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The Impact Of Technology On Visual Art: A Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Man

First Posted: June 9, 2015, 3:52 a.m. CST
Last Updated: June 25, 2015, 5:20 p.m. CST

Above is a computer-generated drawing by Evan Duane Jones. He is interviewed below.

By Anna Condor

When people think of art they usually think of a painter in front of a beautiful landscape, trying to get every detail and feeling onto the canvas with the stroke of their brush. Or maybe they imagine someone who is scribbling cartoons on a notepad. However rarely do people think of an artist as being someone behind a computer, someone who doesn’t use a brush, but a program to create their masterpieces.

Here is an interview with Evan Duane Jones, an artist who uses advanced computer technology to create visual art.
  • Some people believe that people who use computers to make art aren’t really “artists”, because of course the computer is doing all the work. How would you respond to these people?

    My response to that is: what would a painter be without their canvas, or a cartoonist without a pencil? We all have mediums that we use to create art and art can be defined by whatever you want it to be. Its only purpose is to make something that evokes emotion and sends a message. I’ve seen artists who use no more than the earth in front of them to make their masterpieces! And (this may sound silly), often times once I finish a meal I can even look down at my plate and see some artistic potential in the remnants of my food, even when I’m just squirting mustard on my sandwich. I can make cool designs that could be called art, regardless of the medium being used.

  • What inspired you to start doing computer-generated art?

    I began looking into graphic art when I was about 14 years old. My best friend and I decided that we wanted to make the BEST GAME in the world, so we began researching how to create a game. A few days later he came to me all excited, saying that he had found these amazing programs that can be used to make games, and you could get them free! These products were from a company called Autodesk (a leading company in CG [computer graphics]) and EVERY SINGLE one of their products was available for a limited-time free trial. We looked through the selection and decided we’d each try out a program and begin working on parts of the game. His job was to look into game mechanics and mine was to start learning how to build characters using a program called Maya. Maya is the leading program in computer animation today; companies like Pixar and DreamWorks use Maya for all of their films.

  • Was it easy for you? Or did you stumble over any hurdles, or have any roadblocks, as a 14-year-old?

    Maya is a very powerful program, and also an extremely complicated one. There I was, a 14 year old, trying to use a program that Pixar uses to make its films, attempting to make a character for a game that me and my friend were going to make ourselves. The chances of anything coming out of it were slim; that’s how it seemed at first. After a day or two of trying to figure out Maya, I got frustrated and the dream of making a game died. Two years passed without me trying to use Maya again.

    Then one day, I was inspired by some fantastic art that I saw online. I decided I wanted to be able to create things like that, so after fiddling around with a few other programs, I decided to give Maya another try.

    This time, I approached Maya with a vigor I had never had before. Everything I learned was new and exciting! I watched video after video on how to use it, taking pages of notes to attempt to master the skill. Another 3 years of constant learning passed. And finally, I felt like I could create something worthwhile.

  • A painter uses a brush. What do you use?

    The main tools I use to make my images are Maya, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Maya is the top animation program in the industry, and as mentioned, it is extremely powerful and notorious for its complex nature. For those not familiar with CG, Maya is a 3 dimensional program, which means instead of painting on a canvas like most art programs, there is a 3 dimensional space in which objects can be represented as they would be in the real world.

    Photoshop is a standard program that most everyone has heard of. I am amazed at what people can paint in Photoshop, and hope one day to have that skill as well. However, when I use Photoshop, it is strictly for Maya. It’s vital to have a painting program in order to create textures for Maya. Also, when I finish an image, I use Photoshop for various touch-ups such as increasing contrast, creating blur affects, et cetera.

    Lastly, I use Illustrator. My sister is a graphic designer and uses Illustrator a lot. She has taught me how to use it in order to make 2D images. Illustrator is a lot like Photoshop; it is a 2D program with a lot of the same tools and features. However, it has an extremely different workflow and understanding of imagery. In Photoshop, you are working with pixels when you draw, whereas in Illustrator you are working with vector objects. To explain, if you wanted to make an image in Photoshop bigger, it would probably look bad because the pixels are essentially being enlarged and stretched. . However, in Illustrator, due to its use of vectors and not pixels, things can be rescaled and not lose their crisp looks. This is one main reason why graphic designers love illustrator. They can make a symbol for a postcard and then resize it to go on a billboard the next day. I use Illustrator for most of my 2D art, mostly because I’m not very good with painting and Illustrator is much more mouse-friendly than Photoshop.

  • Is the future of CGI just automating the drawing and painting skills of the past, or is just enhancing it?

    I can’t know 100% what will happen in the future, but what I do know is some of the things that the present day is telling us. I know that 2D animation is currently sinking. Disney’s last major 2D animated film was Princess and the Frog, which did not do nearly as well as they wanted. As it stands now, 3D animation is more popular for big production movies. There are some exceptions, such as Studio Ghibli, which still mostly uses traditional 2D animation, but having just lost their most award-winning producer, Hiyao Miyazaki, to retirement, things may very well change.

