’d be pursuing ZBrush as a means to create 3D art? Are there other media you want to learn or do you just want to focus solely on ZBrush?

I have discovered ZBrush roughly 8 years ago when I was searching for myself. I was at the Academy of Fine Arts well within my last years trying to figure out a subject for my graduation work in Animation.

I’ve tried a lot of approaches during those two years, and finally stumbled upon ZBrush which I felt drawn to instantly, and it took me in a completely different direction. Soon, I earned my MA degree by providing 300+ works created in ZBrush and a philosophical essay on the subject of my personal search. You should have seen it: the whole classroom was covered with works printed on paper from top to bottom.

I have experienced a variety of media and software (traditional drawing, sculpting, classical animation, directing, and editing) My present pipeline includes: ZBrush as a predominant tool, and also 3D-Coat, Substance Painter, 3Ds Max. However I’d love to deepen my understanding of them. I trust that these will help me with my vision and inspire me to push into uncharted territory—that would be the best answer I think.

XC: When working with ZBrush is it a must that you have a good hand in human anatomy?

That depends on the type of work you do. I don’t think it’s necessary if you’re creating industrial design, vehicles, weapons or abstract art for example It is necessary for character art. Even for stylized characters, a solid understanding of structure and form is a must—you can always fake it, but the connection to the work won’t be established.

I would highly recommend it. But for general understanding in whatever field you might be and even if you don’t need that knowlegde professionally, it will certainly find a way to aid you in your life. It will also be helpful to learn not only human, but animal and plant anatomy as well.

XC: Was 3D art a real passion for you to begin with or was it just plain work?

DL: The first couple of years starting with ZBrush overwhelmed me. I thought I was one with the software, having created one work per day almost literally. It never is just plain work, I always give the best part of me whatever may be the occassion of using ZBrush, private or professional–so even professonally I need to feel connected to the work, otherwise I most likely won’t be inspired to accept it.

XC: Seeing your works at ArtStation and Facebook was quite a treat! While you have taken from various concepts across pop culture, your interpretations of these characters are indicative of your original style and undeniable skill. Do you have any favorite pieces? What are they and why?

First of all thank you for your kind words! And thank you again for feeling that my style reads in them. Definitely in all my subjects, (which are fan art) I see a problem so to speak, which I am inspired “to fix” and by doing so tell a story based on my internal vision, so when taking Discworld characters, or characters from another universe I don’t copy them as I don’t see meaning to it; it wouldn’t have much to evoke me. Similar when creating portraits, that’s why I call them impressionistic portraits as the portrait is not without me in it: it is the subject plus how I feel about them at a certain point in time.

I would select Danny Trejo as a favorite. When I was creating the character I was undergoing a turning point in my career and had the most fun with it. I was also quite enjoying The Curse of Monkey Island remake during that time. I would like to finish the concept sometime if I manage as the vision wasn’t fully expressed yet. A special place in my heart hold Discworld’s Sam Vimes and Mrs. Cake. For one, I’ve selected Clint Eastwood and for the other Ms Tonchina, a lovely individual I’ve met a couple of years ago on a most beautiful island. I’ve actually felt a strong connection with her. I have tried to portray her from memory as Mrs. Cake.

XC: Are there other characters you want to interpret or original pieces you want to create?

DL: Definitely, I have a lot of ideas, but I’d rather keep them to myself or even from myself. Some of the energy that could go into creation is spent on overthinking–I found this out over the years, hehe. But soon something can definitely be expected, and a couple of them are already in the works and live on my website blog and facebook.

 XC: Whom do you consider your influences? What attracted you to them?

DL: My influences are people involved in different areas of creation, who don’t just go with the flow of things accepted by the world only because they are the current trend. These people manage to free themselves from that influence, and approach their work through a thorough train of original thought, which surpasses the art itself, and where art serves as a means to perhaps make the world a better place. Search for the truth in all things to put it simply and be guides to others. I don’t want to name anyone particular because my favorites are all who act like that, both known and unknown to me.

XC: Apart from your fan art pieces and statues, do you also see yourself being immersed in Game Character Design?

DL: Sure, I have worked on a couple of games before (Red Solstice, Gas Guzzlers, Rugby 18)

For which I’ve had a chance not only to model, but also design the characters (exception was of course Rugby 18), and currently I work as a full time Senior Character Artist at Lion Game Lion, where we’ve just shipped out first game (Raid: World War 2), and where I have a lot of artistic freedom in designing and sculpting for our upcoming projects.

XC: How about working for television and film, is this a prospect for you?

DL: I have had a pleasure to work on “Troll Bridge”, a feature short film based on Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” universe or should I say multiverse on which I was responsible for modeling the talking horse. I’ve worked on a couple of animated films and some commercials too. I can definitely see myself in New Zealand working with Weta Digital and riding my road bike through the marvelous scenery, or checking out the beautiful botanical gardens in Singapore or Kew Gardens of London working for ILM one day 🙂

XC: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what do you think you’d be specializing in instead?

DL: I think I would manage at something, as long as it is not in war and conflict. I’d prefer botany or biology, professional road cycling or mountaineering, perhaps acting or medicine, definitely some other branch of art. But anything works.

XC: What advice or message can you give young aspirants wanting to enter the craft/industry?

DL: Search for your passion in whatever field until you find it. And then give your all. Don’t settle for anything less than what fulfills you as that way you can bring joy to others as well.

We truly admire Mr. Leppée not only for his art, but also for his courage to search for his true self. He is a testament that wondrous things can be had once we are honest with ourselves.

Want to see more of Mr. Dimitri Leppée’s works? Click here!

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