THE WAY OF SUCCESS: Interview with Paolo Pallucchi

For our feature THE WAY TO SUCCESS we meet with Paolo Pallucchi, Game Artist.

Hi Paolo,

let’s start with a quick introduction: you have always been a great passionate of videogames but you started your career in another field. What was your first job?

Hi! Before joining Rainbow Academy I used to work with my father for a Lazio regional television station (Super3) as technical support. It wasn’t actually my field, I was quite good at it but I didn’t feel particularly keen on what I was doing. After a few years I decided to apply for a position in computer graphics and, with the aid of some online tutorials, I managed to create a brand new department in that television station: dedicated to composition and motion graphics. I took care of the graphic design of opening credits and commercials using After Effects and Photoshop.

I was very happy with that achievement and that position, but in 2013 the television network had to shut down. So I found myself having to start all over again at 28. I decided to gather a group of friends and try to make good use of what I had learnt in the previous 6 years: I filmed a short-movie with the few means available. At the time the final product didn’t look that bad to me, but I soon found out how difficult it is to create and animate a 3d character.

From the online tutorials it seemed so “easy”. After a few weeks I realized I couldn’t rely on tutorials alone – I needed some proper training. I didn’t only want to be able to do things, I wanted to fully understand the whole process. I wanted to be sure of what I was doing without the need of a youtuber’s guide.
A few months later I came across the Rainbow Academy stand at Romics. There I decided to invest all my savings in a course that would change my life completely.

You have always had another fixation though, right? How did you get into Computer Graphics?

Actually I’ve been an eager gamer since 1990. I was 5 years old and I remember being already intoxicated by videogames. I loved both the visual aspect and the narrative element of videogames (my favourite was Another World). Then came those games which made use of CG for some amazing intermission scenes.
I realized how videogames and CG clips could be a great medium for telling stories, creating characters and triggering special emotions in a viewer/player.
Let’s say that I saw computer graphics as an incredibly powerful medium (besides it being also great fun).

Your career started in full CG animation, then you moved to the videogame industry, how was that change?

I was happy enough doing CG. But I had never thought that all those hours spent playing videogames would turn out to be so useful – I was able to turn my greatest passion into my job. At first, I felt a bit lost and confused. CG and videogames have many things in common but there are also lots of differences – anyway, the basics are pretty much the same.

You now work for one of the most promising indie companies in the gaming field, Indiegala. Making Die Young must have been truly challenging, how does it feel to make a videogame taking care of every single artistic aspect of it?

It’s great to feel part of a team. Especially a small indie team. Besides releasing a homemade product, we have all grown closer (and better :D).
It has been an incredibly tough challenge and the moment we released it I was actually terrified. We are a small team, so we are used to self-management and the only real feedback we get is that of the audience. It is all unknown to us until the game is actually bought and played. Luckily, people liked the game in the end and I still find its success hard to believe.

The first time I saw my models and Steam artwork was so exciting, but the thing that is more gratifying on a personal level is going in the user screenshot section and seeing that there are people who have taken screenshots of my work. [even though sometimes the screenshots glitch or bug 😀

Many people can’t tell the difference between a Game Artist and a modeller or texture artist for full cg or visual effects. What are the main differences especially in terms of work management?

From my personal experience, I can tell you that the main difference concerns character modelling.
In terms of work management, when it comes to a character for videogames/realtime engines the main goal is to be constantly aware of the number of triangles present, how many textures there are, the resolution and how many bones the rig has.

Realtime is taking huge steps ahead and, in terms of quality, is getting closer and closer to computer graphics, but, in order to make all the animation fluent, it still needs a good deal of optimization to prevent it from becoming too heavy.
It might sound as a limit, but I can assure you that after a while you get used to it. Being able to achieve high quality thanks to some optimization “tricks” is truly rewarding.
Which is why I would like to remind you that – when you see a 3D clip on a social network or Artstation, try to understand whether it is a realtime or CG product. They can look rather similar, but their production process is definitely different.

In your opinion, what is the greatest difficulty an Asset Artist has to face?

First, I believe that difficulties change whether you are working on commission or on a personal project. In the first case you might happen to have no reference at all but just a basic written description. One of the most difficult things is the creation of a workflow that allows you to modify the asset in any sector with minimal effort.
I have often had to re-edit an already rigged model. My first attempts ended in disaster but then I realized how fundamental it is to give order and logic to every single passage. Then, it often happens that deadlines change and a temporary model needs to become definitive as soon as possible. If you are well-organized, you will find yourself with 50% of the job already done.

Personal projects also present important challenges, but you are challenging yourself. It might seem easier because you are the one who makes every decision, but you might end up seeing the intial “sparkle” fade. You will lose your drive and you will believe what you are doing to be totally useless. This happens when your work is too intricate and automatic. With no fun. Which is why I tend to advise people who are starting a personal project to begin from simple questions like: “How can I model the hair? I don’t know. Ok, let’s make a character with an interesting hairstyle.” This way, your work will always feel stimulating because you will also be learning new things.

