Chris Tyler , 3D Illustrator and Animator

Chris Tyler is a Salt Lake City-based illustrator and animator, with a focus on lush, realistic lighting and modeling in the advertising industry. Chris has given back to the design community by writing training materials, such as the "Art & Science of Strata 3D CX", teaching yearly at the Red Rock Revival, and consistently helping out users on StrataCafe with animated tutorials and walkthroughs on new application features.

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» With such a demanding career, what drives you to be so prolific as a designer and a teacher in your spare time?

I enjoy it. I find 3D fascinating, especially the rendering technology side of it. It's exciting now as computers are getting faster and more powerful. With this increase in processing prowess the things that can be rendered are continuing to allow for more and more interesting and realistic images. The inclusion of diffuse reflections and transparencies add to this subtly. We're used to seeing this all the time and the ability to represent the effect in 3D really goes a long way to increasing realism.

» The 3D lighting and rendering in your work has consistently improved over the years. How much of that is directly related to experience, and how much is due to improvements in the tools that you're using?

Well the tools have definitely improved. They've allowed me to do better lighting. So it's a combination of improvements in my understanding but also in the tools. For instance, understanding how the caching system works is important. That's been pretty much the same for a long time, although 5.0 has simplified it and made it easier to grasp. But other improvement like multi-bounce raydiosity back with 3.8 I believe really increased the realism that could be achieved by Strata. And of course the Lightdome of 4.0 in conjunction with HDRI lighting really was a huge thing.

So yes, the tools have definitely allowed for improved renderings. With 5.0 I pushed to have randomization become more flexible. So now we can use standard raydiosity with randomized sampling for raytraced shadows. It's another area that I've already used in a production environment.

» You seem to be expanding into animation in a big way recently. Is that a client-driven need, or an area that you've consciously moved into as your skills and interests have evolved?

It has been totally client driven. They come and say we need to do x, y, or z. I panic for a few minutes and then sit down and try and figure out how to achieve it. For instance, the tires animation was a challenge. We had a pile of at least 150 tires (maybe more) and I had to have a couple tires roll into position, hit the other tires and react believably. It was a challenge to figure out how to make that happen.

» You seem to have picked up the new bones system in Strata 3D CX 5.0 quite easily. Is that something that's going to find it's way back into your design in terms of more organic animation?

Well I wouldn't say exactly easily. But I spent time through the iterations of beta versions that came out experimenting. I was lucky to also have access to the developer. So I don't mind passing that information along in the form of these small animations on Stratacafe. The bones system has some interesting potential beyond even just organic animation. Simple things like the page turning example someone asked about. I've never really had much interest in character animation so I doubt I'll expand into that area, but even things like using the bones to twist deform an object will be useful.

» What's a typical day for Chris Tyler, workflow-wise? What are the day-to-day staples in your software closet?

Well I'm actually sort of boring I'm afraid. I get up, and head to a coffee shop that has internet access. My biggest chore in the morning to is to decide which one I want to go to. I get antsy staying at home working so I take my portable with me and off to work. With regard to software, pretty much what a lot of people use. Adobe applications, Strata3D CX, Wings3D some, Lightwave3D a little.

» Is Strata 3D CX the hub of your workflow?

Well I know it quite well so I keep coming back because I'm comfortable with it. 5.0 has upped the ante on its usability so it's that much more reason to keep coming back. I've tried other applications and end up coming back to Strata because it's generally straightforward. I have other applications like Lightwave3D which is powerful, but I end up finding it painful to use. That's just my experience of course.

» How has layered photoshop rendering in Strata 3D CX 5.0 altered your workflow? Does it solve some previous workflow speedbumps, or does it simply add another layer of flexibility to your pipeline?

Yeah, another level of render control. The ability to control depth of field effects is really wonderful. If you render out the depth channel, you can use the Lens Blur function of Photoshop to control how you want your DOF to appear. The possibilities with layered controls will continue to appear over time.

» As a modeler, you've really focused on pushing SDS in an industrial design direction normally reserved for more technical NURBs-based applications. Do you find the SDS tools you're using particularly suited to that task?

I like working with polygons, although I've also done modeling work with NURBS. They're simply 2 disciplines for creating geometry. Subdivision surfaces is popular for a reason. It has the flexibilty to create characters, but to also produce mechanical shapes. I like the sculpting-like functionality of working with polygons and SDS. I've used Wings3D a lot and am a big fan of it. It has some really nice and nuanced tools. The new modeling tools in 5.0 give us the ability to do similar things thanks to built-in Catmull-clark support.

The interoperability between Wings or Silo or Lightwave for that matter and 5.0 is really great. I can exchange data between them quite easily. This is something that working with NURBS is much more difficult as it's a one way street in that situation.

» In your opinion, what's the single biggest improvement to the poly modeling tools in Strata 3D CX 5.0?

Well true quad support (Catmull-clark) is the single biggest productivity enhancement. It's the foundation everything else sits upon. I wonder how many people understand this. 4.2 could do quads, but they were only a partial solution since they were subdivided as 2 triangles. The symmetry that 5.0 brings to modeling opens up the world of modeling by an order of magnitude. 5.0 is a foundation that many new tools will be able to be integrated into since the geometry core was re-written for 5.0. It's really exciting to me. Not to mention n-gon support. Some of the other small but important enhancements are group inset and nudging controls.

» The Art & Science of Strata 3D has really become an indispensable field guide and reference companion for Strata users. Are there any plans to add tutorials on some of the new CX 5.0 features?

Yes, I'm currently knee-deep updating it for 5.0 but it's a lot of work. Almost every screen shot has to be retaken. I'm currently about 5/8th of the way through updating it. It has new modeling tutorials specific for 5.0 and re-written introduction to polygon modeling material for beginners. It will also have companion movies similar to what I have posted on Stratacafe, except with voice over work. The layout has been reworked for easier reading. It'll be about 200 pages of material by the time it's finished (hopefully soon, I work on it between work projects).

» What do you find is the most difficult concept for traditional designers to grasp?

Well it's not so much concepts but I see them wanting to tackle too difficult a project upfront. For instance, I recently was speaking with someone who was attempting to do human figures. You have to start out really simple and get a feel for how things work before you can build to something as complex and nuanced as character figures.

I will also say that relative to rendering, the most difficult thing is learning to look at reality and know how to translate that into 3D. For instance, I see specular settings setup wrong so objects look really fake. For instance, large diffuse speculars on a glass material. But this is just stuff that comes with time.

» Thanks for taking this time out of your busy schedule, Chris. Any last bit of advice you think new 3D users would benefit from?