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Rationale for the Digital Portrait Project

Throughout history the people who make artistic representations of other people have always been early adopters of new technologies and techniques to improve their enterprise.

Sculpture has traditionally produced concrete and discrete artefacts using processes that deal intimately with materials. Dealing with material is an inherently physical and visceral experience. In contrast, digital methods of sculptural production appear to be both qualitatively and quantitatively different from all preceding innovations in that, the objects only exist as a representations, or simulations during most of the making process. This project will try to understand this difference and explore the implications.

In the last few years a rapid development of both computing power and software design has provided artists and technicians with greatly refined tools to produce artwork and more believable simulations. These developments have reduced the intrusion of the computer interface and have lifted some of the limitations that processing speed placed on the creative process and decision making. The enhanced effectiveness of the tools opens up new and exciting opportunities for creative work.

Tools are not neutral to the process of making and digital tools carry particular implications for the meaning of the things they are used to make. They are powerful and varied, but they are not transparent, for example, it is impossible to ignore the effect this has on the way the artwork is read by the audience. A hand-made clay portrait is understood and experienced very differently from a 3D print that has an identical form. So the research for this project will also address how 3D digital making methods feed back into the significances of the making process by addressing questions like:

  • What are the effects of the digital process on the nature of the portrait in terms of meaning and in terms of practical execution?
  • Are there inherent effects of the hardware and software on the artistic outcomes?
  • There is a considerable amount of anxious scepticism and fear amongst artists and the public about the nature of digital media. In particular around issues of authenticity. What are these fears? are they justified? and can they be overcome?
  • What are the implications for teaching in this area?
  • How can digital methods extend the practice and outputs of sculpting.

The practical side of the project is a full figure portrait using the most up to date digital sculpting tools. (2011 versions of  ZBrush, Maya, 3D-Coat, and 3D Studio Max) and observing the interplay between the craft skills inherent in the traditional sculpture process and the digital medium.

A full figure is used because it also requires clothing and props, which will give a good opportunity to execute several types of form and use several modelling/simulation techniques. In addition, I feel it is important to portray the whole body, to observe what happens to the meanings of a body in the context of the disembodied digital space.