Book Review: EXPOSÉ 9
Book: EXPOSÉ 9: The Finest Digital Art in the Known Universe
"EXPOSÉ 9 showcases the world's best digital artists at a level of quality that only
Ballistic Publishing can deliver. From established artists working in games, film and
publishing to undiscovered artists showing their work for the first time, EXPOSÉ 9
inspires with a record-breaking 444 pieces of original art from 327 artists in 60
The EXPOSÉ series of books is what Ballistic Publishing built their reputation on when they first came onto the digital art publishing scene in 2003. Almost 10 years later they have become the flagship publisher for digital art. Although they have added 8 other series of books, each with a different digital art focus, it's their yearly collection of the very best of digital art around the world that is the foundation of their commitment to publishing excellence. And the upcoming June, 2011 release of EXPOSÉ 9 promises to be their most accomplished release yet.
Hardback and Limited Edition covers
EXPOSÉ 9 contains 444 pieces of original art (that's 51 more than EXPOSÉ 8), by 327 artists, from 60 countries. All of these figures are records for Ballistic who have literally doubled the amount of art and artists they publish compared to EXPOSÉ 1. In order to make room for more artists, they "...looked at every page in the book and decided whether it was important as fitting in more great art." They cut pages in half, combined categories, and split other sections of the book to find more room to squeeze in the most digital art they could possibly publish (but, without sacrificing quality). Hard to imagine too many companies cutting their own editorial pages to provide more room for artists. But, Daniel Wade, the publisher of Ballistic, is genuinely committed to including more artists, since so many of the entries are of a very high standard. He calls it a "bittersweet moment" when production of an EXPOSÉ volume is done, primarily because he "honestly wishes we could share that happiness (of being published in EXPOSÉ) with more artists."
Jury and Advisory board for EXPOSÉ 9
Organized around the selections made by 7 members of the advisory board/jury, EXPOSÉ 9 also features one Grand Master artist who is profiled/interviewed, along with a generous selection of their work. The jury this year consisted of 7 internationally recognized artists (6 men, 1 woman):
• Chris Stoski (renowned matte artist)
Grand Master Daniel Dociu or Father Grigori?
The Grand Master selected for EXPOSÉ 9 is Romanian artist Daniel Dociu, who was chosen as an artist "whose body of work has influenced other artists and sets the standard for inspiration." Currently, the Chief Art Director for the "Guild Wars" game franchise, Daniel is not only a remarkable artist, but a thoughtful one as well. In the three pages devoted to his background and art philosophy, Daniel makes it clear that what he tries to "pursue in my work is generally an emotion or high-level idea, rather than a technique-driven process." He believes that "technique should be an extension of one's thinking process and sensibility." As you can see in the picture below, Daniel has a great sense of "the epic," but, in a reaction to the trend he sees as "concept art," he wants to achieve "a monumental quality through simplicity." In addition to discussing his life and ideas, Daniel also talks about "getting a foot in the industry," and how he begins the process of design.
(Psst...for all you Half Life 2 gamers out there, Daniel is the face of "Father Grigori" in the game)
Guild Wars 2: Stormy Horizon
Guild Wars © ArenaNet
The Limited Edition of EXPOSÉ 9 contains a longer section on the Grand Master and other Master choices for each category (a first for the Limited Edition), where "each artist now talks about their Master Award-winning project, and shows in-progress steps such as sketches, renders, and wireframes to give you another level of understanding on what it takes to create great artwork." I'd love to read this extended section, but it's only included in the limited edition, which is understandable considering that edition is a gorgeous black, leather-bound edition limited to 1000 copies. As it is, the coverage in my copy of the book (soft cover) is excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this gifted artist. I found that many of his illustrations remind me of some of the striking early 60's science fiction covers by artists like Paul Lehr and Richard M. Powers that so inspired me as a young man.
Detail of category page in EXPOSÉ 9
Something that I like very much about how the EXPOSÉ series is produced is the fact that the publisher, Daniel Wade, determines the categories they'll use for the book based on the art that is submitted each year (and on layout/space factors in the book design). This year, for EXPOSÉ 9, the categories of Portrait (Painted), Fantasy, Concept Art, Science Fiction and Architecture continued to have high submission levels. Four previous categories were combined this year to make "the popular categories bigger." In total, there are 20 categories represented in EXPOSÉ 9. Some of the most interesting categories include:
• Matte Painting
Each category is organized so that the piece the jury chose as "Master" comes first with a full-page spread, followed by the "Excellence" pieces (some full-page, half-page, or quarter-page). Artist info, along with the tools used to create the artwork, are discretely placed on the page making it easy to determine which credits are for each piece. There is also an extensive index at the end of the book that not only lists the artists alphabetically, but provides their email and/or website, as well as the page number(s) their work appears on. Approximately 55 artists appear more than once in EXPOSÉ 9, including the expanded sections found in the Limited Edition of EXPOSÉ 9. You can also find a listing for the tools used and links for the applications. This is a nice touch and makes it much easier to follow-up on artists and tools you may be interested in.
The quality of the 444 original artworks in EXPOSÉ 9 are so uniformly high that it's difficult to choose what might be most representative for this review. For every single picture here, there are at least a dozen or more that are just as striking and imaginative. Still, I do have some favorites and would like to share some of them in this review.
