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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: An artist always get asked about inspiration. If you are going to ask me that, it could be a long story, because I started, really, really, really young. I mean my dad loved to story of me being five years old, going off to kindergarten. Being bored to tears to where I just would not go back to school. So they basically found a way to mollify the crybaby by giving him little art projects to do, and I think I can remember my first one was like a Santa that we ended up sticking up on our door for Christmas.
But it stuck, so at five years old, I was already kind of thinking in terms of this is what I like to do. By third grade, I was considered the class artist kind of thing. So, my artistic influence is an inspiration in those early years, largely came from illustrators, Norman Rockwell, NC Wyeth, the Leyendecker Brothers, those kind of things. Those would carry me through kind of all my early years, through grade school and through high school, was targeting kind of what I really was drawn to do with art.
So, my foundational stuff is all illustrator based. That's what I envision myself doing at those young years was a combination of the illustration work and fine art work and traditional methods, oil paint, acrylic, whatever it might be. So, that earliest illustration, I mean I have still got on my shelves books of NC Wyeth, Leyendecker and Maxfield Parrish and Rockwell and what I loved about those guys and this was something I don't think I really grasped on to until much later was that they were story based.
In other words, if I looked at fine art or something, I admired it but I was drawn to these illustrators and it really dawned on me. I think even relatively recently when I starting taking a writing course, for the very reason that it's like, oh wait a minute, the whole reason I love what these guys do is because they are telling a story. Same thing with film. What I find satisfying about working in films is that I am helping to tell the story. I am making it more real by giving me environment of an edge of reality to it.
So, as I've grown and matured as an artist, that inspiration pool has just gotten huge, because my career path has been kind of odd. I didn't really go to the illustrator thing. I never really started out that way. I jumped ship fairly quickly and kind of by accident into television, but I found myself working with well trained artists, who'd gone to Art Center, and gone to wherever. So, that pulled me along and it inspired me because you sit at home alone doing artwork, you are not really sure where to go with it, but when you have the feedback and the interaction with other artists, that's when I start feeling inspired.
In particular, the shift in inspiration for my transition to matte painting primarily because that really has become my focus professional career-wise. Now, I started exploring that world a little bit. There is Chris Stoski, Dylan Cole, Craig Mullins and kind of the whole group. If you go to mattepainting.org, you can see a long list of matte painters on there and a lot of excellent work. So, when I started narrowing what I was looking for inspiration wise, these guys were kind of setting the bar. In other words seeing what other professionals who were doing the movies, that's where I needed to go.
So, I studied their work, kind of looked at what they are doing and took my years of doing the same thing, only not really ever being aware of this whole community of matte painters, brought that altogether and it really informed a lot of kind of where I went. In other words keeping the standard high and setting the standard high, and I still do that on a regular basis. I think you have to as an artist learn from other artists and just constantly be on top of what they are doing, where they are going, what they are trying next, this kind of thing.
If I am asked what inspires me, it's a ton of stuff, but I guess most of it is what is happening right now with that artistic community, where are we going with it, what is my role in that, how are we doing that. That's what kind of keeps me kind of alive in it and interested in it, knowing okay, well that's cool. I wouldn't have thought of doing that and how can I integrate that idea into what I am doing and make it my own and change it. But in a broader sense, inspiration, I find myself creative when I am I guess intrigued or curious and that doesn't always have to do with art. In other words, listening to music, reading a good book, playing with my kids, being in a place like this is obviously inspirational in that sense, but I find when I am just kind of happy, whatever it takes to make me happy and-- curious keeps coming to my head, because I am naturally inquisitive. If there is a mystery, I want to know the answer to it.
If there is something unknown, I want to know with it. That's just part of who I am. But when I feel like I am doing that, and when I am exploring things, that's when I feel inspired to work. It may have nothing to do with art, but I will take something from that and just that feeling of, okay, I am curious about how that works, it can translate rapidly into what do I want to do next? What image is floating around in my head, what do I want to express? What feeling am I trying to communicate? So I will often do that and if I find myself feeling, like they say, standing in front of a blank canvas and not knowing what to paint, I will just start reading or start writing.
I am really inspired by stories. That's the root of the whole Port Blakely project is we are sitting in a place that has just a long history that's now visibly not hear anymore, but I love reading about that. I love learning what these people are like and what they did and how they did what they did. So, if I want to get inspired, I will read about that stuff. It's the whole idea of story and what people are like and what they are experiencing and even something like it's just a simple matte painting, it may be just a background for movie.
But I try and kind of come at it with that whole idea of knowing what that story is about and how this one little particular image fits that story and that's where it starts becoming a little more interesting than just doing commercial artwork. It's like well, I involve myself in their story and try and make sure that I am pursuing excellence to help tell that story.
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