Concept artist and teacher Anthony Jones tells us what he's been working on, where he's finding inspiration, and how he sees the big trends in 3D and virtual reality developing over the next few years.
- My name is Anthony Jones, and I am a concept artist since, I think, 2008, I forget. But I've been working for companies like Blizzard, Hasbro, and so on and so forth. And currently I'm a teacher and what I do is I teach young artists, the ins and outs of concept art. But more importantly, I think the most important thing that I do is also keep them motivated. I find it's not just about teaching how to paint but teaching people to keep painting, you know what I mean? Because a lot of the times, people are like, okay, I see how you do this and how you do that, but sometimes they get distracted or they have bad time management.
So I find myself, as someone who's really good at that. I've learned over the last several years, so I teach people that too, and that's kind of what I do now, yeah. Currently we're doing a lot of VR stuff. We got a job with Insomnia to work on one of their games, which is already announced and stuff. I believe it's Edge of Nowhere. And we're working on that and it's all in the VR space. VR is pretty big now, and we're really in that right now. As a concept artist, you know, I went from Photoshop, and then to photobashing, to then to 3D, and then the next step to me is VR.
And, so, Unreal, Unity, all these in game, or game engines basically are out and they're free, so it's kind of like, why not learn them? And it's actually not too difficult to learn them. And I always encourage my students and anybody, and say this is gonna be the next thing everybody's gonna be complaining about, right? There's always like one generation that's like, "Back in my day," you know. And I'm like, I'm already seeing that happen within my generation, where people are going to be complaining about VR and I'm like, just get in it. There's no reason why you shouldn't.
You have platforms like Lynda.com and other online tutorials that are available. A lot of their stuff is even free, it's on YouTube, you know. There's no reason why you can't learn these new tools. And so we're working on these things and we're literally on the frontier of the stuff. For instance, I worked on this project, that I won't mention, but I basically built my concept in a virtual space, so they were able to fly around and see the designs, not just in the three-dimensional space, not like a 3D file, like a jpeg of it, but actually see it with lights that they can manipulate.
And they don't have any experience. That's the beauty. Usually you have to have a 3D guy on set or whatever, but with this, as long as you know how to play a first-person shooter, you can navigate. I think that's pretty cool. I imagine one day, it's gonna be a year or two from now, the concepts I'll be doing will be super epic, imagine Jarvis from Iron Man. So you'll walk into the environment and it's like, (makes sound effect) like lasers and all that stuff, and you see the concept come out on a dolly, you know.
I imagine that can literally happen in a few years from now, and that's like, the director's like, "All right, approved!" Because usually a lot of the reasons why you have concept art is to save a lot of money and time. But if you're able to show the concept in real time, with real lighting, and a lot of control for the director or whoever's in charge, they're gonna approve it almost immediately. There'll be like a few other iterations. I think there's still room for 2D, obviously. It's just fast to be able to, in an hour or two demonstrate, hey, this is what it's going to go towards.
Give me a couple days, or even a week, and I'll put it into a virtual space you can just explore. And if there's any changes, I'll still make those changes. But the iteration stage, I think, will be shortened. Instead of taking months and months of like 2D iteration, I think that should only last a week or so. And then just jump into 3D immediately, and the whole thing could be a one month turnaround. And in terms of investors, I think that's what we did for this client. We gave them this 3D space, they showed it to their investors, and they already want to work with us again.
I talked with a guy who said back in the day there was a time where just knowing Maya would get you tons of money and all these jobs. Just knowing the software, you know. And I feel like that's kind of what's happening now. If you just know Unreal and know some 3D, and you can put those together and build virtual environments over a short amount of time, you're on the frontier of what's happening now. This date is 2015, we'll see how it changes in a two years, it will be a whole different feel, I'm sure. But what I'm trying to say is, it's happening so fast.
Even every day I'm just kind of like, I can't believe how crazy the future is, like we're living in it already, you know. And so I'm just trying to be on the frontier of that. James Cameron was asked the same kind of question, and that's why he's one of my favorite people in the world. If you ask him, because he was on the frontier, he's sending stuff into space, he's deep-sea diving to the bottom of the ocean. He's one of the few people that have seen the bottom of the ocean, right? And they asked him, what's your favorite technology? And he says, "Paper and pencil." A lot of people don't know this, James Cameron used to be a matte painter, an amazing matte painter.
And if you look at his sketches for Aliens, he did these amazing sketches. These storyboards are actually well-drawn, perspective architectural designs. And he says, because it's paper and pencil, there's nothing faster to get an idea down. And I believe that still. I think technology is becoming so much easier, so much more accessible that it's almost like the technical know-how is not important anymore. If you were a 3D artist, you had to know how to UV, you had to know how to retopologize, you had to know how to texture, you had to know animation like edge flow.
