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15. 2001

absolut

                           Absolute Hangover

Absolut

There was a period when Absolut had a wonderful ad campaign. Every month or two they produced a new ad that was cleverly done. They were shot by good photographers, but I was never one of them! Nevertheless, the ads kept coming. After a while I got tired of seeing them, because they all looked so similar. I decided to create a visual commentary on the ads; a variation on the theme so to speak.

I took a photograph of one of their bottles and “lifted” the label to make an image map, which I put on a 3D rendition of the bottle I had built. Then I created a scene around it. I imported the cat from Poser software and dented the carefully modeled garbage cans using yet another software program. And so it went. I added details wherever I could.

A Brooklyn Museum Invitation

Then one day I got a call from either a staff person or from curator Marilyn Kushner herself inviting me to have a print in an upcoming show the Brooklyn Museum was having. Barbara Millstein must have told Ms. Kushner about my monthly emails. The show was called “Digital: Printmaking Now” and the opening was to be in August of 2001. If it happened today I would submit one of my other images, but at the time they didn’t exist.  “Absolute Hangover” was one I thought would be cool.

Print Drama

I knew someone at Epson and asked him if the company would be willing to make a print for the show and he said yes. My 3D scene took a couple of days to render at the file size that would be needed to make a print. I then sent the final image file to Epson and they shipped my print directly to the museum. I thought I was done. Then a woman from The Brooklyn Museum called.

“Mr. Neumann we’re having a problem with your print. The ink is turning to powder and falling off the paper.” Imagine how you would feel. I felt worse.

Marilyn Kushner, the curator, called to say the deadline was fast approaching and they needed my print as soon as possible. She had worked with Nash Editions, in California, and suggested I call Mac Holbert to order a print from them. Mac was familiar with the Epson problem and so we used a rag paper, which he shipped directly to me.

A Transformation Begins

When the print arrived I opened the package and marveled at the beauty of the matte 100% rag paper print. It felt like a new dimension. After so many years of making black and white prints on “gelatin silver” paper in my darkroom, I now encountered a look I liked much better. It had nothing to do with a darkroom, however. I was looking at a Giclee, or ink jet, print and the texture of the paper, along with the matte surface was gorgeous. I had a sense that I was finished with darkroom printing. That change came sooner than I expected.

“Digital: Printmaking Now” opened in August of 2001, with almost no reviews. I guess reviewers were on vacation, and yet the show was terrific. My father should only have known that his son had work in an exhibit with Albrecht Dürer and other wonderful artists.

The Lone Artist

I took a subway from Manhattan to The Brooklyn Museum for the opening. The event began with all the artists in a room with patrons, museum members and, as I remember it, lots of kids who asked me to sign their show catalogs. Then I went to look at the exhibit and find my print. I had invited friends and my cadre of 3D buddies. I found them and expected to leave with them to celebrate. Instead, there was some confusion and my friends left without me. I had to take the subway home by myself, which was an anticlimactic conclusion to a special evening.

It was August of 2001. 9/11 was soon to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

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14. Image Ideas

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                                 Federal Reserve 

A Challenging Project

It was one thing to make a scene for myself and another to be given an assignment by an art director. One day I got a call from The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I don’t know how they found me, or if I found them, but they asked me to do their annual report cover and gave me a theme. It was something like “the past emerging into the present”, or “the present emerging into the future” – and I thought I had a decent idea. I envisioned a wire frame train going though an arch and coming out looking like a real train. The more I worked on the rough however, the more I realized how hard it would be to create a final. In fact, I soon felt it would be impossible. Thankfully it was rejected. I was relieved, but I drew a blank on what else to try. Minor panic set in. I tried everything. I scrambled. You might say I went a little nuts. I figured I was going to loose the assignment and the only recourse was to go into what I sometimes call: “Jerk Mode”.

Let me explain. I’ve done this with music where in the middle of trying to flesh out a melody I allow myself to get really, really silly. Its a safe place, in that anyone within earshot knows to run the other way. Being a jerk gives you some freedom and it can take you to new territory.  Its the realm in which some of the best ideas happily run free. You just have to catch one by the tail, by its furry foot or any way you can.

That’s what I wound up doing. I threw my figurative paint against a wall and came up with the image above. Zeros and ones represent the language of computers going off toward the horizon. The half Earth/half wire frame brought back my original idea of the train in a much simpler way. The Federal Reserve people loved it and it became their annual report cover. It was rendered in Bryce, the landscape program I mentioned in my last entry.

