Get to know Gnomon Workshop Instructor, Crystal Bretz
Senior character/creature modeler, Crystal Bretz, is a shining example of what artists can achieve if they believe in themselves and stick to their guns. Crystal’s career started as a 3D generalist at the visual effects outfit Artifex Studios, where she worked for two years working across animation, tracking, layout, FX, rigging, and lighting.
Character modeling was Crystal's real passion, though, so Crystal applied herself to making her dream come true. After eight months of applications, Crystal was hired at Method Studios as a model and texture artist.
Today, Crystal works as a Senior Modeler at Digital Domain, focusing on organic creatures and characters, and boasts an impressive list of titles under her belt, including Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Black Panther, and Netflix Original The Willoughbys.
We chat with Crystal about applying yourself, her latest Gnomon Workshop tutorial, and what's currently exciting her about the industry — as well as gain a sneak peek into what she’s brewing up for her next workshop series!
GW: What or who are your main influences and inspirations in your work?
CB: Some of my biggest inspirations are Rafael Grasetti, Ian Spriggs, Justin Holt, Antoine Verney-Carron, Gael Kerchenbaum, and Stan Winston. Of course, I have so many other inspirations, and I love all art, but these guys put so much heart into their craft. They inspire me daily.
GW: You've worked on some great shows. Could you please share some of your favorite moments or creations from those shows?
CB: One of my favorite shows was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, on which I helped to create a giant Kraken creature at Method Studios. I had a fantastic team, the work was so fun, and I learned so much from some skilled artists.
Although big projects are fun, I think the best experiences I've had are always when the team works well together and supports one another. Fantastic Beasts was one of those projects. I also loved working on a snake model for Ronald Dahl's The Witches, which featured another fun creature I worked on with an amazing team.
CB: 'Creating a Stylized Female Character' contains essential tips for character creation — and not all are specific to stylized female characters. The workshop reveals a variety of tips and tricks artists can use to increase speed and productivity across multiple projects and which will elevate work to industry standards.
I talk about the techniques used in actual film studios — both creative techniques and essential admin concepts like how to schedule work to hit deadlines. Honestly, it’s often a massive hurdle to overcome in projects!
GW: What are you covering next for The Gnomon Workshop?
CB: Currently, I'm working on a tutorial about creating a male groom using XGen. I'll cover creating a beard, lashes, brows, and the main hairstyle. I'm excited about this tutorial; artists looking to build production-ready grooms will get a lot from it!
GW: What current creative trends are exciting you, and why?
CB: I'm currently looking into virtual production techniques using Unreal Engine. Unreal has come a long way; there's so much you can do with it. Real-time has especially changed so much about the way we can produce work. Getting hands-on with technology is so interesting. As many studios are integrating real-time and virtual production techniques into their workflows these days, I think it's an important trend.
I'm also looking into working with R3DS's ZWrap for digi-double workflows. Following that, I’ll jump into Houdini, as its grooming tools interest me a lot.
GW: Do you have any tips for students currently studying modeling and looking for their first role in the industry?
CB: Don’t disregard the little studios! Although you may not be working on the world's most notable feature films, the skills you learn from these studios can teach you independence and a deep understanding of the entire visual effects pipeline.
Also, always try to be a pleasant person to work with. Most companies will value an individual with a great personality who gels with their team over a person with fantastic artistic skills but a poor attitude.
Finally, never stop applying for jobs, even when things seem like they're not going your way. Although applying for months and not getting any bites can be demotivating (trust me, I know; I've been there) you have to keep trying. Keep in mind that companies often hire seasonally — you could just be applying at the wrong time, and things may change if you just wait a few months!
Crystal’s recent Gnomon Workshop tutorial, Creating a Stylized Female Character, is available today. Over 6 hours, Crystal dives deep into the process behind translating a 3D concept into a 3D character, from modeling to texturing, groom, look dev, and more. Her next tutorial will focus on male grooms using XGen will be available via The Gnomon Workshop later this year. Watch this space!
Crystal is currently working on a feature film at Digital Domain she is unable to talk about ("But trust me — it's pretty cool!") alongside some exciting personal projects, such as a giant "alien gorilla beast" model and a stylized female bust. She has plans for many more personal projects in the coming months, too.