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Author   Topic : "question about composition."
octavian
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PostPosted: Fri May 08, 2009 3:47 pm     Reply with quote
wazzup sijun,

I have been determined to focus more on composition in my works lately... although I realize it's hard to teach something as subjective as composition, I was wondering if anyone knew of any good books or resources I could check out on the subject.

I know about golden mean, and rule of thirds and all that bullshit, but I was looking for something more in depth about the aesthetics of composition... if that is even out there.

I also would like to open this thread up to any discussion or thoughts about the subject... so... fire away.

By way of starting the discussion, I will say that I've found that studying artists who exhibit outstanding composition is a good way to observe what works and what doesn't, but also drawing out two or three tone copies of their works can help to see the important shapes of the painting and how the artist broke down the painting.

Jaime and I were talking via email a while back and he brought up a good point about abstract shapes vs representational shapes... which are both very important to good composition.... Sparth is really good at this and is easy to see in his latest painting http://www.sparth.com/2009/overture-small.jpg
if you reduce the painting to a small thumb, you can see the important abstract shapes that make the basis of the composition.... while when viewed full size you get the pleasure of looking over the smaller, more representational shapes which inform the viewer what's going on in the image.

Thoughts? links?
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Returner
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PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 3:29 am     Reply with quote
Interesting thing about abstract shapes vs representational ones. I know almost nothing about painting but composition to me is about having a strong gut feeling to begin with and then letting your fantasy loose until you strike gold.

If you have a complex idea as you say to be able to brake it down and do the same thing on the details without compromising the main idea. More time spent on the initial idea brainstorming. Maybe listening to music if that puts you in the right mood? There must be dozens of tips out there like the Sparth approach, but you can't use that to strict unfortunately. I suppose books on brainstorming/creativity/storytelling can be helpful.
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EAD
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PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 10:28 am     Reply with quote
Loomis wrote some great stuff about the nature of composition. I believe mostly in "creative illustration".

Do think theres a dark art to it which is really hard to learn though as it seems to be based on fairly immediate instinctive reactions to forms and shapes which is so evident in what makes a great photographer.
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Lunatique
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PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 10:51 am     Reply with quote
Over the years my feelings about compositions has stayed the same, regardless of any additional reading, or more experience I've gained as an artist. In essence, I think composition is one of those things that are mostly instinctual, and if you don't have the instinct for it, you can rely on tried and true rules that we all know about and they will help in making sure that your compositions aren't blatantly bad, but they will not help you compose brilliant images. There are so many brilliant compositions I've seen that break every single rule that's ever been taught about composition, and that tells me the rules are not to be followed slavishly.

I feel that artists who are naturally gifted in the area of composition have a way with arranging shapes and values and colors visually that is more interesting, and for people like that, they couldn't produce a bad composition even if they tried. Their mind's eye simply just sees things in a way that has a very interesting balance (or off-balance), and they naturally place objects and centers of focus in places that are optimal.

Jim Burns was notoriously bad at composition, and over the years he's learned enough about the rules to approximate decent composition, but he'll probably never be brilliant at it. Michael Whelan on the other hand, always had solid composition. I don't think I've ever seen a painting with bad composition from him. Although he does extensive thumbnails and tries out many possibilities, I don't think his work ethic is the reason, as all his thumbnails look great--some better than the finished works. I think that is the difference between having the gift for it or not. There's an invisible ceiling in how good your composition can be, even after acquiring knowledge and experience. Kind of like how high you can sing notes--you can expand your range but not above what your vocal cords can physically handle.
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octavian
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PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 3:04 pm     Reply with quote
Returner: I agree that there is a total gut element to it and it's interesting that you choose to recommend emotive stimulation to elicit good comps.... i.e. listening to music. I have recently started thinking that there is a certain element to "loosing" yourself in an image to come up with good composition.

