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Renderfeed: Tell me a little bit about yourself and about your life as a designer in Geneva!

(Istvan) I started my career as a graphic designer: After completing my college education, I joined college friends of mine who had started their own graphic design studio. I ended up working for them for five years. But after so much time working for someone else, I started to feel as if I was “dissolving” my own universe and style. I was deeply implicated in every project I was working on, but had no control over any of the projects because they were not really mine. So, one day, I decided to take a break, to go free-lance and to rediscover my own style. It’s strange, but I don’t even remember which specific event led me to this decision!

Right now I’d define myself as a digital artist rather than as a graphic designer, even if the work is similar. I work anywhere between twelve to fifteen hours per day on my computer. So my “working” life is closely related to my online life.

Outside of that, in Geneva, I’ve got my family, my friends, my “normal” life. My neighbors don’t know about my work (and nobody calls me “Istvan” because that’s not my real name).

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Renderfeed: Your work is very unique. There is a strong influence of mathematics and poetry in it. Can you explain what inspired you to develop such a personal style?

(Istvan) First of all, thank you! As a creative, getting a “unique” style is some sort of accomplishment (and it’s harder to be “unique” today than before the internet era). However, I never tried to have a unique style. In fact, quite the opposite happened: I used to work in order to reach the level of other creatives I admired (illustrators, speed painters, digital artists working on video games or in the movie industry). I always tried to make pictures that were “as good as…”. Later I developed my own style without even noticing that it had something “unique” or at least interesting. It was only when I started to share my personal work with people on the web that I suddenly received a lot of comments about what makes my work interesting (the subject, of course, but some other things too: the grain, the “out of time” feel…). So, now that I’m aware of my qualities as well as of my faults, I try to make the former more apparent in order to hide the latter!

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Renderfeed: Where did you go to school and university? Did you attend any classes at school that helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

(Istvan) I knew that I wanted to be a digital artist even when the “digital artist” concept didn’t exist yet (at least in Geneva). So when I was a child, I used to say that I wanted to make “good-looking pictures with computers”. In the early 90’s, this idea seemed like sci-fi for my guidance counselor at school: He advised me to pursue a scientific education, because of the “computer” aspect. I went off and got my bachelor in sciences and promptly changed direction in order to get back to what I loved. Specifically, when I was 18, I was accepted at the Fine Arts School of Geneva to complete a “new media” degree. Sadly the degree ended up being a big disappointment, because my classwork was centered around reflecting about people, computers, interactions between them – the goal wasn’t really to make “good looking” pictures! So, after completing my new media degree, I went to to ESMOD Paris, a French fashion design school. This was a way to experiment with something completely different. I had learnt to think in terms of projects when I was at the Fine Arts School, but it’s at ESMOD where I learnt to follow every project through from start to end.
My university education helped me to think about my projects, to follow precise steps, in short, to be a professional when I work for clients…However, in terms of my technical training (working with computers and software), everything I’ve learnt came from the web. I followed many tutorials from talented artists in order to reach their level, and I will continue to do so! I think that following tutorials on the internet is the best way to improve your skills, because you can choose precisely what you want to learn. But this requires at least knowing what you need, so it is a good way to improve, but not necessarily a good way to start learning when you lack the basics.

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Renderfeed: What are some of the most important projects you have worked on recently?

(Istvan) I consider that every client comes to me with the most important project of his life. So, during the time I work on a client’s project, it becomes the most important project for me too. I think about the project everywhere, I eat it, dream of it, and, kind of die when it finishes… That’s the main reason why I can’t work on several projects at the same time.

Renderfeed: Is there a project you have done that you are most happy with and if so, why?

(Istvan) I am never completely happy with my projects. I think they are good, or I would have never published them, but I always have the image of something better in my mind. For example, I published my last project “Shapes in Nature” only a few weeks ago, even though I finished it last year. It took me nearly six months to accept that the project was finished and good enough to be published. I think that I’m just unable to judge my own work objectively, because when I see it, I don’t see what I’ve done, but what’s missing, or what could have been done better. But I accept this because this is what gives me the motivation to improve my style and to develop my technique.

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Renderfeed: Tell us how long it took to make “Radiolaria” and “Strange Attractors”. What software did you use and what were the different steps you had to go through to finish the pieces?