Curios From the Closet: Science

When I was a kid there were two closets in my bedroom: one for family clothes and a smaller one with my stuff: my clothes, model airplanes and a small battery driven wooden motor boat I loved. The closet had my microscope, telescope, rock collection and chemistry set too. Given that every month I had to come up with an new image to email my clients, I decided to reminisce a bit and revisit the companions of my youth that lived in the closet.

I still had my microscope, so I took it out, measured it and left it next to my computer. It was like a model posing for a painting class. It took me two weeks to build the microscope in 3D. I also had the small rock collection my father brought home from one of his business trip out west. That was on my desk too.  I loved my telescope so much, I probably could have built it in my sleep, but I kept it out as a reference anyway. The rest, save for the arrow heads on cards, I made up. The birds were scanned pictures from Brehm’s Tierleben (Animal Life), a German science book my father had. It was first published in the 1860’s.

“Curios From The Closet: Science” was one of my most complex 3D sets. Apart from all the models and “texture maps” used in it, the lighting was critical. I wanted to give the scene a dated sort of feel, like the science room in my elementary school which was, as I remember it, musty and cluttered. The room was jammed with all sorts of science related things: a stuffed seagull (among other taxidermied creatures), and book shelves filled with shells, rocks and various botanical specimens.  It was like as a wonderful old museum. That was the atmosphere which inspired: Curios From the Closet: Science.

science

                Curios From The Closet: Science

12. Total Immersion: Illustration & Music

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                                                       Birdcage

More to Learn

I was using an Apple computer and the world of 3D was mostly divided by software that could be used on the Macintosh platform or the PC platform. Mac people often used Electric Image as a renderer with a 3D “modeler” called Form•Z. The two programs worked well together. In 3D you had to build shapes. If you wanted a microscope, or a birdcage, you had to build it. For that you needed a software with the tools that would allow you to make these things. Once those shapes were built you would add colors, textures and even labels to the surfaces of the model. I needed a better modeler, or model maker, software, so I got Form•Z. It wasn’t cheap and the learning curve was vertical. I made a deal with myself: I would carry the modeling manual wherever I went until I finished reading it (there were several manuals that came with the software. It was like having a whole new library). I read it on subways and buses and, of course, sitting down in places where you’re supposed to read. I think it took me a year to finish the modeling manual and I probably only understood half of what they were trying to explain. It was very technical stuff.

Eine Kliene Nachtmusic, or A Little Night Music

I spent every day at my studio marketing, making images and working to improve my 3D skills. Staring at a monitor for so many hours was new for me and the days were long. I would get home late, make dinner and try to unwind. Reading wouldn’t do it because my eyes were so tired. Instead, I took out my steel string guitar, sat on a comfortable chair with my feet on the guitar case and played. I had composed a number of songs in the past, but this style was different. I was flat picking and improvising with my eyes closed. Eventually musical themes began to emerge and I would repeat them until I could find phrases which worked well together. In time whole pieces formed. My technique needed to improve for me to play them, but every night I progressed a little more. I wondered how my cat was taking all this and whenever I looked for her she was usually on the rug to my left, lying on her back with her feet up in the air. She seemed happy.

I did this almost every night and after about three years I had put together thirteen pieces. I even gave a solo concert at a gallery. I just stood up in front of about 30 friends and acquaintances and played for an hour straight. I barely spoke and there was no intermission. I planned to do it differently next time, but the next time hasn’t happened yet.  Then one day the composing stopped. I had dinner with an art director I used to work with and told him I couldn’t understand why my music had suddenly stalled.  His answer was interesting:

”You were probably mourning the loss of your mother and now the mourning period is over.” Given that I called the first piece: “Song for my Mother”, I believe he was right.

Birdcage

I started a marketing campaign to stay in touch with clients and friends. Every month I emailed them a new image. It usually took a few weeks for me to complete one because I always wanted to come up with something more interesting and more complex than the previous illustration. The irony is that the goal was to attract art directors at magazines, but the scenes I was creating were anything but commercial. They were whimsical and more like children’s book illustrations. Amazingly, I still got jobs.

