There’s a saying, which is often said to be a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”. Whether it’s a true Chinese curse or not, it doesn’t matter. But one thing is sure – we’re living in interesting times, indeed. Many new technologies made it to our lives and hobbies. Digital sculpting is one of them…
Many people are sceptical to innovations and refuse to treat them on par with the old methods.
Just like with most new technologies, there are as many people fascinated with the new possibilities as others – criticizing it. Not only being critical and sceptical about it, but also refusing to treat it on par with traditional sculpting. And we’ve had an interesting discussion about digitally sculpted miniatures on our miniature painting forum, but let’s start from the very basics.
What is digital sculpting?
You surely know what traditional sculpting is: The sculptor takes a lump of putty or clay and shapes it with his hands and/or sculpting tools. You know the kind of tools used for sculpting, right? You surely do.
Now with digital sculpting, the artist forgoes his “physical” sculpting and tools to use a computer and create a “virtual model” with it. You must have heard about 3d modeling – you can see digital 3d models everywhere: in movies, in computer games, on digital artwork, on posters, in advertisements… Often it’s difficult to tell if the object or person was a real one or is it only a virtual creation.
Now one can create such a 3-dimensional model and then “print” it, using one of many 3-d printing services. Or maybe create a mold and produce copies of it. It doesn’t really matter – the clue is that a virtual creation is turned into a physical, tangible object. In our case: a miniature. That’s what digital sculpting of miniatures is all about.
I bet you see the difference: “Traditional sculpting” creates a physical object from the beginning, and “digital sculpting” creates a virtual model first, which is given a physical form in the next step(s). And what are the consequences of this difference?
Traditional vs digital sculpting
Digital sculpting can use many benefits of working on a virtual object, many that we know from inage editing software – like “undo”, “copy-paste”, easy texturing, etc. When a sculptor makes a mistake, he can press “undo” and correct his mistake easily. When he wants to create another arm, sword, head, etc. – he can use “copy/paste” and modify the newly created copy. He can also “stamp” textures onto surfaces of his models. There are many many other options in popular 3-d modeling software, but I only wanted to give you a quick insight into the choice of tools the sculptor may use in his digital sculpting.
On the other hand, traditional sculptors have similar options, but they’re not as easy to use as in digital sculpting. Sure, he can “undo” his mistakes – by cutting off, sanding off, or scratching off the parts he’s not satisfied with. It takes more work than pressing a button, but can be done. Of course, he can “copy and paste” an element he sculpted: he can create a mold and cast a few copies, or maybe create a quick print in greenstuff… But it’s more difficult and time consuming than pressing Control+C Control+V. And yes, he can also stamp textures: create a small textured “stamp” and press it against surfaces before they’re cured. But it’s not as easy and convenient as doing it the digital way.
So what? Does it make a traditional sculptor a better artist (or craftsman) than a digital sculptor?
Text processor vs pen
Is a miniature good because of its creative concept or the tools chosen by the sculptor?
Let’s think about a poet who writes a poem, or a novellist writing a book. Many of them moved on to using computers and text processing tools now. But doesn’t it make their art less impressive? They can use copy-paste, undo, and spellcheckers now. Their friends using pens or pencils do the same, but do it the harder way. Does it make their art better because they had to put more effort into it.
Or is it more about creativity than the choice of tools?
Wait, there’s another example, because the first one was a bit too controversial. Let’s take a painter with oil paints and canvas, another one with a photo camera and traditional darkroom plus a choice of retouching tools (traditional, not digital), and another one with photoshop and computer. They all create images, visual art. They all can create pictures of landscapes.
But is the painter more of an artist than the photographer? And the digital artist less of an artist than the painter?
Or do they create different kinds of art? Although they are all kinds of visual art, they’re all pictures, they’re difficult to compare at all…
Errare humanum est
Or: “To err is human”. Errors and mistakes are a part of our lives and also of our creations. Some say, that imperfections make works of art even more impressive and admirable. You must have read many comments that digital sculpting creates sculpts which are too perfect, too clean, too artificial. That they lack the human touch, the personal touch of the sculptor, which is given by traditional sculptors to their works. Do you agree with this opinion?
