Red Robot 3D interviews Epoch Art

Here at Redrobot3D we want to share in the love of all things 3DX.  I wanted to make an effort to reach out and get in touch with the creators that inspired not only myself, but numerous other artists working in the field. This month we here at Redrobot3D are proud to feature the one and only Epoch!

Many may know Epoch from his genre shattering series such as “Clara Ravens”, “Dark Rift”, and “Dossier” collections. These series push the boundaries in graphics, storytelling, and animation in what is usually a very stoic field.

I first came across Epoch a few years ago over while he was working with CrazyXXX3DWorld and his story “Freehope” then followed him as he launched “Clara Ravens”. His work has not only impressed me but also made me push further in what I could do with my own creative energies.

Let’s sit back, grab a drink, and pick over the mind of Epoch and see what makes one of the best artists in the 3DX field tick.

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First of all I want to say thank you for stopping by and giving us some time out of what I imagine is a very busy schedule.

Thanks you for the opportunity to make some new fans! I’m on break at the moment. I usually take a few days off after each release to catch my breath, focus on real-life stuff, and plan for what’s next. I’m about to start work on some commission projects which are always a blast, but right this minute I’m excited to answer some questions for you! Unless there’s math.

What were your very first steps in the world of 3D and CGI based comics? Did you already have a background in computer graphics or working in a related industry?

I earned my B.A. in Film and Video Production from Penn State. This was back in 2002 and there weren’t any 3D design programs at the time because the industry as a whole was unproven. I really enjoyed 3D movies and wanted to get involved with 3D art, so I did some digging and found Poser 4. As with most people, I completely sucked in the beginning, but I discovered 3D communities at Renderosity, CGSociety, and, of course, Renderotica. At first I was just absorbing as much info as I could, trying to improve. After awhile, I felt confident enough to start posting my own works. I would get critique and keep learning Poser from information posted in forums online. Back then, Poser was a very bare bones software and to get decent art out of it you had to learn a lot of cheats. But it was all par for the course, because eventually I got confident enough with the software that my posts at Renderotica and Renderosity were getting a lot of comments and positive feedback. One post I did at Renderotica was a simple page from a mock comic book and it got the attention of the Content Manager at CrazyXXX3DWorld. I was offered a freelance contributor position, which I initially turned down. Some time later, however, I decided to take him up on the offer, and so began my career in erotic CG art.

Did you have a strong back ground in art growing up or was it something you fell into later?

I always loved drawing when I was young. In college I took more art classes: Human Figure Drawing, Clothed Figure Drawing, Dynamic Anatomy, Charcoal Drawing, Chiaroscuro, Color Theory, Photography, et al. I went to grad school with the intention of earning an M.F.A. in Game Design (I would later quit and regret the decision) and took even more art classes there. So I did have a pretty solid 2D art background before venturing to the 3D realm, which has been a HUGE boon to my work. Things like postworking, looking for bad tangents, spacial relationships, use of color in mood, weight and balance (learned studying dynamic anatomy for realistic posing of characters), etc. Logo Design and Desktop Publishing experience in my post-college years have also been a huge help when working on promotional materials for my releases.

Story telling seems to be one of the most important aspects of your work. What are some of the steps you take in putting together a story? What areas do you think you’ve grown in when you compare some of your first comics like Freehope to your newest comics like Clara Ravens?

I studied Screenwriting in college for two semesters. I learned classic Hollywood narrative style; three act structure, character archetypes, exposition. I learned how to write dialogue (and make character-specific dialogue), how to write action (with stabs and escalating tension), story pacing and beats. I’ve also written two short films and one feature. Storytelling is my favorite part of making comics. I’ve said on numerous occasions that I’m a storyteller first and a pornographer second. This has caused a lot of eye rolling and chiding from the casual fans, aspiring CG erotica artists, and a plethora of wannabe self-published erotic fiction writers. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, I am not just talking out of my ass. I have pedigree, and I use what I’ve learned with every story that I write.

I believe my writing has improved over the years across all areas. From character development to writing exposition (without spoon-feeding it to the reader) I’ve gained tons of insight from reading online articles and listening to writing podcasts. Admittedly, I feel my oldest narratives in Freehope are embarrasingly one-note. In my defense however, I never expected to be doing CG erotica as a career, so the plot lines in my earliest works are of the simplest conflicts. For example, Freehope’s throughline is simple: Kendra wants to escape. In comparison, my newest IP Dark Rift has I think 6 or 7 plot lines introduced in just the first episode and the throughline hasn’t even been revealed yet! But it is the most complex narrative I’ve created to date and I hope will be a title that is embraced by my fans.

