Imagine you’re really good at sewing by hand. You’re fast, you achieve great results with it, and that’s just how you like to do things. You work in a company that makes sewed clothing, and everyone has their own old tried-and-true approach to the workflow. One day… The sewing machine comes out. This new tech astounds you and everyone in the office, because it has the capability to really push your fabric to the next level. The company leaps at this new machine and buys one for everyone in the office.
A few months later, you’re back to the familiar ways of sewing by hand. You dabble in the new tech occasionally, but feel more comfortable dealing with sewing by hand. One day, a kid with little to no hand sewing experience comes to the office with a portfolio of fantastic work, all done with this new technology. While he is less seasoned than you and the rest of the company- he is hired anyway, in hopes that other employees see what he is capable of, and try the new way of doing things. Also, this is a way for the older employees to teach the new kid the old way of doing things- so he can appreciate how easy he has it, and grow.
This is happening in the game industry with 3D art right now. There is the old way, and there is the new way. I only know the new way, and I’m rapidly picking up new tech, and adding it to how I approach things. I’m happy to say that I know nothing, because I am so open to new ways of doing art.
Imagine that you made an old Dreamcast MMO like Phantasy Star, and the servers stayed online from 2000 to 2010, and that’s all you did. You just kept modeling one way, and kept putting out the same work. After work, you go rock climbing or something. One day, it comes time to find new work, but your work looks bad compared to today’s art. You tried your hands at next-gen game modeling with that old knowledge toolset, but failed. You built some hard habits, and could not easily take to new technology. I find that when people do things one way for too long, they’re averse to trying it other ways. That’s why it’s easier to learn how to draw if you accept that you don’t know how to draw. The kids in my school who thought they knew how to do things did not want to learn. It was the anime kids. It’s not that anime is bad, it’s that kids who draw anime thought they were good. The teacher and his ‘life drawing nonsense’ was something they thought they knew how to do.
Nowadays, any idiot could model a PS1 character in an hour. If you spent a few hours, you make the whole darn team of characters. You don’t even need formal training anymore. I’ve seen a kid with no training build an entire car off of blueprints on a whim. We’re learning from the cumulative masses of information online, and the new tools are taking the ‘hard technical bullshit’ out of modeling software, and letting us be artists. So if you could pick up the old skills and build upon them with the new… Yeah.
I think my advice to future artists isn’t to just draw a bunch of shit on paper, but to understand why people would draw the body. They drew the body to understand the body. You can understand it by just touching it. Go and buy clay. Make things out of clay; feel in your hands how a face feels. Feel the muscles underneath the skin. Be curious. Get a mirror, strip down and just learn yourself. Seriously, did you ever notice how the front of your leg is shaped in comparison to the back? Did you ever really feel the thickness of your neck? Be curious. Put your hand on your shoulder and rotate it. Feel how it works; check anatomy references on Google (we don’t need to buy books for this shit anymore). Just learn to visualize everything in 3D. Also, always have a reference handy.
The ‘empty mind’ approach works wonders. Whenever someone goes to teach you something, just blank your mind and listen to what they have to say. Think of what will help you and what won’t, and just add it to your toolbox. If one of your tools are old and useless, toss it out and replace it.