Review: 'EXPOSÉ 1'

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In 2003, Ballistic Media, a new publishing company dedicated to producing high-quality tomes for the computer arts community, released a CG book titled EXPOSÉ 1. At first glance, EXPOSÉ comes across as a well-conceived product. Its cover is visually compelling and invites the reader to pick it up, settle back and dive in to discover secrets held within. As an animator, computer graphics artist and friend of a few of the those involved with EXPOSÉ, I was excited for the opportunity to take a closer look at the book, and share my opinion.

While attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, I can remember having frequent arguments with other art students about the validity of computer art. The common opinion was that a true artist didnt use a machine; they used their hands. For some odd reason (which I still dont quite understand), the use of a mechanical object to paint, sculpt or manipulate photography wasnt true art. Generation of Art, for these people, had to be tactile. The artist had to physically touch and manipulate the work in order for their ideas and intentions to be somehow mystically transferred and embedded into the piece of art itself.

It was only a matter of time before traditional artists began seeing the computer simply as another tool to produce their work, just as they had with photography and film. As computers and software have become cheaper, people are able to take advantage of all they have to offer. Because of this, increasing numbers of artists are beginning to transfer their traditional skills in painting and sculpting to packages such as Photoshop and Maya. As you can see in the pages of EXPOSÉ, artists are taking to computers like a bear from Yosemite takes to barbeque leftovers.

An interesting side effect to this abundance of artistic technology is that anyone can use it to create art or not. I think weve all experienced computer art, which reminds us of those paintings you see in second-rate hotels that you sometimes stay in while youre driving in an unknown town. The type of hotels that have carpet that goes halfway up the walls, air conditioners that dont work and a smell that you just cant quite locate. You know the paintings Im talking about, the ones that you look at and think, Okay, the person who made this obviously understands the concept of pushing paint around a canvas but is it a tree? OH! A tiger! No, wait, a waterfall? Ah, a Zeppelin!

Thats going to happen with any artistic medium. You will always get a broad range of quality, from the supreme masters to your Aunt Enid, whos incredibly sweet, but, please, Lord, keep her away from the Windsor Newton oils!

What Ballistic Media has done with EXPOSÉ is to try and show only the best in computer graphics art from the past few years. In order to do this, they brought together an advisory board made up of a number of talented artists in the community, some who also contributed their own art to the book. They then poured through the 1,400 submissions and separated the selected works into a series of categories: Architecture, Character in Repose, Character in Action, Environment, Mechanical/Still Life, Transport and Visual Effects. Each of these categories contains a winner, and theres also an overall Grand Master.

When I saw who was chosen as Grand Master, I experienced one of those well duh! moments. Craig Mullins work is, simply put, astounding. His mastery of the brush stroke, form, lighting, composition and mood is a joy to look at. Mullins has been an inspiration for a number of artists over the years, including myself. In fact, I have a random assortment of his paintings that cycle through on my desktop at work. Every 15 minutes my background automatically changes to a different image of his. Sorry, Craig: I hope thats not too weird or anything.

After reading through the book, I think another sub-category should have been created: Nearly-Nude-CG-Girly. Out of all the images presented in the book, more than 50 were of computer graphics girls in various stages of undress. Granted, some of these are quite spectacular works of art, most notably those by Steven Stahlberg, Linda Bergkvist, Pascal Blanché and Robert Chang. Many, however, are quite a bit over the top. Do me a favor. If its Saturday night and you dont have a date and youre thinking to yourself, Hmm I think Ill paint oh, I dunno a naked girl! With big breasts! In armor! And and and, yeah, shes nude (not naked thats vulgar)! Please, take a look at Bergkvists Nelicquele and study it. Notice the form, the detail, the light and the composition. Please. I beg of you. If youre going to draw a naked lady, look at the talent here and try to emulate it. Otherwise, put on your pajamas, eat some ice cream and go to bed early.

