“Regardless of software, the best thing you can do is to question why materials look the way that they do in real life, and also try to think like a photographer when it comes to composing and lighting your images.”
Tim Zarki is a passionate designer from Southern California, with a BSDES in Industrial Design from the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. He is currently a 3D Artist at Oculus in Menlo Park, and was formerly the Design and Advanced Visualization Lead for MNML in San Francisco.
Tim brings a wide range of skills and passions to his work, with projects ranging from industrial design, concept design, and motion design, to graphic design, UI/UX, generative design and front-end web design. He devotes much of his time to learning new tools, mastering old ones, and exploring disciplines outside his comfort zone.
We sat down with him to learn more.
Where are you based?
I’m currently based in San Francisco, CA, and grew up in Joshua Tree, CA so I’m a true Californian at heart.
Where do you work?
I work for Oculus, which is owned by Facebook
What is your title?
I’m currently a 3D artist, but I’m part of the Oculus industrial design team and primarily focus on product visualization for Oculus hardware.
How did you discover 3D? When did it all start?
My interest in 3D modeling and rendering began when I was really young. Back in 2005 I was a member of an online community for an old series of life simulation games called Creatures. At the time people in the community were making mods for this game, and even though I had no skill to speak of, I desperately wanted to help. This eventually led me to start learning Blender, and after giving up twice over the span of a couple years it finally began to stick with me, and is a tool I still use today.
Where did you study?
I studied industrial design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning.
Where did you intern?
UC has a very intense internship program, so I did four internships while I was in school. I worked for Fisher Price Toys, Insync Design, HUGE Design, and MNML. I was very fortunate that interning for MNML turned into a full time position in MNML’s former San Francisco satellite office, which is how I ended up in the Bay Area after graduating.
How was your time at MNML and how did it influence your career you have today?
MNML was incredibly influential to my growth as an artist and designer, and in helping me to figure out where my interests lie. When I was an intern there, I got to learn from Dustin Brown, who is a talented designer now working for Microsoft. Dustin was the resident 3D rendering expert at the time, and the workflows he set up put me on the path of learning the VRay rendering engine, which has been a stepping stone towards my obsession with rendering and the tools I use today. Dustin left around the time that I started my full time position, and so I took it upon myself to try to pick up where he left off as a rendering specialist. While at MNML I got to teach myself how to use Cinema4D to do animations of products, experiment with using Houdini to do generative design, transition to using GPU renderers like Octane and Redshift, and eventually teach some of these skills to other members of the team.
ID to a 3D generalist? Why is it different? How is it the same?
ID and the world of 3D art are interesting to compare because they have significant overlap. Industrial designers and 3D artists both use 3D modeling tools and rendering software to create imagery of products. The difference is that in ID, the primary task is to come up with and refine a product design, and the renderings are just a tool used along the way to communicate design intent. For a 3D artist, the primary design task is coming up with the story told through images, so you have a lot more freedom to spend your time exploring the look and feel of the images, and using a wider range of tools to get the job done. The bar for quality is a lot higher as a result.
How did you get in touch with Learn squared?
I got in touch with Learn Squared through Ash Thorp, one of the founders of the platform. After spending 5 years focused on industrial design skills in school, I was really hungry to go back to exploring the broader world of 3D in my free time. Ash’s podcast, the Collective Podcast, opened my eyes to many new ways that you can make a living doing 3D art professionally. I decided to enroll in Ash’s first class when Learn Squared launched so I could learn from him. Through a series of very lucky circumstances and a lot of hard work, he invited me to apprentice under him for his next class, and after that to become an instructor myself and create a class about the fundamentals of Industrial Design.
Can you tell us what you do (generally) at Oculus?
At Oculus I’m part of a small team responsible for producing the majority of the images of the products that we use for a wide variety of purposes, such as packaging, web, advertisements, social media, and more. We work closely with both marketing and industrial design to bridge the gap between the two.
Houdini is your most recent muse. Why?
Simon Holmedal (an incredibly talented Houdini artist and one of my inspirations for learning Houdini) described the program in one of his talks as an “operating system for 3D”. Houdini is the primary visual effects engine used in the film industry, mostly to create photorealistic effects of things like smoke, water, fire, buildings exploding, etc. It also happens to be exceptionally good at creating abstract effects and generative forms and patterns as well, which is what interests me the most about it. It’s the perfect blend of limitless creativity and systematic / technical problem solving, which is why I love it so much.
Best advice for those seeking to learn more about rendering?
It really depends on what kind of rendering you want to do. If it’s product rendering in Keyshot, I would highly recommend you check out tutorials from talented folks like Esben Oxholm and Will Gibbons. If you’re interested in going down a software and hardware rabbit hole like I have, check out the great Cinema4D, Octane Render, and Redshift content on greyscalegorilla.com.
Regardless of software, the best thing you can do is to question why materials look the way that they do in real life, and also try to think like a photographer when it comes to composing and lighting your images.
How can we find out more about you?
For all my latest work, you can follow me @_zarki_ on Instagram.
My industrial design Learn Squared class is at: https://www.learnsquared.com/courses/industrial-design-foundations
Shout out to Ash and the Collective Podcast: https://www.thecollectivepodcast.com/
And this talk by Simon Holmedal about why Houdini is so great: https://vimeo.com/164701335