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Ron Crabb's art is almost undetectable, yet it has been seen by millions. He is a matte painter for major Hollywood films, such as X-Men, The Bucket List, and Speed Racer, and it is a compliment to say his work is undetectable. As a matte painter, Ron's role is to create imaginary scenes that look entirely real. Building on an early career in motion graphics, he has developed his incredible photorealistic style. He spent twenty years working with digital painting systems beginning well before the advent of Photoshop. Today, Ron uses a combination of Photoshop, CGI, photographs, and good old-fashioned painting skills to create stunningly realistic matte paintings, special visual effects, title sequences, and concept art for movies. He also creates fine art using the same set of skills. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers a thousand miles from L.A. to Bainbridge Island, Washington to get a look at the career, work, and lifestyle of a man who escaped Hollywood only to master it at a distance.
(Music playing.) Ron Crabb: During my whole fine art career the process varied quite a bit. There were occasions where I would come up with an idea first. There was one called On Route 66. What I was trying to capture there was the old gas station that we used to drive through when I was a kid. So that came out as a sketch first, no photography reference, nothing else. Just doing a little rough pencil sketch.
But then I went out and got all the photographic reference for that. So a friend of mine's dad posed for that. I got another friend's dog. I think it was a very Norman Rockwell method, because early on I had read his book, How I Paint Pictures, and really that was my source for my starting point of, okay, this is how Ron Crabb paints pictures, because I just copied from Norman Rockwell. I read his book, I am done. So I did his method. He would do a rough sketch, go out and find the people and the models and the props and photograph them. So that's how that came together, was photographing the gas pumps in one spot, photographing the car out in the middle of a field, and then meshing it all together, same technique he used for his illustration stuff.
Other times I would just go on these road trips across the country and meet people and photograph them. Those were almost straightforward; I might change the background or whatever, but there was no preconceived thought, "here is my grand plan for what a painting is going to be." That was more, "let's hit the road and see what I can find." So I have done both methods in the past, of preplanned, pre-laid out sketch ready to go and go find your stuff. Other times, let's just go see what I find. Even recently I did a painting called Point No Point and that was a lighthouse, and it's up here in Hansville, kind of north of here a little ways.
But it was kind of one of those up there with the kids on the beach, and wouldn't this be a cool painting, so get out the camera and do some photographs, rework it and place it together. Port Blakely, whole different thing, because that is a heavily researched piece. So that approach to fine art is really much larger then the single piece itself. That vision is a sequence or body of work. So that came from a totally different place. There wasn't an image in my head when I started. I just knew I am going to do Port Blakely, and I am going to recreate this town very much the way it was.
So it all started with tons of research; old photographs, vintage photographs, how you make the ships, photographs of the ships themselves. So I spent months researching that and then building it in Cinema 4D, a 3D program. Once I had that done, I moved the camera around. So it was kind of throwback to my little journeys across America, to where the only difference was I created this world and I am exploring it in the computer, instead of actually hopping in my car and going. So that's been the fun part of that approach is seeing that develop and actually having a few surprises there.
Once you build a town that wasn't designed to be aesthetically pleasing, it's a lumber mill town, it's not meant to be art piece, but all of a sudden I am taking what is technically accurate and precise, but a esthetically adjusting it to make a nice fine art piece. So there is no one way that I do things. It's really kind of a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and for me that's what makes it fun. It's unpredictable for me, and it's like let's just try this, see if it works, and it's great.
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