Aug 16 2011

Tools For Art Are Getting Smarter. So Come Out And Play

Share’s the end of era where someone like me can claim to be an artist and expect that to actually mean “I can do something you can’t nyah nyah!”


I’m an excited succubus today. I just found the most wonderful new toy.

And no, it’s not that. It’s this.

Yes, I know, it’s an artist’s mannequin. On crack. But I also happen to be a pin-up artist in addition to just being a pin-up. And I write fan fiction. I saw this and I started to drool. And it’s not just because I like playing with dolls. Mostly.

I have another wonderful piece of software designed for the artist as well, a nice program called MangaStudio. Now, in Manga Studio, there’s a means to use and pose a virtual mannequin. Now imagine how easily you can pose a figure and then draw on it with a digitizer pen. Combine that with a high quality human modeling software like Poser. Heck, throw in a Kinect to add the ability to simply stand in the pose you want modeled. Think about the ease you could have drawing your own daily web comic. Think about writers being able to draw their own comics.

Because, you see, that’s what I’m doing. As soon as I can get one of these little dolls, I will, because it will make my job as a pinup artist so much easier. It will let me actually create a webcomic of my fanfiction in a time frame of hours not months. It might even enable me to make animated movies with such programs as AnimeStudio.

So yes, the artist in me is giddy as a Japanese schoolgirl at a tentacle convention. My personal reason for excitement is no cause for excitement on your part, right? But there is a reason you should be excited… a very big one. Because you see, I might be what is considered an “artist” now, simply because I have the ability to draw and color with simple hand eye coordination. This should excite you because it’s the end of era where someone like me can claim to be an artist and expect that to actually mean “I can do something you can’t nyah nyah!”

Why? To be precise, because of the availability of high level interfaces to low level productivity software. All those programs I’ve been naming? All of them are attempts to create high level interfaces. What this means is they make extremely complex tasks massively simpler. You see, as an artist, I have to be aware of thousands of “rules of thumb” and use them more or less subconsciously. Rules about anatomy; about skeletons; about muscles; form, volumes, symmetry, light, and so many others. I’ve learned how to be an artist through years of practice and a drive to make the visions in my head visible. I found a way to make my imagination seen. But even with all that, I can see ways that this little wired doll could make such translation so much easier. I can see how “simple” it makes drawing a character; how easily it could allow me to make my poses so much more dynamic and expressive. And then I think about the fact that this is true for not just artists, but for everyone. This is a sea change.

Because this is just one example of a high level, intuitive, immediately-accessible-to-anyone with-or-without-training tool for creating an extremely sophisticated end product. This won’t just be an artist’s toy. It’s going to become a tool used to make video game animations, create new SL poses and animations, design avatars, and enable just about anyone to make them. 3d character designers just stopped needing a degree to be possible. Corel and Adobe did much the same thing when it came to 2d art. We are gradually creating a world in which knowledge is encoded into our tools. A world where you can pick up a guitar and it will teach you to play it. We’ve long been able to pass on knowledge through training and long practice, but that limited its availability to those few who possessed both desire and “talent.” By encoding the knowledge into our tools, we enable everyone to access those centuries of accumulated knowledge acquisition. We make it possible for everyone to have “talent”

And it’s not going to stop at artwork, my friends. Imagine in a few years when you can have software tools that would enable you to draw or “paint” in the “style” of Da Vinci or Picasso or Warhol. Imagine when I can draw my Ranma fic in true Rumiko “style” or even when we start seeing those new movies starring long dead actors made by Ole Joe Shmoe on a non-existent budget… and they start winning Oscars.

It’s also going to enable anyone to design a product — even such complex engineering projects as a new car or airplane — that will be completely market ready in hours, with software encoded engineering knowledge making adjustments to the designers’ concepts to ensure they are functional devices. We might even soon see a day where “self improvement” algorithms in the software optimize a design automatically to maximize any number of adjustable factors.

High level design tools for low level productivity. It’s one of the most enabling of all technological developments.  The more knowledge we encode into our tools, the farther those tools can take us, and the easier it will be for all of us to be equals.

And for me, it’s my chance to play with dolls again and commit art doing so.