“Birdcage” (above) was an idea that wouldn’t go away. The concept was this: a model builder decides to make a birdcage he hopes will interest a Cardinal to occupy. It has a comfy chair, a rug, a TV, a potted tree and a tree painting. The model builder even has Cardinal Bird Food. What more could a bird want? (answer: freedom!) The Bird, while hardly an accurate model of one, is interested. That was the concept. It even gave me the opportunity to shamelessly add one of my Barn photographs to the wall. I never had a Cardinal come to my apartment window until I made this scene. Cardinals have visited me several times since. Who knows what that’s about?

I wrote about Raytracing software before and Birdcage was rendered using one. With so many objects, patterns, labels and colors the scene took forever to render before I could see what I was doing. I would let the computer render all night, find things that needed to be corrected the next day and then have my computer render it all night again. This took a few weeks to complete.

Let’s See A Real Assignment

Ok. The one below was my first cover for “Electronic Musician Magazine”. The theme was: “Burning Your Own CD’s”. Remember, this was the 1990’s. Burning your own CD’s was kind of a big deal then. The models were made in Form•Z and then brought into Electric Image to be rendered. I think the glow was done in Photoshop. Not sure about the flames, but they were probably done in Photoshop too.

electronicmusician

                  Burning Your Own CD’s

 

11. Patience Needed: 3D Software

film

                                       Film

Deadline Drama

I got an assignment to do an illustration (not the one above) for a financial magazine. The theme had to do with a drug company and its failed products. I built bottles with the names of the drugs on them and, flying pills in the air, had them falling down a set of stairs. The bottles were translucent, which was going to add to the rendering time of a final image. A few lights in the scene would also make things take longer. The illustration had to be 4″ x 5″ at 300 dpi, which was not very big by most standards, but I still figured I would give Alias Sketch software all the time it needed to finish the render. My magazine deadline was around 2 o’clock in the afternoon the next day. With everything ready to go, I hit the Render button at around 5:00 pm and went home to let it render all night.

In the morning I decided to go for a run and got to the studio at around noon. To my horror I saw that the render was only 49% done and realized I was in trouble. I would never make my deadline. Alias Sketch was what the world of 3D called Raytracing software. It was designed to make glass and metal look accurate, but it took a lot longer to render a scene. See the raytraced Spark plug below.

Tech Support to the Rescue 

I had heard about a software program called Electric Image, which was a phong renderer (see above), not a ray tracer. It had a beautiful, lush look. Each rendering engine offers a different result, just as different films do/did. Electric Image had the reputation of being very, very fast. It was used to render the space scenes in the early Star Wars movies and I had just bought it. In fact, it was still in its box when I arrived at my studio the morning of my pill bottle disaster. How would I make this work?

I called Electric Image tech support and asked for their help. I had never used their software, so they guided me over the phone and told me how to export my Alias Sketch pill bottle models into their software. Then they explained how to add lights and move the camera position to capture the angle I wanted. When I hit the “Render” button my scene was done in 15 minutes. I made my deadline and from then on Electric Image became my primary renderer.

The Image Above: “Do Whatever You Want to Do.”

That is what the editors of a camera magazine told me when I asked if they wanted me to include any products in my cover illustration. Na. Nope. Nothing. Just do what you want. So I made my image. It was the one above, but it only had the wavy film and I submitted it.

“Hey, wait. Oh my gosh. You forgot all the other items.” The editors gushed.

“What other items? You told me to do whatever I wanted,” I said.

“Oh, no. We need Polaroid film, an Ektachrome film canister and an A-200 film canister also.”

“You’re kidding, right?”. I didn’t say that, but wanted to.

It took some time to build the models, but with Electric Image there was no overnight render. It took just a few minutes and the colors were gorgeous. They printed beautifully.

sparkplug

                                              Spark Plug

10. Parnassus: 3D Software

gears

                              Gears

Learning 3D Software

I loved and still love Photoshop. Of the many things the software can do, drop shadows are really nice – that is if you are looking down or straight ahead at an object. If you tried to create a box on a table with natural shadows, at least in the early days of the software, the best you could do was fake it. One day a buddy of mine, named David Chalk, came to my studio and told me I should learn 3D. He suggested I start with Alias Sketch, so I got it and began the tutorials.

I had met someone at a Mac Expo who used 3D programs. He told me if I wanted to learn 3D, I had do the tutorials three times. I used that advice for every software program I tried to learn after that. He also said: “the wonderful thing about 3D is that when I wake up in the morning and think of an image I know I can create it. The only problem is whenever I look up at the clock it’s always 3 AM”. He wasn’t kidding.

