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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: In my career I spent a lot of time in motion graphics. There was a natural progression in my early career that really transitioned from illustrator to designer, which was an interesting transition for me, because my mindset had always been kind of Illustrator, Painter, figurative work. But then I found myself initially being a Paintbox artist. At that time, back in the late '80s, early '90s, you were operating the system for other designers.
So creative people would come in, kind of describe what they wanted you to do, and you would do it. So there was a learning curve there that was really nice, because I was just really kind of doing hands-on work for some other designer. So I learned from them in that process. Right around '89 -`91, I got hired by Pittard Sullivan Design and I transitioned from simple Paintbox artist into designer on my own, and started working with really talented people. It was, again, kind of an interesting place for an illustrator to be.
I almost felt like I was playing on someone else's playground. It's like, okay, I'm in this kind of new world for me and having to absorb rapidly kind of the thought process, and how design was different from my illustration kind of background. I think the blend that worked well for me was seeing what other people were doing, but then taking my illustration skills and kind of blending those two together. So I often times saw myself approaching problems in a different way than maybe one of the other designers would do.
So it's almost for me like I was cheating. It was like, okay, they can't illustrate. I can. Well, I'm just going to use that. I'm not going to try to be them. So the motion graphics, while that was kind of the main stay, my own will take on it was still very illustrator based. At the same time, I just- there were time when you just had to jump in and do real just kind of basic design, and I'm grateful for that experience because it really brings to an illustrator whole new ways of thinking. You're really thinking about the color, shape, texture and animation.
you're thinking about composition constantly in choreography. An illustrator who does still frames, you're not required to do that. But once you go through that whole process of learning design, you bring some of that back in your illustration work, in how that works, how you lay things out. So my whole motion graphics and while I feel like I was kind of jumping on someone else's little bandwagon, I benefited from it in a great way. As a result, I still do work in that field. But one of the latest pieces was for Water Horse, the movie Water Horse.
We had a client Erik Ladd, who works for Ignite Creative, that's his company. He calls me anytime he's got something that more needs an illustrator's touch, that needs to be rendered in a way that is kind of more realistic. So we did this one for them and it's a British Isles kind of feel. So, we took some of the kind of Celtic knot kind of look. So, this was kind of his concept, his direction of how he wanted it to go. But he hired me, because he's not a painter. So that's actually how my career has just always worked. It's like, "get the painter guy, because he can make this look real for us." But it was my job to kind of okay, you want a Celtic knot, you want a very 3D, but you want it lit beautifully.
So I'm taking what I know about illustration and lighting and shape and form, and moving it into the motion graphics realm. This was one of my last largest projects was Antena 3 in Spain and it was a graphics package for I guess what is the equivalent of one of their NBC, CBS kind of stations over there. But we had to design absolutely every single element for this station. Unique thing about that particular project was they had to change things for every region in Spain, because they pronounce things differently. So normally you shoot one or two promos and you're good to go, but I had to have the talent on screen pronouncing each little- I forget what the actual tagline was- but they had to pronounce differently for each region.
But a lot of these are storyboard frames from Pittard Sullivan days and that's really the process you worked as a motion graphics designer. You didn't jump, at least in those days, I didn't jump right into doing any kind of animation. You did the style frames and the storyboard frames, because you had to do numbers of versions for them, and no client just wants to see one set of boards. They would like some options to work from. It's kind of fun to go through. I mean, it's a big chunk of who I am artistic-wise, just because it was the part of my life where I was interacting so much with other artists, and creative types, and creative people.
So I came away with that, with just a lot of things that I can apply to what I do now. It's really just broadened the range of what I do and how I think and how I approach creative projects. Motion graphics is actually where I cut my teeth on lot of those concepts. So that is something that is extremely valued to my past. Even though it may not be my mainstay now, it is a huge part of who I am.
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