Artist Focus - Mathew Borrett

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May 14th, 2020

His hyper detailed digital art represents some of the finest examples in this genre and we are extremely proud that Clarisse iFX has helped him to achieve some of these mesmerizing results. 

In this interview, he will give us precious insights into his 3D and VFX background, as well as into his creative process.

Hypernurnia - Mathew Borrett

Hi Mathew! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your 3D/VFX background?

I’ve been making digital art since my Commodore 64 days, and started tinkering with polygons in the mid 2000s, once the software became more accessible. By 2008, after a brief stint as a carpenter, I was working in VFX as a matte painter. Since then I’ve worked in VFX both in studio and freelance, on movies, TV, and VR. My own personal art practice has also become very 3D-based as well. 

How did you first hear about Clarisse?

I first heard of Clarisse when I saw Xavier Chassaing’s “Dry Lights”, which really impressed me. I immediately downloaded the PLE and the rest is history.

How would you describe Clarisse to someone who doesn’t know about it?

I would describe Clarisse as a layout-lighting-rendering app which allows superior visual feedback and removes barriers to complexity and extreme polygon count.

How smooth was it integrating Clarisse into your workflow? What’s the learning curve like?

My 3D background was mostly in Modo, which I had pushed to its limits in terms of layout and scattering. Clarisse was fairly easy to pick up, though it took a while to wrap my head around some of the more powerful referencing tools. Even after a couple of years I’m still realizing the power and flexibility of the software.

What resources did you use to learn Clarisse?

Tutorials were scarce early on, and the manual a bit sparse. The Isotropix forum was usually a good place to get answers. There’s a lot more tutorials out there now. Otherwise trial and error is always a good way to learn. 

Hypernurnia - Mathew Borrett

Lots of details, perfect compositions and a soft, subtle lighting are some of the elements that make your work stand out. Lots of comments on social media are from people saying they would love to disappear into the worlds you’ve created . What are your main sources of inspiration and is there a sense of escapism present in your work?

There is definitely an escapist bent to “Hypernurnia”. The process for that series is highly exploratory. I don’t begin with much if any planning or composition in mind. Instead I procedurally generate a large expanse of landscape, usually based on a polygrid displaced with noise, onto which I scatter a large kit of custom models I’ve accumulated over the years. I constantly shuffle the scatterers, and play with different lighting, all the while hunting around for interesting camera views. Once I find a composition I like I’ll usually add some hand-placed elements. But generally I leave 95% of the scene procedural. It’s always a delight to discover some random arrangement I never would have thought of, so it can be a very powerful creative tool. I try to just play and not think about it too much. That way all the things that inspire me; the natural world, urban geography, science fiction, etc, just naturally manifest in the work.

Hypernurnia - Mathew Borrett

There is another series, called Hypnagogic City, which shows the city of Toronto in different stages of decay. Is it a dystopian vision of the future or just an exploration of how nature would reclaim human cities?

I guess it’s both of those things, plus what I would even consider to be a Utopian vision as well. With these images I tried to leave the story ambiguous and open to interpretation. Dark and light mixed together. While there is decay, there is also lots of accretion of things on top of the old, with new life and different forms of habitation occuring. These were also much more directed and purposeful images compared to Hypernurnia, and I tried to be accurate to life in terms of the buildings all being to scale. It helped that I could go to the actual place on my lunch break to take photos.

Hypnagogic City - Mathew Borrett

How is Clarisse helping you making these images? What features help the most?

It’s hard to pick any one or two features. It all works as a whole. The scattering tools are really great. The referencing system is awesome, as it allows an artist to easily manipulate large asset libraries. Seeing everything in the viewport without needing bounding boxes is amazing, as is being able to adjust lighting interactively. All these remove a lot of the guesswork so you can hone in on a look very quickly. 

How does a project start, do you use sketches and at what point do you start working the lay-out in Clarisse? Do you still make a lot of changes to the initial design, once working in Clarisse?

It very much depends on the kind of project. As I previously outlined, for personal work I often take a very freewheeling kitbash approach in Clarisse. I’ll often start with a sketch for concept or DMP work, where there’s much more direction, but even then I’ll  sometimes begin a project in Clarisse by kitbashing and doing lighting setups right away, often using assets generated by other departments. Projects that I thought would take a week have ended up taking only a couple of days. Changes are easy to make at any stage. I can usually go farther than expected in Clarisse, with much less paintover in photoshop than I initially thought.

What other software do you use and how easy is it to integrate them with Clarisse, bringing in assets etc.?

My main 3D asset tool is Modo. I do post in Photoshop or Nuke. I’ve also been known to dabble in 3dcoat, World Creator and World Machine, Speedtree, Substance Painter, and I’ve recently dipped my toes into Houdini. I’ve had no problems integrating these with Clarisse. I’m loving Speedtree Engine and Quixel Bridge for Clarisse - those have saved me many hours of work!

You have used Clarisse for a few years now, how do you feel the software is evolving, are you satisfied with the progress it has made for the way you are using it?

For the way I use Clarisse, I’ve been satisfied. So far I’ve not bumped into any limitations that couldn’t be solved with more powerful hardware. I mostly use it for rendering stills, so there are aspects of the software I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve just recently started rendering animations, so I’ll have to get back to you :) 

Which feature would you like to see implemented the most in Clarisse?

Perhaps I’m easy to please, as I honestly I can’t think of any major features that I’d like added, with the understanding that Clarisse is not for asset creation.  

What project, personal or professional, are you currently working on?

I just finished a year in the DMP department at Mr X in Toronto, and plan to focus on my own projects for a while. I’ve done some work in VR recently, using Clarisse to render the backgrounds, and I may do more of that using Unreal. 

What would you consider a dream project?

I think a dream project for me would be to have a hand in all aspects of a project, from concept to finish. It would be fun to create visuals for a piece of music I really like.

Any advice you would give to aspiring visual artists, in 3D or other digital realms, who are starting out Today?

Try to find your own unique personal style. There are so many artists out there using digital tools now, and a lot of it looks the same to me. While there’s certainly value in imitation when you’re learning, and there’s nothing new under the sun, I think success lies in finding your own way. 


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