Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Hollywood Myth

DISCLAIMER: This is not a critique or review of any studios or people in the film industry that I personally came into contact with during my time in LA. This is an appraisal of a city, it's reputation, and the industry that it became famous for.

Many people pursue their art education (particularly animation and visual effects) under the impression that once the degree is completed, they'll move to Los Angeles and pursue their professional art career. Hollywood is after all, the city of dreams right?

At the risk of coming off as a massive downer, I'm going to be dreadfully honest here. It is my belief that armed with the following knowledge a person could adjust their expectations low enough to actually be relatively happy living in Los Angeles.

Let me be clear, LA is a black hole.

Let's start with the city itself.
No bones about it, Los Angeles is a racially-divided war zone, a smog-encircled pillar of smugness, a storm cloud of car fumes, and a desert of concrete, litter, and vehicles.

The only way a human being could thrive in such an environment is by being paid exorbitant sums of money or Stockholm syndrome.
Despite this, here are several things to keep in mind when making the jump to the west coast.

1) Prepare to Sit

The first thing I noticed upon doing some serious driving around LA is that the very notion of travel is an almost laughable construct. Don't expect to go anywhere without standstill traffic unless you carefully plan your route ahead of time (the route you must take to avoid multi-hours of stop and go traffic will depend on the time of day and month).

Notice the motorcycle in the photo riding between the lanes of cars. This happens constantly and often quite a bit faster than the speed limit. It's been my experience that local police don't seem to do much about it.

If you can avoid driving anywhere, do so.
Parking is limited regardless of where you are in the city so expect to pay a ridiculous amount for parking tickets and parking garages.
It will happen.

2) Don't Breathe

It's good advice to say "don't drink the water" in reference to LA, but I've yet to find a good workaround for breathing the city's air.

Asthmatic? Allergic?
Los Angeles will be quite the living hell for your lungs.
Other than being prepared mentally, there's very little to be done.

The amount of litter and general garbage laying around the streets and neighborhoods of LA/Hollywood is borderline obscene. Park your car for the night and come back in the morning to find a smattering of advertisements ranging from strippers to insurance under the windshield wipers, in the door handle, and stuck in every crack possible.

Some places have seasons. 
Los Angeles has waves of garbage.

3) Rent

Be prepared to pay through the nose for a small apartment in a terrible neighborhood. Subsections of Los Angeles are broken into racial divides and finding an apartment in an area where you are unfamiliar with local language and gang clothes can be dangerous to your health.

Unfortunately, rent rates are only rising.

4) Create a Community

Without friends nearby (and I mean close, the traffic is so bad most people are hard pressed to drive very far), it is possible to slowly whither. 

The general temperament of the populace in LA is not particularly friendly and, given the reasons listed here, it seems almost self-evident. 

5) The VFX/Animation Industry is Choking to Death

Unless you are very far removed from any post-production news over the past decade, you already know about how much trouble the entire post-production industry is in both financially and artistically.

This doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon to be honest.

In summery, all of these points may seem very negative and dire.
Rest assured, this is only because the current climate in the industry as well as the city that made it famous is entirely negative and dire.

Unless you are a visual rock star right out of the gate with deep industry connections and a large trust fund, expect to fight tooth and nail for that entry level job.

Josh Evans

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Working with Humans

Chances are, as a creative and imaginative individual, you may not be thrilled at the prospect of being a "team player".  The same inner creative force within a person that compels them to crank out masterworks may pit them against the vision of their fellow artists when within a cooperative setting.

Recently, I was assigned to an short film as the only Matte Painter (and Painted Texture Artist) on board.  We had a team of 18 women and men working on a film that was 85% computer art and 15% live-action integration in under 10 weeks.  The tone of the project was inspired by the classic noir film "The Third Man".  Experience levels across the board varied wildly.

Expectations were high.
It was time to learn how to play nice with my fellow artists.

This is the final product.

Here's a break down of all the work involved.

The following list is some of what I took away from the experience.  The lessons learned apply not just to visual effects but to nearly every other kind of collaborative experiece I can think of.

Lesson 1) Know Your Job.  Do Your Job
My job was to produce Matte Paintings, to help build a texture reference library for the team to use, and to composite the live action plates into my painted scenery.

Sometimes, people just don't pull their weight.  My instinctive reaction is to pick up their slack, to work twice as hard and get all the work done.  Unfortunatly, an artist is often put on these projects to only  accomplish a specific set of goals and covering for someone else may set everyone back.