EAD: it does seem to me that a large portion of great image "capturing" comes instinctually. but do you think that you can train your eye and brain to capture that in an image as well. Ive read the loomis books, and they are great. sucks to have to read it as a crappy pdf though.

Lunatique: well that's three for three who feel it's an emotive/ instinctual response that comes "naturally" for the artist. You don't leave much room for hope though. It sounds like you're describing talent by grace alone.. sort of reminds me of the movie Amedeus' plot. Perhaps only certain people (Motzart) have the talent for greatness, while others (Antonio Salieri) can learn to perform well, but if it's not innate, then they're doomed to mediocrity.

I'm sure that brilliance is limited to a select few, however at the same time, I'm not convinced that we can't tap into our own emotive responses to shapes and colors etc.... I know that's not exactly what you're refuting here, but for me I find that I've spent so much time trying to "represent" something in art, that I've forgotten about the larger picture. I'm starting to notice that the things I find most compelling in other artist's images are generally based off of an instant reaction to something... I'm sure this is the larger, more abstract dance of light and dark shapes on the image. because of this I've started to realize I've never even given attention to my own emotive responses to abstract shapes when I'm creating. Does that sound weird? I guess I'm trying to say that there is so much about painting that has occupied my brain for so long, that I've forgotten about composition and the emotional responses in my own art. perhaps I've just solved my own problem Smile

btw, I have this book on my shelf that I'm reading again and it has some awesome insight on design and composition... "A Painters Guide to Design and Composition" by Margot Schulzke.
it seems like a kinda cheesy 5 dollar book but it's actually really good. check it out.
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Matthew Is Godzilla
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PostPosted: Sun May 10, 2009 2:09 am     Reply with quote
I do not necessarily agree that the above sparth's image is a good composition, perhaps that's where your problem lays?
In many cases it is important to lead the eye to where you want to have the attention. Heavy blocks should be counter-measured, whether it is dark or light. Dark or light also suggest back or front in painting. Between that dark or light you can suggest directions and those can also add to depth and help composition.
Many speedpainters are way to obsessive with making a good outcome if you ask me.. detail before anything.
Simplify to help composition, make big changes all the way through your creating process.
...Otherwise you gonna be stuck with more poor composition because the detail takes too long to remake.

Marbles can be a good learning source
http://www.fauxandbeyond.com/sienna%20marble%20131.JPG
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udal
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PostPosted: Sun May 10, 2009 3:03 pm     Reply with quote
I think there a basic issues here with working out how human beings see and respond to images instinctively. The viewer's instinct is what you have to bear in mind and manipulate as an artist. One of the essential things about this is how the mind processes large shapes before small ones, is drawn to the areas of highest contrast/saturation etc. In this I think the basics of graphic design are very useful - working with an original (as possible) interplay of shapes, creating interesting outlines and silhouettes, making something that's interesting -without- details, or even being representational. As 'concept artists' we are always confronted with a certain paradox - we are the designers of objects and spaces which are intended to be non-existant. Nevertheless, they need accurate representation in their non-existant worlds, hence our focus on so many details. But we also have to bear in mind that, in the brief time most viewers will see our work, in a game or film or whatever, the details don't -really- matter.

So yeah, Octavian, I think you did answer your own question.

