Data: the Artform

The idea that art is separate, distant from its mathematical and scientific counterparts is a myth that is being readily disputed by new radicals in the creative industry, responding to an increasingly data-saturated culture (Urist, 2015). These artists unify creative mediums with technology – using everything from self-tracking apps and their application in pieces to the reappropriation of information to form increasing abstract data and associated concepts (Grugier, 2016).

Any available data can be repurposed into artistic concepts; images, sounds, objects. Figures can be collected from databases, raw data, search engine data, statistics, and calculations from geographical, political, climatic and financial sources (Grugier, 2016).

Similar to political pieces, David McCandless transforms data such as military spending budgets to simplistic and conspicuous diagrams – an extension beyond “reducing human beings to numbers,” but more so “achieving greater awareness of complex matters in a modern world,” (Urist, 2015), in this case, allusions to the rampant military-industrial complex manifesting in higher powers (namely the United States).

Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/apr/01/information-is-beautiful-military-spending

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Matt Willey, 2060 Poster. Produced to show the impact of human activity and subsequent destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/08/the-digital-age-of-data-art/

Art along this vein is more than visually communicating data, it’s confronting the uncertain – the morally grey areas of finance, military matters and politics.

References:

Grugier, M. (2016) The Digital Age of Data Art. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/08/the-digital-age-of-data-art/

McCandless, D. (2010) Information is beautiful: war games. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/apr/01/information-is-beautiful-military-spending

Urist, J. (2015) From Paint to Pixels. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/05/the-rise-of-the-data-artist/392399/

Preparation for work in the Creative Media Industry

As an artist, having a portfolio is one of the key elements of approaching a job offer / potential interview, with most of your skills as an artist measured by its content. A strong portfolio should encompass the most refined of your completed work, representative of potential for growth, proved abilities and should cater to the area of creativity being applied for – it’s no use showing photography when someone specialises in abstract art (JMC Academy, 2017). Whilst it is tempting to show off, you should prioritise strategically appealing to the employer demographic over showing off all your range of skills as an artist. When exhibiting a creative folio, The Creative Group at HOW (2013) recommends the following key points:

  • How relevant is this piece to the prospective employer’s needs?
  • What was the business objective, and how did this piece solve it?
  • How were the results measured? Is there any quantifiable data I can share?
  • Are there any aspects of this project that make it especially memorable or interesting?

Strengthening your online presence as an artist is particularly useful for attracting attention to your content. Personalised projects, blogs, content all demonstrate passion for your career and discipline. Social media is a reservoir of potential conversations – an effective method of achieving and maintaining connections, a place to “find and be found,” (JMC Academy, 2017) and a prime way to establish and share current work. People are being hired entirely because of their online content.

Author Buchanan recommends a proactive networking approach when it comes to post-graduation career options. Getting in touch with old tutors, compiling a list of notable industry professionals and their contact details, attending industry events and contacting local career centres are “essential” for the likes of a post-graduate (2013). This approach is useful for researching people and companies before an interview, and can be used to demonstrate knowledge about the industry (JMC Academy, 2017).

References

Buchanan, E. (2013) How to Get a Job in a Creative Industry Without Leaving the House. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/emily-buchanan/creative-industry-jobs_b_2648193.html

JMC Academy (2017) How to Get a Job In the Creative Industry. Retrieved from http://www.jmcacademy.edu.au/news/how-to-get-a-job-in-the-creative-industry

The Creative Group (2013) How to Present Your Creative Portfolio. Retrieved from http://www.howdesign.com/design-career/present-your-portfolio/

Image retrieved from http://www.accesstomusic.co.uk/news_article_creative-media-course-in-bristol-267 

Social Media & Growth as an Artist

Social media is perhaps what first motivated me to really pursue my art – as a budding 14 year with little to no artistic talent, reaching out on an artistic platform is probably what really set me on an improvement journey. Prior to my online presence, I was quite stagnant with my art. I was drawing the same thing; same character; with no exploration into new techniques or expanding my horizons.

With my first account, I not only reached like-minded creatives, I discovered an audience, a community, and my first clients! Although my commissioners were sparse, I got an excerpts of being a freelance artist and build communication skills and relationships. Now, at 18, although still infrequent, I receive monthly commissions and get a little bit of pocket money on the side.
Reaching out meant I was exposed to new inspirations, new artistic styles and techniques. I learned to improve by setting myself against other people’s standards and appropriating their methods to progress artistically. Rather than remaining static, my expanded network led me to alternate platforms, artistic programs – a whole host of content.

Networking with others in your ‘niche’ can also act as a means of gathering feedback, and constructive criticisms on your work is one of the most definitive ways to improve. For me, I found that it acted as an alternative form of communication; I found myself sharing other people’s work, appreciating the industry, “spreading the love.” By giving a little to other people I eventually got a lot back – friendships and mutuals. Moreso than just a shared skill for art, I found people with similar passions and interests.

