My first exposure to real visual art was not through a dullish art class in grammar school, but through the comic books and paperback cover art I found at the local drug store and paperback bookshop. I still remember Jack Kirby's stunning full page image of Galactus in Fantastic Four #48, or Richard Power's mind-bending paperback covers for Arthur C. Clarke and J.G. Ballards novels. The images these two artists created were not only technically brilliant (as I came to understand much later), but were actual imagined worlds that stayed in my mind for weeks. Their work was the foundation for my understanding of how powerful visual images can be. It was as if a door in my imagination had opened up for the first time.
Wielding a brush by Liang Yue
I was thinking about Kirby and Powers as I was pouring over EXPOSÉ 7, the most recent book in the stellar digital art series by Ballistic Publishing. 223 pages, 391 images, 288 artists in 51 countries: it's as if digital technology has allowed the several dozen artists I admired in the sixties and seventies to grow into a flood of hundreds of artists creating amazing images in fields like game design and special effects for film. From what was an industry that actually became the focus of a congressional investigation, we have a myriad of digital artists working at the cutting edge of art all over the world.
Ballistic has obviously put enormous time/care into selecting and presenting the “finest digital art in the known universe” (their stated goal). In the succinct and interesting introduction, Daniel Wade (Managing Editor) and Paul Hellard (Assistant Editor), make it clear just how much thought and effort went into creating EXPOSÉ 7. They received a record number of entries for this edition (6,288) which was 1,000 more than they had received the previous year. After organizing all of the entries into the previous year's categories, they then decided if new categories needed to be added and/or other categories needed to be dropped or changed.
Two new categories were added for EXPOSÉ 7: Robotic/Cyborg and Steampunk (my favorite category in the book). Other categories like Creatures became Wildlife, with an emphasis on real creatures. The editors also combined the former Warriors and Conflict categories into a single category. Overall, there are twenty categories for EXPOSÉ 7. All of them nicely explained (with illustration) in well-written paragraphs explicating what criteria the jury were using to evaluate each entry. In addition to the Steampunk category, some of my other favorites include Matte Painting, Storytelling and Science Fiction.
Odysseus' Departure by Aleksander (Olek) Novak-Zemplinski
The Jury (and advisory board) consisted of eight recognized masters in the field of digital art. Artists like Brom (fantasy artist), Lorne Lanning (Co-founder of Oddworld Inhabitants), Chris Stoski (matte painter and concept artist) and Stephan Martiniere ( concept artist and Grand Master) bring an incredible amount of experience and sensitivity to what probably became a very difficult process at the end. In the introduction, the editors state that the voting across all of the categories was very close and apparently a “record number of entries narrowly missed out despite including around 60 more pieces of art than EXPOSÉ 6”.
They certainly did a good job in their selections because reading/looking through EXPOSÉ 7 is a revelation. Every single work featured is superb. Laid out in mostly on an entire page (along with occasional two-page spread and a tasteful three images to a page), the color reproduction is about the best I've seen in an art book. Short of using tipped-in plates, where the images are reproduced separately and then tipped-in to the book (a process which is very expensive), I don't think they could have done a better job in presenting the images. The editors were smart to arrange the images in each of the categories so that there was contrast between colors and intensity. But you only get a sense of this subtle arrangement after going through the book several times. For example, the Warriors & Conflict category starts with a Master image which covers two whole pages. It's vibrant, fiery and intense. But by the end of the section, there are cooler and more detailed images. The entire book is laid out with this kind of attention to detail.
Open Space Bathroom: Day by X3 Studios SRL
I also applaud the decision to start each category with what was judged the Master image (usually a two page spread) with the two or three images deemed Excellent. This sets the tone for each category so well. At times I found myself coming back to the Master image and comparing/contrasting other images in the category and even other Master images. Each image is partially framed in black with the title, programs used to create the image, and the name of the artist/country in white usually at the bottom or side. There is a complete index at the back of the book with websites and/or contact addresses along with the page number(s) of where their works are featured in EXPOSÉ 7.
And I really enjoyed the profile of Grand Master Ralph McQuarrie who created extraordinary concept art for the Star Wars series of films and helped design the spaceship for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (among many other great works). Along with featuring several of his concept art pieces, they quote him a good deal. I smiled at his comment on his legacy: “I never really thought about it. I just concentrated on the work in progress”. Honoring the artists that came before is just as important as presenting the new ones. A very classy touch by Ballistic.
Let's get back to EXPOSÉ 7; I've selected six images from the EXPOSÉ 7 that caught my mind's eye. This review would be much too long if I commented on all of them, but I'd like to comment on two in particular.
