Artist Focus - Xiaoqiang Wu

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June 15th, 2022

Coming to us from Beijing, China, Xiaoqiang Wu is a well known Clarisse artist responsible for many breathtaking renders. His work varies from epic environmental designs and outdoor landscapes to sci-fi and space scenery. Let’s take a look at the process that goes into creating such projects.

REMAINS - Xiaoqiang Wu

RAW IMAGE - Xiaoqiang Wu

个人练习 - Xiaoqiang Wu

Hi Xiaoqiang! Thank you for sharing your experience with Clarisse and talking us through its place in the workflow of your many eye catching projects. Let’s get started. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background in VFX?

Hey, of course! I've been interested in drawing since I was a child and I like watching movies, too. My favorite movie is ‘Star Wars’. I haven’t seen movies like that since I was a kid. It’s amazing! Epic worldview. The huge spaceships and many epic scenes in it. l love them so much! So, I always fantasized about making something like that myself in the future. Then I looked for a way to step into the domain. Years later, I studied animation in associate college. After graduating, I got a lot of other jobs, including in architectural design, 3D animation and advertisement design. But, I still wanted to work in VFX. 

About 3 years later, I got my first job in VFX in Beijing. I had already been a texture artist, but this was my first entry point into the VFX world. I had always wanted to make a full CG shot in a movie, and at that moment I was sure there was still a long way to go. So, l learned a lot about how to make models and real lighting, rendering and composition. I made a lot of personal work, and had a ton of fun until I became an Environment Generalist. 

I’m very lucky that many friends and others helped me. I’m thankful for them! They helped me to open the magic door of VFX! And now I’m a freelancer. I’m working on learning English, and I want to get a job abroad later this year!

FAR AWAY - Xiaoqiang Wu

How were you first introduced to Clarisse?

I had a job in a VFX start-up studio back in 2016. At the time, I had been a texture artist. I was mainly using Maya to make the whole project. I always wanted to make a full CG scene, so my best friend told me about an amazing software - Clarisse iFX. I checked the YouTube channel and watched tutorials. Clarisse looked like magic! I had never seen any software that can behave with a huge polygon count in it! Straight away I had an interest in Clarisse, so I downloaded it and got an evaluation license to use in my free time. At that moment, I felt like I had the world in my hands.

How would you describe Clarisse to someone who hasn’t used it?

Everyone already knows Clarisse is a tool for layout, set-dressing, lighting and rendering, that can handle ‘unlimited polygons’. It can make huge digital environments faster than other DCC software, and lets you spend less time finishing your project, and more time doing more things. For me it’s like an artist’s software, with its simple setup and fast 3D view feedback. You don’t see any proxy boxes, what you see is what you get! When you really get into it, you will find you are an artistic god. You can concentrate on truly creating anything!

TREE - Xiaoqiang Wu

How did you find the learning curve of Clarisse after you started using the software?

I have had a lot of other renderer experiences. I think the learning curve for me was not difficult. I spent a month learning Clarisse and organizing my work pipeline in total. I always gain experience through personal practice with new software. So, I created personal work to learn Clarisse. My approach is to make a target, understand Clarisse’s structure and use it! To tell the truth, learning Clarisse itself only took 2 weeks. When I finished my first Clarisse environment, I gained so much useful knowledge. I know maybe the first step is always the hardest, but it will get easier after that. If you’re interested and patient, everything will be so easy. Over the years, I’ve kept learning new things about software and tools, keeping my work efficient. 

What resources did you use to help you learn Clarisse?

To learn all about Clarisse, I use the Isotropix YouTube Channel. It has a lot of basic tutorials on it and has taught me most of Clarisse. My best friend, Yuanji Zhao, who’s also a Clarisse artist, has taught me a lot about Clarisse as well. We studied the Clarisse documentation together. And sometimes, I use the community forum and Discord channel. These are great resources because there’s a lot of talented artists and Isotropix employees there, that share their experiences and post their work. It’s also great that I can hear from the company co-founders there as well, I like Sam very much. He is very friendly and answers questions for us. Thanks a lot for the help!

PATHFINDER - Xiaoqiang Wu

We noticed many of your projects have been made and rendered with Clarisse. Can you tell which parts of your workflow you use Clarisse for and why you choose Clarisse for this? 

In my personal digital environment work, the main software I use is always Clarisse. When I get some good ideas, I start by drawing sketches on my iPad. Then, I use Maya for the cameras and layout and I export them to Clarisse, where I do look development, lighting, set-dressing and rendering. 