(Istvan) “Radiolaria” and “Strange Attractors” are both good examples of a project for which the only complexity is the huge amount of pictures to produce. “Radiolaria” is a 110 pictures set made for Neonmob, an online trading cards website. I had a complete freedom regarding the subject, but I was asked to make a big set of more than 100 pieces. So I searched for something that could have more than 100 variations without being too complex (because each step of work, multiplied by 100, takes a lot of time). So I divided the process in a minimum of steps: start from a base shape in TopMod, make some topological work, import the modified base shape in Cinema 4D, make some simple modifications (smooth deformer), paste the final shape in my “render ready” scene, save as, then start another shape. After a day of work, I loaded all the scenes in the batch rendering queue and let my computer work all night. After finishing every render, I started to postwork every picture in Photoshop (adding text, color scheme and texture to each series). This is a very frustrating way to do it, because you have to work for days, knowing the final result you will get, but without seeing it until the end. But it’s a more efficient way, because it helps to keep the same overall look throughout the full series.

Renderfeed: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

(Istvan) I hope that when you see it, you’ll think: “Whoa, I didn’t expect that”! I’m working on another set for Neonmob, but I won’t divulge anything about a client’s project until they publish it!

I’ve some personal projects on my waiting list: a board game, a children’s book, a series of prints… But I can’t tell you which project will be finished first!

The following projects are in the works already: I’ll show my “Shapes in Nature” project at the Vasarely Foundation (Aix-en-Provence, France) for an expo about time named “LAPS” (www.laps-exposition.com).

I’m also working with a 3D print service specialized in high quality production with a handmade finish. We plan to produce 3D prints of my “Strange Attractors” series for a limited edition. We have four prototypes that were recently shown at the Grafik14 expo in Zurich and we received very good feedback about them, so it’s only a matter of time until we start the production of the whole “Strange Attractors” series!

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Renderfeed: What part of designing is most difficult or most frustrating?

(Istvan) As I work in series and not on individual pieces, the most difficult part is to stay focused on the project until the end. When the first picture is done, it’s almost like the full set is done in my head, because I know without a doubt that I can do it. So it’s not interesting any more. Still, the production part is important: that’s what makes your project visible to people. So the most frustrating issue I deal with when I’m working on the production part of a project is that my mind wants to move on to another project.

Renderfeed: What part of your working day most makes you think: ‘This is why I do this job?’

(Istvan) There are two parts of the job that give me this feeling. It may sound a little cliché, but I love to open my Behance account or my email and find comments about my work. The feedback I receive is always positive and pleasant. That really helped me when I doubted my work and it continues to help me because it shows me that my work has a real impact on some individuals. Thus, to see the list of people who believe in me steadily rising is the greatest satisfaction for me.

The other part of the job I like best is the precise moment when, in my mind, one of my tests becomes a project. After days or weeks of research and doubts suddenly a conclusive result appears! This is an exciting and reassuring feeling because if this result does not happen, all the work undertaken is worth nothing.

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Renderfeed: Is it difficult to adjust your style to each client you work for? Or do you have an easy time staying true to yourself while fulfilling the client’s expectations?

(Istvan) Adjusting my style to the client was the hardest part of my job when I worked as a graphic designer. This was mainly because my style is not very common. But since I started my portfolio on the web, clients contact me in order to get the style I have. Nearly every client comes to me because he liked one of my projects, or he was inspired by one of the pictures. So I have less “common” graphic design tasks and more cooperation propositions: clients ask me to use my style for a precise task or for projects with more creative needs than marketing needs (trading cards, cd covers etc.).

Renderfeed: What is your greatest source of inspiration?

(Istvan) I never got inspired by my real life or by people around me. Someone who knows me personally without knowing my works would never associate my pictures with me. I’m much more “personal” when I write (yes, I also write – in French, of course).

My inspiration comes from sci-fi literature, movies and video games. My subjects are generally inspired by nature. This is quite logical since my work is based on math algorithms, l-systems, fractals, procedurals effects; these techniques are mainly used to reproduce nature (atmospheric effects, dynamic population, terrain erosion, trees).

Generally, when I start a new project, it’s mainly because I want to test something I’ve found while working on another project or because someone has made something so incredible that I need to understand how he or she did it.

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Renderfeed: Do you ever get artist’s block and or does inspiration fail you sometimes? What do you do to stay inspired?

