Aug 22 2008 8:06pm


Greg Manchess

I just read James “Brilliant-On-A-Daily-Basis” Gurney's blog entry Interactivity. While he was making a different point, it got me thinking. (Don’t laugh, I do that sometimes.)

I love the genre I work in and because I love it, I would like to point out one of its biggest flaws: Sf/f people tend to love detail. But that’s not the problem. The problem is, because of this, many artists strive to render out every detail of a scene and therefore set each character and object apart, head to toe with minimal overlapping. To be fair, I think we are slowly growing out of this in recent years, but when the figures are seen in this way, the painting becomes static and lifeless. It's not often that we see objects so clearly and completely in life. By trying to perfectly recreate every detail of the thing, the viewer is left, paradoxically, with an impression that is less naturalistic. A painted version of annimation’s “uncanny valley.”

Greg Manchess on the issue:

Basically, it stalls the action and becomes a reference that’s emotionally vacuous. I think I find that the emotional element is often left out in favor of reporting what something looks like, and not what it feels like. National Geographic was famous for this approach. Rinse all human emotion out of the picture first, in order to maintain a cold scientific view of the subject, even when the human condition is what's being written about.
Nothing is set up perfectly in life, so when we organize life in a picture, we zap the strength out of it. Life is chaotic, and overlapping figures brings this feeling closer to the viewer because they are already familiar with seeing life this way, even if they are not aware of it.
Interactivity also lends depth to a picture. In a flat image, the illusion of depth is enhanced by overlapping. Just the impression of depth is enough to set the brain to work on imagining perspective & distance.
eric orchard
1. orchard
This type of post is a great help! speaking from my own experience, I think this comes from the temptation to isolate a really great character the artist has contrived. I used to worry this great character would be swallowed up in action of a composition. I think Jon foster is a great example of an artist whose character is further developed in his pictures through their relationship and connectedness to the rest of the composition.
Anthony s
2. spindrift
Also part of the problem is that readers (viewers, whatever) have come to expect the type of composition that you describe. When art breaks from that schema it can make people uncomfortable.
In many ways art is a language. People have learned the (flawed) sf/f art language, and when you are doing something different it no longer speaks to them.

There is plenty of scifi art around that has dynamic and interesting compositions and strives to be different from past work in the genre. But you don't often see it on book covers for this reason, i think.
Jeffrey Richard
3. neutronjockey
Bring on the SFF abstract, impressionistic, the abstract impressionistic, and Neo-Dada! I want art that makes me stop and wonder about the details, not detail-centric art that makes me wonder about the emotion.

SFF art should piss you off, make you smile, motivate you, inspire you, and give you back that sense of wonderment you had as a child... not make you become a nit-picking critic of the details---that's the AD's job. ;P
colin roald
4. colin roald
So, where can one get a print of that carnival painting?
eric orchard
5. orchard
@spindrift In defense of those traditions much beautiful, inspired work has come out of genre art, even if it can be somewhat static.
Irene Gallo
6. Irene
neutron: Fan of Richard Powers and Paul Lehr?
colin roald
7. Swain
In animation, if the image you're rendering doesn't read well as a silhouette, it's generally felt that it won't read well when you add the details. That's their rule. It should be nice and strong and clear with the simplest of elements.
Irene Gallo
8. Irene
Swain from Sidebar? Thanks for stopping by!

I love animation and wish I knew more about it. I know a whole lot less about video games but I did hear a character designer for Team Fortress 2 give a lecture also stress you're point about strong clear silhouettes being important in video games -- so you can easily identify all the characters during the action.

He mentioned one of my all time favorites, JC Leyendecker, as an influence on his work because of the crisp outlines and how Leyendecker was able to make the clothing define the man.
David Gillett
9. TheRazor
Its tough to be able to flesh out a story but also keep it from messing with the pacing. While setting is very important to SF, its the unique characters that make the story.-DavidG

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