Introduction: Interview: Paul Alix, "Predators" 3D Model Maker

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I realized a little while ago that I have some awesome friends who've turned their particular "maker" talents into some really awesome jobs.  And I thought, hey, I bet the Instructables community would be interested in hearing how they did it!  So I took some time to do some interviews, and this is the very first one.  We closed the interview with a video of Paul taking us through an Instructable worthy process for casting molds. 

Step 1: The Interview

I recently had the honor of speaking with designer Paul Alix in his Austin-based studio. Paul just finished work on the upcoming Predators movie as a 3D model maker and was able to share a few of his favorite moments from the job, as well as let us in on what’s on his drawing boards now.

How would you describe your job?

As a designer for hire, whatever it is you need done, I’m fairly certain I can do it, or find someone who can do it for me (for you).

How did you get into this line of work?

Circuitously, to be sure. There wasn’t anything like a straight path or a game plan that I followed. I went to school to be a comic book artist or at least an illustrator. And then I spent a long time not being that.

Was there a WOW moment that inspired you to pursue this?

Probably more hmmmm moments, like when I was in 7th grade and realized that you didn’t just have to draw still lifes, but could draw comic books. And when I was much older, standing on a stage in an empty theater in my boxers and a pair of kneepads thinking, this could be an interesting life.

What's the best job you've ever had? The worst?

You know, I think best and worst are tough to quantify.

Had I never spent the years that I spent at Kinko’s, I would’ve never learned all the stuff I know about computers, or printing and presentations, and that stuff has been very useful to me.

Had I never worked in the cardboard box factory, I would never have realized what I was physically capable of doing. I will never go hungry, my family will never be in need, because I can work twelve hour days sweating my butt off.

As weird as that all sounds it is a comforting thought when your savings are running low and there are no design jobs on the horizon.

How did you get hired on to the set of Predators?

I’m sure this is frustrating to hear (cause it would frustrate me) but I was in the right place at the right time and met the right guy, knew who he was and that I would want to work for him. He was nice enough to invite me to interview without seeing any of my work, based solely on the recommendation of an old professor of mine. There is a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want anyone to think that I followed some well conceived plan, I just got a lucky break.

Describe your first day on set.

I was originally brought on to do some drafting and to help run a CNC machine, so the first day was being given a manual and told to, “learn this program.” Then I sat in a room and learned it as fast as I could, hoping no one was going to come in and tell me I was too slow and please leave.

How did you move from CNC operator to 3D Model Maker?

I had my sketch book with me and had it laying out. The guy I was working for flipped through it while he was checking in on me. The next day he told me that he had an epiphany and that I needed to start creating some artwork to hang on the shot wall (a wall where pretty much the whole movie was laid out). So I got a script and started doing what we called "key frames."

Every day it seemed like my boss would come up to me and ask if I wanted to... and then he would say something that I've always wanted to do since i was 10. It was pretty awesome almost all the time.

What was the coolest thing about working on Predators?

A bunch of things. First, it was awesome being around such talented people. I love being around people who are so much better at doing stuff than I am. It gives me an opportunity to learn and grow in a way that is tough to do on your own.

Also to be working on something where money isn’t as big of an issue. That’s not to say that people were being irresponsible, but it was great when cost wasn’t the first question, when the first discussions were how will this look, will it work, how awesome will it be.

Who has influenced you the most?

My dad. I grew up watching him make stuff out of raw materials, fix things with his own tools. I am no where near as smart as that guy, but I try to emulate him when I can.
What is the best advice someone has ever given you that you wish you had taken?

I think my folks probably told me to go back and get my undergraduate degree. I wish I had done it sooner than later as I let not having it stand in my way a lot. I think I would be further ahead than I am these days.

And anyone who told me I should learn about computers in undergrad, yes I should’ve done that too.

What is your advice for someone who wants to get into this field?

I guess if I could give any advice it would be, be prepared, so that when you find yourself in the right place at the right time, that you can take advantage of it.

Save your money when you can. Not having a savings account is a tough way to live, check to check is not a healthy existence.

Have business cards on you, have a current resume, have a portfolio you can show, have as many skills as you can. I was hired [on Predators] to do some drafting, but my drawing and model building skills kept me working.

Describe a moment when you were sure you were going to fail? What happened next?

Moment? I fail almost every time I try something! You just get used to it. For me it just becomes part of the process. Pretty soon you only start failing once in a while and then all of a sudden you can do something.

What should you not do?

Do not think the following things (and yes this is very hard to do)

1. That there is a right way of doing something
2. That anyone knows what they are doing
3. That you aren’t worth being paid a decent wage.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Don’t think of yourself as you, think of yourself as a friend of yours that you really want to help. Think about how awesome they are at whatever they can do.

Step 2: Paul Shows Us How to Pour a Mold

I asked Paul to walk us through one of his side projects - creating an army of Instructables Robots!

Here, in this movie I took with my little point and shoot digital camera, he shows us how to pour a resin positive in a silicone mold he made from a clay sculpture.  Turns out when I use the zoom function, it sounds like we're in a wind tunnel.  (Maybe I should learn where the microphone on my camera is)  So hang in there - it's a very neat video with lots of little tips along the way!