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Creative Inspirations: Ron Crabb, Digital Illustrator
Illustration by John Hersey

The evolution of illustration


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Creative Inspirations: Ron Crabb, Digital Illustrator

with Ron Crabb

Video: The evolution of illustration

(Music playing.) Ron Crabb: Well, when I started out, my career was all obviously kind of analog art, shall we say, as opposed to digital. We were using oil paints, or acrylic or whatever it may be, and working with the tactile stuff. That's just how you did it. That transition to digital, which happened for me in `84 or `85 at KBC.

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Creative Inspirations: Ron Crabb, Digital Illustrator
1h 26m Appropriate for all Oct 04, 2008

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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.

Subjects:
Design Illustration Creative Inspirations Documentaries
Author:
Ron Crabb

The evolution of illustration

(Music playing.) Ron Crabb: Well, when I started out, my career was all obviously kind of analog art, shall we say, as opposed to digital. We were using oil paints, or acrylic or whatever it may be, and working with the tactile stuff. That's just how you did it. That transition to digital, which happened for me in `84 or `85 at KBC.

I remember at the time there was a whole big discussion, philosophically, between the artist there. We had 20 artists and 84 opinions, but they would -- we would have this discussion of, is this a valid tool, is it a good thing for art? Because you had kind of the traditionalists that loved the texture of painting, the feel of it, the things you could do with all the combination of tools, and they kind of saw the computer thing as kind of cold and very limiting. There were the other group of us which I was included in that kind of saw that this was just a new tool, just one more tool, and kind of a cool one that affords us opportunities that the traditional methods don't allow.

And it kind of turned out that way for me. I mean, I got on that system and what changed rapidly was the old way, you had to come up with an idea, a concept, you had a certain amount of time to accomplish that. So you kind of had to just march through your painting technique or whatever it was. But now, with the digital thing, that whole process of how long it takes was just compressed radically. To where now, you could start out with a core idea, or a seed idea, but develop that as you went.

Because the clock was ticking, but you just had this much more rapid tool, things could evolve much quicker. You can get a third of the way in, and all of a sudden kind of go, you know what? I don't think the color is working for me. Grab a little slider, slide it across -- Boom! Your color is changed, or just do a few layers of experiment things. You keep everything on layers in Photoshop, the options are endless for how you can treat that whole creative process and how you handle it through all the phases. I still do oil paintings, but I have to totally shift my thinking when I do.

It's a completely different mindset on how I handle that. I'll sit there working on an oil painting, and if I make a mistake, my left hand flinches for the Command+Z, and if you work on computers, you know what that means, from Apple anyway, that's your "erase your mistake" thing. But it's funny, because I will be painting, and Oops! And it just flinches. It's like this automatic thing I am used to doing. You don't get to do that with the oil painting. You have come back, you have to rub it out, but with the digital stuff, you can back up, you can fix your mistakes rapidly. I like that. That's why I still enjoy both, but the digital world has opened up for me just those opportunities to say, what if? You are right in the middle of a project. What if I change the mood, what if I add this, what if I change the composition? What if-- it allows I think of an evolution of an idea and a style that is much quicker.

So I think you see that. People are just kind of pushing boundaries. Some of it's okay, some of it's great. But that's what that's all about. The whole digital realm and the quickness of it. It just allows people to say, what do I want to do next? And let me try it. Because you are not wasting materials, you are just putting in some time, and the disadvantages, supposedly of texture and these kind of things, those are disappearing. You get a Painter program and you can do fairly realistic oil brush things. So things are happening technologically wise that are erasing whatever differences and negatives there were between digital and regular hands-on illustration type work.

What you are starting to see more and more in the illustration world is just an amalgam of all the available tools and I use it as well. Now, what the digital world allows you to do is not just think in 2-D terms anymore, but you can utilize 3-D assets as well. And I am doing that more and more. So even in my fine art, it is just changing how you think as an illustrator. You can bring 3-D elements and work on those in Photoshop. So I often do that, even for matte paintings. I will build something originally in 3-D in a kind of a simple model, but import that into Photoshop and then paint on top of that.

But it allows you to visualize things and get things accurate, and positionally, and shape wise, and prospective wise, that might take a much longer time to try and do it just by hand. But you import textures, you do all these kind of things that are little-- I guess you call them computer tricks, but they are really just more tools. You are adding to your Toolbox of how you are going to do things. It is just a great way to do art, because your goal in art is just to create, and least it is for me. It's like now I have got an idea. I want to get it in front of people.

I am going to use whatever tools I can find that I can do with. I notice that when I show people my Port Blakely work, that they don't really care anymore. They just look at and go, I love that image, that's a beautiful image. And then I start talking about the process and they go, really? That's 3-D, there is 3-D in there? It's like, yeah. I built the whole town and the ships and they are catching on that the tools aren't the enemy, they actually are an advantage and that all they need to do is really love the art, regardless of how it's made.

So that barrier seems to be breaking down rapidly. Just got to get the galleries on board. It's like it's okay to do digital art and call it digital art and not have it be a negative thing. People are still going to love the work and buy it.

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