Today we are going to talk about the history of sculpting and its evolution, progression into the digital age and how the traditional principles and elements of design are still relevant to digital sculpting (in particular that of form).
So as you probably know by now I am quite interested in 3D sculpting as a means of creating 3D models and assets for digital media. I have been researching the history of sculpture to try and get a better grasp of how and why it has such an influence on current 3D modelling practice. While I was at it I wanted to explore the translation of the principles and elements of design from the traditional methods of art and sculpture into the current digital mediums.
I will start with what I have learned about the history of sculpture and what I believe to be the most influential periods of growth in history for the practice.
So far as I can tell, sculpture has been around for as long as ‘people’ have been. Regardless of where you believe people have come from or what you believe, people have been utilising sculptures for various purposes over the years. A bloke named Dennis Dutton proposed an interesting theory on the original purpose for sculpture in his TED talk where he discusses “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty”. He suggested that as a prompter for the selection of a reproductive partner, humans, and other animals, looked for displays of beauty and indicators of advantageous traits within potential spouses. Within his talk, Dennis spoke of the acheulean hand axes, which he proposed were the earliest known works of art in history. Although they were crafted in such a way that they were functional tools, many of them have been found with little or no evidence of wear and tear from use that it suggested that they were not used as a tool but as an admirable piece of work or art. Skilled construction of such items was said to demonstrate intelligence, fine motor skills and the ability to plan ahead and thus served as an indicator to the opposite sex that the craftsman was an ideal mating choice. Dennis summed up his TED talk succinctly: “We find beauty in something done well”.
You may be wondering what exactly this has to do with the topic at hand. We aren’t talking about evolution or beauty so why are we talking about these acheulean hand axes? Well, it is simply because they are the first known works of art and they are sculptures created using a subtractive method. The method is destructive and so, skilled craftsmen needed to visualise the final result before beginning the sculpture.
Following on from these hand axes there have been countless renditions of sculpture as art through history including the ancient Egyptian pyramids, sphinx and burial chambers through to the ancient Greek statues of the gods of Olympus and finally to the modern age of decorative art.
Through this we can see that there has been an evolution in the purpose of art and sculpture over through history. In the very early stages of humanity it was used as a method of displaying your superiority over other candidates for reproduction. Moving forward to Egyptian times it was used as a way of showing respect to the leaders of the society and depicting their beliefs. Furthering this the Greeks used sculpture to portray the ‘Ideal’ form, manifested as their gods. They strived to create more lifelike and realistic representations of the human form. And now, in the modern age of art, we create art for art’s sake, to create something to be appreciated for the fact that it was created. It is more than that however, today we use sculpture to help us bring to life our ideas and imagination. I will come back to this later.
For now, I want to draw attention to the Greek period of sculpture. In their early creations their statues were exactly that, statues, lifeless and rigid. As they progressed as a civilisation they were able to capture more character and form in their sculptures that really helped to bring them to life and to portray the message that they were trying to embody. They are known through the ages for their ability to achieve great levels of realism, proportion and detail in their work.
Today we are moving forward from sculpted art for the sake of art to creating sculpture for the production of media and digital media. Of course this was just a natural evolution of media from 2D to 3D media. It stems from the earliest animated films being hand drawn 2D productions wherein the illusion of 3D worlds were created by employing the elements and principles of design in a skillful manner to achieve the desired results. As technology has evolved this has moved on to creating 3D objects in a simulated 3D space with the use of 3D modelling software such as 3DS Max and Maya. With software such as these we are now able to create the illusion of 3D work much more easily and with greater attention to detail. But again with the advancement of technology it is beginning to prove to be insufficient in our hunt for capturing life in our media creations. To help us get back to our traditional artistic roots while preserving the advantages of digital media we have developed 3D sculpting software packages such as Mudbox and Z-Brush that allow us to simulate a traditional sculpting medium that allows us to create working art not from the methodical approach of typical 3D modelling but from a more intuitive and artistic approach of sculpture. We are now utilising sculpting within a digital environment to achieve even more realism and detail than previously available to us.
So why is digital sculpting such an advancement in the field of 3D modelling and the creation of assets for digital media? Well it’s much like the development of photoshop for the traditional artist. While digital media may not ever earn the same respect and awe as traditional media and their respective artists it is certainly evident that digital tools are making available to us new levels of efficiency and productivity in the production of media. Tools like ‘Undo’ and ‘Copy Paste’ are making digital media much more efficient creative platforms than traditional media where copying something you have already done or undoing a mistake can take hours of work it takes the digital artist mere seconds. This may be why it doesn’t get the same respect as traditional art, because the tools available to us ‘take the skill out of creating the work’. Perhaps, perhaps not. It is merely that as artists of a digital media we have to acquire a different skill set to those of traditional media for our art to be good or even great.
This is not to say that the traditional artistic skills and principles do not apply to the digital media. Just the same as how some, if not all, of the elements and principles of design in 2D media apply to 3D media so to do the elements and principles of design in traditional media apply to digital media. The successful adaptation of the traditional principles and skills to the digital media allow for the creation of some truly great work in the digital world. In a video created by one of the developers of 3D sculpting program ‘Z-Brush’ he talks about how traditional sculpting is like creating art in the moment, and that art exists within that moment and achieves all that is is and all that it will be, in that moment. He then goes on to say that digital sculpting expands the possibilities of that moment, it allows you the freedom to expand the capacity of that moment and subsequently the possibilities of that work of art.
With today’s technology, digital and traditional sculpting need not be separate practices but instead, each can be thought of as an extension of the other. It is neither restricted by direction or intention. Starting from traditional sculpture, your work can be scanned into a digital environment and digitally altered and from a digital environment it can be 3D printed and worked on traditionally and this can be done as much or as little as you, the artist, desire.
With this synergy between digital and traditional established I would like to move on to the use of form, as an element of design, in the creation of digital sculpture. Form, in an artistic context, refers literally to a 3 dimensional shape. Thus simply by nature, form is an integral part of 3D digital sculpting. Form, however, is more than this, form represents the space an object occupies and also the space it does not. It encapsulates both positive and negative volume and space as well as defining contours and interest within the artwork.
Ryan Kingslien, previously mentioned developer of Z-brush, proposes the use of form as an approach to digital sculpting. In a video on the topic he says something akin to “form is the main focus and proportion is something you can adjust”. In this instance he is addressing the fact that as artists we have a tendency when trying to get something to look the way we want it to we can put more emphasis on getting the correct proportions in our work rather than getting the shape our work should have. This is one of those cases where they are not mutually exclusive but they work in harmony. Once you achieve the form you are after for your sculpt you can adjust the proportions of that work to achieve the desired results from the work.
This distinction and relationship between form and proportion that exists in 3D space and mastering the two is, I believe, the key to creating great 3D sculptures (both traditional and digital). Literally no other principle or element has more relevance to 3D sculpting than form, as it is exactly what it is. The space occupied by your 3D model/sculpt is it’s form, and if it’s form isn’t right, your asset won’t be right. Just as important to the space occupied by your model is the space not occupied by your model, the negative space, which can be utilised to help accentuate the features and balance of the asset.
Form in digital sculpting and other contexts has more implications than the space occupied by your work. Just in that expression alone, it implies a sense of volume, that it is taking up space. Volume by nature needs 3 dimensions to exist. If we now take a slight detour from art to science and mathematics (trust me, it’s relevant). If an object has volume, it has mass (or weight, I won’t get into the difference between the two in this). Having mass allows an object to exert force (ok, well I guess I am getting into mass and weight [weight being the force exerted by an object due to the affect of gravitational forces on it’s mass]). An object that can exert force and interact and affect other objects. So why all this talk of mass and force and volume and other scientific blibber-blabber? I merely want to draw a correlation between the form of an object and its perceived ability to act in it’s environment. It all comes down to our desire as artists to create more realistic and/or believable assets and art. Creating an asset with the appropriate form will allow us to give it more believable action within the media it is intended. You can think of it as a similar transition from last-gen rendering to physically based rendering where we are attempting to more believably recreate the world around us. Form, in digital sculpture, is just another way of creating a more believable world for us to immerse our viewers in.
Thank you for sticking with me on this journey. I know it was long, and it will probably take a while to digest.
A reference list and bibliography will be provided below.
Thank you, and as always,
Till next time,
James Day – 1002467
Ryan Kingslien on Form as an approach:
Cartwright, M., Cartwright, M., & Lloyd, J. (2016). Greek Sculpture. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Sculpture/
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Delfino, C. (2014). SCULPTURE: ADDITIVE,SUBTRACTIVE AND KINETIC. Slideshare.net. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.slideshare.net/chandelfino/sculpture-additivesubtractive-and
Digital sculpting vs. traditional sculpting • Chest of Colors. (2011). Chest of Colors. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://chestofcolors.com/digital-sculpting-traditional-sculpting/
Do This! Sculpting Form vs Line or Proportions. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxRA1qMNQNQ
Dutton, D. (2016). A Darwinian theory of beauty. Ted.com. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from https://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty?language=en#t-854133
Elements of Art: Volume, Mass, and Three Dimensionality. (2016). Sophia. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/elements-of-art-volume-mass-and-three-dimensionali
Esaak, S. (2016). What Is Form in Art?. About.com Education. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://arthistory.about.com/cs/glossaries/g/f_form.htm
Fundamentals of Digital Sculpting. (2016). CGCookie. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from https://cgcookie.com/course/fundamentals-of-digital-sculpting/
sculpture. (2016). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.britannica.com/art/sculpture
sculpture – Methods and techniques. (2016). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.britannica.com/art/sculpture/Methods-and-techniques
Sculpture.org. (2016). Sculpture.org. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag98/sm-tools.shtml
The History of Sculpture | Scholastic ART | Scholastic.com. (2016). Scholastic.com. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753866
The Visual Elements – Form. (2016). Artyfactory.com. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/visual-elements/form.html
Working with Sculpture (Education at the Getty). (2016). Getty.edu. Retrieved 26 April 2016, from http://www.getty.edu/education/teachers/classroom_resources/curricula/sculpture/background1.html