GeekAtPlay Studio’s Ami Chopine has her second Focal Press book, 3D Art Essentials, publishing April 8, 2011 (you can already pre-order on Amazon!). Ami found a little time to talk with me about digital art and writing how-to books—even as she put the finishing touches on the website that goes with her new book. —Anais
Anais: What was your motivation for writing 3D Art Essentials?
Ami: When I first started playing with 3D, I hardly knew where to start. I’d often find that some tutorials assumed knowledge about certain terms or ways to do things. Now that I have more experience I know that some of these tutorials are just plain confusing!
As for books, there were lots of them about how to use certain applications, or about really specific concepts in of 3D animation, such as lighting. These are all great books, but what I wanted was something that really got to the foundation of things. I wanted something that would give satisfying practice while building concepts. I really like tutorial-based learning. It’s kind of fun to do tutorials in my own book rather than a magazine. Part of the reason is that I’m not so constrained by word count—I get to explain why, not just how to do something. Basically, this is the book I wish I had when I first started.
Anais: How does the book reflect what’s going on in the world of animation?
I think one of the biggest things that it reflects is that people are able to do animation at home now, on their regular (well, gaming-capable) computers. This means that students with 3D art career aspirations don’t have to hope their high school has a program or a huge computer lab. They can practice at home, and already have some good experience before they get formal training.
This is the kind of art that even younger students can do—my six year old is playing around with some of this stuff. He’s always asking to do it, probably because he sees both mommy and daddy doing it. But it isn’t just students. I am also seeing more and more people take up 3D art and animation as a hobby. It used to be that a 3D artist could only be found in the large and well-moneyed studios. But now, it’s broken out of that cage and anyone who wants to can do it. This is really exciting to me, and one of the reasons I became passionate about having this book out there.
Anais: You’ve already touched a little on who your book is for, but can you expand on how you see readers using the book? How did you design the book to reflect this?
Ami: Yeah, it’s really for anyone who wants to get started in 3D art and aren’t sure where to start. If you watched a movie full of special effects and wondered, Wow, how did they do that? or I want to do that! then this book is for you. It’s kind of a primer. It’s great for self-learners. Intermediate artists may also find it useful for filling in the gaps. I’ve also said in the book itself, that if you want a more intense 3D art education, it makes an excellent guide to what subjects you should study in more depth.
I’ve designed the book to be useful in several ways. First of all, one could just read it all the way through, skipping the tutorials. I’ve even thought about making 3D Art Essentials into an audio book! Reading all the way through would be a great foundation to get before you choose an application. Then, once you have an application chosen, you can go back to do the tutorials or experiment in the program, with the book as a reference. You can also do the tutorials along the way, especially if you already have an application and want to know how to use it or why it works that way.
The main model of the tutorials isn’t the prettiest or perhaps the most practical way of doing things. It’s more like a sampler. I’ve tried to get lots of different ways of modeling, and integrate lots of different concepts into the making of it.
Anais: 3D Art Essentials is your second book. What do you find most rewarding about writing these books? What’s most difficult?
Strangely enough, one of the most rewarding things for me comes from my study as a science fiction author. Writing technical books helps me write with clarity. It’s fantastic fun to write technical explanations because it’s real! I don’t have to do all the work of imagining it; I just have to make sure it is easy for the reader to understand. In these books, the hero of the story is the reader. The reader is the one who must, at the end of it all, triumph. But, the reader can’t do that if the explanation is badly done. So if I write a sentence or paragraph that my least technical friends or family can understand, then I get really excited.
This is also the most difficult—maybe that’s why it’s so rewarding. The chapter that gave me the most trouble in 3D Art Essentials was the one on NURBS. Almost all explanations you might find about those are full of complicated math. The kind of math I hated in college. And some of these same mathy, difficult terms are part of the controls of these curves in the software. So my biggest goal was to explain what NURBS were and how they worked, and what all the associated controls really did. I think I did a little dance when I finished the chapter. And from the feedback I’ve received, I think I accomplished my goal of making it easy to understand.
Anais: What advice do you have for people just starting out in digital arts?
Ami: Don’t be afraid to do something different than how you see others do it. As long as you are getting the effect you need, there is no one right way to create digital art. And if it doesn’t work, then that’s okay! Try it another way. It’s just art. Now you’ve learned, and now you’re a better artist. If you can’t afford the best applications out there, that’s okay too! There really is no best application. With enough hard work and time, you can get fantastic results out of any digital 3D art tool.
Second, if you want to succeed, you need to practice a lot. Don’t be frustrated if it takes forever for you to model something at first. Speed and apparent ease comes with doing it a lot. No matter what level you start at, you can be an amazing artist. The only difference between success or failure as an artist (in whatever way you define it) is determination.
Most important, have fun creating.
Ami Chopine is the co-author of Vue 7: From the Ground Up, and author of 3D Art Essentials. She is also the co-founder of GeekAtPlay Studio (geekatplay.com), which has released several award-winning images and animations, and is well known for its informative and easy-to-follow tutorials. She is a graduate of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp.