Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Contents of a Digital Artist’s Toolbox

Today’s artists are expected to be very dynamic in the way they work and the way they create.  They are expected to feel perfectly at home with the latest digital tools and software while still being capable of picking up a pen and markers to do a quick sketch.  For some of us, this can be a tall order.

The most public shift from traditional artistic methods to digital methods was when Disney Animation Studios went digital.  Back in 2006, Disney laid off 650 employees to cut back and focus on computer-generated films.  This was a major shift from their traditional 2D hand-drawn movies.  Some say that this shift drastically changed the animation industry and put an end to America’s traditional animation industry.

The new reality has demanded change in the industry and has required schools to educate its students in the latest digital tools, software, and techniques.  There has been a lot f talk lately regarding “production-ready’ artists.  The current expectation on new professional artists is that they be more capable of hitting the ground running.  They must be able to jump right in and perform well at a high level.

Obviously, there are a lot of software packages and equipment that one must know to be a successful digital artist.  If you are new to this all, it could be quite overwhelming.  I can imagine someone new would be wondering where to jump in and get started.

I would recommend starting with your strengths and interests.  It can be beneficial to gain confidence early on.  Especially when navigating the complexity and the seemingly endless options available.  Starting with what you know (to any degree or level) and building on that is a good way to get started.  In addition, you should start with the basics.  No matter what field you choose to pursue, it is always smart to have a solid foundation based on Perspective, Anatomy, Lighting, and the Elements of Color (to name a few).  A beginner needs to learn the discipline to say to themselves that they will master these concepts before moving on to their dream subject or project.  Just about any seasoned artist can figure out immediately if another artist has mastered the basics.

Let us look at a fictitious example.  Let us imagine a newly graduated digital artist who has big dreams of becoming an animator for Pixar.  He has a shiny degree and lots of hours manipulating 3D models on expensive equipment.  His hours reflect his interest so much that he neglects mastering anatomy and the ability to render basic shapes on paper.  When he gets his first job, most likely, he will not be given the “animator keys”.  He’ll be relegated to other tasks where he is needed with hopes of gaining the overall experience needed to move up.  Given this scenario, one can see that depending on the task, he may suffer because he cannot perform the basic task of storyboarding or creating some rough drawings of shapes and ideas.  Any one of us at any time can be asked to quickly put an idea down on paper and even though it was a quick render, it should possess the most basic properties of shape and perspective.

Any digital artist’s toolbox should include traditional art skills and digital art skills.  They should have a well-rounded toolset.  For the most part, Photoshop or Painter are staples for any artist.  Whereas Maya, ZBrush, 3D Studio Max, and Lightwave are just a few of the popular 3D applications and it can be difficult to master more than one.  However, having one of them in your toolbox will enable you to learn and apply what you already know to a new program.  Developing a broad base of digital skills within your self and continually trying to apply those skills to your daily work will make for a successful digital artist.




Frank Freeman is a freelance artist, trainer and CEO of Artistic Gurus, Inc. a training company that focuses on how-to videos in the 2D, 3D, Traditional Arts, Comics, Anime and Manga fields. http://www.artisticgurus.com/ or http://www.rentartvideos.com/

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