Of mice and models. / by Matt Hunter Ross

While sifting through the archives recently, I ran across a token of my initial experiences with yesterday's creative tech – initial attempts at live model digital illustration:

Backstory

Around 2003, I enrolled in some "adult-ed" (aka. intentionally non-credit) courses at UC-DAAP – including Intro to Digital Video, ironically, where these illustrations were done. I had just nixed my long-term Architecture goals, and so was just sitting in on various classes of personal interest.

This particular course – Intro to Digital Video (now known as Motion Design) – was an emphasis just starting to make the rounds in educational spheres at the time. I had no idea what to really expect, but it looked interesting.

Fortunately, this class – and my relative success in it – became a jumping off point for my future in Motion Design and Animation. This meant relocation to Savannah in pursuit of an MFA from SCAD (one of the first schools in the country to offer a Motion Design degree).

Anyway, the syllabus here was far-reaching – from basic infographic and animation history, to technical skills in Illustration and Animation, and even touch points on Interaction Design (dekstop-centric, at the time).

The professor, Artie Kuhn, really threw a lot of content at the students, even though most were pretty green, but he hit a lot on the head for me: An Edward Tufte / infographic design primer, Disney's 12 Principles of Animation, intro to After Effects, digital illustration with live models, et al.

Specifically, though, this was my first attempt at freehand digital illustration, and using Corel Painter. (I'd experimented with vector illustration in the early-90s Adobe products, but nothing to this extent.) Several different models were brought in over the length of the course for some quick sketch sessions, and we attempted to render them via mouse.

As most are aware, tools available to the run-of-the-mill students at large universities are not always in pristine condition, and this class was no exception. Also remember, this was back in the day of fairly slow CPUs, huge CRT monitors (see top illustration), and cheap, wired, trackball mice – headaches all around.

I vividly recall sitting there with my face 2 inches from the screen trying to magically will a smooth path across the screen, while my mouse with dirty trackball constantly argued for the road less traveled.

Slow strokes, no way. Quick strokes, sometimes – but still with cursor occasionally jumping somewhere random with no forewarning. Removing and cleaning the trackball was an exercise in futility. Switching computers altogether – more of the same, if not worse. And then of course, the random burn out, so continual saving was crucial – though even just the act of saving itself was time consuming.

Still, the exercises were eventually completed (with the help of a few of the more patient models).

I had plenty of experience with figure drawing and other forms of fine art previous to this experiment (see Studio Art), but getting there under these new terms was like trying to harvest where you haven't planted:

Good tools and lots of practice are a combination for success. Unfortunately, both were lacking there for me at that time – at least digitally. 

Yet, even today, while my skillsets have expanded with the times: wheel me in front of a Cintiq and I'll be happy, but kick me to the curb with pencil and paper, and I'll be elated.