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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: Back when I first started out, it was all kind of hands-on art. The first real digital work I was doing was on what was called a Quantel Paintbox. I was working at KABC and it was a real video-only kind of platform. It did have a tablet, much like I still use today. It was strictly a video resolution and a really kind of simple machine to use because it was quick.
You picked up on things quickly and you could rapidly execute things. So that was the mainstay for me for a quite a while from '84 on through '89-'90, but then the Mac showed up, and the technology changed quite a bit. So even seeing that. When we saw the Quantel Paintbox, we knew the future was changing. But that was a large system. You had to have a post facility or somebody who can afford a $250,000 system. Then Macintosh showed up and started showing up on everybody's individual desks.
So now you can actually have your own dedicated computer. You used to have to share the Quantel with 50 other designers. Nw you had your own. So you are actually on the computer much longer times. You didn't have to slot your time or book your time on a system. You had it right there. But that was Photoshop that was showing up. So it really took the place of Quantel Paintbox, at least in our workflow. And I would look over the shoulder these younger guys who were using it and comparing it to how I was using the Quantel Paintbox and Quantel's beauty was its simplicity. You could work really fast on it.
Initially with Photoshop, it seemed slower, a little bit longer process, but I knew that was the future. So I was still working on Quantel, still freelancing and booking the time on those machines. But I knew, it's like okay. Photoshop is pretty cool. This is working, it's on a smaller system, it's on the system I could buy myself. So I know that's where it was going and I don't remember exactly when it was, but I finally saw Photoshop and used and played with it myself and there was kind of an a-ha moment, that okay, it's finally arrived. I can do everything that I used to do on the Quantel and just as rapidly.
But now even with broader ranges of possibilities, more filters, a resolution. I can change what I wanted that to be. So that's when that really switched over and ever since then Photoshop has been the mainstay that even now for regardless of what I am doing, if it's motion graphics, if it's visual effects, if it's concept art, I'd say 95% of my work is done in Photoshop itself. Over the last couple years, I've added 3D to that out of necessity and that actually started with motion graphics and working with Cinema 4D.
I use that almost exclusively as a 3D program because I find it really easy to use. It's kind of an user friendly software. So my normal workflow would be 95% Photoshop but occasionally I will jump over to Cinema 4D because there are certain moments that just work better if I can start with that platform. Architectural things, buildings, those kind of thing that you wouldn't really want to draw by hand if you don't have to. You just build it in 3D first, texture map it or simple models even that I import into Photoshop.
So that's the bulk of the work. There is a not a whole lot I use. Occasionally Painter, if I am doing something that is that needs really textury feel to it. So anything you need to look really kind of hand done, Painter is great for that. But still, the bulk of my work is done with Photoshop and Cinema 4D. The system I am actually using right now is a Macintosh G5 computer, just tucked under my desk here. The real revelation for me was when I got this 32 inch monitor, because working in film, you are working at least a 2K pixel wide kind of thing.
So it used to be what the 21 inch big heavy monitors I had originally, when I started in film. You were having to zoom in or zoom out all the time. With this monitor, I can actually look at it full res and still have room for the menus on each side. So, soon as this came out I jumped right on top of it and bought one of those. But this machine is actually about two and half years old, but it still does everything I need it to do. I generally wait to upgrade until they double the processor speeds, so that's kind of my benchmark. It's like, no, not going to do it yet, not going to do it yet.
Because they upgrade so quickly and it gets outdated within two, three years. So that's what I use. I always use this tablet here. Like I said with the Quantel Paintbox, that's what they have. That was your main way of interfacing with the computer. So I still have a mouse, but I think it sits there very lonely most of the time. I hardly ever touch it. But technology wise it's a simple system. The beauty of that is for a relatively reasonable cost, you can now do stuff that goes in to feature films and motion graphics and those kind of thing.
Used to cast a fortune, but now, Apple is a little on the upper end, but it still reasonable for a freelancer. You know it's changed where you had work for a facility before to use the equipment. Now you can do compositing even and that kind of thing on a Macintosh that you can have in your home on your own desktop.
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