Kurt Miller Illustrator
Baby Kurt 1968
Yes I'm a Ravens fan
Ravens Willy Cyan
Balticon GOH Presentation
GenCon Booth 2012
Avalon Hill Studio
it must have been quite a step to switch from conventional techniques to the computer. Back then...did you already know that there were tough times coming for illustrators still using the airbrush, oils and acrylics?
Well, yes I was pretty much anti computer from the early 90’s and maybe because I was intimated by it and didn’t like the pixilated look. I believed then that I’d forever paint in oils and gauche with my airbrush. But by the mid 90’s my co-worker Tyson Milbert from Avalon Hill introduced me to some really cool features in Photoshop and the 3D program called Bryce. The switch from traditional medium to digital was very smooth. It’s a quality movement for my business and this new digital experience was easy on my mental state. Revisions are much easier with less pressure. Soon I saw some of my fellow freelance illustrators who still worked traditional, loosing some of their clients who wanted digital work to meet tighter deadlines. As an in-house illustrator it provided me some security in this transition so I took advantage and embraced this new technology.
back then...a PC or MAC was not too powerful...and especially pieces for print must have taken quite some time for rendering (3d) or painting (2d). Wasn't it kind of devastating? Also...especially with Bryce and other 3d software...the result really looked...like a computer graphic. Didn't you think you could do a better job with the airbrush?
True, I believe I started with a Mac OS and it was around Mac’s worst market period it’s stock hit a 12 year low then recovered in the 2000’s. So around Mac’s worst time, I moved to the PC 486 CPU and windows, which was practical for the gaming industry at that time. I also quickly became a dedicated gamer too! I worked late painting graphic art for the games and played late to enjoy all of that cool new graphic. If you compare the processing speed then and now, yes it was slow but we didn’t think much of it until each new upgrades. To improve the speed of my own work, I took advantage of Bryce’s Batch rendering were it let’s you render a number of files at the same time. At times I also set it to fast render which will act as a rough or an under paint for Photoshop were I will complete the image. I never leave a render with out post work in Photoshop; I think mainly because of the intense criticism of an image looking too much like a computer graphic with pixilated edges. Back then I improved my technique with an art pad and now a Wacom tablet, by softening the edges in Photoshop with its new introduced layers. I remember saying that this is much more fun than using an airbrush.
what do you think (wish) the future will bring (software/ hardware).
Maybe laser painting or what I think would be really cool is a hologram that could be created from my laser pen. It would be like airbrushing a live body, then you could program it to animate. Then, imagine if you could see your hologram book cover being animated on the shelves. Maybe the shelves or the book itself will have a chip for their new hardcover releases and a staged performance will be animated for those customer who wish to buy it. Man, this could be crazy, you know it will look something like a live animated dragon blowing fire at a defending knight. I think that would grab people’s attention, they’d pick that book or game off the shelves or maybe it’ll backfire thinking they might get their hand blown off.
do you think that one day conventional illustration (in business) will be gone?
For the business of illustration it sure looks that way. In the 80s, most commercial artist felt secure that computer art could never mimic their skills. Then the computer art abilities progressed and the doubters started to think otherwise. In the mid 90s you have a group of software somewhat matching traditional paint and then Adobe Photoshop introduced the concept of layers. Art directors are turning more to digital artist for the speed, which mean more work from more artist and then smaller budgets and tighter deadlines. It changed the way conventional illustration business was done. Now we have numerous amounts of 2D and 3D software with there on going upgrades surpassing the traditional medium. So maybe the conventional illustration is dying for business but not the traditional tools, which could be used for fine art or custom painting and there are those digital artist that like to work by combining there traditional tools beginning with a pencil sketch that they will then scan in for a digital finish.
what bothers you the most with digital illustration?
Okay, I think I have some off the top of my head that bothers me; first, is that my two connected LCDs are still not big enough and my digital pen doesn’t draw on them. Computer crashes because of lack of memory or worse a faulty hard drives, this is why I use Retrospect that backs up my working drive. Rendering takes too long for those complex images. Modeling could be sluggish if you have a huge count of polygons. Also, there are no original paintings to admire or to give away as a gift, or to sell. All you have is a bunch or stored illustrations on a CD.
you went from a good job as an employee to freelancing. Now that you freelance for quite a while...what is the better job and why?
Definitely freelancing by far is a better job for me. Having an employer is a good start and I recommend it to every beginning artist for that experience in the commercial art field. My personal experience is that it gave me computer knowledge, which I didn’t get from college. Working with customers and as a team with my fellow artist where we would share knowledge is also a benefit of that environment. I also recall, sometimes I’d get that kick butt assignment that was awesome to work on and other times I tried to stay awake from the most boring assignment. But what I really couldn’t stand, was the office politics, low pay, buyouts and the fear of layoffs, which lead to low moral. I like to be in control of my own business, make my own hours, working from home, setting my own salary and accepting clients myself and working on the jobs that really interest me. I have more work as a freelancer than I did with any employer and after my own layoff I tripled my salary in less than a year. There is more freedom being self employed; no waking up to an alarm, driving through rush hour traffic only to clock in to work that was assigned to you if any. Of course, I do still have some traffic, my dogs clambering all over me from my bedroom and down the hall to my office. The small down side is that it gets a little lonely with my wife gone at work all day, but with the me being busy with work and having the Internet, blogs, online chat, talk radio and my dogs all keep me company until my wife arrives home. Also, you would think that working at home alone you would miss out on sharing knowledge with your fellow artist at the job site or those crucial critiques and complements, but thanks to magazines like Art Scene International with their step by step workshop and the online CG forum, it’s not a problem. What I like to do is to immediately submit my image to a secure member site to get another set of eyes for a critique before I call a finish to my image.
if you would get paid for illustrating your own ideas...what would you paint/ create?