One of the things I was pleasantly surprised to find was that quite a few of the entries used humor as an element. Something I absolutely love is when artists let themselves get silly. Too many fall back on the dark, brooding artistic image that we all know and love so well. A true artist must suffer! You dont have enough pain in your life! How can you expect to achieve enlightenment if youre smiling all the time? Bah, humbug. Humor is one of the most difficult and most refreshing things to create. I was overjoyed to see a few entries by Jimmy Maidens in EXPOSÉ. Again, Ive been following Maidens Web page (www.boring3d.com) over the years, and Im in awe of his composition and dry wit. My favorite image of his (not included in EXPOSÉ) is You Smell Like Dead Bunnies (archived 10-06-03, available on his Web page). Check him out, and while youre at it, check out the layout on page 9 of EXPOSÉ. This spread just made milk spurt out my nose. On the bottom of the page is Malachi D. Maloneys image Insatiable Appetites, one of those sexy CG girls I was mentioning earlier. Shes lying on her back, nude, looking longingly at the camera. At the top of the page is Maidens Sunday Fluff XX, a sultry image of three naked pigs lying in the grass. To look at the page and see naked pig and woman in basically the same pose just made my heart soar. Its not often you see that kind of editorial humor in a publication like this. Bravo!

Another aspect of EXPOSÉ I enjoyed was the fact that it brought some areas of computer graphics that I dont often see to my attention. As my main focus is in animation, I dont spend a lot of time looking at architecture or CAD, but as one of the largest growing segments of the computer graphics industry, its important that it isnt left out in the cold. While Im impressed by the sheer grandiosity of some of the works presented in this section, especially those by David and Anthony Wright, Igor Knezevic and Chen Qingfeng, it was the smaller, more intimate work of Jon Heys Carlyon Bay typical apartment interior that really grabbed my attention. I guess I just really want that apartment.

Unfortunately, the category of visual effects didnt deliver as much as I had hoped. It would have been really great to be able to see some of the top visual effects work from the industry over the past few years (Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge, Monsters, Inc. and Amélie). Unfortunately, as Ballistic Media states in the introduction for this category, they werent able to include many of these images due to copyright issues. Perhaps studios will be more eager to include their work in future productions of EXPOSÉ.

Another thing I would have liked to experience would be some moving images. Many artists are creating absolutely stunning art that would be a joy to be able to see in moving form. In fact, many works couldnt be presented any other way. Id love to see a VCD or DVD come with EXPOSÉ in future issues. Actually, forget that. Were talking the future here, right? Just beam it into our brains, Ballistic Media! We can take it! Use that new-fangled nano-technology. Just make tiny TV screens and inject them into our eyes!

Ballistic Media has done a commendable job with EXPOSÉ. Even though theres a huge community of computer artists out there, CG art is still a relatively new medium. Artists are still learning how to push technical boundaries set by the computer, as the software companies are constantly upgrading and improving their products. Theres a lot of computer art out there, and not all of it is as pleasing to the eye.

Ballistic Media and their advisory board have undoubtedly worked hard to narrow down the submissions they received to create a book that shows considerable breadth of work. They say right on the cover, its the Finest digital art in the known universe. This is quite a claim, and aside from a few unfortunate exceptions, EXPOSÉ delivers.

EXPOSÉ 1: Finest Digital Art in the Known Universe created and edited by Mark Snoswell and Leonard Teo. Mylor, SA, Australia; Ballistic Publishing, 2003. 186 pages. ISBN: 0-9750965-2-4 (softcover edition US$49.00, hardcover edition US$59.00).

Jason Schleifer is currently on holiday after living and working in New Zealand for more than four years on Peter Jacksons The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a senior animator and creature technical director. He currently has two DVDs for sale through Alias Systems (www.alias.com): Integrating a Creature Rig Within a Production Pipeline and Fast Animation Rigs. When not enjoying the generous variety of seasons available daily in Wellington, he spends time with his lovely wife, two dogs and works on his short film Jonh and his Dog.

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