You want to be a digital artist but it’s so confusing, with so many choices you’re not sure where to start. You just know you want to do it.
First, you have to familiarize yourself with this new world called digital art. It’s more like a universe in that a lot of different disciplines in digital art exist with something like animation being one small part of it. The funny thing is… you might find out you take a different direction once you’ve had some time under your belt.
First and foremost, if you are competent with a computer, use a mouse or pointer like second nature, know where things are stored and how to navigate your computer file system, install programs and plug-ins then you have the basic requirements to jump into digital art. And… it doesn’t hurt to be fearless when adopting new software or techniques.
Whether you have an eye for art, proper timing, understand camera placement/scene layout or have a great story to tell will come later. There is no guarantee any of those things will happen as that is up to the individual talents and traits of the artist. As far as being able to create digital art is concerned, the tools are there waiting for you to try.
Budget-wise digital art can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make it.
There are open-source free tools out there and many commercial applications that run from under $100 US to thousands of dollars US. Budget can be problematic but again, not impossible. Instead of looking at Maya or 3DS Max (thousands of dollars) which are in the upper end, industry-standard range, you can go to free tools like Blender, a very powerful 3D digital art package that just about does it all. DAZ is another free 3D tool worth a look.
There are also more cost-effective low and mid-range applications like Poser or iClone that work with characters and animation, but they don’t create digital assets like props or accessories. You won’t make props in apps like iClone (other than very basic), but you can make props in Blender, 3DS Max, Maya, and many others to use in iClone for animation or still image renders. You can also animate in Blender or any of the other tools mentioned so far.
You can tell things are getting more complicated as we go. The problem becomes one of focus more than “can I do it”.
The focus on what type of digital artist do you want to be? What type of software is required? What kind of budget outlay, if any, am I running into? These are questions you need to ask yourself, so you won’t waste time trying to master too many things at one time. This keeps it from becoming overwhelming and can give a bit of structure to your quest instead of diving headfirst into the deep end without knowing if you can swim.
I’m talking about the beginning phase only. Heaven help you after that. There are so many FUN and potentially financially rewarding things to do in digital art that it should be illegal to do any of them. To get started though… you need to focus on a few tools to accomplish something early like your first artistic rendering.
While I’m not going to get into details right now there are a couple of things I’m comfortable saying after more than two decades in the digital art industry. Things I know now that I wish I knew then.
First, I would indeed start with artistic renderings. No animation, just a scene of some sort, like outdoor, space, an object, or whatever. You’ve heard and read the term before. An artist's rendering is their concept of an event, item, or scene in a single image. It’s a great starting point to jump off on.
Second, as far as applications to learn first, I would pick Blender. It’s free, it creates objects, it’s free, it animates objects, it’s free, has a basic video sequence editor and it’s free!! I stress that part because digital art has an 800-pound gorilla in the room that many want to ignore. It’s sometimes staggering cost to a home budget to get started. You can start with the tools the pros use but it would be a shame to make an expensive purchase only to find out digital art isn’t your thing, or you don’t have the time.
If you want to jump into the pool with the rest of us then join me on this series of articles, The Reality of Digital Art. I’ll try to give you some insight into how to get started and get something accomplished as quickly as possible.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.