Inspiring Minds. Part 2


Q: 3D ARK asks: “Who or what inspires you?”

A: Nicolas Poteet, Artist/Senior Trainer 3D Animation, NAD CENTRE, writes:

Illustration , cartoon, art inspirations

Enki Bilal, Jean Giraud (Moebius), Morris, Todd Schorr, Coop, Juxtapoz Magazine, Fluide Glacial, Heavy Metal, Rick Griffin, Robt.Williams, Klimpt, Hogarth, Van Gogh, My Dad


Blade Runner, Fifth Element, La Cite des Enfants Perdus, Le Grand Bleu, Miller’s Crossing, Delicatessen, Good Fellas, Raging Bull, Brazil, Toy Story


Wipeout XL, Skull Monkeys, Earth Worm Jim, Crash 1 and 2.


Ren and Stimpy, John K of course! Spumco stuff and that crazy George Liquor, All my Ex speed motorbikes, some real slick design there… Skateboarding and its art, Snowboarding ( another cool art scene), Stephane Grappelli, Luscious Jackson, Beck, Sting, The Police, The Orb, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Barr, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Old Chevrolet models…Listening to some Steely Dan or Zappa….Any really cool graffiti, Yosemite Sam ( “When I say wo I mean WO”), Old pickup trucks, mostly the front ends from 55 to 58… Maupassant, Poe, Beaudelaire, Val Semeiks ( I hope that is how it is written), real great comic book artist Lobo!

A: Caleb Owens, Technical Director, Dream Quest Images writes:

The Three Stooges! Hands down!

Frank Zappa, Terri Bozzio, Dixie Dregs, John Scofield, Stravinsky, Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh, Arnulf Rainer, Spike Jones, John Cage, Dr. Edmund Skellings, Jasper Johns, Judy Chicago.

Other stuff:

Fishing, long warm sunny days, playing the drums, long hikes in the mountains, old pickup trucks and rain :)

A: Chris Dinardo, Turner Production Effects writes:

I look at everything. People, books, movies, photos, cell animation, comics. I think that inspiration can be drawn from any source so I’m always on the lookout for it. I also keep a small notebook in my back pocket. While this serves mainly as a phone number list, it has on occasion been invaluable to me when an idea strikes. Now all I have to do is find the time to ACT on those ideas…

A: David Nix, Technical Coordinator/Animator, Square USA writes:

In no particular order:

Moebus, George Pal, Ridley Scott, Kubrick, Brazil, Terry Gilliam, 2001, City of Lost Children, Stan Winston, Jim Cameron, Dennis Muren, The Abyss, T2, Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, Michael Crichton, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, the Coen Brothers, the brothers Quay, etc…

Many many others…

A: John Goodman, Animator/Technical Director, Rhythm & Hues Studios writes:

Inspirations, hmm…


2001/2010, logans run, tron, bladerunner all ingested at an early age…any syd mead in general, Michael Whelan’s work, also the seventies star trek animated/sat. morning show, some good stuff in there…the first star trek movie (no really!!:), Lucas/Spielberg in general, Ralph McQuarrie’s stuff…Jean-Michel Jarre and Jean-Luc Ponty, Giorgio Moroder all molding a young man’s flights of fantasy.

The old Toyo Links and Abel/Digital/Triple I stuff were a big influence too, also WORKS and the other old NYIT & Symbolics stuff hooked me young. Oh and cant forget good old Karl Sims and Optomystic…

Books etc..

Kipling, Asimov, Jack Chalker’s Well World and Flux series, Greg Bear, Larry Niven’s known space stuff, Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Love and Rockets by the Hernandez bros., CJ Cheryyh’s CHANUR series (plus 40,000 in Gehenna), Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age, Carl Sagan’s A Candle In The Darkness, etc etc etc oh dear I seem to have run out of photonsss…..

A: Justin Leach, Animator, Bluesky|Vifx writes:

I myself am a big miyazaki fan and am very influenced by his work.

I personally hope that CG films in the future can possess the same level of sophistication, detail and masterful storytelling that Miyazaki has employed in his films.

Inspiring Minds. Part 1


Q: 3D ARK asks: “Who or what inspires you?”

A: Patrick Thomas, Animator, Blizzard Entertainment writes:

At blizzard we are influenced to be very creative and everyone is inspired buy most of the better fantasy artist’s like for instance “BROM”, or “Frazetta”. I know for a fact that we also love to pick up the latest copies of “S.M.H” a fantastic hobbyist mag out of Japan. Also what is popular right now is a book called “CREATURE CORE” it is another artist out of Japan who does phenomenal stuff.

