Featured Artist | Khachik Astvatsatryan

Khachik Astvatsatryan

Personal Website

Say hi to our new featured artist! Khachik is a computer graphic artist from Armenia, currently working as a freelance lighting artist, and is the winner of our RenderMan “Rustic Cabin” Art Challenge!

Khachik's winning Art Challenge entry

How did you become a CG artist?

When growing up I was not only watching animation and fantasy movies, but was always curious about how they made such magic places. I was just stuck in that beautiful world and wanted to discover every aspect of it.
My curiosity grew even more after my parents helped me take my first steps in this industry by buying me my first computer as a kid. While many would have installed games and spent their time playing, I instead installed 3D max and started to create my first spoon. My excitement was immense!

At the time there were no schools or places where one could learn about animation in Armenia, so I could only rely on the internet. I discovered lots of people who were willing to share their knowledge with others, which led me to online courses, short tutorials, and documentation...anything that could help me get the answers I was seeking.
Every aspect of the animation industry interested me at that time. I started with modeling and ended up with final compositing. After working in commercials and VFX, I found color and light to be the most attractive part of the animation process, specifically creating the mood with theatrical lighting.

Khachik's personal work

“Pixar's RenderMan art challenge gives everyone a chance to learn new things and show their abilities and creativity. The whole experience was great.“

What was your education process like?

Self-education has become part of my life. Usually people start with the basics of art and afterwards learn to use their knowledge in 3D programs, but in my case that process was reversed. After learning 3D programs I knew how to use them to do technically realistic renders, but I did not know what I wanted to achieve. After this realization, I started to paint, discovered old master works, and compared them with contemporary artists. I understood that without good composition, harmonic colors, and storytelling, lighting your render realistically is not compelling enough.
Now, when I watch the first Toy Story and technically compare it with Toy Story 4, I see huge technical progress, but the essential elements are the same, including expressive animations, interesting framing, artistic colors, emotive music, and most importantly...the story.

My biggest step was made when I stated the online course with Nathan Fowkes about Lighting, color, and composition. He made me fall in love with traditional painting and to relate the knowledge from the old master techniques in animation. Most importantly, he taught me that everyday work and practice is what makes you a great artist.

Nathan Fowkes is one of Khachik's biggest influences.

What artists, music and movies inspire you?

Some of the old masters that inspire me are Michelangelo, Bernini, and Rodin with their sculptures, Claude Monet with his infinite colors, Rembrandt with his lights, Edgar Degas’ compositions, Dali with his imaginary world, as well as Thomas Moran and James Reynolds’ beautiful landscapes.
The music that inspires me varies from classics such as Bach, Vivaldi, and Chopin to contemporaries like Pink Floyd, Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Hans Zimmer, and Armand Amar.

“All cultures bring something new to me“

I could talk for hours about the movies that inspire me. Some of them are WALL-E, The Incredibles, Kung Fu Panda, The Prince of Egypt, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, El Dorado, and many more.
All cultures bring something new to me, such as Studio Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies with its dramatic and strong story, Spirited Away (and pretty much all Miyazaki movies), or Kubo and the Two Strings. Overall, I love discovering films as much as I can.
I am a big fan of Tarantino movies. His compositions, lights, and moods spark so many new ideas in me. You can see his influence in my Rustic Cabin entry as well.
There are many more great filmmakers that inspire me, including the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, and Paolo Sorrentino, who’s movies I can talk about for hours. I’m especially fascinated by The Great Beauty.

"What'll you do now?"

How was your experience with the Art Challenge?

Pixar’s RenderMan Art Challenge gives everyone a chance to learn new things and show their abilities and creativity. The whole experience was great.
Getting advice from Pixar artists and other challengers was fantastic. Discussing each other’s work created a fantastic atmosphere which fostered a positive environment for improving your artwork.

How does traditional media influence your work?

Doing watercolor and gouache sketches makes me pay more attention to details, observe the surroundings With this, I discover not only the values and color changes during the daytime, but also textures and shapes. I use all that knowledge in creating 3D scenes.

Do you have any advice for new artists and staying inspired?

There is a letter that Artist Sol LeWitt wrote to Eva Hesse which inspires me every time, especially a part that I read and try to follow, it says, “You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO.” Sometimes overthinking prevents us from working in that real moment. We think too much and therefore do less.
As an artist I believe that both the technical and artistic parts of the work are of equal importance. The technique will help you realize your imagination, so start thinking about mixing all the tools you have at your disposal and the result will be awesome...if we’re thinking in Pixar terms, it’s important to find your inner chef!

How has RenderMan helped you be creative?

RenderMan is an amazing tool for creating imaginary worlds. It’s very flexible and lets the artist create both realistic and stylized images. I like the lighting tools, especially the light filters, which let me create beautiful non-destructive light rigs.
Shading in RenderMan is enjoyable. I like the color correction tools, because I can avoid having to change object texture color tones in the texturing program and find a harmonical match with other objects. With these RenderMan nodes, I can make changes in real time while I work. Workflows like this save lots of time which allows me to focus more on the creative side of things instead of having to look at the clock.
Tools like PxrVary Node are especially useful for slight changes in multiple objects with the same shader.

RenderMan Art & Science Fair

Learn more about RenderMan with the presentations at the Art & Science Fair

What do you do for a healthy work and life balance?

Hardworking, sleepless nights, spending hours in front of the computer were part of my life, but painting in plein air changed that. Drawing with different techniques like watercolor or just pencil helped me to disconnect from CG, it gave me a new perspective, which is hard to see when you are stuck in your room.

How does Armenian culture influence you?

For artist, Armenia is a place with limited resources, but with unlimited opportunities to create, which is very inspiring. Artists like Ivan Aivazovsky and Martiros Saryan are the best examples of that.
My friend, painter Ararat Minasyan once said....”it doesn't matter where you are, your location is just a place on a map. If you have an idea and are willing, it shouldn’t prevent you from creating.”

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) - Venice at sunset

Any closing comments?

Enjoy every little moment of your working process and don't be afraid of learning, exploring new things... it will bring new colors into your life. Go ahead, without doubts, and “may the force be with you.”

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