Star Wars usually brings to mind grand sagas of space drama, sweeping arcs that bring the viewer (or reader) to far away worlds populated by an eclectic mix of humans and exotic aliens, full of titanic starships and a strange energy called the force.
The site Sci-Fi 3D.com brings 3d modelers into this world, and even if it’s only by proxy, the result is still impressive. There is a wealth of Star Wars themed models on Sci-fi3D.com, not to mention models from Star Trek, Aliens, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and more.
George Mezori is the administrator of the site and we interviewed him to get a sense of it’s history and goals:-
3DAD: How did this site start? What was the original plan for it?
GM: Back in the early 90’s it was an exciting new thing to create computer graphics on a home PC. A lot of people don’t realize Hollywood style CGI didn’t start showing up till then, and at the same time it was within reach of the average person to create their own computer graphics at home. It was a very exciting time. There was a site called SWMA “Star Wars Modeling Alliance” and it was basically extremely low-res models being hosted by unreliable folks. So SCIFI 3D came into existence basically to offer a permanent hosting solution of higher quality models. I really thought fan films would take off more than it has and we wanted to be there to support it. Today there are many similar sites, with some even selling models. We never went commercial, like say CG Society is today, mostly because I have a regular job. But we’re still part of a large community that is mostly a breeding ground for the next generation CGI artists. There are lots of guys that started with us that are at major studios today. That has been the best part
3DAD: Where do you draw most of your members from, is it just through natural searches?
GM: In the beginning I started asking people if we could host their work. I still do that today but after a while you develop a reputation and people come to you. It’s nice to know people know what SCIFI 3D is and they’re actually happy or even excited to have their artwork hosted. Our community is pretty large so there are lots of different places to draw resources from.
3DAD: You have achieved a nice sized list of model authors. Is there a good core of repeat contributors?
GM: There use to be. That’s when we started our own in-house project. Problem is that it was probably too ambitious. I got first-hand experience seeing what it’s like to be a Project Director. It was made worse by the fact that everybody lived in different countries and only had a few hours here and there to help. It’s quite difficult to direct something extremely visual with only email as a means of communication. I did use storyboards too. But by the time we got anything half done somebody graduated and moved, started a new job, got married. One guy even got ran over by a car. Most fan films take 2-5 years to create. Like I mentioned earlier SCIFI 3D turned into a nursery for upcoming 3D artists who eventually found jobs at studios. So we’ve never been able to maintain a core group of anybody. A few guys like me have regular jobs and have never left. The rest of these guys who are working in the CGI field work like 60-90 hours/week or more. Hence the reason why it’s so hard to find help for projects or content for the site.
3DAD: There is a nice collection of original sci-fi artwork images – are these handpicked by the scifi3d staff? Is this a section you would like to see expanded content-wise?
GM: Some people think I created everything on the site. They obviously have no idea how much work it is, or how much talent it takes, to create this stuff. There’s no human in the world that could make a tiny fraction of what is on the site. As far as “artwork images” go those are mostly handpicked by me. Most of the really good artwork out there is made for personal portfolios, or for contests so it can be put in their personal portfolio. When the subject matter is appropriate then we require a complete image. Not just a lone model but a complete environment. I’m sure there are a few exceptions on the site if the rest of the artwork is exceptional like the Terminator bust image.
3DAD: Have you thought about expanding from the sci-fi genre on your site?
GM: We’re gonna stick with SCIFI. We have tried to expand a bit on that with Fantasy stuff, and Babes for fun. It doesn’t have to just be science fiction. Other types of fiction can be cool too. But getting into thousands of images of cars, or a hundred models of lightsabers that are just fancy cylinder primitives is not us. As far as expanding no. I think it’s best to stay as a niche. There are huge commercial sites out there that try to do everything. We’ll never be able to compete with that. I think by including the fantasy genre—that would work and would really opens things up.
3DAD: The decision to make the site models free has helped to combat the theft and illicit sale of them in the main I imagine. Did this become a serious problem in the early years of the site?
GM: Yeah. That was one of the deliberate things we did that never changed. Our main goal in the beginning was to be a part of the community and support fan films. So there was never any intention to sell anything. And I’ve had several people try and encourage me to look at this way before places like Turbosquid showed up. I just didn’t have the time or inclination. I make a good living already. People have always tried to steal models. But it is hard to sell something that is free on SCIFI 3D. We have such a good reputation it made it easy to work with places like TurboSquid on any copyright infringements. It also made it easy to work with people outside our industry too because SCIFI 3D had some clout and nobody wants to mess with copyright infractions. Working with a host I’ve had some people literally erased from the internet. Their websites, accounts, email, etc. were all removed. I tried to convince otherwise skeptical authors that hosting their artwork on SCIFI 3D was the best protection you can have. It’s forever immortalized as your work on SCIFI 3D. It’s instant proof of copyright that’s better than a personal website. I spent a lot of time chasing down some people but I’m happy to do it. If it wasn’t for the generosity there wouldn’t be a SCIFI 3D. There’s even been a charge that Lucasarts stole one of our models. I’ll get into that next.
