During the last 15 years, I’ve seen a well-respected amount of computer renderings; many from past works are simply wonderful, including all those simple renderings from the mid-80’s and early 90s. No matter how fancy, the new or old, several communicate the author’s curiosity with the tool or a particular plug-in, and sometimes you can perceive an extreme attachment to a particular effect or plug-in.
It is a clear fact that software development quality has progressed, and evidently computer power has exponentially increased; but the question is, “Why do we not see the same growth in the quality of work?” I do see great effects, and better light quality, but communication skills are not the same, and in some cases, they’ve gotten worse in the past 15 years.
I do appreciate the existence of the ‘lens flare effect;’ it helped me to learn later on how a tool can take over my head and distract me from what I am contracted to visually communicate. I now sometimes carefully use a flare here and there to communicate sunlight, but never as an obvious statement. The appearance of ready-made effects plug-ins for Photoshop led to the same out-of-control consequences, and today you still see this frequently. That said, perhaps I am taking it all too seriously, but let me explain why.
We have seen how these tools have taken over (and still do) the heads of many people. Back in the early nineties, I was a victim; lens flare took over my work, and I also flooded my work with ready-to-go canned box effects with early versions of Photoshop. You may ask, perhaps, what did I learn? Well, I think I learned a bit about visual communication, and I thank Mr. Flare and friends for this. Today I think that computer speed and easier lighting increase the possibility of less communicative visuals. Artists feel a rush to create stunning effects rather than to communicate the actual design.
Successful communication starts with the artist asking, “What is my work showing?” and “What first comes to mind?” This comes in a burst of layers, and by this I mean the following: In the case of an architectural rendering image, for some, mainly a computer graphics-literate user, an image may communicate a diverse range of things, starting from “Cool, this must be done in Brazil” “Final Render or Vray?” or a loud and clear “Lightscape.” To others it may communicate positive or negatives: “Nice textures,” or “Interesting image.” In any case, successful renderings communicate Space, Dynamics, Functionality, and for commercial renderings, Success, Sales, People, Activity, and in both a general and an abstract way, a warm feeling to be alive, in progress, and growing as humans.
Clearly, a pre-made effect is an obvious statement, a loud and clear “Yes, I like this effect, and I am using it everywhere so you can agree with me that this is cool,” instead of what you really want to communicate or what you should communicate, including the fact that it may be “cool.” This is not only limited to ‘effects;’ clearly color, light, form, and composition come into play, including camera lenses, zoom factor and anything that helped the production of an image or an animation; a long camera path could mean ‘smooth’ but may also mean ‘boring,’ or ignite a nervous system signal to the viewer to look at his watch, which may be contagious in the room.
Communication, as I said, comes in many layers. Many are hidden, communication can be subtle but nonetheless strong; for example, there are visual lines that flow in a single frame, a drawn path that your eye follows unconsciously and quickly; these may or may not communicate positive things, no matter how great the rendering is. It is a subjective added value that in the case of a rendering that carries many flowing lines going down, it may suggest to some a negative flow, a pure and raw negative feeling. Clearly this works like a receipt or an invoice, it does not mean a pure, absolute negative, not necessarily, but it adds up, for better or for worse, like anything in the actual rendering.
Several 3D animation demo-tapes communicate things like, “Listen to this cool song, I hope you like it,” or “I heard this effect is in fashion, and I just wanted to let you know that I know,” instead of communicating what should be said, “I know about 3D modeling,” or “I do enjoy modeling, and I am sure I am good;” just be honest with yourself, without fear, take action with your own critique, and do it. Sound is important, and it mixes up with the visuals, like milk and chocolate, but a music layer can distract if the visual does not mix well; this is a very common mistake.
It is imperative for an artist of any kind to self-critique his or her work in silence, to observe and judge what the meaning is of what he or she is doing with a rendering or animation. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Why I am choosing the following camera, does it communicate the design? Or communicate that the rendering is interesting?” These two are different; obvious realistic effects such as noise and dirty asphalt may talk realism, but for a healthcare facility rendering, may make a statement that it is not clean; drastic camera angles may communicate, “fancy & interesting” instead of “solidness,” “stability,” and “strength;” a wide-angle rendering that shows too much may communicate “complex,” “expensive” and “overwhelming” and leave little if not no room for imagination.
Yes, it gets denser, as I said earlier; if your rendering has elements that draw invisible lines, and such lines are going down, for many, we agree that these may communicate a negative. A camera angle that shows the vertical wall lines going to a forced perspective point, or not straight (due to the fact that the camera and focal view share different heights) may communicate that the walls are not straight. I don’t call any of these fixed rules, nor are they mistakes, but just some details with which to be careful. The problem is not the effect, or the noise applied on asphalt, or the tilted camera, it is how, when, and the amount that you use these things. It may change what you mean and therefore your announcement may have flaws or communicate things that you may or may not want to say. And when you control this, you can break any “rules” and use them for communication.
Some colleges and art schools are in part to blame; many have Photoshop classes, Maya, Lightwave, Max, and others, and frequently they lose focus on what we are really doing, what we really need and why, another communication problem. Clearly, knowing the software is key, but teaching a class about it as a whole is wrong. For example, when I attended college, an editing class would focus on the software or hardware instead of the process of ‘editing.’ After researching other schools, I found that most fall into the same category: focusing on teaching with software instead of focusing on the core issues, which were, for my example, why we edit, and how to communicate.
In my personal experience, the more time I spend critiquing my own work, the less I like it. I would guess that this is a common experience, but perhaps this is just me and it may not be the same for others. I don’t think it should be this way, but, sincerely, I can only comment on our own work. Clearly I am proud of our work; it is never perfect and I always reinforce to myself and to my team that it can be much better; but I’ve also learned about “letting go:” you do your best, at all times, and on the timeline that marks your deadlines.
These self-critiques are good, and I am sure you’ve heard this many times; clearly an interesting subject not just for our own group’s growth, but when you communicate to your client why you did something during a proposal, I promise you will be respected and at the very least, listened to. A good rendering is one that distracts you from how it was done, not one that communicates a software package, or distracts you drastically with anything other than the actual design.
Coming back to communication, I hope these words communicated what I have perceived during these last years; remember, it is not how fast your computer works, or how great your chosen software is, it is how fast you critique your own work and raise the energy to take action. Let us all remind ourselves of the reason we do our work, rather than how to do it, at least for a while.
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