Good day Mr Frick, and thank for giving us the opportunity to have this interview with you today.
For those that don't know you, could you reveal a little bit about yourself? What is your full name and where are you from?
My name is Tor Frick, most people probably know me by my nickname, Snefer, I’m 26 years old, and I’m from Sweden!
You've worked at Massive Entertainment, People Can Fly and now you're working at Machine Games. Could you tell about how you ended up where you are today?
Massive Entertainment was my first job, I was lucky to get a job there about halfway through my university studies, and I stayed there for more than three years until I felt that the time was right to move on. I moved to to Poland to work on Bulletstorm at PCF, which was a really cool experience. I stayed there for about a year and a half, before being lured back to Sweden to work at Machinegames! (which is awesome!)
Could you tell us a little more about your job? What is your responsibility at Machine Games exactly, and what does a normal day at the office look like to you?
I work as a 3D-generalist, Machinegames is a pretty small company comparatively, so people have pretty wide areas of responsibility and expertise. In general, I have always had a pretty wide area of responsibility, doing everything from characters, to shaders and pipelinestuff, meshing out levels or busting out props or weapons. I like to get my hands dirty with most of the art process, even though my biggest passion is modeling. A normal day for me now is simply modeling and texturing as fast as I can, no lack of art to build, and not so much technical stuff to worry about, its pretty awesome actually.
What are your tools of trade?
Modo is my main modeling app, and I use Zbrush for sculpting. I like modo because of how streamlined it is, and how easy it is to speed up your workflow with scripts and layout tweaks. I’ve also never had any problems integrating modo into any pipeline, which is also a huge plus. For texturing I use photoshop of course, with some help on the side from Crazybump and baking from xNormal. Also trying out this fancy new thing called nDo2 which runs on some kind of black magic!
Which projects did you work on in your career before Machine Games?
World in Conflict was the first game I worked on, and after that I worked on World in Conflict: Soviet assault. I also worked at Far Cry 3 before I left Massive. At PCF I worked on Bulletstorm and some Gears of War 3 DLC. Of course I have also worked on a bunch of cancelled games, aswell as a few that have not yet been revealed yet. I feel fortunate that I have been able to work on so many cool games.
We've heard a lot of talk about ID Tech 5 lately and we've heard about mega textures and so on. Could you tell us a little bit about how that affects your way of working?
Well, basically everything gets unique UVspace on a huge texture wich is baked down from the level, which means that there is no point of tiling textures, except for saving time. This allows for the stamping of decals everywhere at no cost whatsoever. It also means that you cannot get the infinite resolution you can get from tiling textures and detailtextures, instead it gives the artist freedom to just think of the art, and not consider as much technical details. It makes iterating on levels very easy, since you can just keep adding textures without considering stuff like memory or drawcalls. Want to make every chair in the game unique? Go ahead! The stamping and megatexturing also means you can make everything feel more unique and alive, add a lot of storytelling in the world that would be hard to add otherwise.
Could you do a breakdown of the creation of a prop in ID Tech 5? What to think about when modeling and texturing?
That’s the best thing with the engine from an artists point of view, its all very simple. Build highpoly, build lowpoly, layout some quick UVs, bake a normalmap, no need to care about smoothinggroups or tiling, no need to figure out the exact right texturesize, just focus on making the best asset you can, make the best looking texture you can, and then you are done. It really puts the focus on the modeling and texturing, it’s a huge relief for me personally, you don’t need to think so much about how to best approach a model, how to tile the texture etc. Just build it, bake it, texture it. Does it look great? If yes, then you are done with it. It basically removes most of the annoying parts, and leaves the sweet stuff!
You seem to be an artist that loves to challenge himself in order to become better, looking at your portfolio. Do you have any advice for artists that might help them improve?
