Follow the money

What can we learn from contemporary animation?
Waves of Mercy and Grace, Carol L. Douglas. Would I want to wander around a world that looked like my paintings?

The global animation industry brought in about $254 billion in 2017, versus about $45 billion for the fine art industry. Unlike many other growth industries, big parts of the animation industry are located in the old developed economies, including the United States and Canada. It’s a fast-growing sector, averaging about 5% per year.

If you’re a young person interested in a career in the arts, you will do well with a degree in computer graphics. Computer graphics designers working in the motion picture and video industries earn an average of $64,350, and there’s a lot of demand for them in other industries as well. (In fact, the Federal government is the top-paying employer of computer graphics professionals.)
Keuka Lake Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
This means that animation plays a big part in developing our national aesthetic. I don’t play video games, but I’m curious about their imagery, and I like speculating on how it will influence painting. I see this in the work of two young brothers from Syracuse, Tad and Zac Retz. Zac is a visual developer for Sony Pictures Animation. Tad is a painter. Their toolkits are very different, but the end result is often eerily similar.
Horia Dociu is a video game studio art director at ArenaNet. He identified three pillars on which all visual design rests:
  • Idea –the intellectual content of your work.
  • Design – the stylistic and compositional choices you make.
  • Technique – your method of rendering.

He then went on to mention ‘tone,’ which I’m going to call ‘vibe’ because tone means something else in painting. Painters achieve their vibe through color choices and lighting, but most importantly with the subconscious things we bring to the easel. In fine art, we often think of our vibe as a natural state, but it’s also the easiest thing to manipulate into dreck. That’s a good reason to avoid being overly self-conscious about it.
Still, there are some fine painters out there whose work relies heavily on controlling ambiance. An example is Tarryl Gabel. She has an enthusiastic following for her misty, gentle, elegiac landscapes.
Piseco Outlet, by Carol L. Douglas
My kids sometimes play a game set in a landscape that looks like New Zealand on steroids. I enjoy watching because it’s a beautiful landscape, even though the actions are dorky. This raises a question that we painters never ask ourselves: given a choice, would we enjoy wandering around in a world that looked like our paintings? If not, we might have a problem with our vibe.
Dociu went on to suggest that video artists ask themselves the following questions:
  • Why am I doing this?
  • What do I want to say?
  • Who am I speaking to?
  • How can I be most expressive to reach the audience?

Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove, by Carol L. Douglas
In the end, his talk came down to craftsmanship. It plays a big part of animation development but is given little credence in modern painting. Perhaps that’s why the money flows so heavily in the direction of animation. They’re giving the people what they actually want.