The start to any story is simple: know your characters. You need well fleshed-out characters in order to understand their desires, motivations, fears, etc. From there, if you truly feel like they are a person you know, the story writes itself. Create the conflict, then write the story around it. I know this sounds reductive, but I could write an essay on my writing process for my comics so I’m just keeping it simple.

The dossiers differ from the comics though in that they were an answer to the fans request to get shorter release times and more porn. I could just do random image sets with random girls, but I wanted to keep them grounded in the universe I’m creating and make them have at least a little bit of a story. Since they don’t have word bubbles to tell the story, I have to rely entirely on visual storytelling, and that can be very tricky. This is where my film background comes in handy. Aspects of filmmaking translate directly to CG erotica since both are in 3D space using cameras. Things like focal length, blocking, mise en scene, etc. all play a part in moving the story forward. Of course, the character’s facial expressions do a huge part to tell the story as well.

Clara Ravens seems to be one of your more popular characters. Many could say she has certain characteristics of another popular video game character. Did she start off as a parody and then moved into becoming a full fleshed out character on her own right?

Yes, she was originally created as a Lara Croft-like character, and much of who she is even now is essentially derivative. But, with each subsequent Clara Ravens release, as her backstory is more and more flehsed-out (mostly through The Dossier Series), she has grown increasingly disparate from Lara. She is much different now than she was originally intended, and her personality is her own.

Fun fact: Me being from the U.S. and Clara from the U.K., when I write her dialogue I frequently review a “British Slang Dictionary” to see if there’s a more colloquial way to express what I’ve written for her in an effort to improve the authenticity of her dialogue. Then I pass the whole finished piece to one of my long-time fans who is British, and he tells me what to tweak based on common speak in the U.K.

Moving into the more technical aspects of your work, what kind of set up did you have when you first began? What kind of computer are you working with now?

When I first began, I was rendering in Poser 4’s standard engine. It rendered on the CPU and it couldn’t even do common things like subsurface scattering, ambient occlusion, or even raytracing. So renders would come out quickly on a cheap single-core PC (which was what I was working on).

With Poser 5 came the Firefly render engine and with that came raytracing and indirect lighting, which would allow for things like AO and SSS. Still, as I mentioned earlier, it was a cheat. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a physically accurate render engine. So I had to employ all types of effects to achieve the look I wanted, but all of this was still achievable on a pretty low-end PC.

By the time I started using Octane Render, I had to REALLY beef up my PC. Since Octane was a switch from CPU to GPU rendering, I originally built a new PC with a GTX 680. Renders were still taking forever to cook cleanly, so I added a GTX Titan to the rig. At some point along the way I invested in a second PC with another GTX Titan. Since then, I’ve gone through so many GPUs I can’t even remember them all. But I currently have two custom built PCs: A staging rig that has a GTX 980, 680, and 610 (for powering the display only) and a render PC that has two GTX Titans in it.

What aspect do you find takes the most time in putting together one of your comics? The script writing or the posing/rendering?

The rendering is typically always the longest part, but posing is a close second. Finding the weight and balance for each character, especially when posing them together in a sexual position, can be incredibly challenging to make look believable. And if there’s more than two characters, it gets even trickier to get looking right.

I take the characters from nearly every frame I pose into Zbrush to clean up their musculature and bends, which also adds a lot of time. I work in Poser, so I don’t have access to the beauties that are the Genesis 2 and above subdivision meshes, with the ability to just dial in a high-res sculpt. So I like to turn subd on in Octane for my generation 4 mesh characters (V4, M4) , especially in close-up, to help with mesh smoothing. That can increase render times as well.

Also, compiling a DCV (Dynamic Comic Viewer) comic takes time as well, since there currently is no authoring tool for the software and we have to build it by hand.

How would you describe your work pipe line?

If it’s a comic, the concepts are written haphazardly on paper. Brainstorming ensues with every idea that comes to mind being jotted down. That is whittled into a cohesive piece and the narrative is constructed. When I have a solid story outline, I fire up Final Draft and start writing the story.