I worked hard to learn Sketch. You would build shapes, or models, like box primitives or more complex things. Giving them a color was next. The default color was garishly shiny, but you could make the surface matte too. You could also add lights. When things were finally set up you had the software ”render” the image, which was analogous to dropping film off at a lab. Unfortunately, it took that long, or longer, to see a final image. Rendering, not to mention learning 3D software itself, was painfully slow.

One day when I was wrestling with a practice scene, I discovered that you could move lights in the 3D environment. I jumped out of my chair for joy. “This is just like still life! I know this.” I was so excited.  No need to leave the studio. No need to shop for props. Just build your own props and create natural backgrounds, or whatever you want, to make a scene. It was very exciting.

My First 3D Assignment

As my confidence began to build, along with blind courage, I decided to call one of my still life clients at Graphic Arts Monthly Magazine. I asked her if she would hire me to illustrate an article for her. She was very nice and said: “Sure, illustrate the rising cost of paper in the printing industry.”

Uh oh. What have I done? What kind of assignment is that? All my prior still life assignments were simple: here’s the layout, here’s the product, light it and send us the film. Now I had to come up with a visual to match an idea. It seemed like it was something very new, and yet I had done that many times whenever I thought up a still life set for my portfolio.

I left my studio, got home, had dinner and then sat on my bed with colored pencils and a big sketch pad. I had 5 or 6 illustration source books, like American Showcase, The Black Book and others strewn about and in the midst of this mayhem was my constant feline companion Pookie Louise Bear. She found it all very entertaining, even if it meant staying up late, which it did. I looked at many illustrations to get inspiration and ideas and was struck by how good the work of those illustrators was.  I was new at this. They had been making illustrations for years. Was I crazy? Yes, and determined. After a long time I had an idea I felt would work and the next day I sent some roughs to the art director. She picked one, I finished the image and it was published.

The image above was for a different assignment. Someone sent me a photograph of Gears and asked me to come up with a similar look in 3D.

 

9. Digital Art

Teachers

                                    Teachers

 

Photoshop and Digital Beginnings

As I mentioned earlier, on March 8, 1993 my mother passed away. I had a magazine photo shoot to do in the morning and hoped later to take a train out to see my mother one more time. She had been in a coma and off life support for a week, but when I got back to my studio there was a message on my answering machine saying she had died. We were close and loosing her left me feeling like I was floating in space with Earth way below in the distance.

My mother’s last years necessitated a lot of changes for both of us while my photography got secondary status. With my mother gone there was a need to get my bearings and find some direction. The world of photography had been changing too. Some photographers had purchased expensive digital backs for their cameras, which art directors found useful. Everyone seemed to be  learning Photoshop, while I barely knew how to use a mouse.

I decided to take some Photoshop classes at SVA, or The School Of Visual Arts, the college most of my assistants had attended. I also got an Apple computer for which 32 megs of RAM I vaguely remember was something like $2000. Crazy, and still, by today’s standards, the computers were very slow. I got a slide scanner and began cataloging my 35mm slides. I paid my assistant to do that too. When he lost his apartment and needed a place to stay, I let him live in my studio. There was no TV there and to keep busy – no doubt, out of gratitude and boredom too –  he often scanned my slides at night. It was like the elves and the shoemaker. In the morning a whole batch of scans were done.

My First Photoshop Job

I had placed an ad for my photography in the American Showcase source book and one day a woman from the AFT, or the American Federation of Teachers, called me from Washington, DC.

“Are you so-and-so”, she asked? I told her no and gave her my name.

”Oh, I see what I did. I was looking at so-and-so’s ad on the page opposite yours in American Showcase and dialed your number instead.”

That was weird, but we became great friends. I told her I was working with Photoshop and she asked me to illustrate her upcoming AFT annual report.

The first thing they needed was a “Call” invitation, meaning a card which would be mailed to get people to come to a convention where the annual report would be distributed. The idea hashed out with a terrific art director was to take snippets from all the illustrations that would be in the actual annual report and composite them in a single illustration for the invitation. That meant that I had to first make all my illustrations and then work backwards to take portions of each for the Call design. It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had.

Each affiliate union the AFT worked with had to be represented. The illustration above was for a Teachers Union and was made with Photoshop, Painter and scanned images. Other illustrations were made for a Bus Drivers’ Union, Higher Ed Teachers, etc. This assignment was one of several which gradually moved me away from photography and into making illustrations full time.