Exclusive interview with eng Muhammad Nagy

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My name is Muhammad Nagy. I am the founder, chief designer and art director of NAG®. I am also working as a teaching assistant at the department of architecture, faculty of engineering, Ain Shams university in Cairo, Egypt.

We had the chance to do the following interview with him, so we tried not to make it long, and asked him and he answered as follows:

-What is the reason or the Circumstances that led you to study this major?

Since I was a child, I have been passionate about imagination games and free hand drawings. I have spent a lot of time searching here and there to find the exact field of science that can fulfill this passion. And yeah, I finally found it; it’s the love of architecture.

After my secondary school, I joined the department of architecture, guided by Almighty Allah, at the faculty of engineering, Ain Shams university in Cairo, Egypt. Then, I was nominated as a teaching assistant there. During this learning journey, I believed that there are many aspects that must be integrated to form a well-defined design product. Not only having the talent in design is essential to reach professionalism, but also having the art director eye and getting experienced in his tools.

Conceptualization, drafting, modeling, texturing, lighting, digital photography & rendering, compositing, visual effects, … etc., all are responsible for creating the individual works that collectively make up a unified design product.

-Was your study related to your major? Or you became expert by practice?

Yes. Studying architecture design major at the faculty captivated me. I believed that even if you have created a good design, you should present it in a good way too that can reflect its composition power. Architecture is a composition of art & engineering, so it’s full of taste, sense & engagement of your stakeholders into a sensory experience to feel its own masses, interiors & exteriors. Initially I used to present my designs in sketches and then render it manually. Then, I recognized that I must get skilled to enter the digital field of rendering as it’s a faster, accurate and contemporary approach to reach realism.

-Do you believe that every designer has a unique advantage that he or she has, apart from any other considerations?

Yeah, exactly. Everybody has his own “mental hard disk” which can be formed through his education, self-learning and years’ experience. He also has a unique “processor” which can merge those ideas and represent them to a distinct creative work. “Creative identity” is an original feature for each designer’s work like his finger print.

-they say (design is generally a hard work at all levels) do you believe in that?
if so, what is the most difficult parts in your opinion?

If we are talking about the pure definition of design field, so it’s definitely an interesting major. Because of the linkage with large amount of restrictions and larger number of stakeholders, it turns to be difficult and a bit complicated. You should ask yourself for every single line that you are creating, is it matching with what we have learnt in theories of architecture about geometries and function to have a perfect architecture product.

Can we execute it? If yes, would your client be satisfied with it and can afford? What about codes and local legislations? Would you have an enough time frame to go for this approach?

I believe that the most tough and exciting side at the same time is that “White sheet” or “blank canvas” feeling of a new project that you are going to start.

-In general, and in your opinion, do you recommend fresh graduates / starting designers to work as freelancers or in a prestigious company?

Both decisions are double edged. Joining prestigious companies or design studios gives you good chance to get involved in large scale projects at a young age. You may experience most of design process intervals starting from appraisal, briefing, concept, art direction & ending with consultancy. For the sake of this experience, you got paid a fixed salary for constant monthly hours that you spent to have the task done. Freelancing gives you more freedom in time and financial management. You become an “experience creator” and decision maker. In return, it’s full of high risk, you have great chance to become yourself. Patience, concentration and endless work are required to reap the rewards. You should have skills and new ideas to be able to reserve a seat in the market. To sum up, I recommend newbie designers to evaluate their life goals and skills, and then their path will get shaped easily. Both tracks are right, they may combine them in phases. The most important thing is achieving happiness at the end.

-What are the programs you prefer to use and what are the most features for you?

For artwork production pipeline tools:

  • Modeling:  Autodesk 3ds Max, the most famous tool with full support from most, may be all, of 3d objects, material libraries and render engines. I use also McNeel Rhinceros, and Pixologic ZBruch for digital sculpting.
  • 3d People placement: Renderpeople Studio
  • Render Engine: Chaos Group V-Ray.
  • Compositing: The Foundry Nuke and Adobe After effects.
  • Color correction/grading: Chaos Group V-Ray Frame Buffer (VFB) and sometimes I use Adobe Photoshop, but generally I try to finalize all my set using VFB power. I found all corrections controllers and lens effects tools. I believe that digging deeply in optimal and effective number of tools is better than being a geek of hundreds of tools with shallow knowledge of each of them.

-When you design using programs, do you use ready blocks or you model all elements? What do you think of this point?

It’s considered as a time saver. It’s necessary to have your own ordered 3d assets library that can fit your needs in your projects. Some objects are difficult and waste of time to get modeled like, cars, trees, 3d people, complicated ornaments … etc. Those objects have specialized companies to produce them in a professional way. Moreover, they are complementary objects to your scene and may be out of your job scope in most cases.

There is no conflict between what’s mentioned above and to have your own skills to model your objects by hand. You don’t need to feel that you’re restricted with your “pre-prepared assets library” that you have bought and collected from companies. You should have quick modeling and shading skills to have more freedom for your creative work. In some projects we may find no ready specific type of palms, trees and cars that should be found in an exact region or country, the same for rare furniture elements. In this case, those objects are turning to be essential part of the scene that can create realism sensory to the viewer. In those cases, we create those objects by ourselves.

At NAG® we developed some codes that can help us in creation and ordering our 3d assets library in an automated way, one of them called NAG® ALL© (NAG Automatic Library Lister). It can extract, order any downloaded file from any company in an automatic way and collect its maps. Such job saved us thousands of working hours to get done in one single button to hit! It will be available to the community for sale soon.

