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Interview of Rey Zhong

3D Artist
Ringling College of Art and Design
"Halo: Infinite"
First of all, thank you for the interview invitation from BluBlu. Hello everyone, I am Rey, a game artist. I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) in 2022. Due to being recruited by 343 Industries during my junior year, I participated in the production of "Halo: Infinite." Subsequently, I joined Turn 10 Studios and contributed to the recently released "Forza Motorsport," despite graduating last year. In addition to commercial projects, I am also an artist who frequently delves into personal works. Thus, I am pleased to share my experiences, and if this Q&A provides valuable insights, that would be wonderful.
Rey's works primarily feature a highly detailed realistic style with beautiful shapes, strong visual impact, and significant creativity. How did you develop this capability?
The formation of my style can be considered serendipitous. Back in high school in China, aspiring to become an artist, I distinctly recall seeking guidance from a teacher named Mr. Dong. Patient and adept at teaching beginners, he advised me to start with the meticulous observation and replication of the shapes and structures of the subjects. From that moment, I diligently adhered to this theory. During school days, I often found myself huddled in the back row of the classroom, meticulously sketching an apple, a classmate, or a chair on the back of my notebook or test paper. A class lasted about 45 minutes, and I could remain there for 4-5 consecutive classes, steadfastly focusing on the observed subject, meticulously depicting everything I saw. This state of concentration persisted for several semesters, making that period both joyful and intriguing.
What prompted your venture into 3D art?
My high spirits persisted until I enrolled at RCAD in the United States to study game art professionally. However, just a few months into the program, my professor informed me that relying solely on drawing might not be suitable for establishing a career in the gaming industry. This conclusion left me profoundly disappointed. Despite prolonged efforts, the outcome was that I couldn't make drawing my primary profession. I felt like my pursuit of a career as an artist was ending before it even began. Fortunately, in the first semester of my sophomore year, I encountered a remarkable teacher—Professor Martin. Unlike professors in other classes, he encouraged us to unleash our creativity during the initial stages of learning modeling. Admittedly, his teaching style was often considered unconventional and wild by other class students. He allowed us to freely choose themes and use software like Zbrush, which was beyond the usual requirements. Many classmates opted for challenging topics from the beginning, resulting in a somewhat chaotic quality of assignments throughout the class. However, this chaos happened to be my breakthrough. I gradually discovered that I possessed a unique ability to keenly observe the characteristics and details of complex things. Martin recognized my capabilities, believing that the skill of drawing would continue to assist me on my future path. Indeed, three years have passed, and my growth experiences have validated his judgment. Thus, life experiences can be truly fascinating at times.
In the 3D Game Art pipeline, which stage do you enjoy the most or excel at?
I thoroughly enjoy sculpting high-detail objects using ZBrush. As mentioned earlier, since Professor Martin suggested trying ZBrush for creative work, I have been continuously self-learning. Even after graduating and entering the workforce, I still spend several hours every day sculpting things I enjoy.

ZBrush is, by far, the software that has consumed the most "game time" for me. I relish the time spent sculpting and consider it a hobby. This passion allows me to dedicate additional hours to it after a day of work and study. Some of my close university friends and professors eve
n jokingly refer to me as a "greedy devil" for tirelessly creating without showing signs of exhaustion.
Can you introduce a personal work or project that you are most satisfied with?
As of now, I have yet to create a work that I am 100% satisfied with. Given my relatively early career stage, feeling content now would not be ideal. Therefore, at this stage, I'd like to share examples from both commercial games I've been involved in and personal projects that I find relatively satisfying.

Let's start with a personal project; it's a more relaxed topic. I often approach personal projects with a casual mindset. This sci-fi mechanical hand is a piece I created in the latter half of 2022. Compared to my other personal works, it may not be the most grandiose or the most intricate. I created it without a clear purpose, not for a graduation project or to align with any specific theme. It was purely spontaneous and happened to be the most enjoyable piece I've worked on. This mechanical hand is my humble attempt at emulating the artistic style of the late artist Mike Nash. Mike Nash is my favorite hard-surface artist, someone I admired when I first delved into 3D. I watched many of his tutorials, and his teaching processes fueled an enduring passion for learning 3D. He was a genius and a person demanding the best from himself, constantly developing his personal works, and always striving for improvement. The sudden news of his passing in mid-2021 felt like a thunderbolt on a clear day. The night before, I was watching his tutorials on Patreon. My grief and regret were indescribable, akin to suddenly discovering that a guiding friend has vanished, never to return.

