Artist Scott Eaton introduces digital sculpture to Wimbledon students
Scott Eaton is an artist whose work focuses on the anatomy of the human figure, a designer and photographer based in London. He is one of the pioneering artists in the field of digital sculpture and runs digital figurative sculpture courses. Over the last two weeks of April one of Wimbledon’s Theatre and Screen pathways Technical Arts and Special Effects second year students were lucky enough to have Scott teaching them, sharing his expertise through twice weekly workshops. We had the opportunity to speak with Scott after one of his workshops to find out more about him and what he did with the Wimbledon students.
Scott studied drawing and sculpture in Florence, Italy, then trained in design and computer graphics in the USA. His time in Florence inspired him to study anatomy in more depth, he arrived on his course reasonably accomplished and good with the figure. For Scott, Florence was the point where he started taking anatomy seriously and it was subsequent study that progressed his work. When Scott began there wasn’t much digital art or tools to use, and now he uses a mix of traditional sculpting skills and modern digital technology to explore their meeting point and create innovative work.
“There was no real digital art when I was beginning, not that it was that long ago. The tools were very crude to start with and so I’ve kind of seen them grow to being very capable. In a lot of ways it forced me to have a traditional foundation before I could ever do anything digitally. Now a lot of people skip that foundation and just go straight to digital because it’s very seductive with what’s possible with it. It’s a great thing to learn early on in your career. I think you can study and learn faster because you can experiment more quickly, you can fail more quickly and test forms so there is a lot of powerful learning with digital tools.
Digital sculpture is just using digital tools to make 3D form. It’s very similar to what you do with clay, but you have all the additional flexibility, almost unlimited flexibility, in software to explore and test ideas in prototype. You can do this in a way that’s very fast, but also very free, in a way that you are not constrained by gravity, materials, setting time, and all the things you are faced with in real life. Not to say that sculpting in clay or carving does not have its own advantages because there are, but even doing really intricate finished work, digital sculpture is super powerful.”
“In any kind of sculpture the challenge is having a good concept and knowing what you are going to sculpt. It is not necessarily the tools because all the information is readily available if you look and you are diligent, you can use the tools. It’s the ‘what’ to sculpt, not the ‘how’ and that’s what always makes good sculpture, the right idea, the right foundation.
Digital tools are so powerful, they allow you on a large spectrum so many ways to manipulate. We have been wired for millions of years with a very tactile sense and an especially acute vision for depth perception, so the thing that you miss when you work digitally are what you always get in clay. You get the feel of your hands on the model and way more sensory interaction with the thing that you are making. That actually makes all the difference and there’s no good compromise digitally, so you do sacrifice something that you would get in real life, in real materials. The kind of workflow that ends up working for me is to build up the forms digitally and then either prototype a base, cast it, take it into the real world by 3D printing it or machine it out on foam, or even just machine the core out of foam. Almost like an armature (an open framework on which a sculpture is moulded with clay or similar material) that has volume, finishing the surface with clay. I might decide the pose and the proportions in software before finishing it in clay, you get a lot of extra surface dynamic that way. There are really nice artefacts of working with your hands in clay, evidence of the actual material.”
Scott’s designs have been featured in magazines and newspapers, he has collaborated with artists such as Jeff Coons and Lady Gaga on her ‘Artpop’ album cover. Scott also freelances on projects for film industry or advertising, working in visual effects for film which he started working in 2005.
“I was always interested in computer graphics and there are a number of things that you can do with computer graphics. Work for film is a very good combination of my interests in anatomy and figurative art and then also computer graphics. It all comes together quite nicely in the kind of work that you are asked to do.”
He has worked on ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ as well as ‘World War Z’, to name a few. His work involves designing characters or building characters. He sometime reviews work, such as characters that are in films or games, his review will be for quality of anatomy, ensuring the finish or expressiveness.
“I think my favourite film to work on was ‘War Horse’, just because it wasn’t a fantastical creature. We were working on the hero horse so that all the stunts that were super dangerous could be done on it, the bar was total realism, but also the work could not be noticed in the film. If we did our job properly it should look like there was no digital work there, it should look like the real horse doing real things, animated well and moving well. We had a good team, we had a good schedule and Steven Spielberg was on board with all the stuff we were doing. So yes, that was my favourite!”
One of Scott’s project is an iPad docking station called the ‘Venus of Cupertino’ which he sculpted digitally. Scott told us about this project and how he created the final, functional docking station.
“She started with a sketch, like everything starts in the sketchbook to come up with the idea, and then it was sculpted in Zbrush. There was a mechanical fit that had to happen as she has a little interface with an iPad. I sent out small tests to my 3D printer to get things perfect, adjusting parts rather than print the whole thing, for example I would literally cut out her hands. When I was happy with the form, having done a number of small full prints of the entire figure, I then printed her life size in stereolithography (a form of 3D printing in resin) with a very fine finish. It was then sanded, so I could make a master which was silicone moulded, to then make resin casts. She actually was quite famous on the internet for a while.”
Scott gave the second year students at Wimbledon an introduction to Zbrush, the tool that he uses and is the industry standard across content creation for creating digital models and digital sculpture. He spent a few sessions getting the students up to speed on creating things digitally, building from the ground up. Before you can do anything with intention, there is a lot of foundation that has to go in. He taught the students how to navigate, how to manipulate form on the computer, how to rotate, how to zoom in, things that you have to learn to do efficiently, quickly and accurately for this kind of work. They are the basic steps before learning to manipulate pose characters and sculpt faces. His advise for students about the area he works in, about sculpting and digital sculpture is:
“If you are interested in figurative art, anatomy is like the vocabulary of figurative art. If you don’t know anatomy then you cannot be very expressive with that work. Beyond that don’t give up, don’t switch entirely digital, but definitely use this as a tool to develop your ideas. Sketch, draw, use that as the depth of your imagination. Prototype and explore the forms in software and then make it in real life. I think that’s a good process that I’ve kind of worked through a few times now and it almost balances the best of both worlds.”