Actually just about every paid art I created are my own ideas. It seems like the art directors are becoming extinct. It’s probably not a good thing, but I’m starting to notice that I’m mostly dealing with the Publisher, Senior Editors or the owners that pretty much want me to create the idea that obviously relates to the subject matter. Now I do intend to retire from the commercial art and go to paint as a fine artist, actually, let me restate that, a Sci-Fi Fantasy fine artist (SFFFA). I would like to go back to paint in oils or maybe by then there will be another very cool tool to try out. I would then paint my own book that would start with fantasy and conclude it with Science Fiction. The subject matter would be very patriotic and show the reason why everyone should support their troops who defend their freedom. I would then distribute a copy of this book (as much as I could anyway) to the fallen soldier’s family. I think this would be one of my many ways of saying thanks to the ones who volunteered such service.
some of your images still have a little....computer generated look. This seems to be your "style"...really bright colors...the landscape has a tiny 3d look...same with some of the figures. which all sets it apart from other artworks we have seen (in a positive way as it would get boring otherwise...). Are your clients asking for this?
Not really, I think any client who wants me to illustrate for them is already aware of my vivid color style. My mission is to grab people’s attention fast as a cover artist to help my clients to sell their product. As far as the 3d goes, it’s just a fun and exciting way to create my image. I’m a true believer in finding ways to make my job interesting as it’s a part of my life and a very good way to enjoy life rather than doing something that’s just work. I like the fact that I can move my image that I modeled on its axis with adjustable lighting and the figure can be morphed with moveable joints. Soon I will have no real reason to use live models.
if you use photographs of people...do you take the pics yourself?
Yes, unless it’s a celebrity, then I’ll need a licensed image, but it’s less and less common because of what the 3d world offers. What I like to do now is to photograph a portrait of my family and friends to use as a texture wrap onto my 3d model, then I can do anything I want with them like animation which could get me into trouble if I get too silly with it, they may get embarrassed. Now as for creatures and robots, it’s a little tricky to find any who would come to my studio for a photo shoot. So, that’s were I would have to use that crazy busy mind that I have.
please describe how a typical image is created? (and hopefully we will see a step by step soon )
I have a couple of methods to start an image but it always ends with Adobe Photoshop. In the earlier days it would have been with a pencil sketch and the selected rough would be transferred on a illustration board if I decided to go with an airbrush using gouache and a frisket film or a gessoed Rives BFK paper with acrylic as an under paint and oils for the finish. Now I pretty much do away with a pencil sketches and would start right away with the 3d programs, because of the flexibility and the speed. Let’s say it’s a book cover, I’ll spend a few days reading to get the feel of the book and would take notes of the main character’s description plus the environment and if it’s a game cover I’ll play the beta. At times I would communicate with the authors directly which I prefer, so I can pull more out of their own creativity. It’s very important to me that the cover will relate to the story. Like my self when reading I’ll go back and look at the cover and say oh that’s the guy or gal or the creature. Now I start to gather my thoughts with my notes and search for references and put my digital camera to work, as I may need some textures. I look what’s in and hot on the shelves for inspiration. Next I start modeling the main characters, creature or spacecraft either with discreet 3D Max, Z brush, Curios Lab Poser or Corel Bryce and yes you can make these thing in Bryce too, it’s not just a landscape tool. Keeping in mind this is for a rough and not to get too excited by spending more time on perfecting the model at this stage. Then I’ll Create a background landscape mostly in Bryce and occasionally in Vue until I perfect this program. I will render all elements under the default settings with no anti-aliasing and a low resolution to be saved as a psd file. Then I’ll piece the roughs together in Photoshop. I’ll submit 3 to 9 color roughs as some may be duplicates with some variation color changes or composition, which were made possible from the 3d programs. If no adjustment is needed and I received an email approval, then it’s time to fine tune my models and import them as a dxf, wavefront or obj to my Corel Bryce to complete that first stage scene. Now it’s time for that high-resolution rendering and for those complex scenes, mask rendering or distant rendering I may have to render on multiple machines over night or a full day. Lastly, I would paint the final render with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop with many layers. Sometimes I can complete a final in a day and other times it could take a week depending on my rendering or the complexity of an image that may have multiple characters.
with LotR, Narnia and lots of other movies fantasy is really..."in"..why do you think this is?
Well, the first thing is that the graphic isn’t cheesy like a dangling model on a string or Godzilla in a rubber suit smashing a stage model on the floor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it very much when I was a youngster. Today’s CGI and the relative low cost for creating it means that sci-fi and fantasy are so real looking or believable and spectacular that the viewers are in amazement. Science fiction has never been more real than now, fantasy never more real, like eye candy and we want more of it. Rod Serling, the creator of the Twilight Zone, said it this way “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” Fantasy and Sci-Fi movies aren’t for teenagers and children any more. Go to any related con and you will see grown ups Star Trekking parading through who were inspired by the original Star Trek that defined sci-fi on television. You know it’s a big deal when ABC and NBC are starting to carry this genre on their network because of fierce competition from the cable networks. I also believe that 9/11 and other large natural disasters with the news reporting 24/7 have a big play in this. It’s a wake up call, and we are all aware of the danger. I believe that some of this is why we like to see a realistic super hero in the movies to solve our danger.
which book would you love to see as a movie????
I would love to see Legacy of the Alldenata of the Posleen wars by John Ringo and the co authors for this series are Julie Cochrane, Tom Kratman and Michael Williamson, who I personally met at conventions, worked with and had a few drinks with. Also “Honor Harrington” by David Weber actually, if I’m not mistaken, I believe it’s in the works as a TV series.
a dream job?
I’m doing it. I’m never bored and I’m always learning!