The Big Picture

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The Big Picture
Digital artistry has moved forward this past year, in virtually every form, from still to motion pictures, video games to internet chat. Some tools have advanced, and there
are, of course, add-ons created by the artists and enthusiasts who use the programs.

One of the more prevalent, 'in-your-face' showcases for digital art is the movies. Animated features, a genre that most agree was recreated with the film Toy Story, have long been a showcase for talented animation artists. Recently, from the revolutionary CGI of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, to the absolutely stunning digital wizardry of Shrek, computer artistry is recreating the way we see the imagination of others. FF:TSW for example, took the CGI magic common to the Final Fantasy game series, and brought it to the big screen in a full-length feature. The movie was technically brilliant, from the realistic modeling and texturing of the characters, to the lighting and rendering of the mind-boggling environments. The flaw typically recognized in FF:TSW is the lip-synching, long acknowledged as a major headache in the area of digital characters.

This headache appeared to have been quenched with what I consider to be one of the best animated movies ever made: Shrek. This film took "digital" to a whole new level. With Shrek, you can watch the movie fifty times, and see something new that amazes you. I know, I have. And the artists didn't limit their wizardry to just the main characters, or one or two main sets...They covered everything. Watch when Shrek and Donkey are walking through tall grass. Not only does the grass bend away as they move through it, it bends back after they pass. That's art. Every strand of Donkey's fur moving in the breeze of Shrek's 'really scary' roar - that's unquestionably art.

And that's just when CGI is used exclusively to create a feature film. What about where CGI is used to enhance live-action films?

Films like The Matrix made great use of CGI techniques of the time, and current films such as Lord of the Rings do the same, meshing dazzling computer imagery with live-action so seamlessly that you often can't tell the difference. Sure, there were a few disappointments (Dungeons & Dragons springs immediately to mind), but even those had some wonderful CGI work (just not much of it, like the beholders in D&D for example).

What's coming from the film industry? Most likely CGI films and effects that are even more realistic than ever before, as the technology and the techniques become more refined. The first company that comes to mind is LucasArts, and the continuation of the prequel films. You can be assured that we're going to see a lot of CGI wizardry in Episode II and III, including effects and characters that will continue to push the envelope...After all, that's what LucasArts does best. Other companies will follow suit, with films like Matrix II and the remaining Lord of the Rings movies, as well as films like Spiderman and the X-Men sequel putting heavy demands on the industry, in response to increasing demands from discerning moviegoers.

And what about the software that we 'regular' folks use? You can bet that software packages are going to get better and better, allowing us to edge that much closer to realism. Look at some of the still art created with the current incarnation of Poser, version 4.03. A quick cruise through the gallery reveals a dedication to the pursuit of realistic characters and settings. Texture artists are leaning heavily towards photo-based textures, and putting incredible amounts of work into highly detailed bump maps to increase the realism in pore and vascular structure. Import Poser figures into programs such as Bryce or Vue D'esprit, which excel in landscapes, and the resulting realism is staggering. 3D renders approaching photographic quality are already out there, and it's certain there will only be improvements in both the tools and the artists in the months to come.

But still media and motion pictures aren't the only areas where CGI is advancing. Video games on both the computer and console platforms are making better use of sophisticated graphics work. One of the most popular on-line games, EverQuest, revamped their game engine to take advantage of many new graphics capabilities, much to the dismay of Windows 95 users (as Win95 doesn't support DirectX 8.1). Reports on games such as Unreal II, Doom III, and many others are revealing truly amazing screen shots, making use of high-polygon digital modeling, high-detail texturing of both the worlds and the characters, and full utilization of hardware-based effects such as specular lighting and vertex blending. Companies like Curious Labs are also introducing products
like Avatar Lab to bring a higher-end look to common on-line activities like chatting, in conjunction with Adobe's new Atmosphere program (still in Beta as of this writing).

As the year progresses, there are quite a few companies and products to keep an eye on, for not only the products themselves, but for add-ons and plug-ins as well. Poser 5 from Curious Labs is already a hot topic in the art forums, and you can be sure you'll see new versions or significant additions to programs such as Adobe's Photoshop, E-On Software's Vue D'esprit, Corel's Bryce, Rhino, and the ever-popular 3D Studio MAX from Discreet. And that's not just commercial stuff, but a wellspring of user-made items as well, which sometimes rival even the best commercial releases.

Yes, it's a good time to be an artist...and it promises to only get better from here. Keep reading this column over future issues to get the inside scoop from folks in the business of making art products, and folks in the business of making art. -Happy Rendering!



About David Hebbe (ChromeTiger):
I'm what most people call a 'jack-of-all-trades'...I've held positions as everything from a cobbler (shoe maker, not the dessert) to a Technical Support Supervisor for a major computer manufacturer. The one thing that has remained constant through every profession is my love of art and multimedia.

I'm currently working on several artistic pursuits, including my position as Digital Art Director for Brass Ball Comics, home of 'Bubba the Redneck Werewolf', a new small press comic arriving in stores later this month...check it out!

See you in the funny books!

David 'ChromeTiger' Hebbe




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Every couple of weeks, we'll be highlighting an article, review, or editorial from past issues of the magazine. Our fifth feature is an editorial from Issue #1, "The Big Picture." You can view this article in all of its original pdf glory by going to the Magazine Interact Forum Back Room and going to Special Features.

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Member Opinions:
By: foleypro on 5/2/03
Excellent Commentary...Final Fantasy TSW is one my Favorite movies and Shrek is close too...

By: cingram on 5/4/03
Final Fantasy was horrible. They should have stayed true to the series (at least VII - X).
But I have to say "Final flight of the osiris"
totally blows my mind, Best animated film ever.


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