Since then, I felt an inexplicable urge to do something. Despite my insignificance, I wanted to contribute in some way. Later, I got busy with my graduation project, followed by the hectic schedule of final project presentations and job hunting. But I never forgot about this. It wasn't until the latter half of 2022 that I finally had some time to spare. I didn't overthink it or set lofty intentions for the work. I told myself, "Alright, let's dedicate 7 days to create an assignment for that unknown mentor." Although looking back now, my mindset at the time may sound a bit juvenile and naive, I was genuinely enthusiastic. For seven consecutive days, after work, I sat in front of the computer from 7 to 12, letting my mind wander. On the seventh day, I smoothly completed the final rendering. It was a mechanical hand with some biomimetic flowing contours. I incorporated some complex structures that I am proficient at into the palm. Every design on this hand was created spontaneously without much thought; they were the results of a continuous flow. Although, even now, there are some areas where the mechanical hand falls short of expectations, I expressed all my emotions and aspirations through this piece.

I named it "Hello World_," signifying a new beginning. I hope this artwork signifies a fresh start. Even after graduating from college and no longer having assignments to complete, I want to continue creating, just like Mike did. I aspire to persist in my creative pursuits, regardless of the stages life may lead me to in the future. The intention is not to compete or get caught up in the internal struggles of any industry. I know there are many individuals in this field with much greater talent than mine, and I understand that hard work alone cannot fully compensate for the lack of innate talent. However, diligence and pursuit of art are gifts I give to myself, a proof of my existence in the flow of time. Perhaps, as an artist, that is the most romantic intention.
Can you share some experiences or insights from your work in 3D game art?
Talking about this brings up a crucial point — despite being referred to as the ninth art, game art is fundamentally commercial. Unlike pure art industries, most of us 3D artists in the gaming industry play a role more akin to product production than creating artwork for personal expression. For those in art mediums that encourage individual expression, this might be a disappointing realization.

My experiences, starting in my junior year at college with 343 Industries on "Halo: Infinite" and later joining Turn 10 Studios for "Forza Motorsport," gradually made me aware of this reality. Game art often serves gameplay, sometimes requiring compromises for the sake of player experience. If personal creation is the embodiment of complete self-expression, then commercial game art involves constantly considering the needs of players and other comprehensive factors to produce fitting work. Let me share the story of my involvement in designing and placing vegetation for all 20 tracks in "Forza Motorsport," specifically the Overgrowth vegetation.

This is, by far, the largest project I've been involved in. Here, I must express my gratitude to the entire team, including Tuan, Cindy, David, Zhengyu, and others for their assistance and guidance. You are truly fantastic teammates. I was notified around August 2022 that the art direction required the addition of lush vegetation to adorn the surroundings of the race tracks. To adapt to the natural landscapes of various tracks worldwide, a dedicated design was necessary. Hence, under the guidance of senior scene artist Tuan, who had just joined the company two months prior, I started experimenting with the design based on the features of our in-house engine. Turn and David asked me to use SpeedTree to create some vegetation to assess if the quality met the requirements. Although I had never used SpeedTree before, with Tuan's patient guidance, I quickly learned, and in just one afternoon, I produced the first set of vegetation.

A week later, I received notice that I would be creating various types of lush vegetation for all tracks. However, a few months later, Tuan and several other artists responsible for vegetation left the company. This meant that I not only had to handle the vegetation outside the tracks but also needed to address low grass on the track shoulders and assist with vegetation optimization. Taking over these responsibilities was challenging at first. There were times when I genuinely didn't know where to start. It was then that I gradually realized how important communication and time management skills are for a competent game artist. I learned how to coordinate when the project schedule went awry, how to repair optimization errors, and how to rearrange a project that was delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. I even created some brushes to expedite efficiency.