You needed to know all these things. But now, software's just like, nah, you can just press a button and we'll figure it out. These jobs are being replaced by computers, right? And really good algorithms. And so now it's getting to the point where it's like, you got to know what you're talking about, you have to understand, like you said, color, lighting, form. The tool doesn't give that to you for free. That is still a human thing. And I think, I can't wait for the technology to be so good that all you have to do is wear a helmet and then you just imagine the concept.
Like literally there's no tools anymore. It's just whatever you can imagine, it'll make. And then it will reveal that if you don't know what you're talking about, you'll make these abominations of art because you don't understand form and anatomy on a conscious level. It's called the illusion of knowledge, this idea where we are exposed to things all the time, for example, like a zipper. We use a zipper every day of our lives, but if I were to ask you, hey, here's some raw material, build a zipper from scratch. You just wouldn't be able to do it, right? Unless you were a zipper manufacturer or someone that knew that field.
You would have to actually know all the little parts of how that's put together. That's what makes us humans great, because we can build off of others. We don't have to, I don't have to know how my cell phone works to utilize it and really optimize it. But my point is, is that knowing stuff is very valuable and we live in the age of information and you got to know stuff because the tools are just gonna be too easy. I went to a talk actually, with a kid from high school, literally 19-years-old.
He knew guns, man. He's a gun designer for Star Citizen. And he's an amazing artist. And when you hear him talk about guns, it's almost like he would be able to build a gun from scratch. I realized listening to him, I don't know how to make guns. I'm a terrible gun designer, right? And this is a 19-year-old kid who is taking paper and blueprints, and building guns out of paper. And I'm just like, that's what it takes. And he's using Maya and stuff to design, and it's like, people are asking, "Oh, why do you use Maya over Macs?" And he's like, Maya just works.
It doesn't matter, right, because he just knows how to make guns, you know what I mean? And I think eventually people need to catch on that. It's not so much the tools you should attach yourself, it's just knowledge. Obviously, learn the tools. But knowledge is very valuable, and I think it's gonna be even more so pretty soon, yeah. It's gonna be mostly 3D, for sure. 'Cause there's, 3D is getting so much easier. I just started jumping back into 3D. I mean, I've always dabbled with ZBrush since college.
And then recently they just made it so intuitive. It's almost kind of silly not to mess with it. I have students who ask me, "Oh, should I learn 3D? "I'm afraid I won't learn my fundamentals," or "I have this lack of ability, "am I spreading myself too thin?" And I said, you can learn your fundamentals in 3D. Who said you can't? There's a really good artist, a friend of mine, good artist friend of mine whose name is Vitaly Bulgarov. He's pretty much, hands down, one of the best 3D concept artists that exist.
And I mean, he doesn't draw. But he has great design sense. He has great mechanical functionality in his designs. He understands practical design sensibilities. And he learned that through 3D. So it doesn't matter whether you do 2D, or 3D, or photobashing or VR, you just got to know what you're doing. It doesn't matter what the tools are, but you got to know what you're doing, and then the tools will just support it. And also there's this weird idea that people think traditional and digital are very different.
The same thing. The reason why I paint quickly 'cause I always, I'm known for my speed in terms of digital painting. People think maybe it's because of Photoshop. Obviously, Photoshop helps, but it's because of traditional painting is why I paint fast. I studied from masters. They've been doing it for millennia, you know what I mean? They've been painting for thousands of years and I'm just taking notes of all the stuff and strategies they've developed over the years.
And for me, it's like, when I ask the students, I ask this all the time to my traditional students, I'm like, so just because you can paint in, let's say, watercolor, does that mean you can paint in oils? Like, no, right? It's the tools. From oils can you go to gouache? From gouache can you go to acrylic, and into pastel? It's like, no, it's all separate. But yet, for whatever reason, people think that they're the same, they're not. It's the same thing from oils to Photoshop, and Photoshop to 3D. They're all just tools, but what doesn't change and what transcends the tools is knowledge.
Just knowing what you're doing, right? And I learned this from watching a traditional painter paint in front of me, and he had a fully rendered torso in like five minutes. And I was just like, what the? And Bob Ross is a great, famous painter, and he paints traditionally, and he has landscapes in literally five to ten minutes, you know what I mean? So speed is not so much about the tools, it's about who's wielding the tools and what they know. And they use the tools to the maximum capacity, as well as knowing what they're doing.
So I think in the future, these concept artists will be people that will pretty much live in 3D, and then 2D will be embraced because of the speed of just getting those ideas on paper faster. 'Cause there might be a weird kind of generic sensibility. And so people, it's gonna, I feel like it's gonna reverse, it's gonna go back to people who can just kind of draw, you know what I mean? Before they jump into their 3D. But I could be wrong, maybe the 3D will be so good that you can sketch in 3D. You can do dozens of designs in ZBrush and it will be just as good.
But I mean, it's hard to tell, but I know that everybody's gonna be definitely 3D. It's gonna be the standard; it already is, I think.