We live in a great time, technologically speaking. 20 years ago a large team was needed to produce an animation film. And a bunch of wizzkids on super computers to develop the software.
Nowadays, if I had the time, I could make one on my own.
It’s like a kind of magic.
For a lot of people it actually is.
Those people think that the hard- and software do all the hard work. That an artist only has to push a button to get something amazing. And that you can do that instantly without having to learn for it.
If you think that, I have news.
- Without a creative talent you can’t produce beautiful work with the aid of digital means.
- If you don’t have the right artistic skills, work you do on a computer will not be good.
- If you aren’t prepared to learn, the hard- and software will not do the work for you.
Working with digital media is indeed different than working with traditional media. There are a lot more possibilities. In digital media there is no gravity (if you don’t want to) so you can make sculptures that aren’t possible in real life. For animation one can use skeletons to move the characters in a specifically restricted way and the computer can calculate most of the data of the frames between key frames. Not all, because it still is peoples work.
With digital media traditional drawing is still possible. I have an application that mimics traditional media like oil paint and gouache and I always work with a digital pencil on a digital drawing board. But you can also work with vectors thus making your work really scalable.
Digital media opens a lot of possibilities.
And that makes me happy.
But is doesn’t make it any easier.
Almost everybody knows how to hold a pencil. Easy.
What isn’t easy is the knowledge it takes to make fine art. One needs to know how to use perspective, shadows, anatomy. In other words: to make a realistic illustration one need to know a lot about how we perceive the world. No medium can compensate for that, digital or otherwise.
If I wanted an easy life I would have stayed with traditional media. Anything I imagined when I still worked with traditional media I was able to make. But it always gave a mess. Pencils have to be sharpened, paint can be poisonous and spill over clothes and hands. Cats, kids and other people can mess up your papers and canvases, there’s always something. Plus: oil paints gave me a headache.
Now I work completely digital. And that’s hard work.
Since 2005 I use 3d applications. But for years I only used them to make “silhouettes” that I then used as a base for an illustration in Photoshop. A technique comparable to the use of the camera obsura used in traditional work.
Wait a minute. You thought great artists like Vermeer and Rembrandt didn’t use aids to help in their work? Let me enlighten you: every professional artist, painter or scientific illustrator that produces realistic work uses aids to make sure their work is accurate. That doesn’t make their work less valuable. If you don’t know how to use these aids you can’t work with them and they don’t add to your talent or lack thereof.
As recently as 2008 I was working like this. Because 3d applications are very difficult and too complex to master completely in a short time. That takes years.
And this worked for me.
Until 2009. November first of that year my son was born and I had a lot of time on my hands in which I wasn’t able to work but did have access to a computer. So I practiced. And practiced. And practiced.
It took me until the end of 2013 to be content with the skill level I managed to master: only then I was able to make with 3d applications what I envisioned in my mind.
So it took me four years of dedicated learning to master my 3d applications.
And I still have a long way to go and very clear goals to achieve. Part of that is, again basic knowledge independent of the media I work in: I now know how to rig a character so that it can move in a realistic way. But now I need to learn how to do the animation on a professional level. I have a good insight into biomechanics but that knowledge I have to translate to the 3d application, Blender, I work with.
Working digitally gives me a lot of advantages. I can split up my workflow for example. I can start making props in 3d without thinking about the composition or other aspects of the final 2d illustration. In 3d I can make sure the anatomy is correct, as well as the material, skin tone and other aspects that make a subject come to life. Only in the end I have to think about composition, angle and other aspects that make a 2d illustration great.
But other than that: working with digital media is just a means to an end. Most of what I make digitally I could, and still can, make traditionally. Sometimes with less effort, sometimes with more. For me the big advantage of working digitally is that I can combine skills that aren’t easily combined in traditional work. The combination of 2d and 3d is a lot easier digitally. Have you ever tried to make a statue out of clay or stone in a very short time, make sure it doesn’t break down under your hands, to be used in a painting or such? How would you do that? Take a photo and stick that in to the painting? Make the statue and draw that on to the painting? That is where working digitally makes a big difference.
And by working digitally I can easily anticipate the use of my work without having to deal with it from the start. The end result of my work can vary between post stamp size and the façade of a building.
That is why the advantages of working digitally outweigh the disadvantages of the complex and steep learning curve one has to follow.
For me that is.
Then there are people that are opposed to digital work “because there is no original work to be shown”