Broadening my connections to the likes of industry professionals helped in untold ways – and even though I wasn’t directly interacting with them, I was getting an insight into the industry and its standards. The potential for genuine conversations about industry and advice is there (and one we’re going to have to take in any case).

The moral of the story I’ve found is that whilst we can so easily get caught up in social media, it’s a valuable tool for meeting new people and improving yourself both as an artist and a person.

Income & Art

*Header art by me.

When I ended up telling my uncle, a successful and established businessman, that I was finally deciding to pursue my passion for art and study animation his first response was to lighten the discussion with a joke.

“What did the Science major say to the Arts major? ‘I’ll have fries with that.’”

I laughed at first, of course, but looking back it was a little disheartening. As artists, we can expect an income that is no less than sporadic, especially those that go on to freelance and rely on commission-based pay. Being a full-time freelancer is no easy task; but I can draw more than a few comparisons to starting a small business.

The road to preserving artistic freedom is more complicated than a simple freelancing job. Although few can achieve being entirely successful through their own content, it’s a goal that we can aim for. In my own case, I was hoping to create my own graphic novels or online comics. It’s not guaranteed to be a success, but in the meantime, I can have it as a side project (likely a free-to-view web comic), perhaps until it becomes popular or well-known enough to generate interest as a graphic novel series (which is where crowd-funding may also be an option!). It’s likely that since I primarily do my work digitally that I may be eligible for international employment (which has already been the case with some of my commission work thus far).

I have considered alternates to Patreon such as Ko-Fi, as the site allows for a ‘button’ that links to a donation page; easily accessible through substitute social media sites, rather than been restricted to an account on that particular domain. Whilst I may primarily be reliant on a part-time or full-time job to maintain a continual salary, my personal art may still be able to help me stay afloat. It is a long-term goal of mine to transition into a freelance artist which could be an option in the future if I gather enough of a following surrounding my own content.

However difficult the transition may be, the creative industry is malleable – and so are our skills as artists. Collaborative projects require a variety of talents and are rarely restricted to a singular discipline. As desire for entertainment grows, so do our job possibilities.

Asset Production Pipeline

For my Foundations of 3D Graphics class, we were tasked with creating an asset for a video game platform. Rather than opting for an organic asset, we were required to adhere to something non-organic, perhaps a spaceship, or weapon. An important point to consider are the constraints of video game engines, primarily the total polygon count of the model.

During the preliminary stages of this assignment, I decided that I wanted to create headgear, particularly something like the old diver’s helmets of the 20th century.

My first attempts at modelling were…unsuccessful, to say the least. I found that the reference images were far too complex for my relatively beginners skills. The related tutorials I researched (on helmet designs) weren’t too informative in terms of how to construct the diving helmet. Although I found that you can construct the “cages” around the openings using splines… (detailed in a brief tutorial here), the main method of construction the tutorials used was relying on symmetry, which is obviously a problem with such an asymmetrical design.

By this point, a week or two in, I began searching for an easier alternative to the complex helmet. I decided to settle for a fire hydrant, which, although relatively simplistic, if done well, will meet the requirements of the task.

Variations on fire hydrant designs means I could potentially add other elements, such as a chain or extra bolts, like the reference pictures detailed below.

I eventually settled with this reference image, which was imported as an image plane to directly model from:

542296-fire-hydrant-with-clipping-path-stock-photo

Although I originally had trouble modelling the fire hydrant by trying to constraint the main body to a single polygon, I eventually combined several different polygons and attached them to form a single polygon before exporting the UVs.
The bolts were originally constructed separately before merging them with the main body using the same method.

When creating the chain, I used multiple copies of a modified Torus primitive, rotated, and attached to form a long chain. By using a path deform modifier in combination with a line spline, I was able to warp the chain around the hydrant protrusions to create the product below:

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In terms of UV mapping, it was a relatively straight forward process, although due to increasing time constraints I had to use the automated functions of the UV editor, namely the auto-resize (resized the UVs in relation to their size on the model) and auto-packing (which packed the UVs automatically).

i qwant to die

Unfortunately during the baking process, I misinterpreted the tutorial, which required a normal map to be baked when using a combination of both a high and low poly model. Because my model was already relatively low-poly, this baking process was unnecessary, and I wasted time trying to find the error in the program.

After realising all I needed was an ID map, I went straight to texturing in Quixel!

Beginnings of the texturing process.

I definitely wanted to go with the traditional red fire hydrant motif . First starting with base materials, I then went in with secondary materials for more visual interest. Rather than leaving the main body flat, I chose to include an additional rough metallic map to add a bit of wear and character to the asset.

