Friday, July 27, 2007

07/27/07 - Drawing Aids: Photoreference & Computer Models

Is it OK for artists to use photo reference? What about tracing photos by hand (lightbox) or with software (Photoshop, Painter)? What about using 3D software (SketchUp, Hash Animation Pro, 3D Studio Max, Maya)? These really help with that tough perspective you really don't have to hand draw out... (see my previous post about using the computer as a perspective aid). Did famous classical painters use devices like the camera obscura? If they did, does this lessen the value of their work?

Greg Land
(a favorite of mine from back in his Birds of Prey and later Cross-Gen's Sojourn runs) is really getting pounded (too harshly I think) recently in a lot of on-line chats and forums for what seems to be pretty obvious tracing of photo reference (also for the sources of these images). This debate seems to have really heated up and a lot of consumers of comics (fans) are incensed and seem to feel this is cheating. Illustrators, to my knowledge, have used photo reference and tracing as pretty common working methods for years. But there is usually some effort to disguise the source image (through creative deviations in the final art) when the work will be publicly displayed or published. If folks are aware of the photo reference then that hurts the final product.

I found this (CBR) Comic Book Resources article by Stuart Immomen (penciler of Superman and Nextwave) linked to over at the Drawn blog. He apologetically acknowledges his use of photo reference and software models. The article is pretty good, but the discussion it spurs is even more interesting. Don't skip the comments!

My personal take is that reference is OK if used to fill in your gaps of your knowledge for a particular subject matter. That means your design takes precedence over the exact layout shown in the photo (or model). The reference serves your idea not the other way around. Sometimes (most if you are not really experienced) you have to start with reference (Joe Kubert's cartooning courses explicitly tell you to look for reference needs as you read a script, then gather them before you even start to draw ). Say you need to draw scenes from the Forbidden City in the 1700's - not many of us have any visual memory to pull from for something like that, right? That's when you have to research on things, locations and times frames that you are not familiar with. But, you should be building a personal visual data bank while doing that (you really should be doing this all the time in everyday life).

There are differing opinions about this; one comic artist, I really admire comes to mind - Paul Pelletier will quite proudly will tell you he doesn't use any photo reference (it all comes from his mind's eye, I guess). If you can do it and keep your readers (and editors) happy more power to you! I do think as visual artists we should strive to be able to do that but I don't know if we can all hold that much visual data in our heads! Do you want to attend your first convention as professional and you have to tell little Timmy that you can't draw Mustardman without being in your studio do you? Nah, you want to be able to whip out a nice little con sketch (that his parents will later sell on EBay) for him to tack to his bedroom wall!

1 comment:

  1. Having followed the whole controversy for a bit, the reason Greg Land is being singled out is twofold:

    1) source material
    2) application

    The models he's used for different panels have been matched up (pose, expression, contours, etc) to porn magazines. The general outrage isn't even that he's swiped his images from pornography, but that it's so OBVIOUSLY swiped from porn.

    I don't think there's as large a clamor against using photos, models or 3d mock-ups as reference as it is tracing nudie images for comics allegedly marketed for minors with few alterations.