Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Head of a Merchant

Check it: Head of a Merchant is an exercise I did last night to test out Sculptris.
Sculptris is a free, independently-made digital sculpting app that started making waves this past summer. Naturally, it was promptly bought out by Pixologic (of ZBrush fame). Schucks, competition quelled in the Sculpting App realm ... for now. (But look out for still-indy darkhorse 3d-Coat!)

Both 3d-Coat and Sculptris offer something industry leaders ZBrush and Mudbox do not: dynamic tessellation. DT (I may as well make it an acronym now, lord knows it's coming) is the automated refinement of the surface based on localized detail. In other words, all you do is sculpt; the software subdivides the surface on the fly as necessary to support the added detail. What this means to you, the artist, is: no more back-and-forth to Maya to extrude appendages; it all takes place in the sculpting package. The polygons multiply rather than stretch.

The upside of the Pixologic acquisition: we can probably expect dynamic tessellation in the next release of industry-leader ZBrush. Which means always-the-copycat Mudbox is sure to follow suit. Their work is cut out for them, though: both use a quad-based subdivision algorithm, which may prove tricky when trying to emulate the relative ease with which Sculptris tessellates on the fly (Sculptris works on basic triangles, the building blocks of all CG).

But I digress. My thoughts on Sculptris: fun! Until it crashes. Yes, it crashes a lot (hey, it's a Beta program built by one guy, give him a break), but it restores the last session, so I never ended up losing anything (other than the time spent rebooting). Some of the brushes are better than their ZBrush counterparts! (Undoubtedly another reason for the hasty acquisition.) It only outputs to OBJ; no normal-map conversion, so it is not ready for prime-time as a production pipeline tool (except for previs). But as a toy, what a toy! I've never had so much instant fun with a sculpting app before; almost no learning curve! Very intuitive. If you're looking for a great app to practice sculpting, head on over to Pixologic and download the still-free (for how long?) beta version of Sculptris.

Here's a few more shots of the semi-stylized Merchant. By the way, I've come to realize the meaning of "stylized" - a term that's often bandied about by Art Directors. It's a balance between the way things look and the way they
should look. Certain features are exaggerated as a way of conveying a deeper meaning or subtext. Similar to caricature, but "stylization" is a broader term that conveys information about the artist as much as it does about the subject.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Drawn to Life

Among the challenges I've faced this year, I was brought in to turn around a college Game Art program that had fallen into neglect. First, I did the easy stuff: updated the software, hardware, curriculum and instructors. Then I had to tackle the hard part: trying to raise the artistic level of the students. To this end, I've had to go to great lengths to organize life drawing workshops in an effort to get the kids drawing again.

Game Students are an odd bunch: they are willing to devote hours, months even, to the tedium of piecing together an elaborate mod or game level in their favorite engine. But getting them to keep a sketchbook for five minutes a day is a Boss-level effort. What I've noticed among techie-type art students is that they feel that drawing is somehow obsolete, or at least a waste of time. What they have yet to realize is that every technical art process, from constructing level designs to texturing to animating, exists in its purest, most distilled form in the act of drawing.

This I repeat to my art students: drawing is not about learning how to draw. That's a side effect of drawing, yes; you learn to draw, but that's not the main reason we, as creatives, do it. Drawing is about learning to see, to observe, to organize information and re-present it through an abstract medium in an act of COMMENTARY. A drawing is a comment. A comment is the expression of an opinion. This is the essence of all art, from dance to writing to acting: teaching oneself how to express an opinion on a given subject. To relay an observation about life to the audience. 
In a gesture drawing, start with an observation that interests you: it could be the curve of the back of the neck, or the way a specific wrinkle in the drapery falls. Get that observation on the paper, exaggerate it if you have to, just convince your audience to share in the same observation. Drawing is an abstract medium; you decide what to leave out. If you begin a drawing by deciding what the drawing is about (what comment or opinion you're making) then the task of what to leave out becomes obvious: leave out anything that does not support your comment.
This is why quick gesture drawings from live models are the most important type of drawing to practice. Having to make a statement in under one minute forces best practices. In a quick gesture drawing, you don't have time to fall into the trap of noodling over details that don't convey the essence of your statement; you have to think while your hand is moving. If you get caught up in doubt or over-analysis, the model moves and the essence is lost forever. You learn to "feel" the drawing, not just see it, and express it in the very moment of observation. If anything, the audience for a gesture drawing is yourself; you are recording a fleeting observation so you can see it later. And the fact that the subject matter is a living, breathing person aids in this effort. The natural tendency in humans is to empathize with others; so when you see a model straining in a difficult or off-balance pose, hopefully that empathy is expressed in the quality of line that you record on the page.
Here are some recent drawings I've done at our sessions. Most are 1 to 5-minute gesture poses.