Kazuki Takamatsu

Kazuki Takamatsu
At first I thought these images by Japanese artist Kazuki Takamatsu were 3-D depth mattes, renderings of 3-D CGI models in which shades of gray are assigned to areas according to their distance from the virtual camera. (Their white, sculptural quality also brought to mind the paintings of A. Andrew Gonzalez.)

However, even if CGI depth mattes, or something similar, are the source material or inspiration for them, Takamatsu’s finished works are actually gouache paintings, and fairly large in scale as you can see from these photos at Gallery Tomura.

Takamatsu uses the term Distanfeerism to name his style. Other than that, and the fact that he graduated from Tohoku University of Art and Design, I can find very little information about the artist.

Takamatsu’s site is in Japanese, but there are link titles in English.

(Note: the sites linked here may be considered mildly NSFW.)

[Via Jason Kottke]


World Builder (Bruce Branit)

World Builder (Bruce Branit)I will sometimes gripe about manufactured culture to the point where it may seem I don’t like certain genres at all, when in fact I do (e.g. CGI animated movies and superhero comic books).

After griping about Hollywood CGI animated features in the course of raving about Sita Sings the Blues recently, I’ll point out that I really do like Computer Generated Imaging when it’s used with intelligence, wit and imagination (The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies); as opposed to being put into service for super-slick formulaic features in which name voice talent is seen as a prerequisite but actual stories are in short supply.

As a case in point, I’ll recommend a wonderful short film by Bruce Branit called World Builder, in which a man builds a holographic 3-D environment for the woman he loves. The live action part of the film was shot in a single day, the CGI post production was done over the course of two years.

The film makes good use of CGI, which, in a way, is part of the subject, and anyone who has worked in CGI applications, even consumer level “world builders” like Bryce or Vue d’Esprit, and users of Google Sketchup in particular, will find entertaining nods to the way these things work.

The real point, though, is that the film is a story, and a touching one at that; and the effects are in the end only tools to enable the telling of the story; something that Big Entertainment tends to forget in the midst of their calculations about box office receipts and visions of sugarplum merchandising returns.

Branit directs Branit/VFX in Kansas City. You can find other films by Branit there and on Vimeo.

[Via Kottke]


Goro Fujita

Goro Fujita
Goro Fujita was born in Japan, grew up in Germany and studied there at the German Film School, where he concentrated on 3-D character animation. He is now a freelance character animator and visual development artist.

The gallery on his site focuses mainly on his personal work. The section of finished work only contains 15 images. There are also sections for personal 3-D work and a nice sketchbook section with life drawings and quick sketches from life and imagination.

The real treasure on Fujita’s site, however, is the section of speedpaintings, meaning quickly done digital paintings. These are whimsical, imaginative and wonderfully realized in the spare, unfussed-with style inherent in speedpainting. They range across a wide variety of scenes and subjects and are sometimes hilarious (he has this thing for rabbits). In them he plays with color, composition, lighting and visual texture in ways that only free-ranging casual exploration is likely to bring out.

I have no idea how much relation any of them have to his professional work, and some are obviously playful interpretations of existing films, but a number of them are suggestive of intriguing ideas for stories.

There is a section of his short animations and a demo reel, as well as a section for tutorials, that includes tips and tricks for speedpainting, a painting screen capture and a “making of”s article about the most elaborate of the images in the Finished section, which was a Challenge entry for the CGSociety.

Fujita also has a blog, Chapter 56, in which he discusses his animation, paintings and various other topics.

[Link via Fossfor’s Laboratory]


Ode to Summer

I stumbled across this little gem while browsing through painting tutorials on YouTube.

Ode to Summer is a beautiful little animation in which what appears to be a traditional Chinese ink painting comes to life. A dragonfly flits through lotus flowers, koi swim through graceful reeds below the rippled surface of a clear pond and a young woman sits amid calligraphically drawn rocks and reads us a brief poem extolling the beauty of summer.

At first you think one or two objects are being rendered in front of an actual ink painting, then the “camera” rotates and it becomes obvious that everything in the “painting”, including the calligraphy, is composed of 3-D CGI objects.

This is made even clearer at the end of the film when the authors reveal the wire mesh and textureless rendering stages of their objects briefly, and then let them resolve back into the “painting”, as if we’d gotten a brief glimpse under the skin of the Matrix.

The individual who posted the version I found on YouTube (it may be posted by others as well) didn’t include much info, and the film’s own credits are rather small. I had to do a little digging to find out that the person responsible for the film’s direction, story and look is Ron Hui, about whom I haven’t found much else. He is aided by a team whose names are also hard to read in the small screen.

It looks at though this was created or used to promote some rendering or shading software from RenderAid. Unfortunately the RenderAid site is “closed for rennovations” at the moment so I can’t check that out.

None of which affects the fact that this is a delightful little diversion for a Summer’s morning (even if we haven’t quite reached the solstice yet).