Here is my approach to peacefully solving the issue of another artist not doing their job in a way that impedes your progress.
    A) Talk to them face to face
         (if this is not possible send an e-mail and CC the supervisor);
         be specific about exactly what you need from them and when.
    B) If this does not produce results within the talked of timeframe,
         have a face to face discussion with your supervisor.  Include all specifics.

Lesson 2) Taking Daily Criticism
Every time we met, our director would go over all progress and the entire team had the opportunity to voice their opinion of each others work.

This is of the utmost importance to the final product, being nice for the sake of sparing feelings will have a negative impact on the final quality of the shot under review.

On the other hand, being under the critique gun was pretty harrowing at first.  Once the intial shock of having your work deconstructed in front of the entire team wore off, I began to really appreciate the opinions of my teammates and co-workers.

To get the most out of critique, take comprehensive notes.  The director is always right and if I cannot convince him that he is wrong during critique, then all the changes he suggests will be implemented as soon as possible.  I then factor the rest of the critiques in order of how much I agree with them personally and creativly.  Some suggestions just don't hold up and it is your perogative as an artist on how to change your shots.

It can be difficult to conform your artwork to the vision of another, but if everyone on the team is working together in this regard, the tone and visual style the director has in mind will show through in the final combined product.

Last thought on this: don't just take criticism...ASK for it. 

Lesson 3) Know How to Stop
In the fast paced world of digital effects, the due dates come very quickly and it is important to not a work a shot to death.  Working on something that was missed during critique?  Show your supervisor; you might not feel done with it but it might be time to call it quits.

A shot is not done when it is perfect.
Art is not done when it is perfect.

The hardest question I kept having to answer near the end of the project was "Are you done with this?".  The artist within me is never satisfied, but I have to reconcile my creative impulse with my professional need to complete all the tasks assigned to me.

Working hard is important.
Working intelligently is even more imporant.

Happy Cooperation!
Josh Evans

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Don't be a Jerk: Contacts and Connections

Contacts are people.

If you want them to remember you well, be respectful and don't act as if they are inexhaustible gold mines that can be pushed to hire or commission you. Most people want to help you and will do what they can to either commission your services or set you up with someone who can. Even if they can't use you at the moment, they could possibly in the future.

Most contacts aren't instant work.

For people you met at a career fair, don't call them all the time. Constant checking in is actually counterproductive. The people that come to these events are already overloaded with emails and calls. Don't expect them to remember you personally right away. Remind them of the highlights of your conversation and your strengths as a way of jogging their memory, but keep it down to a couple sentences. Ask them about projects they had mentioned (if they did not mention anything, look them up online to see what they are currently working on). Check in with them a couple times, but if you don't get any response after a two or three times it may a good idea to give them some time.

Treat a contact as though they are a formal version of a friend, hopefully this is what they will grow to be.

Only cold call if necessary, these sporadic conversations tend to make everyone uncomfortable. Try to build an actual human relationship with people you want to keep in contact with. You know, the type of relationship that would make someone want to keep up with you and your work. Keep sending emails to check in with people from a Career Fair, but ask them if you can put them on a newsletter. Not only is this a more permanent and positive image, but it is also much more professional than being one of hundreds pleading to them for jobs on a biweekly basis.

Always ask before adding someone to your newsletter, and keep introductory emails short.
A long email describing every virtue you have is not likely to attract new contacts.

In short, treat contacts how you would want to be treated, and treat them online as you would in person. Many people see someone they meet on the internet as a place as a tool for success instead of a human being. The same applies to Career Fairs and similar opportunities. Be concise, remind them why they were interested in you, let them know how they can benefit from working with you, and ask them about current projects.

Checklist for Contact Etiquette:
  1. Don't cold call unless necessary (especially repeatedly). 
  2. Don't email the same email thing more than once. If individual emails to someone seem inappropriate, ask if they would like to be added to your mailing list and send relevant quarterly updates. 
  3. Make honest, relevant, and concise conversation. 
  4. Be patient. See contacts in long term, not short term. 
  5. Be open to unlikely sources. 
When you get a job be friendly, professional, deliver work on time and in the correct format etc. 
Future work relies on good work and good communication

Checklist for your Professional Hit List:
  1. Make a spreadsheet of all known contacts. Separate contact info, how you know them, what they know, what they like/dislike about you, what you can do for them, and what they can do for you.
  2. Whether twice a year or quarterly, go through that list and send updates. 
  3. This is where that newsletter comes in handy. It may be a good idea to fine tune a newsletter for each contact. Whether one is more personal, or another is geared towards a separate market, just make sure its relevant to its recipients. It should contain new work, new projects, and a brief overview of what you've been up to. Bonus points if it's pretty. 
  4. I personally have a spreadsheet of people I would like to work for. It helps me make think about who I actually want to meet/work for and take steps towards doing so. Its actually very helpful. 
  5. Record any responses, feedback, who you talked to, and their contact information. This allows you to mention what they said or who you talked to in future conversations with the company/person. 