I’ve tried a lot of different software to make digital environments, and they have many of the same characteristics. What makes me uncomfortable about the other software solutions is their proxy previews. They can’t give me intuitive visual feedback. I have to render before I can see the result, which I usually spend a lot of time on. But when I use Clarisse, that doesn’t happen. Clarisse always gives me near-real-time rendering feedback. And Clarisse has a powerful scattering system, its efficient, easy and stable! I really enjoy using it to create my environments.

Your work features many stunning photo-real environments. What appeals to you about creating these types of projects? 

When I first got into this industry, I was blown away by realistic visual effects and its ability to bring fantastic, magical, and science fiction scenes to life. These types of scenes have always given me a lot of different ideas to make different types of environments. However, making different realistic environments has come with a lot of unknown hardships. I had to overcome these difficulties one by one, and after lots of practice, I have learned. But, I haven’t learned enough! I want to keep doing better than before, as I enjoy the challenge very much.

MAGICAL JOURNEY - Xiaoqiang Wu

The details in this piece are phenomenal. The life in this scene is so realistic and vibrant, and it shines through your work. Can you walk us through how you created this scene?

This is one of my favorite personal projects! There’s something about the forest, lighting and reference color. When I started the project, I collected many reference photos and videos. Then I made a simple layout and camera in Maya, and I exported it to Clarisse. In the end, I just used the Maya camera and low polygon ground. In Clarisse, I used atall tree model for layout over and over again. Multiple uses of this model didn't slow down my progress, thanks to Clarisse's ability to carry high poly! When I finished the final layout, I made the ground displacement.

MAGICAL JOURNEY, RENDER - Xiaoqiang Wu

By the way, I haven't seen other software that handles displacement faster than Clarisse. Then, I used some Speedtree library assets as the main elements in it, such as the Banyan trees and shrubs. And I used the Megascans library for grasses, shrubs and some little rocks. They have a very simple plugin for Clarisse that I love. I made some small mosses with GrowFX and exported Alembics (ABC) to Clarisse. Finally, I used Clarisse on the Banyan branches. I made assets for look development in Clarisse, along with scattering the trees, the grasses, the shrubs, the mosses and fireflies with it. For the deer, after my friend helped me export the Houdini Fur System guideline to Clarisse. I made the deer fur in Clarisse. Thanks again for helping my friends!

I used procedural noise to make the water surface. It has two cellular-noise notes, a big one and a little one. Then, I mixed them. In the end, I rendered everything with Clarisse.

MAGICAL JOURNEY, PROCESS - Xiaoqiang Wu

SNOW MOUNTAIN - Xiaoqiang Wu

This particular environment has served as the inspiration for other winter landscapes you’ve created, such as Snow Mountain 2020 and Snow Mountain Shot B. Why did you choose to turn this project into a series? 

I love winter and the snow. The snow mountain gives me a feeling of peace and vastness, and can represent many things. Maybe the future, hope or anything really. This concept gave me a lot of great ideas for creating.

SNOW MOUNTAIN, 2020 - Xiaoqiang Wu

Can you take us through your process for creating the key features in this series, such as cloud scattering, sky lighting, mountain and snow textures?

I used Clarisse for 90% of this project. I usually use Gaea to make real mountains as true erosion simulation is always my first choice. In this project, I made two snow mountains with Gaea and exported the OBJs to Clarisse.

Then, I took the mountains and rotated them to make them look diverse. I chose a cloudy HDRI for the environment light and used distant light for my key lighting, too. I used two Fractal Noise nodes and mixed them with the main color to make it look like the sun was going through the clouds. Immediately after, I used the Gradient node (slope OBJ node) and triplanar node for the mask to make the snow mountain cliff displacement. I used the same mask to make the snow mountain material, as well as two different shaders. One was the snow shader, and the other was a rock. They had some different normal, specular and roughness maps on them. Then, I mixed them with the Material Physical Multiblend node. And I input the helicopter’s Alembic (ABC) model to Clarisse for look development and animation.

I imported three clouds (VDBs) to Clarisse and put them where I felt looked the most beautiful location. I didn't use the scatter this time, because I wanted them to follow my precise ideas. For the pines, I used the ‘particle paint‘ node, rather than the ‘point clouds’ nodel, to get the exact result I wanted, and make it more beautiful! Clarisse’s magic always brings me great tools and helps me create more!

