If you’re trying to find the starting point of art, you have to go back at least thirty-five thousand years. But things are a lot different now than they were when humans first started painting on cave walls. Among other things, we have an entirely new digital world to use for art making.
To learn about that world and how digital art relates to traditional art, we spoke with Ryan Grady, a digital and traditional artist, animator, and illustrator.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I am an artist, animator, and illustrator based here in Raleigh, North Carolina. My undergraduate degree is from Appalachian State University, where I received a Bachelor’s in Fine Art for Studio Art. I attended NC State College of Design for graduate school and received my Masters in New Media and Animation from there.
It is also important to note that I attended UNC School of the Arts my senior year in high school and freshman year in college. Attending UNCSA was an experience that changed my life, and I use those lessons everyday as an artist and educator.
I am a full-time Instructor for Wake Tech’s Simulation and Game Development program, which I love because I get to spend time every day with people who love art, animation, and video games as much as I do. When I am not teaching or creating art, I am usually spending time with my sweet pug, Lulu.
You recently taught a class on animating poetry. What was that like?
When you read a poem, much of the action and imagery occurs between the lines. You could illustrate what happens, but poems mean so many things to so many people, they all picture different things.
You don’t have to illustrate a realistic image to convey the feeling of the poem. Fonts and typefaces have feelings, themes, and historic significance. Memes use Impact, because they are usually bold and need to be visible in an instant. Skyrim uses old serif fonts since its an medieval-inspired fantasy game. The way we display words have visual meaning, and animating them adds another layer of expression. We can show the meaning of a poem by using the words themselves when we animate them as typography.
You do both digital and traditional art. How do they differ, in your opinion?
Excellent question—my answer is different from most artists. Many contemporary digital artists will tell you that they love working digitally because its faster and they have an undo button. But for me, digital is so much slower and more meticulous, and in traditional art you can always paint over anything you don’t like! I am so much faster creating traditional work, and I love the tactile nature of it. I collet fine art papers, wash tape, fabric, and I put those all into my traditional drawings.
In digital art however, you have so many other tools that are easily accessible. My characters can come to life through animation. I can even use After Effects to add particles and glow effects, or do a paint over with 3D models to create more complex scenes. You have so many options that you just don’t have or are not cost effective in traditional art. It’s better for working on a team or pipeline, and there is a crispness to digital work I really appreciate.
I experiment with combining the two—the tactile traditional qualities of traditional art with the multiple effects and techniques available in digital media.
You gave a talk on Video Games through the Lens of Art History. Could you give a brief overview of how video games fit into the history of art?
So the talk assigned different attributes of video games to attributes of traditional creative work, including art, craft, and design. I then gave several video game examples and analyzed how they fit in very well with art movements that have already taken placed. For example, we discussed how the video game Cuphead related to the art historical movement Pop Art.
As a relatively new medium, video games are rapidly following a similar timeline as traditional art. We are now approaching a time where games can be so hyper-realistic that artists and audiences alike are interested in more expressive and stylized games.
What I am most interested to see is how video games will move beyond art historical movements, and create their own visual movements. Interactivity is a huge topic among more traditional artists as well, and I look forward to witnessing conversations between interactive installation artists and video games. We are already seeing a little bit of that.
What has the Internet done to change art and storytelling?
So one thing a lot of people don’t know, including many young artists, is that the ‘era’ of art we are in right now is called Internet art. We aren’t in postmodernism anymore. Internet art doesn’t mean that its art using the Internet. It means that the Internet was so influential to our society that it changed the faces of all creative media. That’s intense.
The Internet can influence your process on a small scale too—I use Pinterest every time I start a new art project for references and moodboards. Many people use sites like Polycount and Artstation to get feedback from other artists. Overall, the Internet allows people to converse and cultures to collide, which has a huge impact on how and why we create.
Storytelling wise, think about the success of the Marvel films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn’t work before the invention of the Internet. If you didn’t see all the films, you wouldn’t know or care about the characters and what was going on from Age of Ultron to Infinity War. Now, people can just Google “what you need to know before you watch Infinity War.” That’s crazy! Or you can binge watch all the movies beforehand without having to check out each one from Blockbuster and having to pay crazy late fees. It’s a new age.