news • 31 May 2024

From student to ZBrush Presenter at The VFX Festival

Written by Sebastian Becker

Senior Writer at Maxon

Escape Studios is a leader in animation, games and VFX training and known for equipping students with the skills they need to get industry jobs right after graduation. The school is also the host of The VFX Festival, an annual celebration dedicated to animation, games, visual effects and more.

This year's festival takes place 3rd and 4th June at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo, London and one of the artist presenters will be Maxon Trainer Rodolfo Silva, who earned his master's degree in Game Art from Escape Studios in 2023.

We asked Silva, who joined Maxon in early 2024, to talk about his journey as an artist, the video game workflows he used to create on ZBrush Live, his festival presentation and more. Here's what he had to say.

Talk a bit about yourself and how you got into the 3D industry

I grew up playing video games and have been a gamer since I was two years old. I enrolled in a 2D/3D animation course in 2010 and was introduced to 3Ds Max and Maya. That's when I realised those tools were used to make Fable, Halo, Sonic and other games I loved.

Before that, I didn't even know that working in 3D was a career, so I was 20 or 21 before I knew what I wanted to do. From 2012 to 2020, I switched to fine arts and was drawing every day, doing commissioned work. Then I started teaching 3D to high school kids in 2018, introducing them to basics of Maya and Photoshop. Doing that sparked my passion for 3D again and when Covid hit in 2020, I decided I wanted to go all in on 3D.

Tell us about the presentation you’ll be doing at the festival?

I specialise in environments, so I will be giving a presentation on ZBrush workflows for real-time environments, which can be used in games or VFX. I will also be available at the Maxon booth to explain things in more detail, have conversations and answer questions for anyone who would like to learn more. Furthermore, I look forward to interacting with the audience, so make sure to say hi.

Why did you choose Escape Studios and how did the courses help you?

It was my dream to study at a school like Escape Studios ever since I started using Maya in 2010. I was a frequent reader of the 3D World and 3D Artist and they were mentioning Escape Studios all the time. Attending institutions like that was expensive for someone from Portugal. Then, everyone shifted to online classes due to Covid, including Escape Studios.

As crazy as it might sound, that was a great opportunity for me because I did not want to move to London. After completing Maxon's Paul Gaboury's class "Advanced Digital Sculpting", I was completely hooked on ZBrush and enrolled in a full-time program at Escape Studios to take my skills to the next level. I said to myself, 'If I want to call myself a master, I have to learn from the best.' Thanks to my portfolio, which included drawings and 3D work from Paul Gaboury's class, I participated in a competition and won a scholarship to help pay for my classes at Escape Studios.

Studying full time at Escape was the best learning experience I've ever had! My peers were a small group of six people who were all amazing artists. Escape is really intense and definitely a school for very dedicated artists who want to push their boundaries and hone their skills. Like any school, though, what you get out of it depends on how hard you work.

I was creatively fluent after my year there, so I was able to create whatever environment, prop or model I could imagine. Often, it is the question of how to do something that keeps people from realising their visions and Escape Studios got rid of that block for me. The teachers in the Game Art course are simply amazing.

Talk about some of the work you did at Escape Studios

We had classes for six hours a day during the first three modules of the Game Art course and we had to deliver a fully functional Unreal Engine game environment every six weeks to showcase what we learned. For the group project module, we were tasked with creating a single environment in three months in Unreal Engine as a team. So we reimagined the Natural History Museum in London as a location for Ubisoft's video game series The Division.

Actual industry professionals gave us feedback and critiques on our projects, including people from Creative Assembly and Rockstar Games. For the final module, we had five months to do a single project and the theme could be whatever we wished. I created an open world environment called 'Forgotten Altar' that allowed me to tackle everything I had learned at Escape, which allowed me to push myself to solidify those skills and take a shot at technical art by optimising a full open-world environment.
I learned a lot about Unreal Engine at Escape and I already knew how to use ZBrush and a bit of Substance. But it’s one thing to know how to sculpt in ZBrush, and quite another to know how to make your work production ready for a game in ZBrush. I didn’t know the standard workflows to make assets for games, and I benefited most from the fact that their main expertise is Unreal so everything I do outside Unreal now, whether it is in ZBrush or Substance Painter, considers standardized game art workflows. 

How does it feel to be presenting at an Escape event?

I’m excited to be back at Escape Studios, but it also feels scary in a way. I have only been in the industry officially for two years. Many people, including friends, are going to be at the event and some have worked for renowned studios. I know more ZBrush than most people, but sometimes, I still feel like a student!