3ds Max, VRay, Photoshop
David Fraher, FloodSlicer, AUSTRALIA
One of the "Master" selections for the Architecture (Exterior) category is David Fraher's "at38," which gets a full-page spread with inserts of details. The lighting and texture work on this piece is brilliant. But, when you add the angle chosen for the render and the variety of detail from foreground to background, it's easy to see why this piece was chosen for the Master category. The misty, sunset mood is so well created that the image makes you feel cold, because you can imagine the wind in the scene, even though it's only implied by the artist.
Feng Guo, CHINA
Another remarkable work that has stayed in my mind's eye is Feng Guo's "Dragoon," which is included in the "Fantasy" section of the book. The detail work in the figure of a fantasy soldier is what first catches your eye (contrast of metal, feathers, hair and skin), but it's really the mood and feeling of the piece that stays with you. By doing what Daniel Dociu suggests and pursuing the emotion of the character in this scene, Feng Guo has created a superb work of art. The restrained fighting spirit of the character is just underneath the scene waiting to come out.
Aiqiang Hao, CHINA
The "Still Life" category was one of my favorites in the book. Of the jury selections of Master (Meny Hilsenrad's "Classroom Scene") and two "Excellence" picks (Aiqiang Hao's "Ending begin" & Martin Jastrzebski's "Classic Interior close-up"), it's Aiqiang's work that has rewarded me upon repeated viewings. Each piece gets a full-page spread, but "Ending begin" gets a full scene, plus two detail shots. The image has the feel of an old Vermeer painting that has somehow lightened a bit from the sun. The casual framing and the disorder of the items on the table is simply masterful, but it's the skull that really does it for me. The texturing and light on the model is so well done that you can feel the weight of the skull as it presses down on the antiquarian book. The contrast of bone and silver from the candle stand next to it is perfect. And the best part of the image is that you can sense the personality of the composer who owns the desk and all of the items on it. My most favorite work from EXPOSÉ 9.
Derryck and DaPet
Teodoru Badiu, AUSTRIA
As the emphasis on "photo realism" continues to drive the cg/digital art market, I find myself more and more appreciating non-realistic work. There's no denying that realism done well can be most effecting (see Aiqiang Hao's work above), but I think digital art has much more range than just realism. The whole of modern art pulled us away from just portraits and nature scenes into a world of personal imagination that can create images and feelings completely new to both artist and audience. It's why I love artists like the Bros. Quay and M dot Strange; they are much more interested in representing what they can imagine, rather than duplicating what they see around them. So, I was delighted with the "Abstract," "Surreal," and "Whimsical" categories in EXPOSÉ 9. And one artist in particular stood out for me: Teodoru Badiu.
What starts as a quick visit to her wonderful website, ends up being an hour spent pouring over her gallery of works and smiling the whole time. Whimsy is a perfect word to describe her child/adult-like fantasy works. In particular, "Derryck and DaPet," which is featured on a full page and chosen to represent a work of "Excellence" by the EXPOSÉ 9 jury. The bright colors and design of the (boy?) walking his pet (octopus with a red cap?), and the perfectly arranged child-like background under the sea, make an image that seems to be part of a larger story. The lighting and sense of slow, underwater movement in the scene create the feeling that the two friends are out on an adventure. This is a wonderful image and much deserving of the "Excellence" selection.
3ds Max, VRay, Poser
Adam Potter, AUSTRALIA
Of course, there are many other images that have stayed with me, but listing them all would make this already long review longer than it should be. However, Adam Potter's "Jael" (Portait-Rendered), David Ferreira's "Portrait of Abyssal Princess" (Fantasy), Nicholas Richelet's "Falling Apart" (Abstract), and Pablo Palomeque's "The Village" (Matte Painting) have all become permanent parts of my imagination and will remain images I'll return to for inspiration and ideas while working on other projects.
Isn't that the real reason we want to buy and look through a book on digital art, like EXPOSÉ 9? To find new artists with new ideas; to study the highest and best quality digital art we can find? In a way, it's like sitting down with an easel and paints in front of an old master painting: we study so that we can develop our own skills and imagination. And in end, it's this aspect of EXPOSÉ 9 that makes the difference. We use books like these to help us grow and to inspire us as artists.
Portrait of Abyssal Princess
ZBrush, 3ds Max, VRay, After Effects
David Ferreira, PORTUGAL
Ballistic Publishing, along with the editor, Daniel Wade, and the Jury/Advisory board, have worked many, many hours to bring this remarkable book to us. No question, EXPOSÉ 9 is an absolute "must own" for any digital artist, and perhaps for anyone interested in art - period. The book is beautifully laid out, well-printed and bound, plus, the color in the book is phenomenal. I think the color work done on all of Ballistic's books is of the highest quality and is fully displayed in the wide variety of scenes and images chosen for the book. EXPOSÉ 9 is certainly one of the best digital art books published this year.
It has my very highest recommendation.
EXPOSÉ 9 is due to be released this June, 2011. It comes in three formats: Limited Edition ($170, with only 1000 copies printed), the Hardback Edition ($79), and Softcover ($69). Ballistic is giving away a free print from EXPOSÉ 9 for the first 100 customers who buy the softcover or hardcover editions of EXPOSÉ 9. You can pre-order the book through the Ballistic Publishing website and learn more about the book and the other digital art series' they publish.
Be sure to go to the Ballistic Publishing website for more info and to browse through the entire book (in small size) using there ingenious flash application which allows you to turn the pages of the book as you browse.
I'd like to thank Ballistic for providing a review copy of this wonderful book. Thanks to Daniel Wade for his kind words, Rebecca for her help in researching the review, and to Daniel for his patience.
Be sure to visit the Ballistic Publishing website
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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