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Landing in the game industry sort of happened as a lucky accident for Cortina. Even though he was a fan of video and computer games, when he started work at Square USA, he had no idea that it was the same company that had created so many of those popular video games. It wasn’t until he’d completed his work on ‘Final Fantasy IX’ that he was given the opportunity to work on the movie project. “The transition from working on very stylized anime style characters to hyper-realistic humans was a great opportunity for me to push myself hard and put my interest in the human figure to use,” Francisco says.

“The first thing I did when I started on ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ was to go to the bookstore to buy as many reference books as I was able to, and absorb as much detail as I could,” Francisco explains. “Early on, I learned that gathering good reference for one’s subject plays a very important part in how successful or how well it turns out.” In terms of software, Francisco had to change from just working in PowerAnimator to using Maya and Renderman for rendering. ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ was his first movie, followed by the ‘Animatrix: Final Flight of the Osiris’ animated short movie, ‘Shark Tale’ (formerly ‘Sharkslayer’) and just recently, ‘Aeon Flux’ (Charlize Theron).

The process for ‘Final Fantasy’ was his first experience in a blockbuster-sized production environment. Coming from smaller sized productions in games, Francisco admits that it was initially overwhelming. “But after I got used to the environment,” he explains, “I realized that there was quite a lot of freedom for CG artists that were generalists (Modeling, Texturing, Look Development and Lighting) to do different things and possibly, cross different departments.” Similar to departments in live action movies, there were Sets and Props, Character, Lighting and Compositing. One good feature in this system was that modeling, texturing and character setup all were under the umbrella of the Character department, allowing for a very efficient pipeline of work to be established and managed.
The ‘Animatrix’ short movie was produced under the same type of pipeline structure as ‘Final Fantasy’, which Francisco believes contributed to its very quick production schedule and turnaround time. “Of all the projects that I have been involved in, the most enjoyable was ‘Animatrix’. Because we were able to recycle the pipeline from the previous production, that gave us more time to be able to push both the technical and artistic envelopes. One of the things we were able to introduce during that production was a Pose Space-based system for character rigging that allowed us to model an infinite number of muscular deformation poses that blended between each other with little distortion.”  

For artists who are starting out, Francisco A. Cortina will always give the same advice: find what it is that really drives you creatively and run with it. He says that although pursuing a career in CG as an artist doesn’t really require a background or foundation in art, having it is a great asset and the possible difference between becoming successful or not. “For up and coming digital artists who feel they are struggling to create or achieve a certain look,” he continues, “I always recommend going back to the basics of drawing and sculpting things from real life, like still-lifes, faces, landscapes, or even mechanical objects. Because CG is a blend between the technical sciences and fine arts, there is more room for blurring of the lines between the two disciplines.

Some roles in CG don’t require artistic skills, such as a plug-in programmer or a full-fledged scripter. However, being an artist who becomes technical enough to script or program can be a great asset. Whether it’s modeling, texturing, lighting or compositing images, it is important to find exactly what areas you really love to focus on. Some people, such as myself, are generalists, focused on specifics like creating characters or creatures. Others specialize in one area and find great interest and joy there. By trying different things you eventually find what motivates you and when you love what you do, you will be successful at it!”

The biggest change that has empowered the CG field in the last decade has been raw processing power. We are beginning to see a change in trends with companies embracing hardware-based renderers. For artists it means less time waiting for our machines and more time actually creating. There is also a steady convergence in the game and film industries, and I believe that the quality of games will eventually surpass that of film. We will see less separation between us and the computers we create on, with no limits to geometric density, free form and automated parameterization for texturing and more robust and sensitive hand-based input devices.”

After having spent a good amount of time in the game and film industries, Francisco A. Cortina is reaching a point where I’m ready to shift in a slightly different direction. “Since I have worked in different areas of CG,” he says, “I already know that my love is with creating characters and it’s something that really motivates me. I am currently in the process of going independent and starting a company identity to create digital characters for clients in different industries.”

Francisco A. Cortina
d’artiste: Character Modeling
Dreamworks Feature Animation


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