As to the specifics of compositional aesthetics, that's a tricky one. Like everything in aesthetics no-one really seems to know why one thing ellicits a good response and another thing doesn't, or why certain conventions have arisen. I mean, that whole are is too deep in psychobabble for me to even want to read about it much..
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octavian
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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2009 11:01 am     Reply with quote
thanks for the insight matthew and Udal, very good read!
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Mikko K
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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2009 3:45 pm     Reply with quote
I recommend reading about picture composition for film and television. If you start with a purpose of telling a story effectively, it makes it easier to forget about "rules" such as the golden mean. Imagine yourself shooting a holiday photo in a busy street with a crappy pocket camera. Could you make a perfect composition of the crowd moving? Maybe not but you could capture the essence of the situation by choosing your own personal viewpoint.. that's the kind of stuff I like to think about.. as rules are meant to be broken.
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The Insane Lemur
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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2009 5:00 pm     Reply with quote
nice mikko-the crappy camera example is a good one
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Lunatique
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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2009 6:27 pm     Reply with quote
Taking photos is the most direct way to get in touch with your "inner composition." You can hand the same camera to 10 different people and tell them to shoot the same scene/subject, and you'll get back some very different results--that's our individual sense of composition. My wife has no art training, but her composition when taking photos is far better than the average person. Maybe it's because my passion for photography exposes her to higher thinking, but I do think it's a gift--an inclination, as she can't draw at all--her drawings look like typical 8-yr old stuff. So one could say that composition is a separate skill/gift from drawing/painting.
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octavian
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PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 11:57 am     Reply with quote
Mikko: Nice post, I totally agree... For me, the hard part is having an idea, and still being able to "represent" that idea, while remaining cognizant of the Larger, more abstract composition. By way of example... if I start an image out with nothing in mind, I think more about the interplay of shapes on the canvas. but if I say to myself, I gonna paint "the cave of arsenius the mad in dead willow bog" then I begin trying to draw out that cave and it's elements, upon which time I loose sense of composition and it isn't until the end that I realize "oh shit, everything is there, but the composition stinks".

I'm glad I started this thread because I've learned a lot about my own problems just in trying to explain myself. Sometimes trying to write things out really helps. Can you recommend any good resources or books for photography and film composition?

Lunatique: I can totally appreciate what your saying. As far as me feeling like we can still learn to be very skilled in composition, I think that comes from logically realizing that even those who are very skilled in composition will tell you that they had to learn things along the way to get to where they are. If one suggests that it is purely innate, I have to disagree simply because if that were the case, then such a skilled person would never have to learn and grow... they would just put shit together really well. anyway, at the same time I think there are certain people who will always exhibit a natural ability at their craft and outshine the rest. But I'm not looking to be the absolute best, just the best I can be at my craft. and I LOVE to learn things, whether it makes me good or not.
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Mikko K
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PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 10:10 pm     Reply with quote
One thing I find useful is the old saying about killing your babies. When you got the "cave of arsenius the mad in dead willow bog" figured out, don't be afraid to cut and paste and shuffle things around for the greater good of appealing composition.

I have to remind myself constantly about the importance of composition and camerawork at my work, where I have to do paintovers based on screenshots taken by other people. If the screenshot is awkwardly composed, often the resulting paintover will feel wrong regardless of the paintwork. Thats where you learn to get rid of things that don't work, and recompose a lot of elements within the frame.
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Matthew Is Godzilla
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 8:09 am     Reply with quote
U mean "Kill Your Darlings"?
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Mikko K
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 8:43 am     Reply with quote
Aw shit, that must be it. We call it babies in my country Very Happy (I'm not from Belgium though Twisted Evil )
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octavian
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 9:10 am     Reply with quote
"kill your darlings" was originally a statement by Hemingway right? anyway, I got your point Mikko.

After reading your post I started thinking more about what you wrote. perhaps I could incorporate a more iterative process into my work when I'm actually trying to represent something. So instead of trying to push things out in one or two iterations, I could use the first iteration as the thumbnail stage, the second to figure out how to represent what I'm trying to concept, and later stages to fudge around with shapes to get the composition right as you suggested.

It just may be that speed painting has conditioned me to do things in one pass. Back at work I used iterative process more heavily because I had to, but sometimes it made me feel like I was killing my inspiration as the image dragged on and I had to noodle details.

I think the key would be to have an iterative process that is really fast, no fucking around since I won't be using the first several iterations for anything other than stepping stones to the final comp.

