Interview: Vladimir Mastilovic – 3lateral

VladimirMastilovic_loVladimir is founder and CEO of 3Lateral, a multidisciplinary company built around passion for creation of an appearance of life in digital medium. Vladimir’s focus in career are high fidelity digital humans starting from capture systems (3D and 4D scanning, appearance capture) to modelling and articulation systems to data bases, statistical modelling and engine integration. 3Lateral has received several prestigious awards including Most Innovative Entrepreneur by EY (2014) and Best Real Time Graphics and Interactivity (SIGGRAPH 2016, as part of team of companies Epic Games, Ninja Theory, Cubic Motion and 3Lateral).  Portfolio of his company includes many AAA game titles including Grand Theft Auto IV and V, Red Dead Redemption, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Star Citizen, Until Dawn, Battlefield 1 and The Order:1886. We had an opportunity to hear about the 3Lateral’s “behind the scenes” works at CGA Belgrade conference, where Vladimir exclusively premiered some of their fresh developments.

Welcome to CGA. Good to see you again. What’s new in 3Lateral?

Thank you for inviting me and great to see you too! Oh, what’s new- we still didn’t tell to the world what’s old in our company. Even though we’re fairly established company with history of successful projects, we’re still functioning a bit in stealth mode as our main product is still in development. 3Lateral has always been about digital characters- digital humans, creatures, characters, digital life in short. We’re preparing a very exciting technology that we will present to the industry in the coming years. Characters are not only about technology of course so you can expect some exciting developments from the artist’s point of view as well. Some parts of what we’re working on we’re proud to show at CGA.

How did you get interested into CG and later Rigging?

I have always been fascinated with computers and with arts at the same time. I have been interested in computer graphics since my primary school (early 1990s) and when we were learning Basic programming language on “powerful” machine called Misedo 85 (it could count to 1000 in seconds, imagine that! :), I was immediately working on code that produces visual patterns instead of solving the surface of a triangle which was the task. VFX was always magic to me- I was fascinated by Cameron’s water effects in Abyss (first CG in commercial film ever as I understand), followed by Terminator 2 and later on The Matrix (not Cameron’s but one of the magical films), not to mention first appearance of Gollum on big screens. All of them were great source of inspiration and wonder. In my high school I started being focused more on stories than on effects and stories need characters, characters need to be articulated and animated so that is how rigging became larger part of my focus for a longer time. One could say I’m being very thorough about creating my own short film- after 10 years of rigging I might do 10 years of animation followed by 20 years of directing before I finally attempt to do a whole piece. With some luck sci-fi stories about nano bots that will make our life longer end up being true and I have enough time for all of this. But seriously though- for our team, creating a character is creating a story and vice versa. I feel we have selected our focus well.

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In your journeys you’ve met many artists, what would you say is the best character quality that a person needs to nourish to become great in CG?

That is actually a very difficult question. Only the fact that CG has become such a wide domain makes it almost impossible to answer in this format. However, I can list a few which are universal in my opinion: open and analytical mind, curious and playful, wise to chose focus but be able to follow everything else and definitely being a good team player.

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You have been the part of the team to make the #MeetMike? How has that collaboration worked and what is it about?

Meet Mike followed our Hellblade project and we have had another one after Meet Mike which is still undisclosed (shame that we can’t show the last one at CGA as it looks incredible). Core of the team on all three was Epic Games, Cubic Motion and 3Lateral and they were all about creating a character that lives in the same timeline as we do- in real time. This character interacts with the audience but exists in virtual world. Team is made of experts who are each in their own field one of the best in the world and what’s most important, they’re also our friends. Collaboration has been so natural and effortless and we’re still discovering it’s potential. Digital humans are becoming bigger than characters, they might become our interface with the machine i.e. with AI. Few years ago I wouldn’t believe in such things, but seeing advancements in machine learning, big data acquisition and analysis, simulation- I’m definitely a believer in that world now. One of the kicks on the project is that the engine side of the project was led by Kim Libreri, ex CTO of Lucasfilm and now CTO of Epic Games who produce the engine. Kim was in charge on effects on Matrix (as I mentioned, one of the films which inspired me to dedicate my work to CG), from concept to tech realization and it’s great learning about how it was created within the technology constraints of that time not to mention extensive knowledge we receive from Kim and his team about core concepts of CG incl. perhaps less exciting but extremely important things about color, camera and lights calibrations. Speaking of which, movie pipelines are surely moving to real time environment. It will take a while but it will happen! Sufficiently advanced, this technology will allow traditional workflows but in hi-tech environment.

3Lateral is very active in different projects online. Can you tell us about your new developments?

We have recently finished our work on Battlefront II and Battlefield I from EA, Hellblade which was huge success, also Horizon Zero Dawn from Guerrilla Games. We have equally exciting titles in development right now. When it comes to our own products, we are not ready to disclose them yet but as I hinted in previous lines, we are working on hopefully major technology breakthrough when it comes to digital humans. Our goal is not only achieving significantly higher quality than before but also democratising the technology on massive scale. We are also preparing an artistic project which we hope to reveal a glimpse of in about 6 months.

You team is getting bigger and better every day. What kind of talent do you have in the team and where recruits are coming from?

3Lateral is multidisciplinary company and in our team you can find everybody- from pure artist to pure scientists and everything in between and scaling up that team is similarly diverse. One value we do our best to maintain is forming long term relationship with everybody in the company. We sometimes talk to people for years before they finally make a big decision and join the team full time. Long term relationship means understanding fundamentals of the company and the problems we’re solving and there’s great value in that. We do our best to make our team feel good about where they are. Faculty of Technical Science in Novi Sad has a very interesting course called Engineering in Animation and a good part of our team originates from that course. Course trains in strong engineering skills which works very well with what we do. Artists are coming from much more unexpected places and sometimes from industries not even related to CG. We also hire on basis of character integrity and enthusiasm. With these base character qualities, people are able to achieve unbelievable things.

What are the advantages of working in Serbia?

We didn’t start 3Lateral in Serbia because it’s the best location in the world to start a company like 3Lateral, we started it because Serbia is our home. However, it turned out to be a great incubation area for new ideas as we’re somewhat isolated and this isolation gave us some time to create strong foundations.  After working in the UK and in the US, I made an observation that challenges are actually very similar to challenges one will face in Serbia when it comes to cost of living and work- life balance. There are some things which are better, some things are worse but I felt it comes down to pretty much similar amount of “difficulty”, only you’re far away from home. For this reason, I decided to stay close to family and friends and find a way to form 3Lateral in our own environment. Challenge was that there aren’t that many completely formed professionals in this field as there were in centers of our industry (UK/US) but formal education is strong, people are motivated and thirsty for creative challenge so this is what I would promote as biggest advantage of Serbia. We’re also very well connected geographically, traditional movie industry is very strong and almost everybody speaks English. Serbia could do a lot better when it comes to tax incentives and promoting itself on an international market. It’s a shame how little (read: nothing) has been done on that front but there are initiatives who look like they might be able to change that (Initiative Digital Serbia and StartIt center are doing great work on that front)

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How do you see the gaming and CG industry in the 2018?


Definitely a lot more AR projects now that it has been democratized through Apple and Google frameworks. This has enormous creative potential and I think this will be growing faster than VR space. As I mentioned, games and film are continuing to merge with speed but also certainty of tectonic plates movement!

Happy to have met you at the conference, and helping  us to shape the industry. See you next year!


Thank you for having us and for organizing this event which is hopefully only the first of many to follow. Events like this are fundamentally important for the community and community is for industry. It’s a circle of life!  We’re truly grateful for this initiative and we will do what we can to support it!

 

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