Where Gaming and Design Collaborate: Next-Gen Creativity with Kris Kelly and Intel

BUILT IN - ARTICLE INTRO SECOND COMPONENT

Where Gaming and Design Collaborate: Next-Gen Creativity with Kris Kelly and Intel

Millions of kids grow up with their imaginations molded by gaming and ignited by movies. These kids stare wide-eyed at their heroes and villains, year after year, inwardly chanting, “I want to do that!” Most will dream. Some will try. A few even succeed.

Kris Kelly is one of those few, and his success largely boils down to three essential ingredients: determination, focus, and reliance on the right tools.

For modern creators like Kris, flexibility is everything. He needs to be able to work and play however he wants, wherever he needs. Old-school design workstations won’t suffice. Creators need that level of performance, but in a light, versatile form factor. That’s why Intel’s new 11th Gen Core mobile processors, which offer the best combination of core counts, frequencies, features, and expandability, lead the field in helping artists like Kris realize their visions.

Grit on a Shoestring

Kris always knew he wanted to craft the stunning digital figures found throughout movies, shows, and games. With no connections or inside track, though, he relied on common wisdom: go to school, stand out, be a star. He moved to Los Angeles in 2007, fresh from the Savannah College of Art and Design, sure he would find success in Hollywood digital effects. Instead, he ran into the Great Recession and unrelenting rejection.

Kris lived off canned spaghetti. He stayed inside for weeks at a time to save money. His friends took second and third jobs — whatever they could find to make ends meet. Kris remained focused, though, even as his meager savings dwindled. He took intern positions with the studios, because that was where he wanted to be, and he spent the rest of his time at home learning a digital sculpting tool called ZBrush.

“No matter what,” he says, “I was going to make it in the industry. It was only a question of how.”

The answer, it turned out, would prove to be a love of story and a passion for the tools that could make stories come alive.

Game and Story

Kris Kelly grew up as a gamer. He adored Star Wars and Final Fantasy. Over time, those passions never went away, and he still plays with friends on his PC and console. Star Wars-, Marvel-, and DC-inspired sculptures adorn the shelves and work surfaces of his home. Not surprisingly, those gaming roots run deep and continue to influence Kris’s career. 

“I’ve worked on commercials and cutscenes for video games, properties I grew up on. There’s nothing like getting a call to work on the next version of a project you were just playing. It’s like a 360-degree life thing. The art that I do is the art I appreciate.”

In those days of canned pasta with mystery meatballs, Kris has little more than youthful passion and drive to keep him going. He toiled to build his Zbrush skills and portfolio while also taking on whatever side gigs he could find. Like so many other freelancers, he lived paycheck to paycheck, often staying only a few dollars ahead of zero. Fortunately, persistence paid. His skills gradually improved. Studios started to recognize him as a talented modeler. After a couple of years, those double-digit bank balances were finally behind him.

Modeling jobs could have been enough to get Kris by. Crafting a convincing 3D sculpture is demanding work. But Kris knew he was missing opportunities. Clients would ask him to paint his models, and when he had to admit he couldn’t, the studio hired someone else to pick up where he left off.

Losing those jobs hurt. Seeing others build on his character and creature creations differently than he would have done them himself somehow hurt more.

Leveling Up

Not surprisingly, Kris hunkered down again, this time determined to master painting. In time, Kris’s painting grew as skilled as his modeling, and he was able to put the two together. The proof culminated in a personal project he calls The Revolutionary.

“I needed to show people I could do photo-real humans, not just monsters and aliens and cute little robots,” Kris says. “This was during Arab Spring, about 10 years ago. I came across an image of this boy with a painted face and stared at it for like two hours. I was obsessed with it. He looks like he’s going to take on the world and do the entire revolution on his own. I recreated that image from scratch in 3D. Once it got noticed in the visual effects and digital sculpting worlds, things took off. I’ve been getting steady work ever since.”

You can hear how Kris infuses his subjects with emotion and meaning. When he creates a character, he always tries to tell a story. When building the face, he asks himself why the subject looks a certain way. It’s the only time he gets control over the story process. As soon as the client adds movement or speech, the subject becomes someone else’s vision. But when the project is under Kris’s digital brush, he’s the builder and storymaster. That’s his bliss.

As an example of his character-story process, Kris points to a project he did for Apothic. The wine company wanted a fortune teller, a figure that would prognosticate about the visitor and wine. Kris says the company provided some grainy photo of a bearded man pulled from Web search results and the sparsest of instructions: “Give us something that looks good.” After all, it was only for a mobile site.

Kris happened to have some space in his schedule, so he decided to overdeliver.

