Talent Schmalent

I’ve been saying this for the last 30 years… If you have a moment stop by Mark Mayerson’s blog and read his May 26th blog entry. Here is a quote: “the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated.” It’s mainly about the love of the work and the desire to excell in it. If you want to learn to animate – you can. If you want to learn to draw – you can. So there.

The Tools

There has been some talk on other blogs that I frequent, about using specific brands of pencils when drawing. That got me to thinking… There is the old saying that what matters isn’t the tool, but rather the artist behind the tool (or something like that – sometimes I’m not so good with sayings… actually my wife would say I’m never good with sayings).

Anyway, I think that this is generally true. If you aren’t a very good artist (2d, 3d or what-have-you-d) then it doesn’t really matter what tool you use. But that is only three quarters of the picture. What about the tools? Do the tools make any difference? Sure they do. So which tools should you be using?

Ask yourself, does the tool fit the purpose? That is, am I using the appropriate tool for the job at hand. I suppose you could draw with just about anything, but ultimately you will end up using some kind of stylus. As a sculptor you can use a chainsaw to create works of art, but you probably won’t use one when sculpting clay. There is a reason why there are different tools for different jobs. In the 3d world there are tools geared specifically for modeling, or texturing, or character animation and some of these tools lend themselves to specific tasks better than other tools.

Similarily, does the tool make the job easier? Will it take me several lifetime’s supply of popsicle sticks to carve marble into a statue or will I use a chisel? Well I suppose it would be quite the accomplishment if I used popsicle sticks, but that probably won’t pay the bills and I probably won’t get a lot of detail added since I’ll have spent most of my time just blocking in the basic forms – if that…

Does the project (or cost) justify getting and using a specific tool? Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars on a tool which you will use only once. For instance, I bought this very cool table saw a few years back. I think I’ve used it twice. For both projects I probably could have simply used my circular saw… sometimes it doesn’t make sense to get yet another tool.

Does the tool give the artist a psychological edge? This is an interesting question. If an artist ‘prefers’ one tool over another (say one brand of pencil over another brand) then all things being equal they may do a better job if they use or have access to the tool of their choice. Perhaps the artist that is forced to use a tool they aren’t either familiar with, or don’t like, will do a worse job (maybe not even intentionally).

The way I look at it, is that yes, it’s the artist behind the tool that matters the most, but the tool can make a difference in the end product. I use all sorts of tools in concept design, illustration, character animation, 3d modeling, rigging, texturing and so on… Each tool has strengths and weaknesses. But I’m also aware that a better tool may come along so I’m always playing with demos and trying out samples to make sure I don’t get stuck using an outdated tool. (A note of caution, it’s an easy trap to fall into – thinking that the next great tool will make you the best ‘fill in the blank’ artist. Remember the saying?)

So is a Blackwing pencil the best pencil ever made? I dunno. I don’t have any, and I haven’t tried them before (and I probably won’t since they have been discontinued and cost an arm and two legs on Ebay). Instead I ordered an inexpensive Palomino pencil to see if it is actually as good as everyone says it is. Apparently it’s as good as a Blackwing. We’ll have to see if it’s better than my favorite, a Tombow. I tested 6 or 7 pencils to see which one I liked the most (smoothness, dark to light range, consistency, smudge resistance, earasability, grip and so on) and the Tombow easily won.

One last note regarding tools. If you are a freelancer, having more than one 2d or 3d software tool can open up a lot more project/job opportunities since the projects can be very software specific. So being familiar with more than one tool makes good business sense.


Imagine being able to draw accurately, from memory, a 5 yard panoramic view of Rome – having seen it only from the air for 45 minutes. In a word, amazing. I have trouble remembering all my kids names – let alone the number of columns in one ancient building. Here is a link to a video clip showing Stephen Wiltshire’s drawing Rome from memory.

John Lasseter Interview

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a neat interview with John Lasseter.

His interview brings back a lot of memories. I remember back in the 80’s working on what was called a Raster Machine in the computer science lab at the University of Calgary (it had the resolution of an old VGA card). It was probably one of the most expensive pieces of hardware I had ever worked on at the time (in the 100’s of thousands of dollars range – that was a lot back then!). I did my very first piece of digital art on that old piece of hardware – a digital painting. It was really quite simple – if I recall it was a painting of foothills leading up to mountains (fitting for the Calgary area). One of the students had created a ‘paint’ program and we were playing around with it. That’s when I first saw the potential of this medium. I’ve been hooked ever since – both at the technical and artistic end of things. What a ride!

Updated Links

I updated my ‘Favorites’ links with the blogs and websites I tend to frequent. Some are updated more regularly than others, but they all make interesting reading. One of my favorite favorites is definitely “Seven Golden Camels”…. be sure to check it out!

New Animation Book

Here is an interesting new addition to the animation books genre, it is called ‘All About Techniques in Drawing for Animation Production‘. There is no author listed on the cover, but it appears that the main contributor to the book is Sergi Camara, an animator/illustrator from Spain. This is a book in a series called Barron’s All about Techniques. According to the back cover “Books in Barron’s All about Techniques series have been written for advanced art students and experienced amateurs. They explain the fundamentals of the art, then proceed to give step-by-step advice on methods you must master to create complete, highly finished artwork.

I haven’t gone through the book with a fine tooth comb, but it certainly grabbed my attention. The artwork is good (from rough sketches to completed pieces), and the content appears good: starting with a brief history of animation, the book has 6 main chapters: The Studio and the Materials, The Storyboard, Creating and Constructing Characters, The Layout, The Animation, The Finish. There are approximately 186 pages so you can’t get into too much detail about any one topic, but I do like what it does cover. The biggest section seems to be “The Animation” chapter covering approximately 77 pages. I’m not sure there is much new as far as content, but I like how it is presented. Either way, if you are a 2d or 3d animator this looks like a good edition to add to your collection… well it jumped into my shopping cart!

Related Links