Jesse Sandifer is a self-taught artist who started out his career creating architectural illustrations, but switched over when he found his true love in entertainment art. For the past eight years he has been the co-owner of Green Grass Studios, a full-service animation and visual-effects design studio. He is also owner and director of Chickwalker, a company which focuses on creating high-end cg characters and concepts. Jesse has extensive experience in high-poly 3D sculpting, texturing, lighting and rendering for a wide variety of project types, including concept design, look development, production-ready assets, illustrations and 3D printing. He has long been producing monthly subscription-based character art tutorials at his website CGNuggets.com.
His clients include Hasbro Toys, Fox, Warner Bros., Zynga, Autodesk, Shadows in Darkness, Mandalay Films, ReelFX, and the NBA Dallas Mavericks.
Jesse resides in Dallas, Texas with his wife and three young children. In his spare time, he enjoys working on his personal art, playing disc golf, and making ice cream.
How did you initially get interested in the field of cg art?
I’ve always been blown away by what the cg industry was doing in films and games, particularly in high school and college. I was watching the typical inspirational movies like Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and Star Wars and got curious as to how it was done. Through curious research I was doing about those films, I started discovering other artists work on a few of the popular cg sites. At the time, I was working on doing architectural illustrations and I really felt the urge to give the “more fun” stuff a try. I did a ton of tutorials and entered online modeling challenges and I learned a ton from that experience.
What kind of projects have you worked on?
Well, like I mentioned previously, I started out doing architectural work, tons of illustrations and animations of buildings and interior spaces. So I’ve had plenty of experience in that world but for the last eight years or so I’ve worked on projects like creating a cg monster villain for a Scooby Doo live-action movie, likenesses of NBA players like Dirk Nowitzki for motivational animations, cartoon characters for Zynga game cinematics and Fox animations, and working in the toy industry by creating digital sculpts for Hasbro’s Star Wars line. Since I have my own small studio, I’ve been all over the place really!
What kind of training do you have that has led you obtain your current position?
I do have an architecture design degree from Texas A&M University where I learned about some basics of art and it’s where I got introduced to 3dsmax. However, a lot of my training has been through teaching myself via online tutorials and tons of practice during lunches, early mornings, and some late nights when I have the time.
What software do you regularly apply in your projects and to what affect?
I try to keep my pipeline fairly simple. I use 3dsmax as my main 3D package but I also do a good portion of my modeling and sculpting in Zbrush, and work back and forth with 3dsmax. I’ve recently added Mudbox to my arsenal and I love its texturing features along with the sculpting and interface. Photoshop is pretty much a given in this industry and I also use it quite a bit in the texturing and design phases. Topogun has been my retopology tool of choice. I use Vray for my lighting.
Your portfolio shows you have used a lot of different software packages. Do you actively learn new software on your own time, or have you been required to adapt to different pipelines set by other people?
I like to use software when it’s beneficial to making me a faster artist. If I start to feel like a certain thing is frustrating me about the package, I consider adding other software packages with strength in that particular weakness. That’s why I use 3dsmax, Zbrush, and Mudbox for all different reasons. I’ve been required to use other packages like Maya and XSI in the past but it was for short term contracts and I went running quickly back to my regular pipe after finishing. Learning other software isn’t that difficult as I see them as just tools in the toolbox.
Do you find time to be creative outside of your job and does this influence your professional work?
Yes, although it’s been hard to find time to do personal work most of this year. But that’s ok to take breaks for longer periods of time in my opinion. I’ll usually find time to do personal work in the early morning hours, during lunches when I can, and some occasional free time at the house when the family is asleep or out of town. My personal work does influence my professional as it’s a time where I can work out some of the kinks in my skillset or my pipeline. Then when the big gig comes up, I’ll be ready to take it on with confidence and enjoy the creation process rather than fight through weaknesses in my abilities or technical issues with software.
You’ve done a lot of different characters in your portfolio. What kind of qualities do you look for in a character design?
Mainly I look for something that’s interesting to me. I try not to do something that’s been done before, unless I’m just in sketch mode. We all have to draw the alien, demon, human, orc, or monster at some point to get a feel for what we naturally enjoy doing. I look for character design with emotion and meaning, based in reality, and plausible in design. Then the rest just relies on pure creativity in design and form and seeing what my brain can cook up!
Who are your artistic influences?
This is a great question as I do find it hard to remember all the names of artists who inspire me. There are just too many! There’s been so many that subliminally have motivated, inspired, or challenged me to do better. The ones that do come to mind are Neville Page, Jordu Schell, Feng Zhu, Ryan Church and some of the oldies like Michelangelo, Bernini, and M.C. Escher.
What got you interested in teaching?
Teaching myself through tutorials and hard work and then finding success has given me the desire to pass it onto other aspiring artists. I never thought I might be in the position to help others in this way but I embrace it and hope to inspire others to really persevere and do what they love.
What are you hoping to impart to your students in your class?
I’m hoping that I can show that it’s not about knowing every hotkey or cool feature in cg software but that it’s about discovering how to use these programs as tools to create their art. Also, I’d like to show that the process can be rewarding when you approach it the right way.
What new projects do you have in the pipeline that you are excited about?
I’m actually excited about some of the personal works that I have planned in the future. With the success of the Turtle Barbarian, I’ve really wanted to create more work that I can have 3D printed. There is just something energizing about seeing your digital work come to life in that way. I also get more excited about doing personal work because it’s all about getting something out of my own head and have it stare right back at you when you’re done.
What would be your dream project and why?
My dream project would be to work on a big film where I was in charge of creating new designs and pushing the limits of what the cg industry has already done. You know, kind of like Avatar 2.
Do you have a favourite videogame?
Well, I’ll have to admit that I haven’t really played many video games since I’ve had kids but back in the day, I really enjoyed the Half Life world as well as the Warcraft/Starcraft stuff. I’m also wicked awesome at Wii golf.
Do you have a favourite movie?
My favorite movie has to be Avatar which is a bit of a popular answer for many cg artists but I just loved the immersive world that was created and it really inspired me to continue to focus on creating my own imaginative characters and creatures. I’m also a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with my wife who’s an even bigger fan!