Gradually, I managed to handle everything. I felt like I was transforming from a whimsical artist into a methodical engineer. I spent a total of 14 months on the layout and design of vegetation for all tracks. However, in the final months leading up to the release, I completed them. Sometimes, I joke with my colleagues, saying, "Players will only notice those beautiful flowers and grass when they crash into the barrier after bending due to a mistake." Yes, a commercial AAA game is the result of a large team's long-term production over several years, where individual contributions often seem insignificant. We are tiny screws. But even so, after both games I contributed to were released, I felt an indescribable sense of accomplishment. Perhaps the only side effect is that after the game is released, I cannot experience the freshness as players do, haha.
How do you find inspiration in your daily creative process?
Honestly, I truly admire those artists who can articulate and document the process of finding inspiration, deducing it into a central theme, and summarizing it into a coherent artistic concept. I, on the other hand, fall into the category of creating spontaneously as ideas come to mind. If I see something in an animation or novel that I think would look cool, I immediately start creating something based on that simple reason. It's the truth; there isn't a specific method to gain inspiration for me. It's more like having a sudden realization after seeing something and thinking it would be cool to bring it to life. Yes, I've pondered this question for a long time, but the final answer is still somewhat disappointing. But hey, it's the truth!
What hobbies do you have outside of work?
Contrary to my creative style, I love cute things in my daily life. My home is filled with many adorable items, and recently, I'm fond of the cute animal figurines from Chiikawa, which has gained popularity. When I see something cute, I can't resist it. I've had several pets, including rabbits and hamsters. Many people, after seeing my work, realize I'm a girl, and they find it surprising that my artistic style and personal hobbies seem disconnected. But please, don't be so stereotypical. Even though the percentage of female 3D artists in the industry is low, it's time to break these stereotypes. Girls can also work on hardcore games in this industry. I hope society can have fewer rigid gender perceptions, allowing girls in this industry to face fewer potential challenges and have more opportunities for competition.
How do you balance work projects and personal creations?
In the beginning, it felt awkward for me, but now it's much better because I've set a switch for myself. When I turn on this switch, I can transition into a "corporate drone" mode every morning at 9 o'clock – colloquially known as serving the client, where my role transforms into a servant, dedicated to the project's needs, and I can fulfill any requirements thrown at me. But when it's time to clock out in the evening, this switch turns off. This is when I can release my inner thoughts through personal creations. Actually, doing personal work and working on commercial projects don't conflict. Personal projects are like a space I leave for myself to roam freely.
CGI artists often have unique insights into the familiar field of 'digital creation.' Let's discuss the rampant development of AI tools in the art domain. Do you support this trend, or do you believe such tools should be strictly regulated?
Firstly, I support the reasonable use of AI to assist 3D artists in solving tedious and time-consuming tasks like unfolding UVs and topology. However, I don't support using AI to synthesize new models based on an artist's personal style. I understand that currently, there is more investment in the latter, considering precedents from the painting field. It seems like a one-step result, attracting attention and having short-term outcomes, making it more marketable and promising for investors than niche tools that serve artists in the research and service industry. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable situation.
Could AI tools potentially replace all game art in the future? What are your thoughts on this?
AI might eliminate entry-level practitioners involved in the most basic labor in commercial settings, but it's challenging to replace the core artistic design in movies and games. I think some companies have experimentally used AI in the final products of commercial works in the past two years, but without exception, they all failed.

Audiences have aesthetic standards, and at least for now, people want the games they buy and the movies they pay to watch to be meticulously crafted by artists in the industry. Of course, these are just my personal views as a 23-year-old. However, what I want to say is that humans are not animals living in the law of the jungle, relying on the survival of the fittest. Perhaps we cannot control where AI will go in the future, but we can establish laws to restrict its development from infringing on human rights.

Advocating for comprehensive AI management legislation is the only thing we can do now. Regardless, maintain hope for the future. Finally, I wish everyone a happy life.
Rey's artistry is characterized by a mesmerizing blend of lifelike precision, dynamic visual appeal, and boundless creativity. BluBlu is immensely grateful for her participation in this interview, where she generously shared her remarkable journey. Rey's path in the game art industry is a vivid illustration of how passion, unwavering commitment, and the ability to adapt are essential in the ever-evolving landscape of digital art. Her narrative serves as a beacon of inspiration for budding artists, skillfully highlighting how one can harmoniously balance the commercial requisites of the industry with personal artistic expression. 
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