Todd Sheridan, Department of Design
A revolution is occurring in the way artists and designers create imagery. While computers have long been a valuable tool for photograph manipulation, only recently have the programs necessary for creating original content become publicly available. Three-dimensional imaging software is a key player in this revolution. The very tools that were used to create the dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s film jurassic Park are now available and affordable for artists to use in creating still imagery. However, availability and affordability are not the only factors one must consider when determining whether to adopt three-dimensional imaging as a primary tool.
In order to sustain oneself financially as an artist, one must be able to complete commissions in a timely manner. If creating original three-dimensional content is more time consuming than traditional painting or photography methods, then its’ validity as a core art tool is severely diminished; that is unless clients value the end product enough to pay for the difference in time. For my project, I chose to evaluate the three-dimensional imaging process and to explore time and content variables from the perspective of both the artist and the client.
Three Dimensional Imaging Process
Three dimensional computer programs give artists the ability to see a virtual environment from any angle. Objects are created in this threedimensional space in much the same way that a draftsman designs an object on paper. Typically you will have an orthogonal top view, side view, front view, and a perspective or camera view (see figure 1). A vertex is a point in space that can be seen from any of these views. Three or more vertices connected together with straight line segments create planar threedimensional faces. Multiple faces together create a surface. That surface can be sculpted by moving, scaling, rotating, and bending the vertices and faces. The more faces there are to define a surface, the better it will look. The process of creating three-dimensional objects in this fashion is called modeling.
After creating the models, the artist must create surface materials that will be assigned to the objects. A park bench, for example, could be made to look as if it were made out of wood, metal, marble, wicker, or anything else that the artist can think of. Then the artist must set up virtual lights and cameras around the objects. Controls are available for nearly every variable imaginable in the real world, as well as many that are not. Once the scene has been prepared, the computer will simulate how light projects from the various light sources, how it bounces off the various surfaces, and how it enters the virtual camera lens. It then records the results in an image file that can be edited on the computer, and then printed. This simulation process is called rendering.
It should be obvious from this brief process description that this method of creating images is far more complicated than traditional art techniques such as drawing and painting. The artist must have skills in sculpture, lighting, composition, photography and painting, not to mention the technical ability to master extremely sophisticated computer programs. One must be able to function equally well in both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. Of course, if the artist has the required aptitudes, this process can be much more exciting than traditional art. The artist can explore innumerable variations without being heavily penalized. There is also an element of discovery involved in the process because one is never quite sure what the final results will look like. Anticipating how light will reflect and refract through and around objects within the scene is a very stimulating process. The fourth dimension of time can also be added to breathe life into an otherwise static art form. Many traditional artists who get involved in three-dimensional imaging become computer animators in film, television, or gaming companies.
My project consisted of creating a variety of three-dimensional digital images in a professional artist-client scenario. The project required a significant initial investment in computer hardware and software. The valuable funds provided by BYU’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Work program assisted in those purchases. The amount of time taken to produce each image was recorded. Those time values were compared with estimates of how long each image would take to produce using traditional methods, as well as with time values from similar images created using traditional methods. The results showed that three-dimensional imaging tools expedited the creation process by over 500% on certain images, and severely dampened the process by even greater amounts on other images. Degree of model complexity was the key factor in determining how much time each linage took. Other variables such as composition, lighting, rendering, and post-production were much more constant.
One project, for example, required me to create a wooden stage with closed, red velvet stage curtains that had spotlights shining on them. The client wanted it to be photo-realistic, but more dramatic and clean than a photograph. Modeling the curtains and stage went very quickly, and it only took 3 hours to complete the image. Several students and teachers estimated the time it would have taken them to create a similar linage using traditional art methods, and those times ranged from 10 to 20 hours.
Another related image consisted of two ballet dancers posed on a stage with dramatic lighting and color composition. The male ballet dancer was silhouetted in the background and was created using digital paint tools. The female figure was prominent in the foreground and was created threedimensionally. Modeling time on the ballerina alone was fourteen days. It took three days after that to pose the-model, set up lighting, do the rendering, and composite the resultant image with the background character in it. It took seventeen days to do three-dimensionally what estimates suggested would have taken from 3 to 6 days using traditional methods.
Comparing digital imaging measurements with traditional imaging estimates did not provide solid data for conclusive results, due in part to immeasurable variables in image content, artist skills, and equipment performance. However, comparing a dozen digital imaging projects against each other, all performed by the same artist using the same tools, did provide conclusive evidence that modeling time, as it relates to image content, is a determining factor in whether a project can be profitable for the artist. In order for an artist to succeed creating three-dimensional imagery, he or she must become proficient in determining how long it will take to digitally sculpt the various models necessary for creating the image.
Accurate time estimates will yield more realistic price bids. The client can . then compare the process to traditional methods and determine whether the difference in image quality is worth the cost.
The image quality of digitally produced three-dimensional art is markedly different from any other art form, and most closely resembles photography, though the usual limits imposed by photographic methods are nonexistent. Images produced using this process tend to be highly valued by art directors and clients because of their novelty and freshness, and because there are absolutely no content restrictions. Anything imaginable can be created and made to look as if it were real. I believe that three-dimensional imaging, though currently in its’ infancy, wlll continue to revolutionize the art and advertising industries in the same way that photography revolutionized those same industries at the turn of the century.