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screen04After a quick export using Quixel’s animation feature, I put together a short video in Adobe Premiere!

This assignment presented a new challenge in my animation journey. I often found I had to resist the urge to diligently follow provided tutorials and improvise on my own account, particularly during the modelling stages. My progression from the previous assessment to this one was ultimately quite a positive transition, especially in terms of time management and general ease, having been previously acquainted with the program. The introduction to the Quixel Suite might just have been my favourite experience in this module thus far! Texturing was inevitably made easier, and the high level of customisation (now with the addition of different maps) meant that the final product looked much better than I originally expected.

Thanks for a great first tri, guys!

Pirate’s Gold: Rendering, Compositing, Video Editing (The Finale)

Rendering

I had more than a little difficulty rendering this animation, and the entire process likely took almost two days.
My first attempt at rendering, which was left overnight, had not finished by morning – not due to any complications with the render set-up, but rather, the fact that the laptop I was borrowing went to sleep and had no background processes running. Alright, no biggie. I can render it at the campus whilst I’m staying there during the day.
…Wrong? It rendered quickly enough, in approximately 2.5 hours, whilst I did some background work, but with terrible quality.

Less than appealing. Alright, moving onto round three. I tweaked the settings so that the rendered animation would have a far higher quality. Even after leaving it to render overnight (high quality obviously means a longer rendering time) I returned to find a video with the exact same quality as my previous attempts.

A little disheartening, obviously, but I had made preparations with my friend to use their computer (which had already had the Autodesk program files installed) to render my animation overnight. And…the exact same result. It was at this point I realised I had been rendering the files into the wrong format – which explained the terrible quality.
With less than a day to turn in the assessment and time running out, I made a last ditch attempt to do a QuickSilver render. Although the quality will undoubtedly lessen, with my options narrowing, I didn’t really have much of a choice.

Because I needed to change the lighting, I went with a relatively bright skylight with an orange tint – mainly to mimic a sunset.

Compositing / Editing

Decided to head over to Adobe Premiere for the video editing effects.

In terms of compositing, in order to add authenticity to the video (since it is still meant to be an advertisement) I added an overlay, as if the animation was made for an android app. The title, “Pirate’s Gold,” was also implemented in a similar fashion, using a visual overlay.

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Even though I had planned to investigate After Effects CC and further enhance the assignment, my issues with the rendering put off valuable time. I decided it was more practical to work with what the tutorial provided me with rather than risking not submitting the files on time. Besides, the new orange lighting looks great as it is – no real need to edit it further.

The audio piece I chose was simply a remix of the traditional “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme by Hans Zimmer, in a less serious, light-hearted tone by Raz Alon. Add some generic punch sound affects to enhance the action and we’re just about set to export!

Reflection

Although the experience was full of obstacles, overcoming them and gaining texturing, mapping, modelling and editing experience was fulfilling. Whilst reaffirming the fundamentals of a production pipeline I gained more insight into the 3D animation industry itself, alongside the processes and programs used to create everything from feature length films to advertisements. As this project is closing, I am eager for the freedom in my next assignment, if a bit apprehensive. I hope this experience helps to reduce my error count in future endeavor.

Pirate’s Gold: Lighting

In order to create some fill lighting for the scene I implemented an omni light, which created a smooth fallout in all directions. In the Advanced Effects tab, there is an option for “Ambient Only,” which, in essence, makes the light have no specific directionality. By default, this lighting applies to all models in the scene. If rendered using this setting only, the scene will have flat lighting such as the screenshot below (ignoring the highlights already implemented onto the texture).

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The textures are presented flat and at face value. In order to have some soft, albeit defining shadows for this scene I added the mental ray ambient/reflective occlusion shader based on the recommendations of the video tutorial. The shader deposits small contact shadows in darker areas where light is blocked within the environment, or where models interact with the plane.

Although I need to maintain quality for this assignment, it will likely take longer since I’m rendering it on a laptop. Therefore, although the recommended sample size is 64, I went with a lower value at 50. In regards to the maximum distance for the ambient occlusion parameters, I went with a value of 20, also recommended by the video tutorial.

Hey

With the option to change the colour of the shadows, I went with a lowly saturated red colour, mainly to highlight the warmth of the scene. Even if the difference between the black and red shadows is minimal at this stage, I still think it’s an important aspect to have the lighting match the palette of the scene itself.

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Rendered scene with black shadows versus that with a darkly saturate red.

To ensure the shadows were pointing outwards from the center, I adjusted the co-ordinates to start at 0X0Y0Z, after which I adjusted it to fit more towards the middle of the scene, as the board itself is slightly off-centre. And that’s the lighting finished!