-If you are in college it is by far the most effective to just talk to your career counselor about the issue of meeting and maintaining contacts...that's what they're paid to do.

-Basic examples of proper email etiquette for the completely lost.

-Excellent article that agrees with me :)

-Recommended Reading: Keith Farazzi's Never Eat Alone (making contacts) and Who's Got your Back (keeping contacts)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Software Free For All: A Loris Attacks Video Tutorial

From a traditional artist seeking a better way to transpose ideas onto the canvas to a digital visual effects wizard with a small pocketbook, the following tutorial will be of great use to you.

I've spent the last several weeks researching packages that are not only free but have a strong user-base behind them.  It is important to have resources to turn to if there are bugs or issues, so simply being free was not enough for a program to make our list.

Download Gimp Painter
Windows only, for a cross platform version of regular Gimp go here.

Loris Attacks Digital Paint Workflow (the concepts apply to Gimp as well)
Gimp Paint Studio Introduction
For Traditional Artists:
Gimp Painter is an intuitive way to quickly sketch out ideas and play with color/light concepts without ever having to use up precious materials.  Saves money and time in the long run.
For Digital Artists:
Photoshop and Corel Painter cost money, granted there are free version available, but if you want all the features in one package without torrenting or purchasing then Gimp Painter is your new best friend!

Download Sculptris
For Mac and Windows
For Traditional Artists: 
Perhaps you may not be the best digital sculptor, but that does not meant that you cannot benefit from the possibility of viewing something from any angle to sketch or paint!  You can download free .obj models (here, here, and here) and load them into Sculptris for an object, character, or place in the round at your disposal!  Free reference that allows your creative freedom to flourish?  Yes please!
Does importing a strange file into a (perhaps) terrifyingly digital program sound like a bit of a stretch for you despite the benefits?  Here is a quick guide to importing those .obj models and even getting started with a bit of sculpting yourself!

For Digital Artists:
What if you could have the ease of use that Mudbox offers, from the makers of ZBrush, and all for free?  That's the beauty of Sculptris, you can build up your texture and modeling portfolio for free.
Download Google SketchUp
For Windows and Mac

For Traditional and Digital Artists:
Google SketchUp is fantastic for pulling perspective on tricky situations.  
With only several minutes spent, it is possible to rough out an entire environment of primitive forms that serve as excellent reference.
From digital paint to oils, Google SketchUp is a handy free tool for everyone!

Download Blender
For Windows, Linux, and Mac
Crazy Amazing Things you can do with Blender!

For Traditional Artists:
Unless you are planning on transitioning from traditional artist to digital animation or visual effects may not want to touch this one.

For Digital Artists:
There are some people who have a strong hatred for Blender simply because of how genuinely good it is.  If Blender were a presidential candidate, the media would ignore it.  This is a dark horse of a program simply because it is programmed by and for digital artists.
As a free alternative to Maya, 3DS Max, and Cinema 4D, Blender is fantastic.
I personally like this program better than all of the programs listed aside from Maya.
Blender is polarizing, yet impressive.

Download Picogen
For Windows or Linux
Gallery of Images made with Picogen 
For Traditional Artists:
Sometimes the fantastic or surreal landscape you want to paint or draw does not exist.  The ability to generate an environment from your mind's eye to use as a reference is valuable, the nonexistent price tag is an added bonus.
For Digital Artists:
Whether you need a landscape for an environment sphere or a dynamic plate to base a matte painting off of, Picogen is a nice (free) alternative to Vue.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Get Noticed

A basic guide to self-promotion

Artists are an independent bunch. Many of us have our own way we use our chosen medium, style, way of promoting, and pricing. We are self employed and make money off of our unique perspective. Each artist will have a slightly different take on promotion and even what success is. With that in mind, here's a general guide to promoting one's art in order to attract those who will pay for it.
As an Illustrator I'm approaching the concept of self-promotion from that perspective, hopefully many of these ideas will be useful for starting this process in most creative fields.

The Website 
What to Include 

12-15 pieces for beginners (up to thirty pieces for those with industry experience). 
Maintain a cohesive style while showing a diverse subject matter. 
Make visual comparisons and keep a strong narrative flow. 
If possible make your best piece the first piece in your portfolio, another stunner as the last, and enough visual diversity throughout to keep interest. 
Grouping by subject matter together in a small portfolio can make it stagnant. Put pieces together that  stimulate the eye in differing ways, yet compliment each other.
Like looking through a magazine, your portfolio should tell a story of your artistic personality. 