(Istvan) When I was younger I didn’t even understand the concept of “artist’s block”. I wasn’t able to understand how someone could be “empty of will”. But when I started to work as a graphic designer, I had to change my style in order to get a more “common” look because mine was too personal. After five years of lying to myself I didn’t even remember if I ever had a personal style. So I decided to find my way back by doing some personal projects – and then I was hit by “artist’s block”. It was the first time in my life I experienced such a disappointing feeling. I worked for months without getting any result, because I neither knew where to start nor where to go.
At some point, absolute freedom is frightening: when there is nobody to tell you what to do, there is a big temptation to do nothing. This is especially true if you have an artist’s block, which makes working so hard and frustrating! It was the hardest part of my creative life. But I persevered, and from the day I “found my way”, I never experienced artist’s block again.

Renderfeed: How tight are the deadlines in your line of work and how do you manage the pressure to deliver within short timeframes?

(Istvan) I don’t like working under pressure, because it means that some good ideas worth exploring will have to be ignored and will eventually be lost.

Generally, I don’t accept a project if I can’t guarantee that my client will get what he needs on time. That being said, I usually will accept aggressive timeframes in order to help a client who cannot find another solution to his needs. I will target the same final quality in such a project as I would in a normal project and I will do whatever needs to be done in order to finish on time: cancel dates with family and friends, cancel sleep, cancel answering the phone, cancel meals if needed…I can last for a quite long time under these conditions, but obviously I don’t like it, so I try to avoid that!

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Renderfeed: What version of Cinema 4D are you currently using?

(Istvan) I use Cinema4D Studio R12.

Renderfeed: What Cinema 4D plug-ins do you use and why?

(Istvan) I occasionally use some plugins for completing a project that requires a precise task, but I have no plugin that I use on my standard workflow.

I used the plugins made by Juergen Meier (http://www.3d-meier.de/) for my Strange Attractors project. I love Proc3dural, but when using it I never achieved the results I had in mind for any of my projects.

Renderfeed: Aside from Cinema 4D, what other software do you use?

(Istvan) I use a lot of different software packages, but I would like to highlight some that are particularly important for my work. The first one is Photoshop. This is definitely my flagship, because everything that I have ever made or will make is finished off in Photoshop. For the 3D part, I use Vue (E-On software) although it isn’t too stable which somewhat limits its usability. And I use ZBrush as my personal “3D sketch tool” to prep for projects. For the “maths” part, I use a lot of specialized software which is frequently open source: Mandelbulb 3D, Mandelbulber, Structure Synth, TopMod, Xenodream, Acropora, World Machine, Processing…I’m always looking for new specialized software packages because they are very useful in my workflow: they give me the opportunity to get “something special” to work with.

Renderfeed: What are the main technical challenges to consider when rendering your projects?

(Istvan) I think that the main technical challenge in my projects is the “procedural” part. Rendering my work first requires to calculate the objects. The “math” part of the conception is most time-consuming for me. In order to get objects with a lot of details (“Crystallized Asteroids”, ”Strange Attractors”, ”Mandeloculars”, the terrains on “White Trees” or “Shapes in Nature”) I need to use procedural methods or fractals. Using these methods enables me to get an infinite level of details, but the processing time of these elements can be infinite too.

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Renderfeed: Do you choose to render your projects in-house or do you prefer to outsource your rendering process?

(Istvan) I never tried to outsource the render for my projects, but I thought about it sometimes. I never decided on which service to choose, because every project I make is very different from the previous one. Thus, my needs vary too. Sometimes I would need someone to calculate erosion flows on WorldMachine, sometimes I need a calculation for a procedural texture on Vue, or for a depth of field on large pictures on Mandelbulber… I never found a render service able to help me with each project. This is one of the consequences of the “unusual” way I use the software I work with.

Renderfeed: What kind of advice would you give a young artist trying to stand out from the crowd?

(Istvan) Don’t try to “stand out from the crowd”, work for yourself. Standing out – that will come afterwards. But if you don’t start with simple hard work, nothing will happen! I’ve seen a lot of creative people loosing their time trying to “get noticed” instead of just working on their own style. They try to get inspiration from TV news, because they think that’s what interests people. They open a “blog” because it’s what’s trendy. They make their own sketches of the “Star Wars” people because it’s a popular topic. Most of all, they change their style trying to follow small tendencies (pixel-art, polygon-art). But if you are not a well-known creative, nobody expects anything from you. So why try to do what you think people expect? So here’s my advice: do what you like, without lies. If it’s not good enough, this will not mean that you are on the wrong path, but maybe that you’re just not ready. When you have worked enough on your style and the message you want to share, other people around the world will start to follow you.