    I don’t think drawing could ever be a thing of the past. Even though most of my artwork is on the computer, I still draw. People think that drawing is just for the sake and the skill of drawing. However, it is actually much more than that. Drawing is so essential to an artist because it teaches us how to SEE. Have you ever watched someone draw a real-life object? You can see the focus in their eyes as they constantly look to the object, then back to their page, trying to get the exact shape and feel of the object onto that page. After doing this for a while, an artist is then able to look at objects and understand them in a way that they weren’t able to before. They understand how the shape moves and feels and how to properly represent those things, even changing the shape without completely removing the feeling of it (such as making it into a cartoon).

    How is this important for other forms of art like 3 dimensional? If you can’t understand the shape of what you are trying to create, you won’t be able to create it. I’ve tried time and again modeling things in Maya without looking at reference images or a real life example. I get about 5 minutes into the model and give up out of frustration; it is nearly impossible to represent something that you don’t understand.

    Also, drawing and painting are extremely important in the design of any movie. No matter their dimension, movies always have concept artists drawing sketches of everything that will be in the movie, from characters to scenery. The reason for this is obvious: drawing a sketch gets the idea on the paper very fast. To do the same in a 3D program takes a lot more time.

  • So drawing will never die... what about other technological implications?

    Even though drawing will withstand extinction, technology advances may change the way people draw. For example, drawing on tablets or touch screen computers was a very new concept a few years back. Now it is extremely popular because it allows more precise editing whereas we used to only have an eraser or a new sheet of paper. One thing that could very much revolutionize 3D art is Holographic modeling. With the development of products like the Microsoft Hololens, people will now not only be able to see what they model in three dimensional space, but interact with and mold it in real 3D space! I don’t know where this will lead, but I can’t wait to see.

  • Tell me about careers of CGI artists. They must be paid handsomely with such refined and advanced skill, no? What about your career goals in particular?

    Computer Graphic art is an extremely competitive career path and with a lower pay. The reason behind the competition is obvious: CG is fun! A lot of people want to do it because it allows for freedom of expression and creativity! This also means that since so many people want the job, they can be paid less. I haven’t looked in to the pay rates but when I say “low” I don’t mean minimum wage low, but when compared to normal computer science jobs, a computer science job in CG is paid less.

    As far as my career goals, I’m not sure yet exactly what I want to do maybe it’d be best if I go through the options and then say something about what I know about them.

    • Big Company Job:

      Who doesn’t want to work for Disney or Pixar? It sounds like a dream job, and if you can get into the company, it is pretty nice. You get to work with professionals that you can learn a lot from and you get to help in films that a lot of people will see. However, there are also some down sides. First of all, you wouldn’t have much control over the company’s choices; there is a line of command, and though Pixar is known for being very good about hearing everyone’s ideas, it’s still not at anyone’s discretion. . Also, Pixar is located in a pretty pricy place to live. The best part about this though is that you get a stable job and if you want to move on to somewhere else, Pixar on your resume is a big help to find a job.

    • Free Lance:

      Before going into detail in this one, I need to clarify that Free Lance workers usually need to have a more general skill set rather than a specific focus like when working with bigger companies. This is because when a contractor is looking for a Free Lance worker, they usually have one big project that they want them to work on; they aren’t going to take the time to assemble a team to do it, that’s big company stuff. The biggest downfall of free lancing is the complete lack of job security. You have to win contractors over and over again if you want to get paid. This being said, there are a few perks. For the most part, you can live where ever you’d like, work from home, and thanks to a general skill set, you get to do all of it yourself! The only person you have to collaborate with is the contractor.

    • Starting your own Company:

      Starting your own company or getting with a company that has just started is a very good way to be able to use your skills, have job stability, and have a say in what you use your skills for. Instead of being told what to do, you can decide. Imagine the people that started Pixar and worked on the company’s first film, Toy Story. How much fun would it have been to be there and decide, yes this is the movie we are making! … The only problem is if your company goes bankrupt.

      Personally, I’m not exactly sure what I want to do yet. CG is fun, and I love learning about it. But I don’t want to be just some guy who sits at a computer, making what I’m told to make. I want to be able to create what I want, be creative, and have a say in what I make. I not only want to be able to make cool graphics, but help design what the graphics are for, such as a movie or a game. Right now, my preferred option would be to help start a new company or do freelance work. I wouldn’t mind working for a big company like Pixar to start out, but I highly doubt I would want to spend my entire career there.

    Evan Duane Jones is pursuing his undergraduate degree in Computer Science at BYU. You can contact him on his facebook page.

    This article was written by Anna Condor. Anna is a personal trainer and fitness coach. She works out 6 days a week and has a biweekly blog that you can follow. Anna is currently working on a book, and is in the process of establishing a foundation to help individuals and families in developing countries without food or shelter.

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