Do not pad your portfolio with mediocre work. Flaws stick out, and in the end, are what's remembered. Be very picky about what makes the cut. Then cut out a few more pieces.
What you should be left with is a cohesive, interesting, and beautiful selection of your absolutely best creations. 

Ideas for Enhancing Online Portfolios:
Be sure to, whenever possible, tag and make searchable specific content.  For example, if a client wants to see your proficiency at painting cats and only cats, they can simply search for them instead of going through all of your work and wasting precious time trying to find them.  Many clients would rather look up another artist than wade through your entire portfolio looking for one thing in specific.

Register your sites with Google, it makes your page more credible and greatly improves its searchability.

Contact Information:
Use your professional e-mail address, not your school address which can often mark potential jobs as spam.
It is important to use your permanent address, not dorm address, so if a client mails you something over break, you can respond. They also may file this temporary address and thus lose contact once you move. 

When listing your updated phone number, make sure your answering machine is clear and professional.

Your Bio page or section on your website should be a concise guide to who you are and your interests. If possible, include any relevant awards or facts that might connect you to the viewer. Maybe they went to your college or lived in your home town. A Bio page is not essential, but its a nice touch.

Link to Store: 
It is best to make it as clear as possible when a visitor is about to leave your site, perhaps this was not their wish and they can't figure out what happened. If possible, make any links to external sites open in a new tab.

Art directors are busy people. 
Don't waste their time with lengthy intros or a complicated web design. 
An elegant design that allows for easy navigation, minimal clicks, and quick loading screens are optimal. 

Social Networking
Being completely honest, updating Twitter, Behance, Tumblr, Linkedin, Facebook, Creative Heads, and other art accounts isn't the highlight of my day, but social networking sites are highly important tools that link you to those who want to look at your work. Think of it as a platform you can use to reach possible employers.

Tips for Social Network Success:
Add art directors, creative directors, graphic designers, and the art departments of companies that share your aesthetic, values, interests etc. Get to know their work and do research on what they are looking for. Sometimes but not always, you can introduce yourself over these sites. Don't rush, adding a contact is like telling someone your name, its incredibly awkward to immediately expect something from someone who hardly knows you. So just say hello, properly introduce yourself and check in every once in awhile. Think of it in terms of an actual relationship, because that is exactly what it is. Don't use it as this account for personal content; if you want to tweet about how great your breakfast was, get a personal account.

1) Keep it Classy
Future employers have zero interest in your ability to duck face while wasted.

2) Keep it Current 
Is your profile picture from your teenage years?
Is your page loaded with outdated fan art?
Replace these immediately and plan on posting sketches and current projects as you complete them.

Think of your networking accounts as a conversation with an employer. It should be friendly, concise, professional, and give a clear view into your thought process, communication skills, and your artistic personality.

For a list of networking sites to join, check out our Checklist for Crazy People.

Generally, a mailer is a 4x6 postcard with an image of your creation on one side and contact info on the other. You can send them to people to introduce your work to them and hopefully inspire them to visit your website. Make it clean, beautiful, and informative of your style. Other that that, it's up to you.

Who should you send mailers to?
Who were you looking to interact with on networking sites? In reality, one can get lists of art directors to "mailer bomb" for fairly cheap. However, I still recommend searching for companies that hire illustrators in your field with a similar aesthetic.Think of what the client, art director, etc as a person might want instead of as a symbol in relation to you. You are in a much better position to make a connection if you actually share interests and personality.Make a relevant, creative, beautiful presentation, and follow up.

Love music, posters, and cover art?
Go to a record store and jot down the names of companies whose work you admire.
When you have a passion for the work or what the company does, it bleeds into your work.
Work with and for what you love.
This idea is, once again, expanded upon in our Checklist.

Business Cards
Buy fancy cards from Moo.
Buy cheaper cards from GotPrint.

You can look up galleries of business cards for inspiration, but remember to keep the style cohesive with your other promotional materials. Keep it simple, and leave some space for them to write notes. Make your cards relevant to your industry, don't have a watercolor artist/yoga instructor/life-coach style card. To much information can turn you into an oxymoron.

Get Noticed
Competitions and conventions are good marketing tactics, competitions being the cheaper option. If you do attend a networking event such as a convention, have a pitch planned before you leave. All this is is you describing who you are and what you do in a clean, professional, and quick way. No "uuhms" or furrowed brows.

