Last year, I was doing a Cinema 4D tutorial when I was reminded about one of my favourite 3D artists, Péter Fendrik, also known as Pupi.
I was using a model of Péter's in my Three-Point Lighting in Cinema 4D tutorial. It was a car model that Péter created in 2003 – 15 years ago! See the Wartbug Coupe 312 below. I think it still looks great today and that's a testament to Peter's skill. Most 3D work doesn't age so well.
I remember the first time I saw one of Péter's images. It was of the fantastic snail above, which I think he'd posted on a forum somewhere in 2002. The snail really impressed me because of the level of realism mixed with a cartoony style.
In the UK office, we were all wondering who this amazing artist was that we hadn't heard of before. I got in touch and that was the start of MAXON's relationship with Péter. Over the years, we were proud to feature Péter's work on the MAXON website, in brochures, on demo DVDs. I remember the snail being on the front of the Jigsaw Systems catalogue.
Péter went on to become Art Director at Digic Pictures, overseeing intros, outros, trailers, etc. for big projects including Mass Effect 3, Halo 4 and Civilization 5.
One highlight was the 2011 E3 Trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, below, which last year was voted by readers of Animago as their favourite contribution to the Animago Award in its 20-year history.
Then in 2012 came shocking news. Péter had passed away at the age of 42. I didn't know he had been ill, and although I'd admired his work for a decade, I hadn't met him in person and I didn't know that much about him.
After doing my tutorial, I wanted to find out more about Péter and to share some of my favourite images of his with you.
So I got in touch with Digic, who kindly helped fill in some blanks. They in turn got in touch with Edina, Péter's wife, and Zoltán Pogonyi, a good friend and former colleague of Péter's at his previous workplace. You can see a photograph of Péter below.
As I read through the answers to my questions, I noticed a pattern forming: aspects of Péter that had contributed to making him the great artist that he was. Here are seven of them.
1. Always Learning
Péter was born in Zalaegerszeg, a town in western Hungary near the Slovenian and Austrian borders with a population of 60,000. At primary school, his art teacher spotted his talent and submitted his work to various competitions, one of which won Péter a trip to Moscow.
Péter then honed his skills at the Free Arts School of Pécs (Pécsi Művészeti Szabadiskola), under the guidance of István B. Gellért, a renowned Hungarian graphic artist.
From Pecs, Péter gained an immediate admission to Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest (MOME), the most acclaimed design university in Hungary. And that doesn't happen very often! After graduating from MOME in 1995, Péter become Art Director at an advertising agency, where he worked for nearly a decade.
So how did Péter get into 3D?
Edina recalls that Péter had been very enthusiastic about the premiere of Pixar's Toy Story animated film from 1995. "Pixar's work influenced him greatly," says Edina.
Influence also came in the shape of Péter's friend and colleague at the ad agency, Zoltán, who had taken some early steps with 3D software. "One day at work, I wanted to show Pupi some renders that I had done," explains Zoltán. "Radiosity made light dispersion more realistic and accurate. That was the moment that convinced him that he should really take 3D seriously."
Péter didn't hang about. In 2000, he took a year off work, unpaid, to study 3D, and also because his first child had been born.
Péter tried out a 3D application at Melon FX, a ground-breaking local studio that specialized in CG in advertising. But Péter didn't get on with the software. "He had his struggles with the program," says Edina. "He found it hard and not user-friendly."
One episode stands out for Zoltán: "I remember Pupi making an angry yet merry remark: ‘It took me a whole day to model a cola bottle without its cap!'"
Not to be defeated, Péter gave another 3D app a go, one known for its ease of use and intuitive interface: Cinema 4D. "He loved Cinema 4D," recalls Edina.
"He quickly maxed out the Cinema 4D demo and made amazing images," picks up Zoltán. "My progression with [another 3D app] was way slower than Pupi's, but his work inspired me, so I, too, started to take 3D seriously."
