100x76 pixels. That's the size of a ZBC thumbnail, and is all most people need to be able to spot a new image by boozy floozie. Their unique style makes Mark Bannerman one of the most recognizeable artists at ZBrushCentral. Over the years he has also contributed more than 100 images, making "The Flooze" one of ZBC's most prolific artists!
We finally managed to catch up with Mark recently and pin him down long enough to do an interview. Read on and you'll soon see that he's every bit as colorful (and eccentric) as his art!
Hi Mark. I'd like to begin by learning a bit more about you. Could you provide some insights into the artist behind the art? According to your website bio, you spent some years as a child in Singapore. What was that like?
Hot, very hot, I spent the first few years sleeping under my bed not on it and running around naked all day. In that respect not much has changed. My favorite pastime was playing in monsoon drains and biting the heads off cockroaches, which I'm pleased to say that I have stopped. As a child you take your environment for granted but it was only when we moved back to Britain that it felt like I stepped out of a Technicolor world into a black and white movie. If I think of Singapore I think of colors to this day.
What led you to become a digital artist, as opposed to using more "traditional" media?
My initial eureka/"Ooh, I like that!" moment was in the 1970's when I saw an animation by the artist Ed Emshwiller called "Sunstone" using video and 3D graphics technology. It was this more than anything that stood out in my imagination from the work pioneered at that time simply because Emshwiller had harnessed the technology to create art of a transcendental nature that was digital but also emmotive. About this time I also found a book on digital art that showed the work being done by Sun Microsystems and pioneers such as Ed Catmull. As a kid I loved both art and science. When home computers dropped to a sensible price with the processing power to create art with an adequate degree of fluidity and responsiveness, I jumped in with great excitement. The switch over was gradual because it takes time to adjust with a comparative sensitivity from traditional media to digital methods. Initially it felt like all my time was spent learning but not really doing. The first hurdle to overcome is being in awe with the myriad of visual possibilities available to digital artists as well as the vast toolsets of the applications. I remember it took me few days to get over the fact that my working file was in a digital folder and not stored in a plan-chest. I still mentally imagine I'm mixing real paint, painting on an imagined surface and playing with clay when I work digitally - I find it helps me feel connected with what I'm working on.
Bryce was my first taste of 3D and I still have an enormous affection for it; so much so that I always update it even though I no longer use it. Playing with Bryce began my fascination and excitement with working in 3D but it took some years and experiences with disappointing software that promised more than it delivered to finally get into 3D.
Your style is completely unique. How did it come about?
The style is a linear continuation of the way I approached painting before I created digital 3D pieces. ZBrush was the first 3D application that reconnected me to how I worked as a painter. It helped me bring a more relaxed human element back into my 3D work. i.e., choosing to include the imperfections evident in my originating sketches by using it's responsive sculpting tools.
What advice might you give to other artists seeking to find their niche?
I would say don't be frightened of making mistakes, keep playing and don't measure yourself by the great work that others may be doing. Be patient and allow yourself time to develop and find your own flow. When we talk about a visual niche as a manifestation of personal expression I think it vital that our drawings/sketches should inform this work - it's our drawing like our voices that give expression to our thoughts. Time spent away from the computer developing your compositional skills, traditional skills, tapping into your imagination, visiting galleries etc. is just as important as the time spent at the computer perhaps more so.
On a practical basis a good habit is keeping notes of how you achieved certain effects or approaches when experimenting or creating your pieces. Also try random experiments and freeform work such as falling onto the keyboard and mouse to see what happens.
On a broader perspective I think it helps to have lived some life, fallen in love, experienced tragedies etc. because it's all these other indefinable things together with the technology that make us communicators of shared experiences.
How did you discover ZBrush?
I read about the very first release in Computer Arts magazine. I can't remember how they actually described it but they certainly earmarked it as intriguing. Somewhat eccentric perhaps, but definitely a new and wholly individual approach to 3D. The whole concept pressed all the right buttons in my mind, particularly with the marriage of 2D and 3D together as it seemed to be the fulfillment of what I dreamt might be possible with 3D.
Those were the early days when it was a regular occurrence for the occasional clown to stagger onto the ZBrush forums deriding ZBrush as some cruel aberration sent to torment their minds.
How do you use ZBrush in the creation of your illustrations? (Details, man. Details!)
Where to start? I use it for almost everything from painted backdrops, texture and UV creation, sculpting, mesh creation, collage techniques, post production. I try and break down a piece early on to see whether 100% ZBrush will give the best expression to the essence of the piece or if the components should be staged within another application and which bits should be done where etc. etc. At all times I'm always looking for the most fluid approach to creating the finished result because I find the best work comes when you have momentum/flow. A typical example of what I mean would be... let's say I need some displacements on a form/object. Well if I know my construction environment is ZBrush then I would get the displacements roughly in the ball park for the effect I'm after and instead add some of the finer details in post production using the bump brushes. This saves time because you're placing the effect in context with the overall image and not just the object in isolation - the eye is more impressionistic/ selective of how detail is perceived than a camera.
When creating work totally in ZBrush I find it good policy to keep in mind how many layers you may need to use, what will be on what layer and why, as well as what layers should be baked to enrich the sense of lighting and tonality in your work . I prefer this approach to multi-pass render techniques favored by others.
