Many of you have probably heard in the past few weeks that I have decided to no longer continue my creative efforts for the scene. I know that until recently I have not been showing any signs whatsoever of coming to such a harsh decision. As a matter of fact, in an interview I gave for a scene magazine somewhere around the last months of 1997 I claimed I would become more active than I had been ever before. During the often long periods between the pictures I released I continued to develop my styles and skills.
My professional career however kept me from showing the scene the progress I always force myself to make in order to become a better artist. When my busy schedule at Eidos cleared up more or less I saw chances to invest some serious time in the scene and show everybody the wonderful ideas I had for new pieces of art.
What initially stopped me from doing so was a gradual understanding of the way the scene evolved, or rather disintegrated into fractions. Recent events such as the disappointing contents of TP7's graphics competition, the introduction of a web-page called "The No-Copy?-page" and other events somehow proved to be the final drop that tipped over the balance for me. To make my point clear, I'll start from the beginning...
When I started out in the scene back in 1992, the whole scanning business wasn't even an issue. Hardly anyone had even heard of that form of technology. Nowadays it seems the other way around. Where there's competition, there's bad, average, good, better, best, also in the demo scene. As the scene-pictures in general became better and better, it became harder for the any artist in general to keep up and stay on top. The lesser artists disappeared out of the charts or just kept releasing pictures of lesser quality...
At the same time however the Software and Hardware industry kept making improvements too. Better art programs were made but more importantly scanners and digitizer prizes dropped way down to the point where the average financial income could afford them. Therefore people started buying them. After all, what better way is there to show your friends your holiday snaps, and oh boy, isn't it fun to scan in photos of people and mess around with them, giving them giant mustaches and pimpled faces. Joy all around.
But there are always the smart ones amongst the less talented artists struggling to keep up (or perhaps even just starting out in the tough world of the graphics scene). They were thinking "Boy, I wish I could draw like that.. it almost looks like a photograph. Hang on a second... photograph, scanner... I HAVE A CUNNING PLAN! I'll just scan in some bits and pieces of photos, paste them together and retouch it here and there, sign it and people will think I have drawn it. I could be famous.. a V.I.S., my name high in the charts..."
Of course, the very first attempts were crude and anyone could spot the difference. However the temptation of wanting to become a respected artist, or in some cases the sheer laziness of other people (even of some otherwise quite capable artists (you know who you are)) seemed too great to ignore. Demos started using scanned art, gfx competitions started showing scanned art, even demo-groups based all of their visuals on scanned-in images... calling it a new form of design.
A large part of the scene however could not respect this easy way of producing imagery, and a lot of criticism was aired in the direction of the offenders. The offenders in their turn initially started coming up with lies (claiming they were honest artists, pixeling the whole lot). As the pressure continued to increase, calling for even better and more original art, the lies turned into cleverly constructed excuses that bent the rules and definitions the art scene had created on its evolutionary path. Keep saying those excuses long enough, and their acceptance will gain ground. And so they did. Thus, the scene got divided into three areas: those who had accepted the use of digital fakery, those who opposed to it, and those who just did not care either way.
There only remained one step to get to the point where we are now at the time that I write this (the first month of 1998). There are quite a number of artists (even some famous ones that get much respect) that have practiced so long on making a scanned image look hand drawn, that their lame efforts have become almost undetectable. There is almost no way of telling if the image is created through blood, sweat, and tears, or the powers of modern-day technology. Usually, an artist falsely accused of scanning could prove his innocence by showing the 'work in progress' -- steps he had saved along the way of the creation process. Now there are groups of scanning people that backtrack their picture and create in-between steps from a retouched scan. Erasing certain parts to black, drawn a sketch line here and there, you get the point. If people go to such lengths to cover up their lies to steal away the respect people have from honest artists, then the fun for me in the scene is over.
Another thing is that for many people the use of a scanner has become so accepted that they see absolutely nothing wrong with the use of it. Often, their opinion is that art can be created in any way. This is certainly true and I won't argue with that. But what I can't get out of my mind is that this new media is so popular with people that have little or no talent for drawing in the first place.
