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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.) Lynda Weinman: Hi, I am Lynda Weinman, co- founder of Lynda.com and I am here today with Ron Crabb who is a commercial and fine artist. We are so happy that you have joined us. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Ron Crabb: Oh! It's my pleasure. Pleasure to be a part of it. I've really kind of enjoyed already the Creative Inspirations you have up there already. So it's an honor to be a part of it. Lynda Weinman: So, you've made this pretty major transition from working on very high end expensive equipment in Hollywood to moving over a thousands miles away and working out of your home.
Can you talk a little bit about what that transition has been like? Ron Crabb: Yeah, it was carefully thought out. We lived in LA for 25 years. Or I did. I got married in '96 or so. I should get that exactly right, April 3rd, 1996. As we started the family thing, I was still having to work in Hollywood. I was working places where you had to go there and had to be there. So it was a conscious decision to really try and shift more freelance. Of course Apple made that possible, because now you didn't have a $250,000 system.
You can get a Macintosh at home and a Wacom tablet and $5,000 and you were in like Flynn. You could do anything anyone else is doing. But we really had a desire to kind of, or I did specifically, to bring it home and to be able to work out of the house and to really make family first and to develop that kind of quality of life that we saw as something that we wanted for the future for our family. So we pursued that actively to try and freelance and work at home. It was only after a little while that we started thinking we could possibly actually move away from Hollywood, which was kind of its own challenge and still presents a number of challenges.
Lynda Weinman: Well, how do you keep current with your techniques and keep connected to other matte painters and things like that? Is that a challenge for you? Ron Crabb: Not anymore. It has really developed radically. I think even over a last couple of years to where these websites have popped up all over the place. So recently I joined cgsociety.com back in 2005, but I didn't do much with it then. It was kind of busy for me and just didn't pay much attention to what was going on. But as I'd get windows in between, I started checking in.
And then as I started actually getting involved and writing things in the blogs and putting up my own portfolios, this whole network just kind of bubbled up. I am sure it's been there for a while, but I was kind of slow in tapping into it. But the very cool thing about it is, there is all these websites now where you can network with artists who are doing what I am doing just all over the world. It's not just tying into Hollywood, but there are guys over in Australia or Europe or whatever, where you kind of interact a little bit. They email me, I email them back.
I can kind of keep tabs. Lynda Weinman: That's really incredible. I mean, it's just a total transformation instead of meeting people around the water cooler. You are at the global water cooler now, it's pretty-- Ron Crabb: Yeah, it's a good way to put it, because the fun part for me is sensing -- it's not exactly the way it was when I worked in Hollywood when you were face to face and went to lunch with people. I do miss a little of that sometimes. You have to be honest, working at home in your own offices there, but there is a little sense of that, because the immediacy of the communication.
Someone can email you and you can email him right back and have a little discussion. I had a kind of an exchange with a guy who was in Indonesia and we just had a great time talking about the art process and what it was like for him to work over there and what I was experiencing in Bainbridge Island. But it's just immediate and just right off the bat. You are making a friend who is much further than a thousand miles away. Lynda Weinman: Yeah, that's pretty incredible. How do you market yourself? Do you use the Internet for that as well? Ron Crabb: Yeah, that's the primary method.
I mean, you can't really anymore do anything without your own website or you at least have to be up on CG Society website or something. That was kind of number one. I actually set that up long before I left LA. As a freelancer even in LA, I had to have that. So that's been an integral part of that, because now you can just get a hold of visual effect supervisors or producers or whatever. Instead of having to send a whole portfolio or a tape, you can just point them to the website. Some of these networking websites as well, CG Society, CG Hub, these other ones are coming into play as well, because they have competitions. Tey have these kinds of things where you can just submit an image and they will put it up for you in their showcase galleries or something like that.
So that's where you get a lot of publicity as well, because people are, by much larger numbers than whatever visit my website directly, they are visiting these sites. So once they tap into that site, it's just this little link to mine. So when I started exploring those routes and getting into CG Society, the traffic to my own website just bumped up quite a bit through that whole process. Lynda Weinman: That's fantastic. Do you have any advice to aspiring matte painters? Ron Crabb: Yeah, so what would be my advice to an aspiring matte painters? I don't know.
It's a good field to get in, but where I see some of the young guys who are trying to get in it, the areas they lack are kind of the ones we have been saying ever since I have been an artist, is learn the good art skills first. I think the temptation these days is to jump on to the technology right away, jump on Photoshop, get a 3D program, start using it, learn the tool. But if you don't have the art background underneath all of that, you are getting the horse in front of the cart. Well, that's where he belongs. But I mean the cart in front of the horse.
So my advise is just really follow that standard fine art kind of approach to art. Learn lighting, learn shape, learn color, all these kinds of things, and every matte painter will tell you that. If you can't paint a landscape and know what you are doing with lighting and everything else, Photoshop is not going to get you far enough. Cutting and pasting photos is not just going to cut it. So you really need to understand art and even fine art in that sense. Lynda Weinman: In addition to your commercial career, you also have been dabbling in fine art. Did you get started doing that back when you were in LA or is that new to when you moved to Washington? Ron Crabb: No, it does go way back.
In fact, that was one of my early impulses was to combine illustration work and fine art at the same time. Back then it was the hands-on traditional method. I was an oil painter and would paint oil on panel. So I have been dabbling with that for the last 30 years in my art career and I did explored it a little bit with some western art. I went to Scottsdale and got in a gallery there, but quickly discovered that with my style of detailed realism selling a painting that took me a month and half and having a gallery take 50% of it was just not viable way to make a living at the time.
So I stayed with the commercial work. But now that it's become digital and I am exploring idea of doing digital fine art, I can really compress that time factor down considerably and also I think do things that I would never even dream of doing with real oil paints and that kind of thing. My Port Blakely paintings for instance are much larger in scope and more detailed with all the ships and the details and the water reflections. It would take six months to about a year to paint something like something like that in oil, but now I am seeing a real opportunity, because with the digital work and trying to break into fine art in that area, I can just do stuff that hasn't been seen before in the fine art world.
What I am finding is that it's going to take a little work to get there. My clients so far have been on Bainbridge Island and I am really starting local. So I am doing the local mill, I am doing local history and this kind of thing to really kind of test the waters on this and it's gone really well. It's been just a couple of years since I started this. I got a lot of fans on the island and I am seeing potential for real growth. Nobody cares that it's digital. They just look at it and they love the image. So I think the fine art galleries are maybe just at the area where we can start pursuing selling digital art with a traditional look as a viable way of communicating in some art form.
So that's really what I am experimenting with now is when I don't have commercial work on the table, I jump right on the fine art stuff and start exploring. Same techniques, same look even in many respects, but kind of a whole different idea of where it's going to go. Lynda Weinman: Thanks so much for being part of the Creative Inspirations series. It's really an honor to get to know you and we appreciate you sharing your resources and insights with us. Ron Crabb: Well, it's been a pleasure and honor to be a part of it. Thank you.
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