Is anyone else finding this conversation useful? feel free to jump in. I love talking shop. Smile
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Lunatique
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 9:21 am     Reply with quote
There's one approach that I do think has a lot of merit, and can possibly maximize your chances of discovering a superior composition than your initial instinct, and that is to do different thumbnails and trying to be as experimental as you dare to with them. We don't usually invest too much energy in the thumbnails so we tend to be more adventurous with them, which is a great thing.

One of my early exposure to that was in seeing how Michael Whelan would try all sorts of thumbnails before committing to a single composition, and it's was a real eye-opener to see him exhaust all possibilities before picking one that works the best. Steve Rude is like that as well, and Steve even does his in color, which was another revelation to me when I was younger.
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Matthew Is Godzilla
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 12:40 pm     Reply with quote
I think style should go above everything, even composition.
And with that I mean personal style btw...
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Mikko K
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 1:00 pm     Reply with quote
Quote:
I think style should go above everything, even composition.
And with that I mean personal style btw...


In the ideal world yes, but in the commercial reality of most concept jobs I've witnessed, it's realism and derivative things that sell. Try doing a commissioned futuristic city and you'll start to see where I'm going with this..
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Cicinimo
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 2:37 pm     Reply with quote
Eli, check this book out if you havn't seen it: http://www.amazon.com/Dream-Worlds-Production-Design-Animation/dp/0240520939

The context is animation design but its full of practical stuff for composing images of any type.
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udal
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 7:08 pm     Reply with quote
Mikko K wrote:

In the ideal world yes, but in the commercial reality of most concept jobs I've witnessed, it's realism and derivative things that sell. Try doing a commissioned futuristic city and you'll start to see where I'm going with this..


hmm, that's a bit sad when you think about it. i don't want to sound like a snob but i mean, do people really want to see endless Coruscant clones?
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 10:18 am     Reply with quote
Quote:
There's one approach that I do think has a lot of merit, and can possibly maximize your chances of discovering a superior composition than your initial instinct, and that is to do different thumbnails and trying to be as experimental as you dare to with them. We don't usually invest too much energy in the thumbnails so we tend to be more adventurous with them, which is a great thing.

One of my early exposure to that was in seeing how Michael Whelan would try all sorts of thumbnails before committing to a single composition, and it's was a real eye-opener to see him exhaust all possibilities before picking one that works the best. Steve Rude is like that as well, and Steve even does his in color, which was another revelation to me when I was younger.


Great stimulating read there Luna......First one as well. Don't agree that composition is a separate skill than drawing/painting though. For me It's like an extra perk on top of having a good eye.
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Matthew Is Godzilla
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 11:29 am     Reply with quote
Mikko K wrote:
Quote:
I think style should go above everything, even composition.
And with that I mean personal style btw...


In the ideal world yes, but in the commercial reality of most concept jobs I've witnessed, it's realism and derivative things that sell. Try doing a commissioned futuristic city and you'll start to see where I'm going with this..


Probably true. I don't understand it though. Why do they wanna keep re-inventing the wheel?
You can really see the desperation in many concepts if you look around conceptart and whatever places, they are desperatly trying to find new styles. In the end you gonna just be left with the primitives to be able to design, that's like the musician that keeps playing the same song over and over.
Perhaps that's why I quit my involvement with art, but it wasn't by choice at first.
I think the hype is the worst though, u understand what I mean with that?
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Matthew Is Godzilla
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 11:32 am     Reply with quote
udal wrote:
Mikko K wrote:

In the ideal world yes, but in the commercial reality of most concept jobs I've witnessed, it's realism and derivative things that sell. Try doing a commissioned futuristic city and you'll start to see where I'm going with this..


hmm, that's a bit sad when you think about it. i don't want to sound like a snob but i mean, do people really want to see endless Coruscant clones?


Yes, sure seems like that if you look around different forums devoted to painting.
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Lunatique
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 12:37 pm     Reply with quote
Matthew Is Godzilla wrote:
Mikko K wrote:
Quote:
I think style should go above everything, even composition.
And with that I mean personal style btw...


