I went to the IAMAG Master Classes 2017 that took place in Paris today. I am not a graphic artist, but I just love what they do and I have been working with a lot of them for games, and now books.
Concepts artists, matte painters, character designers, 3D modellers and animators, story boarders and special effects wizards, you name it, they were all there in the form of students, freelancers, start-ups, masters and even legends of the art.
IAMAG is a special place.
Not over crowded, rather small in size if you compare it to the GDC or E3 in the games industry. One reason being the relatively low presence of any marketing. People, and companies, are here to learn, exchange, network and basically progress. And there is a lot for everyone ; start-ups and big name companies can find new talents, young bloods get their portfolio reviewed by some of their favorite idols in the business, masters teach and other brands show off their latest tools and technologies to their favorite users who use them so well. You hear many languages too ; English, Russian, French, German, Norwegian and anybody you approach can draw, paint and design in the blink of an eye and I’m not talking doodles. One thing that strikes you then, is the total absence of pens and paper. None. The screen has taken over completely, from small iPhone like ones and much larger iPads Pro, to the latest and huge tablettes from Wacom.
So, what does an author do in that graphic environment? Learning, because much of what is being said and taught in the graphic design master classes can be applied to writing. Networking, because I’m in constant need of illustrations and book covers. Being curious regarding the current state of these arts that move so fast. And enjoying myself very much, chatting with incredibly talented and passionate people like Ash Thorp, Raphael Lacoste or Nathan Fowkes.
So, here’s what I saw, heard and discussed there on Friday.
Nikolai Lockertsen : iPad Concept Art Techniques
Nikolai is from Norway. You can find his Artstation here, and his demo real there. Let’s just say he’s amazing, and like many others very cool as a person as well. Today he was sharing some experience, and showing us how he likes to work on his iPad using Procreate, a soft that really made me wish I could draw. In his hands, everything seems easy. A few lines, and you got a room that really feels like one, add some tones and a little bit of light, some textures, a few colours and you’re looking at an atmosphere, a mood, a perfectly established setting ready for action. That took him about 15 minutes because he was explaining, showing and talking all the way. At home - or during his commuting time (see below) - that might go down to a mere 3 minutes.
His talent, experience and technique are fundamental. But his digital tools are pushing the limits farther than ever. The hardware, an iPad Pro if I’m not mistaken, is great with its pen and hands-on interface, plus 10 hours of battery life. And the software is just amazing. A few things that Procreate designed so well, is the constant saving of your work, brush stroke after brush stroke, everything is recorded live and you can tap into this to export a complete timelapse of your work. You can also define the perspective and angle of your point of view and the software automatically puts your lines and strokes in the right direction. Layers, of course, pressure and flow control, brushes with shapes and grain control, many, many features that kept our host visibly very happy. And with good reasons. Nikolai is still very young, but he has been in the business long enough to remember how it used to be with pens and paper. He used to commute a lot, and didn’t want to waste any of this time so he would bring his watercolour equipment in the bus, holding his sheet of paper and small goblet of water (“that looked like piss” he said) in one hand, colours on his laps and a flash light on the top because “in Norway it is often dark”. Now, he’s got his iPad.
Nathan is a veteran in the entertainment industry. He has worked with Dreamworks, Blue Sky, Disney, Blizzard… He’s also a teacher in colour and design and today he was talking about character design and landscape in concept art. And since it is Fowkes, most of what you see on the big screen behind him comes out of some of your favorite movies. Step by step examples of his creation process, details regarding the how and why of his choices, technique, experience, side notes about good resources and his personal projects to keep improving himself. Examples of failures too, and that was great to hear and to see that even the most admired talents can fail at times.
Nathan showed and discussed the power of fundamental shapes and lines in character design. The cercles, squares and triangles hiding behind the characters, the language of colours, the meaning of lines - oblique, flat or vertical - the sense of scale and the importance of weather.
“Weather” Fowkes says, “was always underused to not used at all for a long time. One reason was that it was technically too difficult or too expensive. But now that it is accessible, you still haven’t seen much of it because everything has been done in California and there is no weather there. It’s always blue!”. It is changing though and Fowkes shows it well, plus he intends to take some time off and focus just on that for some time and develop his art some more. Constant practice, constant learning. That is the one thing I would take away from that entire day. If you want to make it in the graphic design world, be prepared to adapt and evolve all the time (more about this in my conclusion).
Ash Thorp : Following Your Dreams
Ash is a graphic designer, an illustrator and a creative director for a multitude of media. Feature films, commercial enterprises, print his exceptional style shines upon everything he touches. He’s a perfectionist and it shows ; any few seconds of his work is elegant, impressive and instantly addictive as you can see for yourself if you follow our links above.
“Follow Your Dreams” was the tag line for Ash’s masterclass today. But it’s rapidly very clear that Ash is not really following his dreams, he’s riding them embarking up to 30 of his talented and passionate friends to remake the opening scene of Ghost in the Shell, or create an 11 minutes short - EPOCH - about the journey of a spaceship touring the solar system. Both projects are incredibly beautiful, but it’s the amount of work behind them that impresses me the most ; 30 people for the Ghost in the Shell remake, only 2 for EPOCH. I don’t know which is the most impressive, but it’s obvious that this is where the artist forges himself.
Everything begins with fantasies (something we already talked about here), and Ash Thorp has rather large ones. What if we could redo that GITS intro for real? Can we do a space, ships and planets with the same quality and elegance of Kubrick’s 2001? These personal projects are like a callings, challenges, huge envies. He wants to see them done, and that excitement is the fuel he’s running on during the entire work process that these challenges require. Pleasure is what gets these daring projects done, and done so well. Pleasure of being among friends, pleasure to be experimenting, toying with this and that new tech. and basically be creative. There is a lot in there that means progress ; errors, difficulties, the pressure of time, new problems… All of this keeps you fresh, and adds up to your talent.
All mammals learn by playing (nature’s law, anything you do while playing will stick with you for life). That is a very powerful tool to shape and develop yourself. And this is why personal projects are so essential. On top of that, it seems that men like to bond around activities and projects. Team effort, team fun, call it what you want but men are like this, and geek ones even more so. Developing your skills, knowledge and achievements while having a great time with friends sounds very nice. And when you see what Ash Thorp and his friends can do in a few days on their spare time, you can only want to do the same. It is one thing to have the dreams though, but it is another to actually grab them to turn them into realities. That is called determination, because no matter how fun and exciting the project may be, it will be require that heavy dose of determination and perseverance. It is part of the trip, it is in fact, the actual backbone of the trip.
The end of the session had arrived. Much could still be said, but time had run out. Ash used the last minutes to thank his mates who had thrown so much skills and efforts into his personal projects. But his warmest and most insisting thanks went to his wife, for her endless and consistent support. And that got me wondering, what would she have to say about the creative life of her husband?