After the story is done, I move into set building. Next to story writing, set building is my favorite. I love building a cityscape, ancient ruin, bedroom, or whatever and making it feel lived in. I will buy pre-fab sets from Daz3D, Renderosity, RDNA, etc. and tear them apart in Maya, reconstructing the set as I envision it, retexturing wherever necessary, and building whatever parts I can’t find online in Maya. Once the set is finished and I’m happy with it, I build a lighting rig and convert every piece in the set to an Octane material, since Poser’s default material settings look like garbage in Octane.

When the set is completed, it is on to character building. If it’s a new character, I start with my base, dial up the morphs, sculpt the face in Zbrush, and find a suitable texture set for the character. I’d say 90% of the time I tweak the texture in some way, whether it be something as simple as color correction for the diffuse maps, or a complete overhaul, painting in cuts and bruises, creating my own bump and specular maps, or even displacement maps. If the character is an existing character, I typically always change their clothes (because, you know, people do that). If it’s a popular character, like Clara Ravens for example, I will often change her hair style, pubic hair style, give her a tan or tan lines, in addition to changing her outfit.

When the characters and sets are built and ready to go, the comic enters production and I try to complete four setups a day. I will usually pose my characters in an empty scene first, to get a better response out of the OpenGL, then import them into the scene. If any character sculpting needs to be done due to mesh deformation, or unique clothing fits (Clara pulling her dress down, for example), then I import into Zbrush, sculpt my fixes or clothing fits, then re-export, check all the materials in Octane, find my camera angle and focal length, and render.

I save all the renders that cook throughout the day and overnight and postwork them the next day after I have at least one setup complete and rendering. That way I am not losing rendering time, because losing track of your required render times is the easiest way to miss a project deadline.

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What would be something you wished you had known at the start of your 3D journey that you know now?

I wish I would have known that piracy would be so rampant and the pirates themselves would be the most horrible people. I take medication for anxiety, and I still literally have sleepless nights because of it. Countless artists just getting started have quit because of it. And there’s nothing worse than seeing your work pirated in forums where the pirates then shit all over your hard work and livelihood. It is demoralizing, deflating, anxiety-producting, and has made me consider quitting on several occasions to just go back to corporate America and work a nine-to-five.

I really, really love being able to work from home, be my own boss, and take off whenever I want. But it comes at a huge price, and that is the toll that piracy takes on a business (and I am a legitimate licensed business). I can’t afford health care because paying a $500 premium every month simply isn’t in my budget. I had to take a penalty in taxes last year because I had no health insurance. i’m still paying off my 2015 taxes because I couldn’t afford to pay them at the end of the year. Pirates think they are committing a victim-less crime, but I’m living proof that it’s simply not true. They justify their theft and the damage they inflict by claiming things are overpriced and not worth the value, but I work hard when I’m on project, typically 10-12 hours a day at least six days a week. I put my heart and soul into every release to make sure the quality is up to the high standard I hold myself to. Somehow that’s not enough for the pirates.

This last project I completed nearly wrecked my relationship with my girlfriend. I was so tired after working late nights weeks in a row that I would flop on the sofa, watch an episode or two of a show, and fall asleep. We didn’t get out of the house to do anything fun for a month. So imagine how upset I was when, the very next day, fans reported finding my latest release on not one BUT FIVE popular piracy websites. Then, imagine how I felt when I saw the sales numbers drop off precipitously immediately thereafter. I was hoping to enjoy some quality time with my girlfriend for a few days, but with sales numbers like these I have to immediately get back to work if I want to be able to make rent and pay my bills.

To everyone out there, if you really need to steal our hard work, be a downloader… not the asshole that shares it. If you are sharing our stuff, you clearly need to realign your moral compass because you are hurting people. I would sooner let anyone who can’t afford my work contact me directly and name their own purchase price for any product with the solemn oath that they won’t ever pirate the work rather than steal it outright. Piracy is morally wrong. Piracy is illegal. Piracy is destroying the CG Erotica/3DX community. Please do us a favor and don’t be a part of it.

I’ve seen many talented 3D artist get tired with the field and move on. What are some things you do to keep your creativity going? Do you see yourself still making 3DX content 5-10 years from now?

If I can make enough money to survive and also afford to travel, I want to be doing this as long as it remains relevant and interesting. I don’t feel I have any problems coming up with interesting stories and concepts for image sets, but I do feel that some have been better than others. That’s why I like to reinspire myself by going back and re-examining my older body of work every so often. I’ll read my old comics from start to finish, back to back, and remind myself that I created all of that. It reinvigorates me and keeps me motivated.