“I remember sitting there, creating this story about his face, why he looks so weathered. What kind of man was he? A good man or evil? Was he wise? At the end, he seemed like a guy you could trust. If he tells you something, you can believe it.” With a laugh, Kris adds, “Yeah, I earned my paycheck on that one.”

Work Meets Home

When the pandemic struck Hollywood in 2020, there was a period when no work could be found. After a few months, requests began trickling in — but there was a catch. Previously, Kris had gone into customer offices and used systems provided to him. If those systems weren’t fast enough, he could feel it in slow task switching or sluggish render times, forcing Kris to wait precious seconds or even minutes for each change in his design to update on the screen. Small delays frustrated him to no end, and he would coerce clients into providing him with a sufficient system for them “to get their money’s worth” from his time.

Under quarantine, though, things suddenly changed. His personal laptop, which had been sufficient for personal projects, became his workflow bottleneck. In response, some clients offered a remote desktop experience, allowing Kris to use his at-home laptop on a secure connection to the client’s servers and applications. The measure was supposed to offer the look and feel of being at the office, but Kris says the reality of trying to push multiple applications on a dual-monitor desktop through a narrow internet pipe was agonizingly slow. It was clear to Kris that a workflow based on remote access, especially working through an outdated personal system, wasn’t going to work. He needed performance that was local, right at his fingertips.

After two weeks, Kris had reached his breaking point. He told his client they were wasting their money. Either they would trust him to honor their non-disclosure agreement and allow him to work on files locally in his home or they were at an impasse. The studios relented. Maybe it was the gamer in him. The need for speed had to be satisfied, and anything less simply threw off his groove. That left the other half of his performance problem, the work platform, to be handled. As always, Kris turned to an Intel-based solution.

“You know how there’s that triangle — fast, cheap, and good — and you can ever only get two out of three? Cheap is relative, but I try to fill up the whole triangle. I can only do that with the right system and tools. That’s why I’m excited to be using a new laptop with an 11th Gen Intel Processor. With these specs, I can get back to kicking ass and taking names.”

For Kris, the power he needed to fill that triangle was found in the Razer Blade 15, sporting the Intel Core i9-11900H processor paired with NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 graphics. The system’s eight cores and 16 threads, running at up to 4.9GHz, provided fast, responsive rendering times, and support for PCIe 4.0 SSD storage removed any bottlenecks in editing and transferring large graphical assets. The system’s 15.6-inch HDR OLED touch display, with 100 percent coverage of the DCI-P3 color space, was also crucial for ensuring color accuracy in his design work.

“In the 3D design world, everybody uses Windows,” Kris adds. “Again, it’s about having the right tools and the ability to customize. Nobody wants to hear about ‘there’s only one mouse button!’ or ‘my app doesn’t work on this system in the right way!’ And it’s the money. I’d much rather save money up front to spend later on the best software or the right component, not blow $5,000 or $10,000 on a brand that doesn’t even have the right specs.”

Ready For the Future

When Facebook announced its Horizon Workrooms collaborative virtual environment, it marked another in a long, industry-wide drift toward augmented/virtual realities and mass adoption of the metaverse paradigm. As a gamer and creative, Kris has naturally watched virtual worlds for years. When considering where he wants to take his career from here, he tosses around the idea of virtual influencers and a rising need for skilled artists who can build 3D characters for the next generation of social media. He sees this as a wholly different avenue from traditional outlets, such as television, film, and commercials.

“I’ve always wanted to get in on the ground floor of something, when it’s coming up. We don’t know where social media is headed yet. There are so many possible environments, but that makes experimenting in possibilities kind of fun.”

The day might soon arrive when skilled 3D craftsmen create custom avatars and NFT artwork for good-paying clients. Artists like Kris who can execute on all three points of the value triangle will be best poised to capitalize on it, which is why he now practices daily with his new Intel 11th Gen-based laptop, pushing himself to deliver ever higher quality, photo-realistic images in less time. As Kris says, this is his way of bringing studio-quality, Hollywood-class effects to everyday people. This is where he believes the next generation of visual effects will take flight.

Some have remarked to Kris that he looks like the boy in The Revolutionary. He says he doesn’t see it, yet when pressed, he supposes he might have been channeling his own desires, can-do attitude, and drive to be a singular, creative force. Those qualities, combined with having the right tools and technologies, will help Kris become that next-gen-ready, one-man army. Now that he has a laptop able to let him perform like the Hollywood artist he is, he’s well on his way to mastering his career’s next level.

Learn more about how PC lets Kris game and create on one device.

See more of Kris's work on his website and connect on LinkedIn