William Joyce

William Joyce
I finally got to see Meet the Robinsons, Disney’s 3-D, 3-D CGI animated feature. (How are we going to phrase that?)

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and liked it much more than I anticipated. Part of that is due to the design work, adapted from concept drawings by William Joyce, who wrote and illustrated the children’s book A Day with Wilbur Robinson, on which the film was based.

Joyce is also the author/illustrator of several wonderfully idiosyncratic children’s books, including Rolie Polie Olie and George Shrinks both of which have been adapted for television animation, Bently & Egg, Santa Calls, and the terrific Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lizardo (interior image here).

The production design on the film owes a lot to concept art by art directors Robh Ruppel (who I profiled last October) and David Goetz. Ruppel has finally begun posting some of the production art on his blog, The Broadview Blog. I found some other production art for the film scattered about on the Unofficial Disney Animation Archive and CanMag. There is a small book of The Art of Meet the Robinsons; and you can also see some early production art for the MtR game on San Neilson’s Tasty Art blog.

As much as I like the wonderful 1930’s retro-future, art deco meets the Jetsons by way of Flash Gordon look of the film, I can’t help but think how much better it might have been if the production team had been able to cleave even closer to Joyce’s charmingly quirky production drawings. Word is that the Disney execs wanted to change the title to “Get Lewis”, so you can imagine that they were pressing the production artists to make the design less original and more like other successful CGI features. A lot of Joyce’s originality comes through, but once you apply that standard CGI sheen over everything, it loses some of the visual charm it might have had if it were, dare I say it, a traditional drawn animation.

Joyce is no stranger to concept design for films, having worked on Toy Story and A Bug’s Life as a character designer and Robots as a producer and production designer. There are a few of his wonderfully quirky concept drawings in the beautiful, but unfortunately out of print, oversize book Toy Story: The Art and Making of the Animated Film. (Search alibris. There is also a miniature edition of this title, I don’t know how much of the original it contains.)

Joyce’s site has some of his original concept drawings for Meet the Robinsons, (above) along with some renderings from the final movie (inset) that you can compare. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any kind of gallery of his illustrations or concept art for other films, but I may not have dug hard enough. There is, however, a book called The World of William Joyce Scrapbook, that includes some of his illustrations in the working stages, as well anecdotes about his childhood, sketches and photos.

There is an info page about Joyce on the Harper Children’s site, along with a page about the books themselves. There are some short video interviews with Joyce on the Reading Rockets site.


Soa Lee

Soa Lee
When I first saw this image, I assumed it was digital, but I also assumed it was an instance of digital painting (the use of a pressure-sensitive tablet and stylus to apply color in applications like Photoshop and Painter in a manner analogous to painting with traditional media). I was startled to find that, with the exception of a texture map painted in Photoshop and applied through a material editor, the image was created and rendered in 3-D CGI; in this case modeled in 3ds max 8 and rendered in the Brazil Rio rendering package.

3-D modeling has become very sophisticated in recent years, but still often suffers from a stiffness and artificiality except in the hands of the most adept 3-D artists. In the creation of high-resolution still images (as opposed to effects for film and TV), the depiction of faces and figures in particular suffer from this, and often are heavily painted into afterwards with Photoshop, producing a blend of 3-D rendering and digital painting.

Soa Lee is a Korean modeller and art director for game and animation companies. Lee started drawing traditionally and became interested in animation after seeing Katsushiro Otomo’s classic anime Akira. This led her to an introduction to digital animation tools and 3-D CGI (“Computer Graphics Imaging”). She has taken each step in the learning process as a challenge. Disturbed with that same artificiality common to 3-D that I mention, she was determined to learn to manipulate the rendering process well enough to overcome it and produce her final images as 3-D renderings, without having to do extensive touch-up in Photoshop.

The results are quite remarkable. Her fantasy-themed images have a feeling of fluidity and naturalism that isn’t often present in 3-D renderings. They also have a remarkable sense of detail, texture, lighting and motion. Their staging and composition reflect her knowledge of drawing (she still starts each piece with pencil sketches) and an eye to the principles of traditional painting.

Her site, soanala (roughly, “Soa’s World”) features some tutorials (in the Gallery section), and Imagine FX, the UK magazine about fantasy and digital art, did a feature article and a detailed tutorial about this image in particular in a recent issue (Christmas 2006). Her online gallery also has a selection of images in various categories. Some of the older ones still have that feeling of 3-D, but her more recent ones display her more finessed command of rendering.

Of particular interest is the “Myth” category, where you will find images from her recent Zodiac-inspired series that have a wonderful feeling of classical oil painting, notably the “Gemini” image, which reflects her admiration for the 19th Century Academic painter William Bougereau. You can find the larger version of the image above (“Ocean Nymph”) in the “Fantasy” section. (I can’t give you direct links because the site is in frames.)

Suggestion courtesy of Jack Harris