People tend to give the advice that you should find one area and then focus on that, but I have always done the exact opposite. I try to find the areas that I’m weakest in and improve that instead. There is just so many things to learn, so many ways to improve yourself. Sure, if you focus on just getting better at Zbrush and texturing for five yeas, you will probably be pretty awesome at doing just that, but by always looking in new directions, I often find things that I can apply across my entire skillset instead. You can kind of think of it as grinding in a game, I always go for where my level is lowest and I can learn the most the fastest, I might not max out my skills, but I get new sweet abilities here and there which will give me a multiplier on all my stats! This is maybe not the best strategy to land your first job, but I don’t know, I think it helps me a lot to have this approach. What you need to land your first job is still pretty easy and simple compared to the insane amount of skills, tricks and things you can learn, just grind away at those props/characters, but looking past that, I think there is still alot be gained by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. Posting on forums is probably the best way I can think of to find where to go next, you not only get instant and specific feedback on the stuff you are doing now, but you will also see trends in the comments and feedback, so even if you cant see where to go next, you can get a gut feeling of what is missing in your skillset.
Personally I am always impressed by the style and design of your scenes and models. Do you work from concepts a lot, or do you take elements you like from other designs and freestyle?
I would say most of my stuff used to be freestyle, but I’m doing more and more concepts. Its not that I’m getting better at concepts, I cant paint at all, its just that I have found that I visualize things better in 3d in my head when I have made a quick concept. Sometimes its that I realize that the concept has flaws or sucks, and just do the corrections straight in the 3d model, and sometimes I actually like my concept. Most of the time though, my model will look nothing like my concept, and I basically iterate on the idea in my head after seeing it out on paper.
When doing single props I usually bust out a few ideas as concepts, aswell as finding reference images and inspirational images, but when it comes to scenes I usually block out the space in 3d instead, and do a bunch of concepts, but then my patience runs out and I start modeling instead. It’s a flaw im trying remove from my pipeline, with stronger pre-production and more paintovers ^^
Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the games industry about whether or not the games industry will survive another (or the current) economic crisis, and also that pc games is apparently dead, or at least dying, and is about to be replaced by console games. Could you share with us your thoughts on those subjects? Do you think the games industry, in its current form, will survive, and do you think the pc is a dying gaming platform?
I don’t think that the games industry is any danger of dying, since its growing year by year. However I think the current trend of studios shutting down etc is part of a transition period. We are getting fewer and fewer AAA-games, but they in turn are more polished, and the rest moves more towards smaller and faster projects, games like Torchlight, Orcs must die, etc. I think a lot of studios had problems with the transition to currentgen pipelines, just throwing more people and more money at a project is not the way to go, you can pull off a lot with a small focused team and some thinking instead. With the rising development costs publishers cant afford mediocre games anymore. Also I don’t think that the PC is dying, even though its not as profitable with AAA-games anymore, but I don’t think the PC will die anytime soon. Indiegames, MMOs, social/webgames are not exactly dying, so neither will PC as a gaming platform. I think consoles are more in danger of dying than the PC, to be honest. But in all honesty I just see this period as a refocusing of the industry, I think that for nextgen we will have a pretty clear divide between blockbusters that push the visual fidelity, and smaller titles that use middleware engines and try to stand out in other ways.
Do you have any idols when it comes to CG? People you look up to, look for advice to… ?
Too many artists to count that inspire me actually, there are too many I look up to to mention, but if I would have to single out one person it would probably be Seneca Menard. His art for Doom 3 was amazing, and all his amazing modo-scripts over the years have saved me about a million hours or something, and makes modeling more fun (if you use modo and don’t know of his scripts, you are missing out!)
Do you play games?
I don’t play as much as I used to, I tend to be pretty busy with 3d, and once I start playing something I usually go “GAH, too good art, must go make more 3d now!” after like 30 minutes. I am extremely picky with the games I play, so its very seldom that I actually finish a game, but I try to find as much time as possible to do so ^^
Could you name some of your favourites?
Deus Ex (the original, and human revolution) Mass Effect, Gears of War, Uncharted, StarCraft, the first God of War game was mindblowing in every way when it came out. Unreal tournament and Diablo 2 have swallowed many months of my life aswell.
Ok, then I would like to thank you very much for this interview, and on behalf of the NGHS crew I wish you well and good luck in your further career.
If you want to see more of Tor Frick's stuff, go to his portfolio!
Tor Frick also released a new tutorial for Eat3D recently about Vertex Painting! Check it out here: