Artist discusses process and art in ‘Palpably Synthetic’ exhibit

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By Benjamin Lucas

“Palpably Synthetic” is an all-new exhibition in the Wikoff Gallery that combines 3D printing, particle animation and dynamic landscapes — all of which are made possible through the use of a delicate 3D modeling program, Cinema 4D. Students who took AVA-363: “3D Computer Modeling” with Professor Fernando Orellana saw their final projects displayed on the third floor of the Nott Memorial — among which was a hypothetical rendering of a futuristic wristband designed to monitor blood sugar, entitled “iAbetic.” Artist Mark Hilbert offers a few insights into a process that can best be described as, “putting things into a virtual space, and then putting that virtual space into our world.”

Ben Lucas: Your pieces in the gallery — Mara the Misguider, Gael the Prisoner — did you mean to base these characters in common mythology or are they purely creations of your own?

Mark Hillbert: Well, Mara the Corruptor is this sort of antagonistic, satanic figure in Buddhism that tries to lead Buddha off the path of enlightenment. But I liked the alliteration (in Mara the Misguider). As for Zorv, I drew (it) while I was waiting in the parking lot, and Fernando (Orellana) saw it and wanted me to model it, and I made it all spooky. Mara the Misguider was this fairy that I modeled in another program called Sculptress.

BL: Apparently, Zorv is an indie grunge band.

MH: Yeah. I really like the names in cartoons where the alien is just called “Quizgar” or something, you know?

BL: The Wikoff Gallery features many different mediums and designs — there’s a running TV, there’re portraits — all created with Cinema 4D. What was the process of experimenting with the program, and how did it affect your creative process?

MH: Cinema 4D is a more simplistic software than most. In the past, I’ve done a bit of Maia, which is incredibly complicated — you basically need a list of shortcuts to remember where everything is. Cinema 4D is much easier, but the rendering isn’t as good. You wait about seven hours to create the image because the computer is bouncing light particles off of everything. This particular program is known for its animation — that’s how we got Kris Hammer’s piece. He had these clouds everywhere that were spat out by a particle generator, which he froze on one frame. That’s also how Johnny did the robot with the geometric shapes flying around it. I remember it took (Johnny) four days to render that. It was on one frame for an entire class!

Personally, all my projects I created in Sculptress, which is a little quicker and easier to use for what I wanted — the organic shapes, like the melting head. It was more difficult because it was a free version of software that costs money, so it’s incredibly stripped down. So I had to learn this really convoluted way of modeling everything.

BL: What kind of advancements would you like to see in the world of 3D modeling?

MH: Less expensive 3D printing, certainly. Also, we were very limited by time because the bigger something is, the more time it takes to print. And there were a lot of us printing. We also had to account for mess-ups, because the machine would just screw something up, or the piece would stop being attached to the plate — all these ways it can just be ruined. We do have a 3D printer here that can print without support structures — in silicon — but that costs a lot of money.

Pixar has this insane amount of computers that can render a film that would normally take 100 days in less than one. They found this really crazy and expensive way to do it, but we’re not going to see it for a while. The fact that it exists does bode well.

BL: Since you’ve worked in a lot of different programs — Photoshop, After Effects — what was your biggest takeaway from the course?

MH: I think it was learning the different ways to approach something. On the second project, I modeled my guitar and, on the first attempt, I did it completely wrong. In the end it took me about 48 hours in total to model, including initial mess-ups. For example, I took a square and made a lot of cross sections, then took a picture and tried to fit it around, and that created this horrible geometry where the more I worked with it, the more of a nightmare it became. So what I did next was I drew the outline of the guitar, brought it up, and filled it. And then I made the slight curves. I think with 3D modeling you can take any object, and you can say, “Yeah it can be modeled,” but then you have to figure out how to get there. It’s interesting because in real/recorded time, I knew how I was going to get there more than I knew what the final product was actually going to be. With 3D modeling, you start with the idea of the final product, then try to figure out how to get there.

BL: With all these different tools to work with, do you think that artists today would benefit from experimenting in different fields or trying to hone their focus to one medium?

MH: I think it depends on the person. I like to experiment more. I guess it depends on whether you want to be a commercial artist or if you want to express something else. If you want to work in the animation industry or advertising, there has to be a “lighting person,” and then a person who does a certain type of lighting. Every single thing that has to be done, there’s a person that specializes in that. They can do other things, but that’s what they do. Personally, I don’t think I would have a good time in that environment. There was an interview with the woman who 3D-modeled Benjamin Button’s tongues, and she just spent three years modeling tongues, and she said it was absolute hell. I would much favor learning different mediums — moving into others, maybe coming back — and getting a whole smorgasbord of these different types of art.

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