In the ideal world yes, but in the commercial reality of most concept jobs I've witnessed, it's realism and derivative things that sell. Try doing a commissioned futuristic city and you'll start to see where I'm going with this..


Probably true. I don't understand it though. Why do they wanna keep re-inventing the wheel?
You can really see the desperation in many concepts if you look around conceptart and whatever places, they are desperatly trying to find new styles. In the end you gonna just be left with the primitives to be able to design, that's like the musician that keeps playing the same song over and over.
Perhaps that's why I quit my involvement with art, but it wasn't by choice at first.
I think the hype is the worst though, u understand what I mean with that?


I think part of that desperation comes from the fact that concept art is usually homogenous because they are there to serve the production, not personal expression, and as artists, there's always a little bit of that artistic pride creative itch inside that wants to be unique. While I can understand that, I don't necessarily agree with how some artists go about it--I see them putting style before critical thinking/common sense, and we get a lot of interesting looking designs that defy logic, which I think is putting the horse before the cart. Sure, every once a while a concept artist manages to be both unique and still remain a great designer, and I think that's why everyone else tries so hard--because they want to achieve that balance of individual style and an intelligent designer. But what we too often see is plenty of artistic skill but not enough intelligence/wisdom/research.
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octavian
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 3:54 pm     Reply with quote
First off, thanks Jaime for that link, I've been meaning to buy that book and keep forgetting. I hear it's amazing.

also, conversation started... WHOO HOO! interesting stuff guys!

I remember Sparth saying in an interview one time that he used to be worried about personal style and developing his own, but that he realized over time, developing your own style is inevitable (Hope I didn't put words in your mouth Sparth). I tend to agree with this. But from my own personal observations, I can say that even when I have tried to pay homage or emulate certain styles to "understand" how the artist thought, it always ends up looking like my work. Just because my hand was on it.

**(I'm kind of repeating Lunatique and Mikko's sentiments here)**
That being said, I agree with matthew that you should have the BALLS as some of us do, or as Van Gogh did, to go through with what you really believe is aesthetically beautiful; that is if you're willing to live like Van Gogh did, or suffer the scrutiny that Van Gogh did. Realistically, however, this is a strange place to make such claims, since the premise for this type of forum is derived from fans of, and artists of: paid work. Therefore, A lot of us are not only worried about our own personal style, but being able to bring the client something that can represent or describe what they're after. Which usually has NOTHING to do with composition, but as an artist as well as a "designer" I endeavor to have striking imagery that fits in with my tastes... I personally like sketchy work, with well placed quiet and busy spaces. Plus my attention span is rather eratic and I hope to develop the ability to paint things quickly and effectively before I lose patience. Ergo my questions about composition and good resources above and beyond the usual: "golden mean" and "rule of thirds" stuff.

Now I want to contradict myself and say that presuming "personal style" is paramount in good art, is a bit presumptuous. I say this because I think some of us, myself included, can appreciate an artists personal style, but it may not be the primary reason I am an image maker. I personally think about light and accurate rendering first. I care more about rendering a scene that is believable, before I render an image that has strong personal style. I think there are a lot of artists like that, and when like minded artists attack the same problems, you can enevitibally get paintings that look similar in style. Often some of these artists get accused of copying similar artists that went before them, but I'm not sure this is always the case. anyway, my two cents.

anyway, did anyone here go to the massive black workshop in San Francisco and see Steven Assael demonstrate? Or have you seen any demo's by Steven? Well he had some really unique ideas on sacred geometry. Particularly for use with "iconic" type compositions. He would set up these elaborate geometries on his canvas before painting and use it for a basis for placing objects or models in his composition. It all seemed a bit "spiritual" to me, but I thought it was interesting.
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udal
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PostPosted: Sun May 17, 2009 5:39 pm     Reply with quote
Lunatique wrote:

I think part of that desperation comes from the fact that concept art is usually homogenous because they are there to serve the production, not personal expression, and as artists, there's always a little bit of that artistic pride creative itch inside that wants to be unique. While I can understand that, I don't necessarily agree with how some artists go about it--I see them putting style before critical thinking/common sense, and we get a lot of interesting looking designs that defy logic, which I think is putting the horse before the cart. Sure, every once a while a concept artist manages to be both unique and still remain a great designer, and I think that's why everyone else tries so hard--because they want to achieve that balance of individual style and an intelligent designer. But what we too often see is plenty of artistic skill but not enough intelligence/wisdom/research.


