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Interview with Theo Prins

By Simon Morse

Web: http://www.theoprins.com/ (will open in new window)
Email: moc.liamg@snirp.w.oeht

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Date Added: 23rd May 2012
Hi Theo, it's great to meet you and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by us today. We usually start with an obvious one to get the ball rolling. Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you end up in the digital art industry?

Since I was young environments have always intrigued me. I would craft little worlds of clay or cardboard, draw city layouts and create tunnel systems in thick blackberry bushes. I love the feeling of how objects relate to each other in space and I've always tried to re-create that feeling in my artwork.

Phases came and went as I was growing up. When I was about two, I started drawing strange airplanes. Then I moved on to dinosaurs, cities, and again back to airplanes. At one point in my early teens I decided to pursue a pilot license, which I financed by drawing airplane portraits for pilots at the local airport. This ended abruptly when I was introduced to a Wacom tablet and exposed to some concept art in high school. I stopped flying and started painting digitally. I ended up creating a Deviantart profile and posted frequently on the Sijun forums. Through this I got my first job at CCP games in Iceland in 2007.

I can tell by some of your paintings that you must be well-travelled. Which parts of the world would you say have influenced you the most and is there anywhere that you would like to go that you think will be inspirational?

The place I keep going back to is Asia. I've lived in small, quiet places by the water for most of my life, in the US and in Holland. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I wound up with a fascination for dirty, sprawling cities. So, over the past four years I've fed this habit in my art by traveling to those sorts of places. In 2008 I had the wonderful experience of living in Seoul, South Korea, working for Reloaded Studios. After that I spent some time in Vietnam and Thailand working on stereoscopic paintings. Now I've just come to the end of a year spent between India, Nepal and Hong Kong, working on the go with my laptop and graphics tablet. It's the lively density and visual chaos that I love about cities in Asia. The mix of Victorian colonial architecture and slums in Kolkata, India has been especially influential. There's always more to explore, but before I start thinking about the next destination I want to just sit down somewhere and focus purely on painting.

This is the question I have been looking forward to asking: where did you get the idea to create stereoscopic paintings and how do they work?

After taking many wobbly stereoscopic photos some years back, I became curious about the possibilities of mimicking stereoscopic depth in paintings. It all comes down to creating two slightly different perspectives of a scene and presenting these two perspectives to each eye separately so that they overlap in our vision. The process of making them involves cutting a painting into hundreds of pieces in Photoshop. I then duplicate the painting and set it next to the original. Either by crossing my eyes or using a viewer, I merge the two images in my visual field and shift each little piece in the duplicate painting to create a second slightly different perspective. Depending on which direction I move objects, left or right, they appear to move farther away or closer. Slowly I'll move each piece into place until the entire scene feels solid. It feels a lot like sculpting, actually. There's definitely the feeling that I'm manipulating something physical in 3D space.

On a side note, it's also fun to exaggerate the distance between the two perspectives, simply by shifting each piece farther. This creates the illusion of a miniature world, or that we, as viewers, have eyes very far apart like some giant creature.

I highly recommend shooting two photos a few seconds apart from an airplane. Viewing the two photos as a stereoscopic pair will create this miniature world effect because the plane has moved a substantial distance by the time one snaps the second photo.

Can you tell us a little about the process you use to create an image? And how does this need to change if you are creating a stereoscopic painting?

I start my paintings in a variety of ways. Sometimes an image will flash to mind, say when I'm walking around town. It usually causes me to drop whatever I'm doing and race to my computer or pull out my sketchpad to jot down the idea before it drifts away. Other times I'll start without any clear ideas, just an inspiration to paint. In this case I'll throw colors, shapes and textures on the canvas until I suddenly see a composition. It's a very intuitive process. I'm always open to changes in direction while I'm painting. Typically, the initial stages of a painting just act as base for ideas that might come along later.

What I notice is that keeping a painting loose allows me to more vividly experience the mood of an image. When viewing a loose painting my mind's eye is more active, imagining details, textures and potential color relationships here and there. These always serve as clues for what to bring into the painting next. I'll carefully carry on like this for awhile until I've brought the image to a higher level of detail without undermining the spirit of the original sketch. At a certain point I stop seeing things I want to change or add to the painting. That's when I call it finished. However, there's always a chance that I'll peak at the painting a week later and continue working on it. The process is ongoing.

While any image can be converted to 3D, it doesn't necessarily improve the image. 3D has to be taken into account from the beginning of the image-making process to take advantage of what stereoscopic depth has to offer. For instance, there can be a feeling of emptiness in the 3D space when I convert just any 2D composition. Many times when I've taken my older paintings and converted them to stereo, it's awkward to have so much depth in between certain objects. While there may have been a sense of fullness in the original 2D version, now it feels empty, like something is missing in the in between space. As a result I bring in lots more objects to fill the space. This would make an ordinary 2D painting feel cluttered and messy, but it feels right in 3D and allows me to craft a much more intricate world. Working with stereoscopic depth opens up a new realm of possibilities with how to arrange and layer objects to create a sense of space. That's what I'm having a fun time experimenting with.


Cross-eye 3D Viewing Instructions

1. Slowly cross your eyes over the pair of images until a third image appears in the middle. If you see four images
you've crossed them too far.
2. The middle image may appear out of focus at first.
3. Relax your gaze without uncrossing your eyes. The middle image will pop into 3D.

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