Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Dave Mauriello

Artist Generated, not Computer Generated
by Dave Mauriello, 1 Nov 2007

Dave Mauriello came from a fine art background of oil painting and stumbled into digital art in the early '90s. After gaining the nickname "Magic" for the work he was producing for broadcast, he branched out on his own in 1998 to form Magic Animation, a custom 3D modeling and animation company. The goal of Magic Animation is to handle projects for quality conscious clients that have longer timeframes conducive to custom craftsmanship.

I want you to stop and think of something for a moment. Now you know a baker produces fine pastries, a cabinetmaker makes cabinets, and a tailor makes suits, but when we consider digital arts we refer to it as computer-generated. Now isn't it odd that for anything else, we clearly acknowledge the person behind the creation yet we never extend this to the digital arts? "Oh, but that's just a figure of speech" you might say, but is it just that? I would argue that the issue goes much deeper, to a misconception in most people's minds that the computers are in fact generating the art, or at the very least doing most of the work. Take for instance an exchange I had with a client not long ago who needed a 3D model created for a series of animations. He had already hired an artist to draw front, back and side views of the character and gave me these to work from. However, he was quite confused about the time I'd need.

"But you have the drawings" he said.
- "Yes" I said, "they'll be a great help."
"Can't you just put those drawings into your computer?"
- "Well, they'll be a great reference for me but I still have to MAKE the model"
"Doesn't the computer do that for you?"

Now perhaps in this day and age technology just seems too amazing, almost magical. It's as if each day brings some new advancement, some new features, some new abilities that were hardly believable the day before. Is that the root of the problem? Are people caught up in some Jetsons' view of the world so that they can believe art can literally be computer generated? Are so called digital artists merely button pushers? In fairness I think it's the creative community, the "button pushers", who've helped foster that myth. There are studios coast to coast who lure clients with their Big Mega Edit 8000 with the special 3D and DazzleYa FX and the UberAudio X690 with this and that or show off their latest Cube computers running Ultra Aztec 3D Unlimited with Puppeteer 2008 special magic motion hair cloth and fur simulation, etc. They'll be quick to point out how this was used on that last blockbuster, that last Academy or Emmy award winner, and so on. Look at their websites or promotional material and there'll be pretty pictures of these instruments of magic, sitting alone in empty rooms, seemingly operating themselves. But ok, all that equipment does look pretty snazzy and awe inspiring I guess, perhaps more so than a picture of some guy with a soul patch sporting peculiar piercings and a caffeine buzz. Apparently major studios think the same thing.

Take a look at those 'behind the scenes' shows or in the bonus sections on dvds where they show you the making of specific effects or in the case of a 3D animated feature, the creation of your favorite characters. What you see is one desktop after another upon which sits a monitor where you can see blocky forms of characters move and change with some off screen clickety click sounds. In mere moments these characters coalesce into what we've seen them as in the feature all with a few clicks and keystrokes. Do we see a person? An artist? Maybe someone, usually a director, has a talking head moment but make no mistake, the star of these segments is the equipment and how they magically put together and animate these characters. The "artist", the unseen person (save maybe an arm) occasionally clicking, is at best a George Jetson.

So ok, there's this misconception out there about computer generated work and the creative community perpetuates it but why would they degrade themselves like that? Even if a studio thinks a big box with blinking lights is more awe inspiring than an artist, surely artists would speak up, right? Well what if they've been fooled by the misconception themselves? In my experience artists, especially young ones today, have indeed been duped. They watch those dvd extras and see what hardware and software was used, they see what was used on the latest blockbuster and the award winners and think that with such tools, they too can create comparable work. Nevermind talent or experience, nevermind trying other tools. No, the magic lies in THOSE tools and that's all they'll accept. Now don't get me wrong, some tools are better than others for certain tasks. A mallet and chisel were tools well suited for Michelangelo to create his David, but there's no mallet and chisel that will magically make you a Michelangelo. As if this isn't bad enough, I've also seen artists exhibit equipment snobbery, immediately dismissing others who don't use their tools as not "real" artists and by extension, their work as worthless.

So is it too late now that this misconception has permeated all the way through to the artists themselves? I don't think so. First, I'd remind artists that tools help, but it's they themselves who make art. Art is born in the mind and realized through the hands of an artist. We're not beholden to our tools. Next I'd remind people looking for creative services to not be dazzled by what a company has, but who they have. Finally I'd like to remind the public that as magical as technology seems today, the magic lies not in the tools, but in the artist and that it's not computer generated, but artist generated work that they've been enjoying and will continue to enjoy.

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