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Interview with Branko Bistrovic

By Jo Hargreaves

Web: http://branko.cgsociety.org/gallery/ (will open in new window)
Email: moc.liamg@civsib

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Date Added: 29th February 2012

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Can you walk us through the typical way you approach creating an image? As a 2D artist I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you use Photoshop? Are there any particular tricks or processes you like to use?
Yep, I use Photoshop. I also use Painter, Artrage and traditional methods (watercolors). They've all got their pros and cons of course.

Photoshop is the best at layer management, selecting and transforming and is predictable. It's the most reliable for productions since everyone uses it, is pretty familiar with it, and it crashes very rarely.

Painter is as close to traditional as I can get digitally. The brushes are an excellent blend of control and traditional unpredictability. Unfortunately it's not as stable as Photoshop.

Artrage is great for oil clumped textures of course, but it's also quite versatile for sketching, with excellent pencils.

When working traditionally, the connection with the art you are producing is second to none; it's just you, the paint and the canvas/paper/napkin/wall/cheek. The downside is that it has none of the convenience of digital art ("undo", layers, etc.,) but the lack of all those things has the upside of demanding a level of focus from me that I never quite achieve when working digitally.

Recently, more so than ever, I've been striving to bridge the gap between digital and traditional by using "undo" less, less layers and less resource textures in my personal art (not a very good idea in production art though, where revisions are constant). I want to achieve that level of focus I get working with real watercolors, where there is only a negligible safety net and also the digital convenience of not having to clean up spilled paint, or rush out before the art store closes for that extra $38.00, 37ml tube of W&N cadmium red.

You know, if I use Corel Painter's real Watercolors I can come pretty darn close. Still though, it's bloody tempting to spring a new layer every once in awhile and try something offbeat for a change.

That's an interesting perspective because it does seem that digital art opens the door to constantly correcting/changing things, throwing layers around like confetti and generally scrambling towards a finished piece. We see it as a wonderful innovation, but do you think this ability to right any wrong at the click of a button is perhaps having a negative effect and causing artists to become lazy?

Yeah, most definitely. I catch it in myself all the time. Lack of foresight and preparation, relying too much on the computer to solve problems you can't figure out on your own, e.g: perspective, proper lighting, textures, etc.

Besides the computer reliance, the rest of the issues also exist in the traditional realm, but I don't think they are as prolific amongst traditional artists who work in the entertainment field simply because traditional mediums aren't as forgiving. Usually you have to have a clear idea of what you want to paint before you mix the oils.

The issue isn't in using the tools; it's becoming reliant on the tools to cover up your shortcomings. If you're a concept artist and have ridiculous deadlines, you don't have the time to paint textures or countless tree branches. Instead you have to rely on photos and specific brushes, and this is how I feel the tools should be used.

On the other hand, when you are doing a personal piece and have no deadline, but continue to use all of the same shortcuts simply because you can't be bothered to learn how to paint those elements, then I do feel the artist is stunting his own artistic development. Shortcuts exist to save time, not to represent the best you can do.
I love the quote you have on your blog: "Art is dangerous, I do art, therefore... I am dangerous! But a friendly sort of danger, the kind you want to cuddle up with." Care to elaborate on what this means? (Laughs).

We all know art is influential. It can change people's perceptions and move them to greatness or self-reflective introversion. I'm choosing to ride that fact like a starling rides on the back of a rhino - in style...

In all honesty though, I don't think my art nears any such potential, mainly because it's too commercial. But the fact that it is commercial at least makes it more approachable; it's not heavily moral and is something most can digest if not right-out love. You might even go so far as to say it's something you'd be willing to cuddle up with, well, kind of... (Laughs). Also, I had to add the "cuddle" part so that I could net in the clients, I'm sure you know how it is.

If you had to pick one moment of your life that stands out as being particularly significant in your personal or artistic development, what would it be and why?

It's literally a week before the second year of university. I've picked my classes, schedules are established, most efficient route to each class negotiated, but despite all this my gut won't give it a rest. It just doesn't feel right.

I'm on the subway heading back from orientation, when I tell myself "f*!# it" I get off on the next stop, take the train back to the registrar and request that I have my fees reimbursed and be dropped from all classes (I wish the process had been as smooth as I'm making it sound here! For instance, I remember being so distracted that I slipped on someone's dropped ice-cream. I chose not to think of that as an ill omen and instead was grateful it was a good smelling pile I had stepped on for a change.)

Anyways, after about three days of hassling, my money was reimbursed (although I'm sure they had my place in the classes filled within the hour). I hightailed it to a downtown private animation college, and with only two days before classes were to properly begin I showed some doodles, put on my best puppy eyes (with a promise of immediate payment) and was accepted. It's all been doodles since then.

A week later I told my father. He took it like a real champ, only making one snide comment, I think, and since then has been behind me all the way. I'm sure there was a moment there somewhere where he screamed inside though (Laughs)!

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I guess that's what the phrase "going with your gut" really means! Okay, so in the spirit of Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors (which, for those who don't know, is a film all about how a woman's life splits off in two different directions when she does/doesn't get on a subway) - if you had stayed on the subway that day, where do you think you would be now? And what would you be doing? Do you think you would still have eventually found your way to art?

Hmm, that's a tough one. I'd like to think I would have found art one way or another, but I'm not so much a believer in destiny as I am in each individual defining their own path. There are so many people I talk to who constantly tell me how lucky I am, and how they wanted to be artists, photographers, writers, but for one reason of another they found themselves where they are now.

Though that does remind me of a friend whose father a few years ago told him how lucky he was to have followed his passion (my friend is an artist, and doing well for himself). The father is a foreman for Toronto's transit system; he makes a good living but beyond that it's just a job to him. He admitted that the comfort and security of the job locked him in early and as the years passed he kept telling himself, "I'll do it, I'll do it, just after this next bill, after this next holiday..." Then one morning he realized 20+ years had passed, he now had a family to support and those sorts of dreams no longer mattered. He wanted to take up photography. The saddest part is that for years he actually avoided doing it even as a hobby because it frustrated him that he didn't stick to it. I actually think that it's that fear of regret that spurred me to get off the subway and turn back that day. It made me nauseous to imagine that years from now I'd be looking back wondering what would have happened if I had gotten off.

I wonder now if I would have developed the same strain of regret my buddy's dad had, until I too would begin to avoid art. Well, luckily I was scared sufficiently enough to get off. Heh, I suppose all I really did that day was run from something more frightening into something less frightening!

On his retirement last year my friend bought his father a DSLR. Every time I see him outdoors now he's got that camera with him. To a degree I suppose it's never too late to find pleasure in the things that you enjoy. The greatest obstacle might very well just be you.


Related links

To see more by Branko Bistrovic, check out Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 4, Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop and Photoshop for 3D Artists

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