SNOW MOUNTAIN Reference Photo - Xiaoqiang Wu

SNOW MOUNTAIN in Gaea View - Xiaoqiang Wu

SNOW MOUNTAIN 3D View in Clarisse A - Xiaoqiang Wu

SNOW MOUNTAIN 3D view in Clarisse B - Xiaoqiang Wu

Key Light, Environment Light & HDR - Xiaoqiang Wu

SNOW MOUNTAIN Material Nodes & Displacement Nodes - Xiaoqiang Wu

PRACTICE, INSPIRED BY VLADIMIR MOTSAR - Xiaoqiang Wu

You give Vladimir Motsar credit for your inspiration behind this project. He originally created this scene in 2D using Photoshop. What made you want to recreate the scene in 3D using Clarisse?  

I’m not good at digital matte painting. But, I really want to learn it! I look at ArtStation every day to be inspired by the work of some very talented artists, and I try to identify their good points. When I saw Vladimir Mostar's painting, I was shocked by it and liked it very much. I tried to understand his ideas and learn something about composition. So, I made a 3D environment to see if I could apply what I’d learned.

THE TREASURE HUNTER - Xiaoqiang Wu

The contrast between the darkness and the light really sets the scene for this project. It creates a dramatic effect that adds to your story line of a hunter finding his hidden treasure. What other details in this project, besides the lighting, do you think add to the back story? And how did you create them? 

I think the wizard statues, the broken buildings and the sand are all important points. In this story the statues are dark wizards that have let the treasure be cursed by dark sorcery. Meaning, anyone who approaches will be in danger. That’s why the treasure is still preserved to this day. Whereas the sand and the broken buildings are designed to give a sense that lots of time has lapsed since this treasure was placed here. I also painted a cigarette for the hunter. I picture him smoking his cigarette, thinking about what's coming next and his feelings.

To make this scene, I used a lot of assets from Megascans and the ‘Lost City Collection’. I input a huge number of polygons into Clarisse, and then did mylook development, set-dressing and rendering there. 

SPACE RESCUE - Xiaoqiang Wu

This piece seems to take on a different theme compared to your others, which involve environmental landscapes and outdoor scenery. What inspired you to take on this type of project? How did your workflow differ in this project compared to your others? 

I always wanted to make a science fiction environment. I mixed the spaceship, the alien planet, and rescue together to make this project. Something special about this project is that I used Houdini and Gaea to Houdini plugins. All of the terrains were made by me in Houdini. I exported the Alembics (ABC) into Clarisse. And finally, I made the next part in Clarisse and rendered it.

SPACE RESCUE Houdini Landform - Xiaoqiang Wu

SPACE RESCUE Houdini Procedure Rocks - Xiaoqiang Wu

What other softwares do you use in the majority of your personal projects? Can you tell us how you find the workflow between these software and Clarisse? 

I always use Gaea, Houdini, Speedtree, GrowFX and Maya. Clarisse supports many common 3D formats. For example, it supports the Alembic (ABC)/USD format of the model and supports the commonly used texture formats, as well as the TX format, and it can import VBD information.

After using Clarisse in your workflow for the past few years, how do you feel the software has evolved over time?

I have been using Clarisse for six years. During this time, I have seen the efforts of the developers. Powerful tools are released with every major release. It makes each project easier and faster to do. I've also seen render times getting faster and faster! Isotropix is always listening to everyone's suggestions, and realizing what we need!

Do you have any particular features that you would like to see implemented in Clarisse in the future?

Yes, I personally want to achieve GPU+CPU rendering together. I have seen the efforts of developers, and I think it will eventually be possible!

PRACTICE, FINAL - Xiaoqiang Wu

What project, personal or professional, is up next?

I actually am planning to make a 3-5 minute sci-fi short film as a personal project. But, I’m still in the conceptual design stage. But of course, it will be made with Clarisse when I’m ready!

What advice can you give to aspiring VFX artists who want to take their personal and professional work to the next level?

I think the first point is to always be interested. It gives you the power to go forward. Technology always evolves fast. We can’t stop learning. We must keep a good attitude. We live and learn! If you don't have any new ideas for your new work, I think you can go to ArtStation to see the work of other talented artists, learn from them, and communicate with each other. Then set yourself a target, and practice!. So, stay interested and patient, keep learning, get a target,, and you can do it!

Thank you Xiaoqiang! It’s always a pleasure interviewing VFX artists who are so clearly passionate and enthusiastic about their work. We love seeing the phenomenal environments you create with Clarisse and look forward to all the stunning scenes you will be making in the future. 


Check Out Xiaoqiang’s Work: ArtStation, LinkedIn, CGSociety, Instagram