Today, I have a special guest: the incredibly accomplished VFX cinematic artist, David Luong.
For the past 8 years, David has been working in visual effects and is currently a Senior Cinematic Artist for Blizzard Entertainment. As a video game industry veteran who possesses extraordinary talent in matte painting, lighting, compositing, and photography, it is my pleasure to present this exclusive interview where David and I discuss the allure of art and how his projects blossom from concept to completion.
1. What do you love most about photography? What about for your artwork in matte painting, lighting, and compositing?
David Luong: I really love how you can view the world so differently through a set of tools. The mechanical and digital aspect of the camera, a lens, the conditions of your surroundings, a little bit of luck, and your skills as an artist all play into how you can present the same thing differently. This reality augmented to what you feel it is sometimes, and what is there in reality, is the combination that I love about photography. A little crop, color change, or composition through lighting and shadow can tell a totally different story from one photo to another. Bringing photography as an art form and into my other branches of work has really helped me understand what can be duplicated in the computer generated era.
Observations through reality, and the manipulations of it, can also be done using matte painting, lighting, and compositing. It’s through the digital frames on the computer that we change this in the CG world, much like how you could change something in the photographic world through the variables stated. For matte painting, photography gives me references, textures, and a visual base for what could become a whole new world that never existed. For lighting, photography plays a role of direct visual reference on how to mimic light and shadow, which we try to capture in the 3D realm to fool the eye into believing it is real. For compositing, photography gives us this base reference, in which we can make even better through change in color, additions of other photographic objects, and manipulations of the image data that seem as if it were shot on the same location, even though it was not. All of this ties into being a visual effects artist, where we are the magicians in the digital realm.
2. What has been your most memorable photoshoot, or artwork project?
David Luong: My most memorable photo shoots are those that allow me to share with the people they affect the most. It could range from big party events where it covers a wide establishing area, and catching what people are doing in that event, to little intimate moments of photographing my dog Xena, to some family photos with other family. It’s really about who I can share those memories with that make the photo shoot more memorable. Photographs, and art in general, is meant to be shared! Here are some photos I took at The Holder’s Dominion novel release event, and of the book itself:
3. How would you describe your ideal photography and artwork goals?
David Luong: My ideal goals for art and photography would be to give me a subject and idea, and allow me to execute that with my own vision. Getting some feedback with the person who wants an idea executed in a nice frequency would also be good if the vision isn’t my own.
4. If you could change two things in the world of photography, or the world of artwork, would you change anything?
David Luong: Something I would change is how highly expensive some of the equipment can be when one wants to pursue art. Sometimes cameras costs thousands of dollars, or lenses for the cameras. Then there’s software for digital art work, which can also cost as much as a car. I think lowering the price points for some equipment would help anyone wanting to pursue the art.
5. How do you prepare for a photoshoot? What about for an art project?
David Luong: To prepare for a photoshoot, I try to survey the location, and an idea of what time I would be shooting so I know the angles, and who is involved to know where they can be compositionally. If many of these things are out of my hand, I usually prepare with a nice zoom lens like my 17-55mm f2.8 lens that can cover wide and medium shots. It would give me the opportunity to catch a lot of serendipitous moments on the camera. For an art project, I would want to know the subject, the use of the final art work, and the references for the subject. Similarly to a photoshoot, knowing certain variables ahead of time will help me in managing the project as well as keeping costs to a minimum.
6. What’s been your most challenging photography shoot and/or art project to date?
David Luong: My most challenging photoshoots have been at events where lots of these variables that you want to know ahead of time, are unknown. Events such as the champagne toasts at Blizzard, where people spray champagne on each other wildly, and I have to be there to catch it, as well as avoid the sprays as collateral damage. It would affect my camera gear, and my ability to shoot if my eyes were covered with alcohol! Moving around lots, and zooming in and out frequently makes it very challenging, and also being lucky as something happens for me to catch it.
My most challenging art project would have to be back in school for my senior year at Academy Art University because I had to do everything, from shooting live action green screen shots, to the matte paintings, compositing, FX, direction, it was full of passion and very tight in schedule. Luckily it all came out ok! Professionally, I think the hardest project would be on Wrath of the Lich King, where I helped find the look of the cinematic, as well as the look of Arthas with Sheng Jin, Jeff Chamberlain, and the other cinematics crew. It was a very tight knight cinematic team and I loved it. Here’s a few samples of my work: (view more on my website at www.DavidLuong.net)
7. What photography or artwork projects are you working on right now, or are excited about working on in the future?
David Luong: I just finished working on our latest cinematic, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, which is Blizzard’s latest game announcement based on the trading card game. It was a small team, with lots of fun compositing and paint projection on 3D geometry.
I’m also working on creating new matte paintings and tutorials for the upcoming D’Artiste: Matte Painting vol. 3 book in which I’m one of the three authors to be featured. I was very honored and humble that they asked me to be a part of that legendary book series. The art book should be out some time in October of 2013!
8. How long have you been teaching matte painting online, and how has it been?
David Luong: I’ve been teaching online for CGSociety.org and Ballistic Media since the beginning of 2008. I actually got my start there by submitting about 4 personal matte painting art works that got included in the D’Artiste: Matte Painting vol. 2 book. Chance worked out that they liked my work and I was recruited to be the matte painting teacher there ever since! So again very grateful that it came almost full circle for me to be working on the next installment of the D’Artiste: Matte Painting book.