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Concept Art Reverie 2009- The Workshops

rev⋅er⋅ie
   [rev-uh-ree]
–noun
a fantastic or visionary idea…

Sunday the doors opened up at 1 pm (now that’s an artist schedule!), and the true meat of the conference began.  Before the opening keynote, Massive Black CEO Jason Manley stressed to the crowd that Reverie would address the economic climate woes through exploring the various markets where an artist can sell their work. Though this flexibility, artists can gain more opportunities and independence.  This was echoed further in the opening keynote by Lorne Lanning, creator of Oddworld.  When film went from silent to "talkies", there was a need for content that caught Hollywood by suprise.  That is, once audiences were exposed to films which had sound, there was a demand for talkies and less interest in silent films.  Hollywood did not plan for this, and still had a backstock of silent films for the upcoming film season.  Walt Disney latched onto this opportunity by offering his animated films, which could have sound quickly added to them.  From there, Disney had its foot in the door and as the cliche’ goes "the rest is history."

Pt. 1: The Conference | Pt. 2: The Workshops

Sessions were divided among traditional and digital art lines (three areas each) going on simultaneously.  A thing I was struck by was the informality of the sessions. Due to the layout of the Fashion Gallery, everything was open and no doors were closed.  People freely went back back and forth between areas.  Professional artists continued to man sketching areas and demonstrated their skills while being available for questions.  Thoughout Reverie, a live model area similiar to last night’s was open for folks to take a break and practice their newly-learned techniques.  For those who brought their laptops and wacom tablet, tables and power strips were provided to create impromptu "islands" of attendee artists.

 

Monday sessions I attended were:

"Nude Life Drawing with a Focus on Anatomy and Structure"

This session was dual headed with a digital painting demonstration by Massive Black artist Andrew Jones and an anatomy Q&A by fine artist Michael Mentler.  Mentler teaches regular seminars in Dallas at The Society of Figurative Arts and is known on the Conceptart forums as "The Bone Doctor" for his extensive knowledge in human anatomy and construction.  He took questions and produced various diagrams, methodologies and shortcuts beyond the typical "head measuring" scenario, as well as pointed out common mistakes people make in constructing heads and posing figures.  On a personal note, he aided me with how to properly measure a foreshortened figure by mapping it to a perspective plane.

"Flower and Flow"

Speaker Jenova Chen of That Gaming Company held a talk about how they got off the ground with their game "Flow" and the development of their new game "Flower." Chen’s background is in film, and approaches games in terms of the emotional experience that one would get from a movie experience.  He posited that entertainment is driven by a hunger to experience different feelings.  At the moment, games are focused on primal power fantasy models (such as first person shooters.)  This leaves the game market largely untapped in other user experiences.  In "Flower" the character is the landscape in a conflict that involves the interaction between the wild and urbanized environment.  The user is in a journey as they navigate with objects they pick influencing the changes in the landscape.  In "Flow," the character is a microorganism that dives through levels evolving and interacting with other microorganisms.  It’s start was as a Flash game which was developed as part of Chen’s thesis.  Like Disney, a technological opportunity came up in the form of the Sony Playstation 3.  Sony needed downloadable content for their new platform and online store.  They were able to approach them with a game that had an established user base, and Sony hired them for a three game contract.

 

Tuesday workshop intensities peaked, and I took the advice of one of the veterans to feel free and move around from panel to panel. Highlights:

“Creating interesting characters, npc’s and world histories from scratch.”

Writer Josh Sawyer for the gaming company Obsidian Entertainment opened describing the writer’s side of the character and world creation process, using an ensemble cast of characters for an undisclosed upcoming game.  The background of the game is based in a hard science environment and consists of military-based characters. Influences into the story and characters came from a combination of both Sawyer’s own degree in History, and from pop culture and keywords given to the characters.  The ensemble cast was created to be racially diverse; however, it really started to come together after the medic character came forward in development.  He acted as both a foil and a standard to measure up the others.  Sawyer also talked about the back-and-forth relationship of this development with the artists.  For instance, a concept art sketch of an African-American military character had a mechanical bracer.  This was done by the artist as an visual interest affectation.  From that, the writers asked themselves why it was there and proceeded to brainstorm a back story of him being a test pilot, an accident leading to a loss of a limb, and his resulting distrust of scientists and technology.

“Sequential Art and Storytelling for Entertainment.”

Afterwards, artist Marshall Vandruff took the main stage.  The centerpiece of his lecture was “Little Nemo in Slumberland” created by Windsor McCay.  McCay was a cartoonist who created "Nemo" in 1911. His background was in circus posters and stained glass.  But his work was ahead of his time, as he solved many film framing and editing conventions prior to cinema!  Using McCay’s work as a touchstone, Vandruff talked about how visuals work in terms of giving information, panels and scene construction, how style affects mood, composition and visual metaphor.  Please visit his website for more on this topic and references.

“Google Sketchup 2d/3d Concept Design Process”

Held in one of the smaller Digital Arts rooms by Massive Black artists Kemp Remillard , Rich Doble, Sam Brown.  Remillard spoke on the use of Google’s lightweight and free 3D software package in mechanical/technological constructs in illustration.  Models would be constructed and have basic lighting applied in Google Sketchup, and then inserted into an illustration (Photoshop-generated in this case) for detailing such as paintwork, insignia, or battle  Having an initial model gives one the  option to rotate and tweak to your hearts content without having to redraw a complicated structure or struggle with perspective problems.