When you take a look at traditionally sculpted miniatures, many of them bear marks of some sculpting imperfections. Sometimes surfaces are not perfectly smooth, details not perfectly symmetrical, and shapes not perfectly modeled. And that makes them special, that makes them unique and gives them the magic touch of the sculptor.
Is it the same with digital sculpting? If people complain it lacks the imperfections of traditional sculpting by the sculptor’s hands, maybe it is the case? Or maybe it’s simply the lack of mastery of digital sculptors? Maybe there are many great traditional sculptors already, because this art (or craft) has many years of tradition already, but digital sculpting is fairly new and people use it not because of the possibilities of creating great sculpts it offers but because of the benefit of saving time and thus increasing productivity? And when time is your priority, it’s difficult to pay more attention to quality.
It’s just a tool
So is digital sculpting a completely different kind of art/craft, or is it only a different tool for sculptors to use. If it wasn’t for progress and innovations we might be still sculpting our miniatures in clay or chiselling them from stone. But now we have many kinds of putties, all with different properties. We have modern casting facilities, we have precise sculpting tools. So maybe digital sculpting is the next step on the same path? Some will move on, some will stay with the techniques they’re more familiar with.
Just think about painters. Some are still painting their paintings with brushes, some moved on to airbrushing. I bet it was simiar when somebody invented a brush. Some traditionalists must have complained that painting with brushes is not real art, because it’s taking a shortcut, and they kept painting with their fingers or wooden sticks. 😉
Just like every tool, digital sculpting has its disadvantages, too.
And just like with every tool – digital sculpting has its disadvantages, too. You only get to see the physical object when it’s printed. Until then you only see a virtual image of your sculpt. And you see it on a 2-dimensional screen. Now recall all the complaints that there’s no way of depicting a 3-dimensional painted miniature on a computer screen and a flat image. Translate it to sculpting and you know what I am talking about.
Then there’s the frequent complaint about lack of sharpness of digitally sculpted miniatures. Is it a matter of the sculpting or the printing process? I don’t know, but it seems many companies fail to get it done properly for any reason. So as you can see digital sculpting is not the perfect solution to every sculptor’s woes.
Next generation or degeneration?
Will the transition to digital sculpting result in decrease of sculpting skills?
If we think about digital sculpting along the lines of “next generation of sculpting tools”, we may start to worry if it won’t start a process of degeneration of sculpting skills of sculptors who move on to the new tool. Just like many airbrush painters wouldn’t be able to achieve smooth blending on their canvas using only traditional brushes. And just like many photographers would be unable to create a realistic portrait in the way artists of old did it – drawing or painting it. But do they have to?
Do photographers really have to prove they’re skilled painters? Do people who create great art using airbrushes really have to prove their skills with brushes? And do digital sculptors really have to prove their skills with traditional tools and putties?
I say: no, they don’t have to, but their art shouldn’t really be compared with traditional art as far as technical perfection goes. When you compare creativity – feel free to do so, but technical aspects are hardly comparable…
Clash of the titans
I am yet to see a digitally sculpted miniature which will impress me more than some traditional miniatures did.
Now there’s a good question: If we compared a great digital sculptor with a great traditional sculptor, would they be able to create comparable works? I mean: equally impressive and appealing to us, miniature painters? I must say I am yet to see a digitally sculpted miniature which will impress me more than the best miniatures sculpted in the traditional way.
There are many great sculptors, who work in the traditional way. Many that I really admire. Kev White with his characterful models and realistic proportions, Tom Meier with his unbelievable skills at detailing his sculpts, Raul Garcia Latorre with his recognizable style, and many more…
I have seen many great digital 3-d models (many were really awesome!), but I don’t know of any digitally sculpted miniature which would make me go “wow” as much as many traditional sculpts did. But maybe you have seen such miniatures?
Time will tell…
Now we don’t know which way it’s going to go in future. But we can be sure we’re witnessing and experiencing beginnings of a new trend in our hobby. Digital sculpting made achieving many results so much easier, that it’s going to be pursued for many years to come. But will it completely take the place of traditional sculpting in our hobby?
It is quite natural to look for more optimal tools, ones which will allow you to improve your creations and which suit your needs and style better. It’s a natural process, and it can’t be avoided. But let’s think: should it?
I am really curious what you think about the “digital sculpting vs traditional sculpting” subject. Why don’t you share your comments with us. I am sure they will add many new facts to the topic. Thanks in advance!