For me, art is about two things. 1. The feeling of it. Making art is just a very relaxing and (to me) rewarding feeling. It's also a way to express your feelings. 2. The challenge of competing with other artists from your genre. The challenge of trying to be one of the best, to create the ultimate picture. Art becomes interesting when you can combine those two things successfully. I have yet to see a scan and retouched picture in the scene that managed to capture those two things successfully together.
If you happen to go and venture into new areas of creating art, fine, but do it with honesty and determination to make something special of the medium. Otherwise don't bother, cos you won't stand out of the bland and grey majority. Art is something special, a bland and grey majority isn't! Scanning in photos of people and doing some weird things here and there and running some filters over it may feel good and allow you to express your feelings. But it isn't special. It doesn't take true determination. Anyone can do it that way. Scanning in photos and drawing on top of them, or retouching them into a hand drawn look and claiming you drew them MIGHT require a LITTLE form of talent, but it isn't honest and should NOT feel good. You only fool yourself in the end.
What people ALWAYS seem to forget is that art can come in so many different forms. Even with using scanners. However, I have yet to see a picture that was scanned and pasted and filtered together that set a standard unreachable by others. And that is why I don't take this medium seriously.
All this that I have just described is so clear to me and somehow it seems to be so UNclear to the scene. There is so much debate going on about this, so much misunderstanding, so much lying, cheating and basically downright crap pictures being made, that this outweighs the fun and good things there are about the scene.
I did my best to come up with quality pictures, to set new standards for the scene. I know quite a lot of people enjoy my efforts. However, more and more often I get attacked on IRC by scene-newbies just fresh from a visit to the no-copy? page. Telling me I'm a fake, that I scan and that I'm no real artist. Considering the many many hours I've spent drawing my graphics for the scene, this hurts. So naturally I try and defend myself. However, the moment I engage in a conversation with these people to try and let them know they're wrong, they tell me I MUST be guilty because 'the truth hurts' as they put it.
If I don't engage in a conversation with them they claim I'm ignoring them because 'the truth hurts'... Now what am I supposed to do with that?! This is truly a situation where I can never win, simply because the scene is being flooded by newbies who never knew the roots of the scene. I can't bring myself to spend time drawing graphics for a scene that is losing its mind.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, another thing that has bothered me is the whole copy/no copy attitude. Yes, I copied work of artists such as Boris Vallejo and Don Lawrence, but I did it for reasons that every good artist has copied work of of other artists. To learn, to see and to help find your own style. When I found mine, I stopped using other peoples' drawings and paintings as a source of inspiration. I began to find my own inspiration in ordinary things around me, photos in the media, shows on TV, whatever.
Then all of the sudden along comes the aforementioned web-page... the "No-Copy? page". Displaying an artist's work alongside the reference material they've used. Nothing wrong with that. I personally found it quite an interesting site to watch. However, there are always those narrow-minded, short-sighted people that are negatively influenced by this.
They immediately "label" the artists displayed there as lame copy cats, unable to do anything by themselves. They are totally forgetting that for countless generations artists have always used forms of reference to aid in the creation of their works of art. Totally forgetting that EVERY ARTIST COPIES! The only difference is that one might use a photograph, the other a living model, and yet another the trees he or she is surrounded by.
Would you claim that Rembrandt was a copy cat when he had all those people lined up when he painted his "Nightwatch" painting? Or would he be a copy cat even when he painted his own reflection in the mirror while working on his famous self portrait? Monet a lame copy cat, sitting in the middle of nature merely copying the things around him. Boris Vallejo a lame fake artist because he has his on photo studio in his house so that he can take photos of his models that aid him when he does his paintings? If that's your opinion then consider every artist that has every lived to be lame! (Except for maybe the odd modern artist that considers an entirely blue canvas a work of art).
