The art of virtual photography: Electric Art harnesses Autodesk 3ds Max to create powerful print images.
Creating powerful images that communicate complex ideas and evoke emotions is the key to successful print ads.
For Bruce Bigelow, co-director and senior artist at boutique creative post house Electric Art, his adoption of AutodeskR 3ds MaxR as a print production tool, has enabled a shift in the traditional advertising craft loop and the delivery of virtual photography.
“The toolkit has expanded to allow for creative freedoms that just aren’t possible with photography and Photoshop alone. 3D has allowed us to partner with clients to create the ‘hyper real,’ to bring to fruition environments and objects of great imagination, as well as deliver otherwise impossible images.”
Virtual photography simulates the original craft but through the use of Autodesk’s powerful 3D software involves an assortment of additional skills such as painting, sculpture, cinematography, and set dressing.
“Creating models is a large part of the job. The 3D work at Electric Art essentially replaces the traditional role of model makers who would fabricate custom pieces to be photographed and then sent to us to be retouched,” explained Bigelow. “But the greatest advantage of this workflow is the amount of control we can exercise over the images.”
Often the control is so precise, that when aiming for photorealistic results many can’t tell the difference, such as the Citibank campaign promoting the company’s association with the Australian Rugby Union. The brief from George Patterson Bates was to create a series of plastic money banks fashioned in the likeness of Australian players.
Through skillful polygon modeling, using the Facial Studio plug-in from Di-O-Matic, and reference photographs, Bigelow was able to create the facial structure of players such as George Gregan. A plastic look was achieved through a combination of texture layering and lighting to emphasise the specular qualities of the material.
The job is sold by fine details, such as the plastic mould seams that run the length of their faces.
The art of creating what’s not there is also shown in a series of print advertisements for Canterbury clothing. The idea was to create a visual metaphor of ‘toughness’ by constructing their famous sports jerseys in steel and stone. To model these organic objects traditionally would have proven difficult and time consuming. Instead 3ds Max was partnered with a handheld Polhemus 3D laser scanner to capture a 3D mesh of the jersey by literally ‘spray painting’ it with laser light.
“I stuffed the jersey with packing to make it stand up with volume and then scanned the whole thing. A series of passes gave us a mesh that imported into 3ds Max with great accuracy. Then I photographed sandstone texture plates to use as the surface of the model,” said Bigelow.
A selection of powerful 3ds Max plug-ins were then employed to complete the job. The features of Power Booleans, from Npower Software were used to ‘chisel’ off sections of the scanned texture while Ghost Painter (a PhotoshopR integration tool from Cebas GmbH) was used to paint in extra relief, help map the textures and extract bumpmaps to further enhance the stone effect. The job was then rendered in FinalRender, a third-party renderer for 3ds Max also from Cebas GmbH, to take advantage of the software’s raytracing and global illumination system.
Complete virtual control of composition, lighting, and texturing are all essential elements in creating Electric Art’s hyper real effects. Bigelow explained that impractical camera angles and lighting are often the key to these shots. “The great advantage of 3ds Max is that I can create and play around with synthetic background sets the size of football fields such as those I designed for a Jaguar car shot by leading photographer Ian Butterworth.”
“Ian wanted a modern, architectural, and aspirational background with elements of backlight but an overall bright environment to match the car he would shoot. In pre-production we built a rough model and played with lighting and camera angles in 3ds Max. Photographers are blown away because I can light a shot with the virtual equivalent of a kilometer long soft box to create just the right look.”
It is this detail and quality that has seen Electric Art recognised with numerous awards and as innovators in the field of 3D for print advertising. Bigelow is pleased to be able to deliver upon the vivid visual metaphors of clients and concedes that although he once gave up his summer holidays to learn 3ds Max, he now can’t imagine life without it.
“I think it’s a very smart and obvious move for any modern digital artist these days. Working with 3D gives you greater creative scope, you can recreate things in the most hyper realistic or stylised fashion. It’s kind of like the change that occurred with cameras and scanners. They gave you a way to capture images a way to add to a project, it was like sampling music. 3D takes this non-linear method a step further.”
“Rather than stitching an image together, as long as I have a clear concept, 3ds Max allows me to define a vision.”
Electric Art is owned and operated by Jonathon Eadie and Bruce Bigelow for further information, please visit www.electricart.com.au.