“Toy Making for Independent Artists and Professionals”

The collectible toy market is a growing market, with potential for many artists.  And it’s not just someone’s sculpture of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  You can see many outsider artists creating original works.  Scott Wetterschneider of Big Shot Toy Works held an open forum question-and-answer session for artists interested in entering the field.  In short, artists work with companies such as Big
Shot Toy Works by submitting their designs either by full sculptures or 2D concepts for the company to make a prototype from.  Before entering the field you do want to research heavily into the market and have a plan for promoting your works, otherwise you will have about ten thousand vinyl toys in your closet.

“The Art of the Graphic Novel and Comics”

Marko Djurdjevic, senior concept artist and cover illustrator for Marvel Comics, talked about his work for Marvel’s Blade, Thor, Ghost Rider, and other titles.  The typical comic book cover is typically a dramatic action scene coming from the pages of the comic.  Instead, Djurdjevic would take the story and make a visual idea of the story. This would be done with simple solutions, with avoidance of excessive detail.  Compositions of multiple characters (in terms of size and placement) would relate to the context of the story, as well as body language.  As Djurdjevic talked, Massive Black concept artist Jason Chan drew up a mock superhero "Massive Black" comic cover from scratch.

 

Sunday was business oriented with last chances for networking, opportunities for portfolio review by Marko Djurdjevic and Massive Black artist Coro Kaufman. Various recruiters were also on hand taking resumes and portfolio/demo reels.

On stage were two panels which ran back to back:

"The Business of Art and Entertainment– Understanding Contracts and the Art of Negotiation"

Panelists were Jason Manley, Games Producer Sherry McKenna, and artist Shawn Barber. McKenna brought in a wealth of experience through her current role as a producer and her past work in the visual effects industry. She challenged the audience to think what their goals were…fame? money? getting your foot in the door? McKenna advised that of all things, you must offer a fair deal through the standpoint that one is providing services for the client. Should the client have a request that causes an issue, one must approach with discussion on how that request affects delivery of a quality product. Ego has to be left at the door. Manley led the audience through the contract process and the common pitfall areas in NDA agreements, change orders, contractual information, payment, and copyright violations. Both McKenna and Manley advised to document every conversation with the client with time, date, who said it, and who it was said to. If it was a face-to-face meeting, type up an email with a quick wrap-up and double check all the details. Be sure to include a tactful time limit in a note stating that if one does not hear from them in a day that all is correct. And everyone on the panel advised that above all things, do not be late. This was a very information packed session, and I’m very glad I took the four pages of tiny print notes that I did.

"From Commission to Completion: The Basics of Freelancing"

Panelists were Irene Gallo (art director at Tor Books,) and artists Shawn Barber, Bobby Chiu and Greg Manchess. The panel advised to avoid the jack-of-all-trade approach and find a niche. This especially will meet more succes in a portfolio as it shows focus. However, a good workaround is to have several different portfolios which address particular markets. They recommended beginners should stress figural work as the human figure is a good benchmark of technical ability. Portfolios should start with the best piece, but one will be hired on the strength of their worst piece. On websites, they should be updated regularly. Gallo in particular advised against Javascript or Flash galleries as she has a hard time going back to find a specific piece in a Flash thumbnail gallery, much less show it to an editor. She would prefer to have the ability to give an editor a specific link to the image. Manchess advised that in general, it was good to create a five-year plan of where you want to go with milestones along the way. All agreed that in the process there is the need to stay diverse in cients or avenues, as market wells may dry up. Of note, they added that the current state of the games industry is undergoing a business model shift into having a core team with outsourced contractors.

 

At the very end of Reverie, professional artists were invited to particpate in the Artist Thunderdome where the topic picked was the organization of H.O.P.E.‘s work in Africa. H.O.P.E. stands for Helping Other People Everywhere and works to use artists and their contributions to create and support existing social charity projects around the world. Artists were given an hour to create their work while the audience watched. Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point but I’m told that the winner was Andrew Jones. We should see his work come up either in the forums or on the charity’s website soon.

View Slideshow of Reverie Here

The workshops are only a smattering of what was available. Please check out the convention website for further details on their curriculum. I strongly urge anyone in the art community to get involved with the Concept Art forums, as they have much to offer. You do not have to be a fantasy or science fiction illustrator to be a participant as it is mainly a group of people who want to improve on their technical draftmanship and art skills. Photographers and fine artists are also welcome on the boards and have their own forums. Today, you no longer have to daydream about getting to the field. It is now right at the tip of your keyboard.

 

By Alicia Vogel

Al is a martial arts instructor who happens to also be a 6'4" armadillo. His day job is manager to the university internet cafe "Javadillos." ...Aikido Al is the nom de plume of Alicia Vogel. Born to a classical composer father and a singer/painter mother, it was foreordained that she would run towards the artistic side of life. This translated itself into a major in advertising design and sculpture, followed by graduate studies in digital art and graphics. With her master's degree in hand and a passion to fill empty spaces with cool looking stuff, she started a web comic about an Armadillo who taught Aikido in Japan, called Aikido Al. The comic ran for a year and a half. Alicia currently works as the Lab Manager for the University of Texas College of Communication, and as a freelance digital artist and cartoonist.

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