Be confident, friendly, and helpful.

Sell Your Work
Make some money, it might not be much to start off with, but you have to begin somewhere. How well you sell depends on how well you can network and promote yourself. I personally have a Society6 account, which is easy and professional, but more expensive than other options.
Choose for yourself and comment on your favorites!







Art Fire


Cafe Press



Greeting Card Universe

Good luck all!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stealing from the Masters

Getting started and staying on task when approaching a creative project can be daunting.  Sometimes a lot of my ideas die before any work is even completed simply due to a lack of any idea of where to begin.

This is where having a good artistic process comes in.
The artistic process is a formula for success when creating a work of art.

An easy and effective way to come up with your own version of this process is to steal it from the artist you most want to emulate.  Keep in mind this is not about actually copying their style, but their process. See if you can contact them or see if they have written anything on the the steps they take to create a quality piece, which can serve as the basis for the way in which you create your own work. Over time your approach will evolve and various portions will be deleted, merged, or replaced.

For Example:
James Gurney paints fanciful, yet realistic, dinosaurs.
I want to be realistic and fantasy-oriented, like James Gurney.
I bought his book “Imaginative Realism” online and spent a great deal of time reading it and taking notes. I highly recommend this book to all artists but especially those working in traditional mediums who are looking to break into realistic fantasy of any kind.

Mr. Gurney has an entire section in his book about the artistic process. He describes the formation of his own process by copying the sixteenth-century painter Federico Barocci.
 Here is a streamlined rundown of Barocci’s process:

1) Decide upon an idea or concept.
2) Make two dozen loose sketches to establish the gestures and arrangements of figures.
3) Sculpt miniatures with wax or clay, draped with tiny cloth costumes to test various lighting arrangements.
4) Do a small compositional study in gouache or oil, taking light and shadow into consideration.
5) Do a full size tonal study in pastels or charcoal.
6) Transfer the study in Step 5 to a canvas.
7) Using the decided upon and transferred composition, do some small oil studies to define color relationships.
8) Paint that sucker.

Bridget's note: This process is still considered a standard today and is nearly identical to what I have learned over and over as an illustration major.

This way of working must have worked out pretty well for Mr. Barocci as it led him to produce work such as this:

However fantastic his results, Federico’s process might be a bit strenuous or redundant for many modern artists given technological advances, therefore I have devised my own take on it. I am primarily a digital artist, but I think the following list could apply to many art forms.

1) Decide upon an idea or a concept without using a computer. 
It is important to spend at least an hour producing concepts without any influence or reference.  This allows your imagination to play without external influence.

Bridget's note: On steps 1, 2, and 3 spend as long as you can afford finding a great concept, and making a perfect sketch to base your work on. A piece without a good concept or base sketch is like an essay without a thesis. It has no base to stand on.

2) Make a minimum of 12 sketches to further develop this idea. 
This stage is often modified or shortened per due date.  Once again, no Google-aided brainwaves in this stage...not even for reference.  You can fix anatomy later, right now just rely on your creativity and imagination.

3) Decide to develop one of the sketches. 
If you are producing professional work, the client often helps make this choice.

4) Use 3D software to check perspective and/or play with lighting possibilities. 
This step does not always apply, but when there is enough time it is very helpful and freeing.
CG software as an artist’s tool is often overlooked due to its possibility to be a bit complex. 
My next post will be a video overview on CG packages and the super-basics on how to use them as a digital artist!

Bridget's note: For traditional artists, gather reference material, whether wax sculpture, or photographs. It's really best to take your own images but as long as the images procured are being used legally, photos from others are fine. Check to see if everything has similar lighting and correct perspective, in your sketch once all aspects have been added to the piece. Be wary of the fish eye effect of photographed images, these can be corrected digitally, but its much easier to avoid them simply by having multiple photos to base a particular sketch on.

5) Compile CG and Sketch in Photoshop and on three separate layers, rough out three different light schemes. 
Use straight black and white with a large brush, this step should only take several min.  The basics of the next several steps are covered in my video tutorial, Digital Paint Workflow.

Bridget's note: In oil painting, this is referred to as painting lean over fat. It works pretty much the same as a digital painting. One first lays down the darkest darks, then the lightest lights, then works in and adjusts middle range values, all the rest is glazes of transparent layers and details!

6) Decide upon a color scheme and create a rough color layer.
Can't decide on colors schemes?   
Go here or find a photo/painting you love and use those colors!

7) Paint that sucker.

8) Perfect the color palette using non-destructive filters.

Happy Creating,
Josh Evans