Fred Galpern cracks open copies of Ballistic Publishing's latest releases, Expos4 and d'artiste: Concept Art, to find out if the artwork inside is worth the cover price or better left on the shelf.
The two latest books from Ballistic Publishing will come as no surprise to fans of previous titles; dartiste: Concept Art and Exposé 4 are beautifully packaged collections of the best of the current crop of fantastic digital art. Ballistic seems to truly understand its audiences appetite for this material, meeting their expectations and just as often exceeding them. Digital artists and fans of digital art are at some point likely to find themselves in the clichéd debate over whether or not digital art is really art, as in Art with a capital A. For the past few years the best way to conclude any such debate is to pull out a Ballistic book. These two new titles provide a wealth of entertainment and enjoyment in their own right, and may even help silence those naysayers once and for all.
dartiste: Concept Art
The dartiste series has been running for a few years now under the slogan Digital Artists Master Class. This is a big claim, but one that Ballistic consistently delivers on as seen in the latest volume, dartiste: Concept Art, which was published in August of this year. The book is formatted into sections that focus on four artists. Each artist contributes a wealth of images, some of it their own as well as many they have selected and commented on. In addition the extensive galleries of artwork each artist contributes a number of tutorials that go in-depth on their process and give great insight into how they create their incredible images.
First up in dartiste s Concept Art is George Hull, whose most high profile credits come by way of his experience working on both Matrix sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Hull began his career creating vehicle designs for automobile companies but quickly made the leap over to the film world. His first work in the film industry was at ILM where he contributed to a number of well-known films and film franchises, including the Star Wars special editions, the third Jurassic Park film and Star Trek: Generations. Hulls experiences as an artist are tracked through a three-page biography, which offers just the right amount of insight into his world to help understand who he is and how he became a top digital artist. Following a gallery of Hulls work is a tutorial that walks readers through the creation of The Matrix Revolutions machine city sequence. The tutorial runs for seven pages and does an excellent job of detailing his process. Readers looking for a process for breaking down this kind of concept work will find this a valuable read. Hull follows up with two additional tutorials, both referencing work he created for The Matrix Revolutions. The first is the high-energy Apu Battles Sentinel sequence followed by the climactic Hand of God sequence. All three tutorials are equally intriguing.
Hulls portion of the book wraps up with his Invited Artist Gallery. These Invited Artist Gallery sections are another example of the smart thinking that goes on at Ballistic. Not only do readers get the opportunity to see what is inspirational and exciting for the featured artists, but we also get commentary on many of these pieces. There is nothing quite like reading an accomplished creator examining the work of others. These sections are quite possibly worth their own series. Hulls Invited Artist Gallery contains vehicle images, environments and character art. Hull displays an open mind in his selections offering everything from detailed realistic images to loose, cartoon style sketches. His comments are spot on and help readers understand what a pro looks for and truly sees in the work of others.
The second artist represented in dartiste: Concept Art is Andrew Jones, co-founder of the excellent Conceptart.org digital artists web forum and creative director for Massive Black, the top-notch San Francisco-based art outsourcing company. Jones experience includes visual direction on the Metroid Prime game series as well as many other computer and console titles. Jones section of the book is dynamic as his work veers off in many different directions. While much of his work is just short of abstract, almost anything is fair game for Jones. His current passion, airbrushing nude models, circus performers and acrobats is just one example of how this unique artist pushes the boundaries of creative output. Jones artwork leans toward the dark, mystical and mysterious, but is not overly focused on fear or horror elements. He shows a strong eye for dynamic compositions and an understanding of anatomy that allows him to break the rules while still communicating form effectively. Much like the other artists represented in the book Jones section contains an informative biography followed by tutorials and then his own personal Invited Artist Gallery. Jones tutorial commentary is light hearted and shows insight into his passion for not only the job but for the specifics of a given assignment. His first tutorial, art for the rock band Korns new tour, is a great read. The assignment had a very short timeline, but even that pressure doesnt diminish Jones appreciation of the work he gets to do. An example of his thinking is when he mentions his belief that the music industry seems to operate on cocaine time. Jones section of dartiste: Concept Art makes for an enlightening but also highly entertaining read.
