The Digital Blasphemy of Ryan Bliss

Jul 27, 2008 at 03:42 pm by Store Staff

In February of 1997, Ryan Bliss embarked on a journey with his new website Digital Blasphemy started simply as an exercise in building a web gallery for Ryan, a means for him to learn web design, and a place to show the digital artwork he was enjoying creating at the time. Little did he know at the time that this small exercise would soon become his full-time job.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Ryan on his work, and about the history of Digital Blasphemy. 

How long have you been creating in the digital realm?

I started creating digital art in 1994 when I received my first computer but I've always been a geek for sci-fi movies and special effects. I can remember endlessly doodling spaceships and planets back in grade school.

My first machine (a 486/66 with 4 MB of RAM and a 13" monitor) came with copies of KPT Tools, Aldus Photostyler and some other graphics apps. I think my first "digital art" came about playing with the KPT Fractal explorer. From there I started experimenting with 2D art (I used a lot of plugins as drawing tablets were not available back then and I wasn't much for mouse-drawing). My first 3D experience was with KPT Bryce 2 and from there moved up to Vue d'Esprit.

Those early renders can still be found on my site (they're in the 1997 gallery even though a lot of them were created earlier). I lived with roommates back then and I found the best way to show off my work was to leave it on the desktop as wallpaper. Since then the images I have created have always been first and foremost desktop wallpapers.

Planitia © Ryan Bliss

Do you have any traditional art experience/training?

I took the required art classes in high school (back in the 80s) but I don't have any formal art training beyond that. I was never very good at fine motor work (drawing, handwriting, sculpting, etc) so being an artist was really the furthest thing from my mind. Fortunately the computer allows me to reproduce the images in my head without needing to control my clumsy hands.  

I've always been the creative type, but before being exposed to digital art I had planned on being a writer. I wrote stories, poems, and even a rough novel back in high school and studied English in college. People started seeing my artwork and giving me feedback, however, I pretty much stopped writing and focused my energies entirely on visual arts. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words...

I see you have a nice list of programs in your digital toolset. Which program do you consider your favorite? And which could you not do without?

Right now I would say that I am hooked on Vue d'Esprit. I've been doing a lot of landscape work recently and Vue has been the perfect tool (with the excellent Ecosystems and Spectral Atmospheres). It's been indispensable. I still prefer Lightwave for rendering space images and abstract work, and also for modeling special geometry for my landscapes.    I also use Zbrush for modeling.

Tropic of Capricorn © Ryan Bliss

What is your workflow like, and how much do you postwork?

I usually start by creating a small scene element (sometimes the focus of the scene, sometimes not) and then just try to build something interesting around it. Sometimes I will have a theme in mind,  sometimes the theme just develops as I am adding elements (one element will suggest another). This is why I never do tutorials. I rarely have a specific end in mind when I start working and I rarely take a linear path to get there.

As for post work, I usually try to stick with what the 3D program gives me. There are exceptions though. For example, I think the stars in Vue d'Esprit look terrible so I always add my own in Photoshop. Vue doesn't do DOF either so that has to be added post render. I also use the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush from time to time to clean up intersecting ecosystem plants (rather than re-rendering the whole thing or trying to repopulate the scene). I'll also do minor things like adjust the levels or shift the hue, but I don't do a lot of brushovers or wholesale changes.

What was the initial inspiration/motivation for starting the site?

My use of the computer in the mid-90's, coupled with the dismal job outlook for holders of English degrees, prompted me to go back to school and study Computer Science. If Iowa had had a computer graphics program in the mid-90's I might have studied that, but the closest I could get at the time was computer science.  

Near the end of my BS program (late 1996 probably) I started interviewing for programming jobs around Iowa City. At one early interview, for a job I wanted very much, I was asked if I knew HTML. I had to admit that I didn't (in retrospect I probably could have bluffed this answer). I didn't get the job.

The university wasn't teaching any web programming at that time (it was all C++ and Assembly) so I took it upon myself to learn HTML. Since I already had a decent collection of renders I thought it would be a good practical exercise to build a web gallery. "Digital Blasphemy" was the name I had been putting on all my work so that became the name of the site.    It referred to creating worlds (the work of God) using the computer. The site went live in February 1997.

Idyll © Ryan Bliss

Has it grown beyond your expectations?

Definitely. I certainly never expected to be making a living creating computer wallpapers. I suppose I first knew I was onto something when my original ISP called me and told me that I had to remove my site from their servers because it was using too much bandwidth, this was in 1998 when it was getting a couple of thousand visitors per day. Now I get tens of thousands of visitors per day. Pretty amazing really.

Do you get a lot of special requests?

A few every week. I've tried to make it clear to folks that I don't so requests or custom work (I'm doubtful I could ever reproduce what is in someone else's head) but they still keep coming. They're fun to read but that's about it.

Arctica © Ryan Bliss

What or who is your inspiration?

That's a tough one. I draw inspiration from just about everything. I may watch a movie, read a book, play a video game, listen to a song, take a walk, or any other random experience. Each experience gets stored in the brain and becomes a building block for a future project.  

Inspirations can come from strange places. Recently I was watching a Cubs game and a commercial came on for a travel website. They showed a brief clip of a path leading to a beach and I thought that would make a fine wallpaper. I made my own path leading down to a beach (the wallpaper is called "Island Time"). The finished piece doesn't really look anything like the clip I saw on the commercial, but it was inspired by it.

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Nick C. Sorbin is a digital artist, sculptor, writer, and Managing Editor for Renderosity's Front Page News.
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August 4 , 2008

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