Darren Butler Joins KitBash3d as Head of 3D

How did you begin your career and start working at Blur Studio?

When I was fifteen-years-old (way back in 1998!) I first heard about Blur Studio during an intro AutoCAD drafting class in high school, and at the time, working at Blur seemed like an unattainable dream job. Right out of high school I was fortunate enough to start working in the Architectural Visualization field, but after nearly 4 years of producing the same generic renders of houses, parking lots, and couches, I knew that I needed to pursue my passion for a more creative environment. Nobody at the time was doing anything nearly as cool or impressive in 3D as Blur was. They did all genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Photorealism, Theme Park Rides, TV Commercials, Film Work... you name it. They did it and they did it well!

I was given the advice to diversify my portfolio to reflect the work I was most interested in pursuing when I applied. Among some of those personal projects was one based off a concept I had found online by a well-known Blur Concept Artist, Feng Zhu, so I took that image, modeled it, textured it, lit it - all in 3D (seen below) and two months later I was hired on as a junior scene assembler at Blur Studio!

(concept circa 2004 - 3d rendition circa 2006)

What were some of your favorite projects at Blur?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I’ve worked on nearly 50 projects throughout my tenure at Blur, but Tom Clancy’s The Division: Take Back NY Trailer always stood out as one of my all-time favorites. It was such a fun and unique project to take on. One of my career highs was when we received an online review entitled “Ubisoft Just Bummed Out E3 With A Super Depressing Trailer”. I found it quite hilarious, but it also made me realize how powerful of a story it really was. Other favorites include anything Star Wars related! I mean, STAR WARS!

I had the privilege of working on multiple trailers for games like The Force Unleashed and Knights of the Old Republic. I remember the first time I lit a character with a lightsaber, I nearly shed a tear! I mean, honestly, Star Wars is the reason I wanted to get into 3D and animation in the first place.

Most recently I got to supervise a short film for the Netflix Original Series: Love, Death & Robots. Nothing is more special than creating your own original content. Working with Netflix was amazing. 

The only mandate at the outset was, “make a great story with equally worthy visuals.” That creates immense pressure to make something incredible, but even greater is the immense pride that comes from overcoming such challenges and achieving that vision.

I loved LDR! Well done. So what were some of the most challenging experiences during your tenure?

Oddly enough, most of my favorite projects were also the most challenging. I would have to say The Division: Take Back NY Trailer, hands down was the most challenging to execute. When I first read the script I was blown away and couldn't wait to get started, but then as I broke down the script, I started sweating profusely. How do you make a single 2-minute shot span the course of 14 consecutive days and tell such a tragic story without a single character??? The obvious answer was time-lapse.

So lighting was the first challenge. After testing a lot of traditional CG lighting techniques, we gambled and threw our FX supervisor, Brandon Riza, on a mountain in the Sierras to capture full 360x180 HDRI’s every 20 minutes for 4 straight days! All of us back at the studio were biting our nails because he had no reception while he was up there to check in. It was either going to work perfectly, or be a complete waste of time, money, and resources… I still can't believe it worked as well as it did. We then had to write a tool to move over 5,000 custom objects around each frame over the 2 minutes of footage = no easy task at all.

I also recently finished up Terminator: Dark Fate. That was a particularly challenging project for me because even though I have always tried to achieve realism in the game cinematics I’ve supervised, working on a video game trailer is always more forgiving than a film. And not just any film, but a Terminator Movie!

And we made Terminator not with just any Director, but Tim Miller himself, who just so happened to be my boss for nearly 13 years. You would think that would have relieved some pressure, but quite the opposite. It created more pressure to make Blur and Tim look good because we were up against some of the biggest VFX companies in the world. It was an amazing relief to hear that Tim was making other studios match what we were doing in-house. BIG WIN for the Blur team!

What makes you most excited about joining KitBash3d?

I think I’m most excited to be part of a global community of artists working towards the same common goal: to make amazing original art! With KitBash3d, I’ll be getting to work with artists, for artists! That means working with artists of every skill level all over the world! From students and hobbyists, all the way up the chain to large studios and some of the most well known creatives in the field. Whether it’s movies, short films, concept art, matte paintings, video games, still images, or animations, the list can go on for what’s possible with our kits. I’m already blown away by all the original works of art using the kits already, and I can’t wait to see what else will come in the future. The genres of kits are so versatile and we’re gonna be coming out with even more, so your imagination is your limitation.

What can you promise our KitBashers now that you’re on board?

I have many goals I want to achieve, but my top 3 would go as follows: 

  • Even Higher Quality:
  • I want to take all my years of experience from Architecture, Game Cinematics, and VFX and put this to work on pushing the quality of our kits even further, making the kits easier to use for amateur artists, and even more helpful for top tier film and game studios.

  • More Kits, More Often:
  • We’re growing our team, building more kits in 2020 than ever before and dedicating more time and energy to gathering community feedback and making sure we prioritize the things our community needs most. We’ll be sending out surveys, chatting with users, and working with studios to see what kits to build and how we can improve!

  • Expanding Software Support
  • We’ll be looking at how we can provide training to new users, how we can streamline artists’ workflows, how to natively support more 3D packages, potentially game engines, and what other tools we can develop to help artists build their worlds and bring their ideas to a visual reality.

    I definitely have my hands full for the year, but 2020 is only the beginning!

    Any last words?

    I want to create a “Call to Arms” and personally extend an invitation to anyone that may be interested in joining our team as a modeler and become a Kit Krafter (trademark to be determined haha). If you have a vivid imagination and a desire to see your work showcased all over the world, then this is the perfect platform! Together, we can create some high-quality models for every artist in every corner of the world to use! I’m excited to see where this adventure takes us all and how much we can inspire artists of all kinds.

    If you are interested, you can read this article on how to apply: https://intercom.help/kitbash3d/en/articles/3048082-want-to-join-the-team

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    Check out Darren's CG Supervisor Reel: https://vimeo.com/383428322

    Darren Butler served as CG Supervisor at Blur Studio for over 12 years and worked on over 50 projects ranging from TV to Film to Game Cinematics on titles such as Terminator: Dark Fate, Destiny, Halo, The Division: Take Back NY Trailer, The Force Unleashed, Knights of the Old Republic, and Love, Death & Robots with Netflix. 

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