Besides creating assets for your company, you are very productive and dedicate a lot of time to your personal projects and to international contests. You are plenty of creativity and desire to experiment, you love using different styles. Is there an artist or a videogame that has inspired you?

My favourite artist is Oleg Vdovenko. I have seen the way he works and I truly admire his “personal” workflow. He manages to reproduce exactly what he has in his mind, making use of different techniques and styles to create his uniquely wicked mood. A realtime artist I particularly love is Georgian Avasilcutei. His work is super-clean and the quality of his models is top-notch. Technically impressive.
As far as my personal style is concerned, I believe it is something I have developed over time.

Before working in the 3d industry I enjoyed creating 2D characters. I am definitely influenced by many Manhwa (Korean comics), especially Bal Jak, from which I’ve learned the importance of a character’s eyes and posture; while, from a gaming point of view, I have been deeply influenced by those titles that manage to render characters unique, for example Team Fortress 2, Half Life, Overwatch, The Last of Us, Uncharted, DMC, Enslaved and Hellblade (just to mention a few).

Where do your ideas for new projects come from?

I would say music, but also from the desire to learn and experiment something new or I am curious of. Each of my personal projects started from the study of something I couldn’t do. I have also worked on several projects that have never come to an end because they stopped being stimulating enough. I felt as if I was learning nothing and I was going on by inertia. Once finished, I didn’t have the guts to release them because I thought they were “useless”. So, all in all, let’s say I’m driven by curiosity and the desire to improve and to prove myself capable of doing such things.

Music plays an important role in your work, is it a primary inspiration or does it come after the creation of characters?

All my characters come from music. I spend a lot of time on my own listening to instrumental music (lyrics have little influence on me). Ambient, retro wave, aesthetic, classic or electronic music. Depending on the mood of the song I try to imagine a hypothetical character, their story, their world and their goal. The rest happens automatically. Once, social media blocked one of my productions because the music I used was protected by copyright (my bad). So I looked for another song that could represent the mood of the character. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any that matched the character so I decided to change the character according to the music. This example can help you understand how important music is for me, as it creates a whole with the movements, the eyes and the look of the character.

What characteristic do you think a 3D Artist must own, from an artistic, technical and human level?

From an artistic point of view it is fundamental for them not to be too proud. Personally, when I get a very small – but clever – critique I instantly want to kill myself but, if you manage to understand what you have done wrong, you can truly improve. And in the following projects you might see a postive result. Plus, it is essential to study with your eyes all the time. For example, when you see a charismatic character, try to understand what makes them charismatic. Look at their eyes, their posture, the shot and many other tiny details. Even if I find music fundamental to communicate the mood of my characters, animation can also work without it. Thanks to all these details.

Another important element is to pay attention to proportions. A character may also have a huge head and some massive feet and arms. But they will always have to be balanced with the rest of the body. And how can you understand that? By drawing from other styles. Watch and learn. It is crucial!
From a human level, I think the best lesson I’ve learnt comes from Rainbow Academy: “Don’t hold your cards too close to your chest. Share your thoughts and ideas.” Our field – gaming or CG – is a wonderful sector and can grow only from within, together with the people that inhabit it. If you are part of this mechanism and keep your ideas to yourselves, you won’t be a misunderstood genius, but a selfish loner who believes they own the secret of the world, when you actually achieve nothing. You will end up self-isolating.

So, it is essential to help.
Another good thing is to be healthily competitive. It will be a good stimulus.
From a technical point of view, the keys are curiosity and fun.
It might sound banal but without curiosity there is no improvement. If you are not having fun, everything gets tiring and difficult.
These are qualities that can be developed but they require some sacrifice.
At first, I hated Uvs for example. I couldn’t stand them. Until I decided to learn how to make them properly. Well, after a while, I swear I started to have fun. And you know when I started to have fun? When I learnt the process in detail. Try to avoid at all costs those who tell you things like: “There is a script to automatically make Uvs”. A job done following your ideas will always be different from one done following “the script”, which is just a shortcut for the lazy.

What are the last projects you have worked on and if you can tell us something about the future ones?

We are currently at the pre-production stage of a new videogame. We are still that “small team” but with way more experience! I am eager to see what we are capable of!
Talking about personal projects I am working on a character that I hope will allow me to study the real time dynamic of cloth. Let’s see what comes out of it!

What are your dreams for the future?

I hope I will create a videogame of my own. I want to tell a story and have the gamers experience it, I think it is the thing that would help me the most from a “communication” point of view.
I love the art of communication and I see videogames as the best form of communication in this era.

ArtStation – Paolo Pallucchi