I think there are a few things to say on that topic. The main thing I can see is that the lack of logical 'design' round these parts surely stems from the fact that this community is one of fantasy artists, and I don't see logic being a necessary component of fantasy, although I know the arguments that everything one designs has to be based on a real object/environment etc. The fact too seems to be that lots of people in their early twenties are in or are trying to get into the industry, and the simple truth is unless they are prodigies, they simply haven't had the time to develop an understanding of the designer's/engineer's/architect's modes of thought on top of keen artistic skills (i.e. being able to make the eyecandy). Understandable since these are all disciplines unto themselves and require a lot of effort to acquire. So that combined with the fact that the fantasy element of 'entertainment' design allows a lot of leeway results in lots of great-looking nonsense. Which is good, right?
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Lunatique
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PostPosted: Sun May 17, 2009 6:19 pm     Reply with quote
Whether designs have to look logical depends on the intellectual property the artist is designing for. The kind of requirement for logic in a production about a surrealistic dream world would be very different from a science-fiction that's along more realistic ones like 2001 or Aliens. The problem with some designers (especially the young ones) is that they don't know where to draw the line--their designs for hard science properties have no basis in logic, just like their designs for surrealistic worlds. The most apparent of this problem is with weapon design--particularly guns. So many concept artists design guns that could never be used in combat situations--you wouldn't be able to lift them off the ground because they are just massive, or load ammo in an intuitive manner, or be able to aim because the there's no usable aiming device, or you couldn't even hold the gun straight because the grip is place way too far back and the entire weight of the gun is in the front, and so on... The guns may look cool, but they look more like spaceships than guns because no thought was given to functionality whatsoever. I'm not saying the guns have to look like they can be produced in real life and function, but at least give it a bit more thought than just randomly draw shapes that only look cool. Of course, this depends on the I.P.--something like Unreal Tournament wouldn't need realism because it's not hard science-fiction.
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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 12:30 pm     Reply with quote
What I noticed about composition is that some things can be learned why others not so easily. A lot depends on temperament of artist. While I managed to improve adding variety, balancing greater amount of detail, holding attention for longer time, I see that I tend to naturally go for more calm and static compositions rather than dynamic ones. Static composition with lots of verticals/horizontals, smooth transitions in general is not worse than angular, sharp dynamic one. It's just different. However flashy concept art or illustration usually should quickly catch attention rather than evoke some feeling of tranqility Razz.

But who knows. Maybe I'm just not pushing my art in direction I haven't thought before.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:15 pm     Reply with quote
Octavian, I recently bought this book and it has helped me tremendously:
http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Composition-Techniques-Principles-Dramatically/dp/1581809247

Also, Loomis' "Creative Illustration" (already mentioned) and the Famous Artist Course section on Composition (it's floating somewhere on the 'net) are a great read. This quote on the Famous Artist Course made an impact on me:

Quote:
"Good pictures, we see, do not simply happen. They are not the result of thoughtlessly throwing together miscellaneous objects or filling up a background with details. No matter how well we draw or paint, unless we plan our picture carefully, it is likely to leave the viewer with an unsatisfied feeling. A well-composed picture, on the other hand, will give the viewer a satisfied sense of order or beauty, although he may not realize by what methods this satisfaction was produced."

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Jaime G. Wong
http://retrazos.jgwong.org/
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