LightWave Artist Profile: Nicolas Crombez

Check out the beautifully disturbing imagery of this LightWave master.

Posted: Tue 01 Jun 2010

All it takes is one look at Nicolas Crombez's work and you’ll recognize a true master, diligent in his craft. His beautifully disturbing imagery conjures an emotional experience no viewer will soon forget, as I suppose art should. The pictures speak for themselves, telling stories without text, narration or movement. These static images are snapshots of worlds that exist only in the artist's imagination, becoming real or surreal through amazing talent and the use of innovative tools, such as LightWave 3D. It's pretty remarkable when you think about it. These artificial worlds he creates with LightWave seem almost tangible, as if the images were taken with a steam-driven camera rig, covered in grease and blood. The photographer, wheezing into the dirty filter of his gas mask, is covered from head to toe in a sweltering radiation suit made of animal skins, black rubber and metal. Once taken, the final photographs are slipped through a hole in the fabric of our reality, printed on sheets of bloodstained bits of broken glass that cuts our hands as we pick it up. It's possible, isn't it? We had to find out for sure, so we contacted Nicolas Crombez, and asked him some questions. As we suspected, his answers are just as unique and inspiring as his work.

NewTek: What got you into computer graphics?

Nicolas Crombez: I made an artistic career choice, both practical and theoretical in the 1980s, in Tournai, Belgium. At the time, computer graphics was in its infancy. Technology applied to the field of art has always interested me. The first video games, with their clumsy movements and approximated contours, fed my imagination. I appreciate the "toolbox" principle of the computer, it allows me a form of independence in a way. Since the advent of the Internet, I added interactivity. I consider my work as an infinite experimental game, and the computer as a great playground.

Drawing is my primary form of expression. I then follow up what I scribble onto paper with what appears on the computer screen. Exploring mental and sensory imagination, as well as the development of a visual universe has always amazed me. The rigorous technical aspect of CG forced me to overcome constraints in order to stimulate the off-frame, the unsaid, and the immersion of the viewer. I enjoy making unlikely connections.

NT: Briefly describe your production workflow.

NC: Observe - dream - digest - create.

Very often, I start my projects with sketches scribbled on paper. I then turn to the tools, techniques, and play with chance. When I am modeling, I work in a very classic and basic method. I only use a few plug-ins. In Layout, I use its rigging functions and instance management, and render with FPrime. I also tweak some images in post-production work, by adding grading, detail enhancement or even redrawing parts of the image to suit my needs. I think the tools must serve an idea, expression, feeling, etc. but not a principle. I'm not a 3D purist.

NT: Why do you use LightWave 3D?

NC: I use LightWave 3D because it’s simple, ergonomic and powerful. I appreciate LightWave's versatility, and the modeler is very intuitive. Another significant point is the very active community around LightWave. Many resources (tutorials, plug-ins, forums, etc. ) exist and are at every artist's disposal. If LightWave cannot do it natively, a plug-in usually fills that gap, making it even more versatile. During my CG studies, I was trained on LightWave. Now, I teach it to future object designers or architects.

NT: Do you have any other talents?

NC: I prefer to use the phrase, "different means of expression."  The sound, and even more so, the implemented word requires very little technical means, and is paradoxically the medium that stimulates the imagination. I still learn a lot in the fields of music and text.

My work will take different forms in the future, because in the end, I only want to tell stories. Tools such as LightWave 3D allow me to explore and create visual universes that I continue with narrative, beyond the image. I like to use these modern techniques to divert and to appropriate these new areas of exploration.

NT: What do you see as the future of this medium?

NC: Research in the departments of synthetic creation have evolved dramatically in visual domains, sound and genetics. This shows how we are at the gates of the modification of a reality that is different from what we know today. Nowadays, a screen is necessary to model objects and create 3D images. Soon, with the advent of nanotechnology, we can directly model, program and manipulate future materials, changing its shape, color or stiffness. When I was a student, printing tangible objects modeled in a computer to a 3D printer was considered purely science fiction. Currently, it is becoming an industry standard. The evolution of technology has no boundaries.

NT: Can you explain your latest project, the 100,000 pixels long painting?

NC: I wanted to tell a story that unfolds over time without resorting to frame by frame animation. I like the idea that the viewer can decide where they come and go in the visual, and it still weaves itself into a story.

Regarding the achievement and implementation, I modeled almost all elements present in the image, using and changing a few stock models. The project was divided into several scenes, and then calculated under FPrime from Worley labs. I glued each rendered piece together, and I did a lot of post work and retouching, mainly on the hair and vegetation.

Thanks to Daniel Gasienica's Openzoom project, I was able to present my work in its original size. The entire project was spread over three years.

NT: Was it in a gallery?

NC: I initiated certain steps for the exposure of the fresco, but have yet to find either the place or the interested parties willing to invest in a project like this.

NT: What was your inspiration for it?

NC: It's hard to recall my inspirations for the images, but it is undeniable that prehistoric cave paintings and Flemish tapestries, which evoked the pixel grid, had a great influence on my work. This achievement is also part of the skyline of my music project, DEU TERROR, I started a few years ago.

NT: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

NC: Thank you.