Do you think that the introduction to affordable home VR devices will have a great impact on the future of 3DX? Is that something you’ll interested in getting into?

It’s absolutely going to have an impact on this market considering how the two are so closely related, but exactly what that is, I have no idea. I think it’s still too early to see the path that VR will take, and despite the VR devices themselves being relatively inexpensive, the hardware required to power them is still pretty high. It will remain a niche market for some time I’d imagine, but if/when the technology is pervasive enough, I will be looking into what Epoch Art can do to be part of the VR landscape.

Who are some of the artists that inspire you?

There’s so many for varied reasons. My number one is Erogenesis because I feel he and I work in the exact same niche. We both want to make cinematic comics that tell complex stories with fascinating characters. We enjoy each other’s work so much that we’ve bonded our universes (specifically his Lali character and my Clara Ravens). He’s also got the best work ethic in the business and works tirelessly on several projects at once. He’s also a funny dude to just bullshit with and I admire him immensely.

For visual style I love HitmanX3Z, Blackadder, Laticis, SaphireNishi, CUBiKO, haneto, RGUS, and my good friend deTomasso. In the animation department, I am a big fan of the Stone Sorceress team and their works, Chimera46 (who did the animation in Clara Ravens Ep. 4: Colombina’s Illusion), Miro from Affect3D, and the team at 3DGSpot. For humor my friend Gazukull is the best. His comics are hilarious yet sexy.

What words of advice would you give to new artists just getting their feet wet in the business? Things to avoid, do, etc

Aspiring artists need to be tenacious, study tutorials, and find a forum home to ask questions where the residents are friendly and helpful.

Learn 3D techniques first: Diffuse, specular, reflection, normal, bump, and displacement mapping. Understand how all of these work. Learn about subsurface scattering, caustics, ambient occlusion, reflection/refraction, and how to use these properly. When you have the basics down, work these into your practice renders. If you intend to be the type of artist who doesn’t use the high end 3D apps, then be sure to at least acquaint yourself with concepts like UV mapping, texture mapping, dynamics simulations, etc. If you DO want to be a 3D modeler as well as artist, you’ll need to figure out which software sounds the most appealing to you out of several very expensive options (unless you choose Blender) and learn even more techniques that will take years to master. Many, many years.

After you’re proficient in 3D, be sure to take time and learn the “artistic” concepts of making CG art. This is where a traditional 2D art background can come in handy, but basically concepts learned studying photography, drawing, painting, etc. will all be incredibly useful when making 3D/CG art.

Get involved in a 3D forum with an active community that you can ask advice from and post your works for critique. Take criticism to heart, and do your best to improve based on what you’ve learned. Success doesn’t come overnight, but stick with it and you will begin to see your work improve as time goes on.

Also, this is just a particular pet peeve of mine, but please make sure you study weight and balance in posing! This is the uncanny valley that everyone in 3D knows about. Unrealistic posing is the fastest way to drop into the uncanny valley and make your characters look like plastic dolls. It is always the identifying mark of a newbie, and if you do not focus on improving in this area, no matter how technically proficient your art itself might get, it will always reside in the uncanny valley. Use limits on your characters in Poser/Daz Studio to ensure you are correctly bending your character’s joints (why the hell was there ever a rotate option in V4 and M4’s wrists? Can you rotate your wrist?). And do the pose yourself! If you can’t pose that way, then neither can your character. So don’t do it. Keep a mirror near your workstation where you can pose your arm or hand, then recreate that pose in 3D. It’s also really good to have a mirror so you can emote with your face and apply that expression to your chacter to make them more expressive, which adds to believability and helps you avoid the uncanny valley.

What can you tell us about what you have in stored for the future and where can we find more of your work?

I am looking forward to wrapping up Clara Ravens Episode 4: Colombina’s Illusion, then on to Dark Rift Ep. 2. I’ll be sprinkling in releases of The Dossier Series in between the larger comic releases as well, but no idea what the concepts will be yet.

You can find Epoch Art’s work at the websites and social media below:

Epoch Art https://www.epoch-art.com
Renderotica: https://www.renderotica.com/artists/Epoch/Gallery
DeviantART: http://epoch-art.deviantart.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/epochart/

We here at RR3D want to thank you for your time. It’s been a great pleasure getting to know one of the best minds in the field!

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