One of the absolute joys about working in ZBrush using layers is the freedom when texturing the objects on the canvas, free of the complications common with standard 3D texturing methods. I find when working with ZBrush in this way that it captures the excitement I feel with traditional painting techniques, i.e. committing oneself to certain approaches and fast decisions. I tend not to be as prudent with saving versions as I should be because I enjoy the sense of risk I experienced when creating with traditional media. Working in other 3D applications can be a much more clinical affair.
Unfortunately I've never found a magic formula. Every piece seems to raise different technical issues and approaches to the pieces that have come before. This is where 3D for me fractures from how I worked as painter in it's complexity. I think at the end of the day it's how you approach what you do and all about breaking the project down into definable chunks. I use daytime for the logical bits, afternoons to eat biscuits and nighttime for the more emotive touches. But again, I would say that achieving a degree of creative freedom within ZBrush is all about flow, finding personal habits, making fast considered choices and spending a lot of time learning its vast toolset with which I regularly suffer amnesia.
What percentage of a typical illustration is done using ZBrush?
A difficult question in the sense that I will sometimes choose a 100% ZBrush construction and rendering environment - but to generalize, a consistently high percentage of all elements have passed though ZBrush. Even when I haven't created a mesh in ZBrush, or if I choose another application for scene construction I regularly like to bring it back into ZBrush to add those little indefinable touches and human imperfections that bring the mesh closer in line to how I have drawn the form in my working sketch. This has become a habit for me and a pleasure - I'll regularly find myself in ZBrush whether it's absolutely required or not. It's my little home so to speak.
Is there a particular feature that really stands out for you? In what way?
If I had to pick one of the myriad of gems to be my Bride I'd have to say Projection Master, simply because every time I use it I laugh. Anyone who's sweated over creating UV's for organic forms can't help but cackle at what a joy it is to rid yourself of time consuming UV creation and get straight down to texture painting. To have at your finger tips so many brushes, ways of applying the brushes, textures and alphas is a delight - I just couldn't praise it highly enough nor bless it enough when I think of the hours saved that I can spend away from the computer.
Out of all your illustrations, do you have a favorite? What is the story behind that one?
I think it would be "Mrs McMurdo's Perspective Correctional School for Wayward Gals". I choose this because it was the first completed piece where I knuckled down to make ZBrush work for me with regard to achieving a rich environment, a playfulness and atmosphere in my 3D work that connected with my painting work.
What would you say to other illustrators who are thinking about trying ZBrush?
That you've nothing to lose but your sanity. I think for any artist who wishes to explore 3D it's a must-have tool. That said, I think to achieve any degree of fluidity in 3D you have to have a certain kind of brain. I've certainly watched many illustrator friends weep and tear their hair out with 3D only to give up. At the end of the day an artist must choose a medium that allows them to feel free and flow. If the techniques or surface get in the way of communication then the work fails.
Okay, I just have to ask. Where did "boozy floozie" come from?
Boozy floozie is an expression of my gregarious feminine gin tippling side/alter ego. I am ashamed to admit that I was rather daunted by joining a 3D forum. At that time most 3D forums were occupied by somewhat aggressive men who had spent a king's ransom on their software, and who seemed to reply to most newcomers (with perfectly reasonable questions) with "RTFM" . I suspect they were angry because they'd spent so much money on their software and were embittered by the long nights of steep learning curves. I noticed that they were, however most gentile and helpful to women and so it was after a glass or two of wine that I nervously joined my first forum ever: ZBC. The evidence of the wine is still there in the misspelling of my name. I had to endure an undercurrent of flirtations, but the gentlemen were most kind. As it transpired ZBC was unlike any other forum in it's cordiality, helpfulness and openness. Becalmed and fully relaxed, I exposed myself (metaphorically speaking) as a man - which my wife assures me I am.
Anything else you'd like to say? This is your chance to talk about anything at all.
Below are my Seven Golden Tips for 3D:
Blessed Be The Peacemakers
- Switch off your computer and start drawing.
- Maintain a healthy disregard for the technology and just enough ignorance to make you take risks.
- Get somebody else to do it for you, preferably somebody with no social skills but oodles of talent.
- Don't start in the first place.
- Prepare to spend a lot of time online speaking to other geeks as none of your friends or family will have a clue what you talking about, nor care.
- Good work is created on expensive software.
- Bad work is created on expensive software.
One of the lovely things about ZBrush's continued success is how it has become a common link amongst so many 3D users of different 3D applications, all sharing their insights with ZBrush as well as broader 3D techniques.
A Beautiful World
Whilst on the broader topic of 3D this leads me on to another favorite topic of mine within 3D: Why are there so many men compared to women involved in 3D? I can't think of any other artistic endeavor where the percentage split is so apparent. For the answer to this I turned to my wife who claimed that only men were socially autistic enough to lock themselves in a darkened room for hours with manuals thicker than their thighs when they could be out talking to real people. "How dare she!" thought I, but she does have a point -- albeit a sweeping one. My hope for the future is more women than at present get involved in 3D and bring to the melting pot their insights with 3D. Can you imagine a beautiful ZBrush forum full of gentle flirtations and no geekery - it all sounds very exotic.
We hope that everyone has enjoyed this visit with a ZBC icon. Thank you, Mark, for sharing!
For anyone who's curious to see the threads from all the images that Mark has shared over the years, click here. Enjoy!
Be sure to also check out our past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.