Nicolas Bouvier and Viktor Antonov fill out the rest of the book. These guys are also great talents, each earning their spot in the book. Bouvier specializes in concept art for the game industry. His specialty is unique environments. Much of his work has an intentional unfinished feel that really works well for this kind of concept art. Looking at his images, viewers are able to get a string understanding of place but not get lost in examining details. The tutorials he presents in the book are great windows onto how he works. He explains his evolutionary process for image making in concise steps that should inspire readers to give it a try. Bouviers Invited Artist Gallery is a strong collection, with great commentary. He includes artists whose work is quite unlike his own, creating an opportunity to explain to readers what he looks for in many disparate kinds of images. Viktor Antonov, the final artist presented in the book, is another highly accomplished concept artist. He has worked in the entertainment industry for over ten years, contributing in varying capacities from matte painting to art direction. He recently founded the entertainment design studio, The Building, in Paris. Antonovs work is the closest of the four artists represented in the book to fine art. He works in a number of mediums as well as utilizing many traditional methods. His tutorials are thoughtful and include some basic perspective lessons in addition to some tricks for getting architecture right. Antonovs Invited Artist Gallery contains a number of beautiful however his commentary is more brief and direct than the predecessors in the book.
Ballistics Exposé series is something of a counter point to the dartiste series. Where dartiste offers detailed focus on a handful of creators, the Exposé books present a snapshot of the current state of digital art overall, including many niches of this broad field. One of the best things about this latest Exposé book is that it makes apparent how close digital artists have come to negating any arguments about the computer doing the work for the artist. The tools have certainly evolved but so have the artists.
Exposé 4 is organized by subject, displaying all of the material that falls under a broad conceptual heading together. This makes for an interesting reading experience as images that belong to a particular subject section of the book are quite varied stylistically from one page to the next. Its not unusual to browse through Exposé 4 and be surprised by the juxtaposition of polar opposite stylistic treatments of similar subject matter. The Ballistic folks are clearly fans of the annual books so popular in the illustration world. If you havent seen these books they are a worthy treat, if for nothing else than to realize that Ballistic has taken the idea of a collection of portfolios one step further by creating a compelling commercial book that is essentially the digital art worlds equivalent.
Artists in Ballistic books are treated with a reverence usually reserved for well-known actors or directors. Its refreshing to see digital artists put up on a pedestal. Artists need heroes to inspire them and having a recognizable superstar is yet another way to ensure that the community continues to thrive. In each book the Exposé editors and jury anoint a new Grand Master; an artist represents all the best qualities that professional digital artists should aspire to. This years selection for Grand Master is Stephan Martiniere, a hugely popular sci-fi and fantasy artist. Martiniere has worked on a number of high profile films, including Star Wars and I, Robot. The book covers Martiniere more in-depth than any other artist within Exposé 4 but does not go as deep as the dartiste books go. This is fine as Exposé is all about quantity. A couple of other artists are awarded titles; Carolyn White was selected as a Master of fantasy and Norways Bjorn Endre B. Langeland was singled out for excellence in fantasy. From this point on the book peels out and doesnt let up for the next 200 pages. Page layouts vary between two and four images per page, with full pages reserved for especially compelling pieces and chapter headings. The entire book is full color, beautifully printed on high quality slick paper.
Fans and artists should both find more than their moneys worth in both Exposé 4 and dartiste: Concept Art.
All Ballistic Publishing titles are available from their online bookstore www.ballisticpublishing.com.
dartiste Digital Artists Master Class: Concept Art by Andrew Jones, Viktor Antonov, George Hull and Nicolas Sparth Bouvier. Ballistic Publishing: Mylor, SA, Australia (2006), ISBN 1-921002-32-8 (limited edition) $145; ISBN 1-921002-33-6 (slip cased) $55; 208 pages.
Exposé 4 edited by Daniel Wade and Paul Hellard. Ballistic Publishing: Mylor, SA, Australia (2006), ISBN: 1-921002-28-X (limited edition), $145, 240 pages; ISBN: 1-921002-29-8 (hard cover), $59, 224 pages; ISBN: 1-921002-30-1(soft cover), $49, 224 pages.
Fred Galpern is currently managing art director for Blue Fang Games, located just outside Boston. He is also a Maya instructor at Northeastern University and a co-creator of the game development program at Bristol Community College. Since entering the digital art field more than 10 years ago, Galpern has held management positions in several game and entertainment companies, including Hasbro and Looking Glass Studios. He began his art career in comic books and also has interactive, print and web design experience.