2. Playing With the Software
I've had the great pleasure to meet a number very talented digital artists over the years. If there is one thing I can say they all have in common, it is this: they play with the software. They don't just follow a tutorial. They press all those buttons that haven't been pressed and drag all those sliders that haven't been slid! I would encourage anyone who wants to push their 3D to adopt this playful mindset if it's not present already.
In any case, Péter and Zoltán were on their own to some degree, learning mostly by trail and error. "Back then, we didn't really have tutorials," remembers Zoltán.
"Pupi experimented with modelling and texturing," recalls Edina.
Digic commented on Péter's curiosity to master 3D: "Péter gained his 3D skills through self-exploration, with persistent self-education. Besides work, he created his own projects, earning valuable experience."
3. Being a Perfectionist
I'd come to the conclusion long ago that Péter was a perfectionist – more about that later – and Edina and Zoltán were telling me this was so.
"He was a perfectionist in his drawings as well as in learning and perfecting any program," says Edina.
"He did everything to a very high level and always strived for perfection," agrees Zoltán. " I am grateful to him, because he inspired me to continuously improve myself."
So what was it that had made Péter's perfectionism clear to me?
His car that I had used for my lighting tutorial! It was the first car he had made, and something he had said at the time stuck with me: it would be the last car he'd ever do!
I could just picture him not really wanting to do this car – animals were more his thing, more on that later… But he could not help himself but keep plugging away until it came out how he wanted it to!
4. Working Hard
"Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work," somebody said. Einstein maybe. I wasn't there so I can't vouch for it. In Péter's case, even with his talent spotted at an early age, there was plenty of graft involved.
"He was always working after work hours, says Edina. "He was living and breathing Digic."
"His work ethic was exemplary," says Zoltán "His hobby was his job. He was a workaholic."
5. Doing What He Loved
If you're going to do something a lot, you might as well love it!
Aside from art, Péter had a passion for nature. "If he hadn't been talented in the Arts, he would have been a forester," said Zoltán. "He designed the logo for the Budapest Zoo. His role models were Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough."
"The curves, forms and textures, as well as the mechanics of nature, greatly intrigued him. He collected skulls, had many books on things like taxidermy. He loved the paintings of John James Audubon and Albrecht Dürer."
Péter's rhino above is a perfect fuse of realism with cute, cartoony character looks. Loads of attention to detail, which was all painted using BodyPaint 3D.
Péter wasn't alone in his love of nature. Zoltán was also a fan, and animals were the central theme of much of their work.
6. Showing His Work
For Péter and Zoltán, there were two major benefits to sharing their work on forums like CGSociety and Renderosity and in magazines like Exposé. One, they gained valuable critique from other artists. Two, it led to exciting job offers.
In 2004, Digic Pictures, who the previous year had created ground-breaking VFX shots for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, was scouring the 3D forums and galleries to find new colleagues. Digic came across Péter's work and was especially impressed by the Bird series. You can see two family members below, Lady Bird and Earl Bird.
The studio hired Péter as an outsource 3D artist to work on Electronic Arts’ realtime strategy game Armies of Exigo. Péter then joined Digic as Art Director, where he supervised every project, ensuring that the vision of both the director and of the client was realised in every scene and asset.
Zoltán moved further afield to Industrial Light & Magic, where he created digital matte paintings for films including Transformers, Iron Man, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Terminator Salvation.
7. Beginning With the End in Mind
I think one of the main reasons why Péter's work still looks fresh today, after so many improvements to 3D software, is that he was focused on the end goal and not what the current tools were designed to do. This is true also of some of the other great 3D artists I have met.
It's perhaps best said in a rare article featuring Péter about Digic's work for the 2006 PC video game Warhammer: Mark of Chaos: "Fendrik starts every project with a clear concept in mind… Fendrik warns that the artist should not allow the software and effects to take control of the project, or force them to accept a simple solution to problems that arise when taking the image from their mind and bringing it to life."
"Even if these issues are enough to create mind-splitting headaches, this graphic artist knows that a project is not truly completed until it feels like it has come out exactly as he had imagined it."
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