3DAD: By far the largest content on your site is in the Star Wars genre. Is this something that has occurred naturally or have you marketed to attract model submissions in this particular niche?
GM: I think in the beginning what happened was we were all attracted by what SWMA was doing and it was all Star Wars. Anything else is just the age old nerd debate about what is better…. Star Wars or Star Trek. I’m a fan of art in all it’s forms. 2D, 3D, animation, etc. Over time we’ve taken on whatever people are creating. We even have our “Babes” section. Sexy art. The only criteria is… it’s gotta be as good as other stuff on the site (some people never understood that based on what they submitted)… and we have to have some content limitations just because of space and bandwidth. Some places like CG Society take it all. But they’re huge and have a staff of people. When we started it made sense to limit our scope.
3DAD: What are your top three favourite models on the site?
GM: #1 ISD Star Destroyer by Fractal Sponge: It has millions of polygons, pretty much a digital version of the scaled model, and the author swears people at Lucasarts even stole it and used it for their rendered animations for The Force Unleashed. These models are like thumbprints. There are tiny details , like a real model, that only the author can recognize. I told Fractalsponge there’s not much we could do about it though. It’s not like they would fire somebody over there. But it would have been nice for them to at least have given him credit. Or at least exposed the guy over there taking credit for it. It took 100’s of hours to make that model. It’s probably one of the most used models in our community. But I do wish I could have done something about it for him. Maybe somebody who knows somebody will read this and can help. We really frown on model theft in our community. And with the site we could easily prove it’s his and when he made it. And I’m sure he could easily prove it’s his too.
#2 R2-D2 (in WIP section) by Mike Verta: Mike has been working on this model off and on for a while constantly modifying it. He has got so much attention from it that Lucasfilm has commissioned it for use in the Visual Dictionary instead of the actual physical model itself. On a trip out to Skywalker Ranch Mike found out that people has his image on their desktop including Don Bies.
#3 Star Trek Enterprise by Tobias Richter: Have to pick something from another genre and this comes to mind. I know Tobias has had his models used for various professional work too. That seems to be a good criteria to use in picking a model for such distinction.
3DAD: What happened to the forum? Do you plan to re-open it at some stage?
GM: What started the demise of the forum was the last Star Wars films. We use to be hosted by TheForce.Net. So when they lost ad revenue they cut the forums first, then they cut us. What continued it’s demise was my time. I tried to start a huge contest and launch new forums with it. I had 100’s of hours into it. I made industry contacts with dozens of companies, amassed $70,000 in prizes, created the contest site/forum, rules, judges. There is a “contest” link on the site now so people can see what was done. But the whole thing suffered the same fate as our in-house project. Not enough time or help. Most of the sites in our community are commercial with professional staff, or they know how to code their own stuff. I’m just a regular guy so it’s hard to enlist professional or really good amateur help for anything. Everything you see has been made, created, coded, and donated by the community. And I’ve had a ton of technical issues over the years that I had to find $150/hour IT professional help for free. The other big reason why we don’t have a forum right now is because our brother-site SCIFI-MESHES has one of the largest ones around and it seemed silly to try and remake the wheel. We were in discussion at one point about combining our forums but by this time our forum had pretty much collapsed. And frankly, I guess there hasn’t been a lot of interest. If I could get more people to help run things I would probably have forums and the contest running again.
3DAD: Tell us about the WIP section on your site? What is this for?
GM: If I remember right I think I got this idea from looking at SCIFI-MESHES. They are basically one big WIP forum site. They had a much better implementation though. Our site is setup so authors can maintain their own WIP but it never really worked out. It’s much easier to run it all like a forum. There is some custom code over there but the best way to run a site like this is to use the forum software to run the entire thing…front-end and all. Most of our problems have been from running an ASP coded site. And it’s hard to find somebody who has the technical ability to fix things. Plus if you’re interested in running a popular site, or generating traffic, a WIP section keeps them coming back because they are constantly updated. It’s a great source of knowledge sharing and community spirit to watch somebody make something.
3DAD: Anything else you’d like to mention or promote about the site?
GM: I’ve enjoyed just sharing our history and goals. Everybody likes to talk about themselves right. So it was my pleasure and always flattering when people show interest in what you do. It’s also been an honor for me to just be a part of the community. I’ve never been as good an artist as these other guys so without SCIFI 3D I would have been a noob forever I think. Thanks to all in the CGI community for sharing and allowing me to represent you.