The fact is, everybody is inspired by the world around him or her. Where do you draw the line? When is something considered acceptable and the other unacceptable? What is copying and what is not? Often times people say they have more respect for people that use no reference at all (whatever the hell that might mean, after all even memory is reference). The fact is that it's just another GENRE. Just like model drawing, or landscape painting, or whatever. Like any method, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Again, it's not HOW you do it, but it's what you ACHIEVE with it. That's what separates artists from non-artists. And again, I have yet to see a picture in the scene that was drawn without reference (from the mind) that managed to impress me.
Another worrying thing is that computer artists like myself, who draw everything down to the last detail by hand, have a very very hard time struggling against the scanners. There's no other form of art that has a similar situation. For instance, a conventional painter will never be accused of sticking a photograph on his canvas simply because he just wouldn't get away with it. It's too easy to spot. And if he would, he just wouldn't be taken seriously as a painter.
In the world of computers just about everything is much more easily achievable in ways of art by letting a mechanical process do it for you. That also brings me back to the rest of the scene. The reason why the focus is so much on the individual graphics artists is that they are incredibly easy to keep track of.
Perhaps the focus should be on the entire scene instead of the artists alone. Many coders take shitloads of info and source code from books written on the subject. I mean, go to any bookstore and you can find shelves full of books on how to code specific routines. Even your basic phong shading routine can be found in there. And what about the issue of source code ripping. How many times have we seen a demo display a wicked and highly original new effect. So original that it was incredibly difficult to even conceive. And then a month or so afterwards other demos started showing similar effects, only to be followed by more and more copies of that effect. Within the space of half a year, all the demos feature this effect.
Now Hang on a sec... Wasn't that effect so radical? So revolutionary? So difficult to come up with that no one else has ever done it before? So how come that all of the sudden after one coder introduced it, all the other coders seem to have come up with the same ingenious idea in the short span of only a few months?! Does this strike you as incredibly suspicious or am I the only one? I'll tell you what it is, it's another form of copying! And perhaps this form of copying stinks just as badly as scanning and retouching. I'm sure there are some clever coders out there that just need to see an effect to understand how it was done. But we all know that it's a fact that most coders don't stop at that. One looks at just the effect itself, another peeks at the source code, and the next one starts ripping the code.
Or what about musicians? How many times have musicians sampled whole parts of CDs or records?. Or use sample CDs? CDs filled with the sounds of all sorts of musical instruments and sound effects. Or hook up a sampler to a synthesizer and get their instrument samples like that? And then they always claim that they do their own samples. What would be their own then? The fact that they took the time to get it out of a keyboard and into a Fast-Tracker sample?
If you demand from artists not to use any form of reference, how would this translate to musicians? Create all your own sounds by constructing waveforms by hand, and just using your memory on what a guitar sounds like? Of course not, no one does that. Consider music "styles". I remember times when new styles of music such as rap, techno, trance, jungle, Drum 'n Bass etc. got popular with the crowd. The scene musicians where very quick to pick this up (or should I say copy?). My point is that everybody copies. Some do it to learn, others do it to grasp a bit of fame in a very challenging environment. It's not just the artists that copy, it's the whole bloody scene. And everyone that makes any form of art. Artists just get all the crap for it because it's easiest to spot.
The scene should be looking itself in the face...
As an artist, I have copied from other artists IN THE PAST just to learn to do my own stuff now, here, at Eidos. I wouldn't have been asked to join Eidos and to come up with high quality pictures for marketing purposes for their hit game Tomb Raider 2 if I didn't have what it takes. I wouldn't be at Eidos if I was merely capable of copying other artists as some people in the scene claim.
At least in the professional industry artists are being treated as they should be. People know what they are talking about. I'm afraid I cannot always say the same thing about the scene.
If people agree with what I have just stated, then I hope they take a bit of notice. I have no intention of trying to change the scene other than by trying to open up its eyes and putting some facts straight.
On a final note I'd like to state that there still are a lot of good things about the scene. Like friendship for instance. I'll still be reachable on IRC once and a while (if you can find me that is :) to spend quality chatting time with my friends and EX-TBL groupmates. I hope you all enjoyed the graphics...