The Circus by Lior Arditi
"Odysseus' Departure" by Aleksander (Olek) Novak-Zemplinksi is an image (created in Photoshop) that has stayed in my imagination for weeks now. Part of the new category Steampunk, a healthy and vital sub-genre of science fiction (and video games like Arcanum), Odysseus' Departure is so beautiful and artfully arranged that the story depicted in the image becomes more layered and complex the longer you look at it. Odysseus, of course, is the central character of Homer's The Odyssey which depicted his 10-year return home from the Trojan War. In this image, the artist seems to suggest that maybe the reverse is happening; instead of coming home, this Victorian Odysseus (perhaps the ship's name) is leaving on an expedition or to fight a war.
The center of the image is beautifully focused on the reaching arms of what is most likely the captain and his wife (the only figure in red with the red diamonds in the tiles on the right leading to her). All of the large, bulky structures like the ship and the port architecture lead the viewer to this simple gesture. Ominously, to the right there are armed men making their way in slight shadows, guns held to their sides, to the dock to board. There's a somber, almost dangerous mood to the scene. And I particularly like the movement in the scene. You can almost hear the footfalls of the men and the whoosh of steam coming from the ship and the strange machines attending. Excellence, indeed.
Morning Commute by Edward Del Rio
Liang Yue is a remarkable digital artist from Taiwan. His “Wielding a brush” is the Master artwork in the Portrait (Painted) category. It is also the first image in the book. The movement and light in the scene (created in Painter) are exquisite. As a huge fan of Asian Film (especially the great Shaw Brothers classics like “36 Chambers of Shaolin” and “One-Armed Swordsman”), I was drawn to this image. It suggests something of the supernatural with it's fast moving brush and scroll. Perhaps some young martial arts master is using his powers to write as a weapon against an unseen foe just out of sight? Like "Odyssues' Departure," the form of the image directs the viewer to the eyes of the young poet/fighter. The expression on his face is so artfully done. It's something you see on the face of a great actor like Ti-Lung; supremely confident, but very slightly interested in the outcome of his actions. I also love the fact that some of the portrait is left to look painted and unfinished. The same effect occurs on Andrew Wyeth's last paintings and adds to the sense of movement in the scene. Almost like a painterly version of motion blur. Masterful.
Of course, the other images you see here; "The Circus" by Lior Arditi, "Morning Commute" by Edward Del Rio, "Forest Girl" by Karem Beyit and "Open Space Bathroom: Day" by X3 Studios SRL are all equally remarkable. I could write pages on how beautiful and well made these images are. In fact, I'm sure anyone reading this book could come up with dozens of images that would captivate them in the same way these captivated me. It's almost too much to take in in one sitting. EXPOSÉ 7 is a book to savor for weeks, if not months.
Forest Girl by Kerem Beyit
Before I close, I want to say something about the book itself and it's physical production. I am reviewing the paperback edition, but Ballistic also provides a hardback and a leather-bound limited edition. Although I haven't examined these editions, I suspect the color reproduction is every bit as good as the one I'm reviewing here. The binding is strong, but flexible enough to flatten the book a bit with your hands for those two-page spreads. Ballistic included small dust-flaps on the front and back with info on Ballistic and other books they publish. And the paper is glossy heavy stock, perfect for this kind of book. I think the editors were very smart to use the Hong Kong printer Everbest, which was founded in 1954 and has similar goals as Ballistic. The quality of their work is superior.
Finally, Ballistic Publishing has a very well-designed website where you can see several other digital art book series' they are developing. There is a nifty “Book Previewer” where you can page through just about every single page of their books. Some other interesting books developed by Ballistic include their D'Artiste series of master class tutorials in character modeling, matte painting, and digital painting, Massive Black, a collection of digital art from a top level CGI company of the same name, and (this is very cool) a graphic novel series called Machine Phase.
I highly recommend spending an hour or so at their website looking through what they have to offer. The prices are reasonable and you can order directly from their website. EXPOSÉ 7 is $64.00 (USD) in paperback; $75.00 (USD) in hardback. The limited edition (which comes with a free 30 minute tutorial by Bente Schlick on how he created the cover art for the book) costs $170. I almost wish Ballistic would create a DVD version of the book, where you could feature video of the artists discussing their works along with the ability to go in very closely on each image. Still, the book is remarkable.
Remember that door I mentioned earlier? The one that Jack Kirby and Richard Powers opened up? I think EXPOSÉ 7 just opened another door for me. My sincere thanks to Ballistic Publishing for providing me a copy of the book for review.
For more information, please visit the Ballistic Publishing website, and be sure to take a look at their Book Previewer for a look inside EXPOSÉ 7.
About Ballistic Publishing
Ballistic Publishing is the leading, award-winning, independent publisher of books for the digital arts industry. Dedicated to producing the highest quality publications celebrating the talents of digital artists worldwide, it is setting high standards in all areas of publishing from the quality of content, design and delivery to its responsiveness to the market. Ballistic Publishing shares a strong affiliation with the digital arts community through its sister organization The CGSociety (The Computer Graphics Society). Ballistic Publishing is based in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, with offices in Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) and Tampa (Florida, USA).
Editor's Note: Be sure to check out all the valuable resources available right here on Renderosity, for all your artistic endeavors, starting with the following related links:
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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