-In your opinion, what factors affect the quality of the 3D design?

Design in 3d is a physical representation of ideas in a designer’s mind. In my opinion, there is a misconception by newbies that the secret is in the “tool”. When I’m getting experienced in modeling and visualization using tool X or Y I will be the master, or when I ask for the “magical settings” of the tool which is wrong perception too.

I believe that in addition to previously stated skills, the real secret is in the designer himself, his skills, abilities to lead his tools and to create his own workflow that can put his ideas in the right way, not to be restricted with what the tool offers only.

In addition, we know that design is an encyclopedic science that has a lot of intersections with many other disciplines. Your knowledge about those areas can enrich your creative skills, like studying photography, properties of matter, parallel disciplines to interior design like day/artificial lighting, acoustics … etc.  Mastering details and relationships between interior or exterior scene objects and materials should be your top prioritiy to have a photo-realistic piece of art.

-What are the stages of your own work and their arrangement. such as, collecting sources … General measurements … Modeling … Lighting … etc.

I usually follow the following as a process of design or art direction

  1. Inspiration & getting into the mood: Select your references based on their ideas and don’t underestimate any ideas even it is a tiny detail. I may admire a reference of a connection detail between grass and wooden floor, or another with beautiful lights color grading although its design is quite poor. You rarely find this holistic source of inspiration that is awesome in its every single object.
  2. Sketching & rough 3d models: Quick representation of your ideas, inspirations and project brief after your client meeting in a simple way for decision making of the design composition, style, details, camera angles for still images and camera paths (scenarios) for animations … etc.
  3. Modeling: finalization of fine tuning of your model
  4. Shading/Lighting Measurements
  5. Rendering.
  6. Post processing using VFB or compositing tools “as mentioned before”.

-Do you think the speed of performance can affect design quality?

Yes, sure. Design quality is a function of the available time frame. The more the designer get experienced, skilled with his tools, and has a team whose members are professional in each field of science that the job require to get done, the more the balance he can achieve between both sides: work quality & fast progress. This is the real definition of “professionalism” in my opinion.

-Do you think that a professional 3D designer should necessarily be a professional photographer or has the skills of professional photographer? And accordingly, … Do you think that the field of design three-dimensional effects in one way or another on the field of professional photography?

Yes sure. As I mentioned before, designer should be aware of design related disciplines like direction and photography …etc. It’s not necessary to work as a professional photographer first to be great 3d designer, but you should be aware of photography principles to be able to simulate its mechanism precisely in your 3d canvas and then you can easily reach photo-realism. This setup is similar to what designers of palaces and luxurious classical buildings face. It’s not a condition to be an owner of one of those palaces to be able to design it. It’s enough to study its design theories, sources of inspiration of its geometry and materials and your ability of imagination, then you can create new stuff. What’s mentioned has no conflict with being one of those palaces owners’ if you got the chance!

-When architecture Zaha Hadid was asked in one of her meetings (after 25 years in the profession … Do you earn a lot of money? She answered: “no”
Do you agree with her opinion or against it? If you are against it, do you think that
the income equals to the hard effort or the creative value?

I definitely agree. Designers, not only in the middle east but all over the globe, are suffering the problem of artwork real value and payments offered by clients in the absence of international contemporary legislation that can standardize this matter. The key solution in my opinion is that we, designers, should refuse any offered jobs that won’t afford its real value (its man hours, time frame, … etc). Also to invest in your own profession level of quality, to be your lifetime goal. This always persuade many clients to accept your commissions, as they believe in how high your level of quality is. Never forget what the mighty Allah said in his holly Quraan: “And that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives (39) And that his effort is going to be seen (40) Then he will be recompensed for it with the fullest recompense (41) – Surah An-Nagm (The star).

-If you have absolute freedom of choice … Regardless of the circumstances and the needs of work .. Do you prefer group work or individual? And why?

Individual work is a must in your self-establishing phase. Designer can test his own skills and abilities in an abstracted way with no external factors that may hide him, like being in a team work of skilled members, so he can melt and won’t be able to measure to what extent his effort was effective. Team work is a must when designer get matured, and know very well his strong and weak points of his skills. Afterwards, he can offer his strength to raise the overall quality of the teamwork, and for his weaknesses he is joining this teamwork to override them and have an integrated product. So, designer should go through both phases, individual work then team work.

Some of Eng.Muhammad Nagy Designs.

Roses New Capital | Architecture design by QSD and Partners – Art Direction by NAG®

Tucana Villas – AZHA Reort | Art Direction by NAG

HQ Suez Architecture design by Centroid Architects – Art Direction by NAG®

Sol Y Mar Makadi Sun | Architecture design by Rami El Dahan & Soheir Farid Architects– Art Direction by NAG®

Oceanside California Retail | Architecture design & Art Direction by NAG®

800 Wallberg Ave House | Art direction NAG® in collaboration with MAS Visual Studio

Centro D’ Oro | Architecture design & Art Direction by NAG®

*Finally, we’d like to thank you for your patience, welcoming spirit, and sharing your experiences with us. We wish you all the best in your life and projects to come.

Thank you too, It’s my gratitude. The interview was really enjoyable for me, and I hope so for the readers, in shaa’ Allah. For further questions don’t hesitate to contact us:

NAG® | Design & Art Direction
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Preparation by : Eng. Mahmoud Hegazy
Questions Translated by : Eng. Areej Kudmani
Edited and reviewed by Eng. Fatma Fathy

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