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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: Well, one of the things that's been really cool about my career is the diversity of it. I started out intending to be an illustrator or fine art, and I actually signed up to do fine art at the University of Illinois. I needed two years of foreign languages to get into the program. So I started going to junior college, got incredibly bored with it, because it wasn't anything to do with art. It was foreign language and speech and those kinds of things.
So I did the irresponsible thing, blew it off, sold my motorcycle, and moved to California. But what that ended up doing is creating a chain of events. So what's a guy who has no training going to do for art? Well, I started working at a ski shop, mounting bindings on skis and doing those kinds of things. But there was a guy who was bringing t- shirts in to be done, because that's part of what we were doing. It was a sports store. They had an opening for an artist to do t-shirts. So that was my first real commercial art job, was doing hand lettered t-shirts and a lot of sports kind of things, basketball teams, softball teams, but it evolved into logo design more or less.
And it was all hand done kind of stuff. So that benefited me, because eventually through a friend of a friend kind of thing, I got an interview at KABC in Los Angeles and having a portfolio that had kind of fine art oriented paintings and illustration, but also logo design and hand-lettered work, worked really well for them, because it was all about illustration, but type oriented stuff. So it was perfect for news graphics and that kind of thing. And it just kind of evolved from there, that was before the days of computer.
So we were actually doing rub-down type and airbrushing and this kind of thing, all the hand done stuff, 25 artists, you had to have a big staff, because they needed anywhere from 5-10 graphics for news. But, then the Quantel Paintbox showed up in 85 and after some infighting between the unions, we finally got allowed to work on these computers. Well, that changed everything. They decided that you don't need a staff of 25 people to do that many news graphics anymore. So they can pare this down considerably.
They kind of snuck me in the back way, because I wasn't seniority-wise allowed to stay. But they kept me on as a freelancer at nights. The beauty of that for me was I had this Quantel Paintbox all by myself and most of the news graphics had already been done during the day. So I had to do maybe one or two. So I was allowed to play on the system all night long. That's where I started getting into motion graphics. I knew nothing about it at that time. I was really just a news graphics guy. But it's like we need a guy to do main title, you work at night.
It's slow at night, boom! I was the guy for the job. The benefit for me was I could do things with illustration and motion graphics that were more illustrative in style and someone who came from a design school background maybe wouldn't go that route. So for me, it kind of set me apart at least in that sense of if you needed something very realistically illustrated, I was your guy. I'd love to say that I was a genius in my career planning, that okay, I am going to do this, this, and this, and it's just going to work out great.
But it wasn't. It was kind of day-to-day, oh, yeah, "work for me." Okay, I will try that. So that's where I went with it. As I started piling these skills on, they added to kind of -- in other words, if you define my art skills or whatever as being illustrative, well, it just kept stacking up. For me, I guess variety is the spice of life and it's been the beautiful thing about my career is being able to experience all these different ways of expressing creativity and even better drawing from them and learning from them.
Because as an illustrator who loves doing realistic work, there is a lot you learn from trying to do a logo animation about movement and composition and lighting, because in motion graphics, you want a composition that looks good at any point during that animation. It can't look bad. So you are actually doing 30 frames a second of good compositions. That's the whole idea is to have it all work together and choreograph well. But that informed a lot of what I do visually even with a still frame, is to think about that composition and to borrow from that and in your head kind of step around that composition a little bit to see what it would look like and how you can improve that.
So yeah, I look back at that span and where it's going from here, it's like well, the matte painting work I hope continues. As I look back, I'd go, you know, I've lived a good life so far creatively. Not many people get to do all the different things I have done. For that I am very grateful and just kind of hopefully I will take care of or take advantage of opportunities as they come. But I think at this point in my career, I am looking to maybe take the next step and be maybe proactive and actually define my career a little more than I have.
It's been haphazard and kind of taking opportunity when it comes, but now that I have reached this point and gleaned all of this stuff from my past experience, now I am starting to ask the question, where do I go from here and how can I really nurture that and make that become a reality of something that really expresses who I am?
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