A: Rachel Levine, Character Animator, Walt Disney Imagineering writes:

I can’t really say what inspires my work…I don’t think I’ve done enough to show what’s bopping around between my synapses. But there is a lot out there that gets me up in the morning, and keeps me chugging away.

When I was a kid, I wrote out a list of movies that inspired me. Star Wars Trilogy. Dark Crystal. Labyrinth. ET. This short documentary movie my dad got on videotape about Claymation at Will Vinton Studios. Neverending Story. Dune. Just about anything with a character that wasn’t human, or entirely human.

In High school, I added zombie movies. Day of the dead, dawn of the dead, night of the living dead, Return of the living dead, Evil dead 2. I was fascinated by how they made corpses, and the cool make-up effects.

Until I saw the documentary on Apocalypse Now called Hearts of Darkness, and I decided I had to go to film school.

College showed me what I was really missing. Great films. Double Indemnity. Marty. The Apartment. The Bridge on the River Kwai. Papillon. Laurence of Arabia. Singing in the Rain. Basically that AFi list plus a bunch more. There is a great small chain of video stores in New York City called Kim’s where videos are organized as they should be, by director, or screenwriter, or more specific genre…I saw a whole lot of great movies there. Kirosawa. John Ford. Kubrick. Lumet. Jimmy Stewart movies. Scorsese. Coen Brothers. Hitchcock. 70’s movies. And a ton more.

I’m completely addicted.

I love animated films, and I watch them all the time. But I’m just as jazzed about live action films where actors really make you feel something, and the director is placing the camera somewhere to make you feel something, not just at a good angle to see the actors do their thing. Fascinating lighting. Dialog that has been well thought out, and is authentic to the character. Good storytelling.

Right now I’m going through this Scorsese documentary called “A personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American movies” (yes, i had to look that up :)). It’s interviewing him about movies throughout the years, and what inspired him. There is a lot of clips of great films in that that I’m trying to watch separately. I also aim to see all the movies in the documentary “Visions of Light”.

Lots of great stuff out there to inspire a person.

Back to my cave now. (shuffle…shuffle)

A: Shawn Kelly, Animator, ILM writes:

Movies: Empire Strikes Back changed my life when I was a kid. Just about any classic Disney film inspires me (Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book, Rescuers Down Under too), but especially some of the shorts like the Sport Goofy shorts. More recent inspirational flicks would include Wallace and Gromit, Mulan, Cats Don’t Dance, and A Bug’s Life. . . Visually amazing movies like Dark City and Kundun really inspire me as well.

Bernie Wrightson, Brian Froud, Jeff Smith, C. S. Morse, Frank Frazetta, Dave Mckean, Frank and Ollie – some super inspirational illustrators and storytellers for me. . .

Animation done by certain animators really inspires me like crazy – Glen Keane and James Baxter’s work, of course, but there are a lot of others. Certain co-worker’s and friend’s work blows my mind and really gets me excited about animating! Tim Harrington, Lou Dellarosa, Kevin Martel, Tim Harrington, Glen McIntosh, Rick O’Connor, Bobby Beck – those guys are amazing and their work reminds me every day of how much I still get to learn – and that’s an exciting prospect!

Bryce Courtenay’s book “The Power of One” is not only the best book I’ve ever read, but is also the most inspirational thing I’ve ever read – since we’re on the subject!

Oh, and my collection of toys which has finally outgrown my desk!

shawn ;)

A: Steph Greenberg writes:

I’ve always been inspired by the classic Warner Bros. and Tex Avery cartoons, as well as some of the modern cartoons inspired by the classics. I think the most influential Disney film on me in Pinocchio, which was lush in the environments and the character movement, and IMHO still hasn’t been topped.

The first film with computer graphics that got me thinking that it was something I wanted to pursue, was “The Last Starfighter”, because I was convinced that eventually that power would come down to something on my desktop, and that I’d be able to take cartoon style animation into a new dimension. It took longer than I thought it would.

I also have the usual science fiction influences: Gibson, Adams, Niven, Pournelle and Barnes, Asimov, Phillip K Dick, Fred Saberhagen, Somtow Sakuritkul, Neal Stephenson, etc.

Film: The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madres, some Preston Sturgis, Vanishing Point, The Three Stooges, Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Pulp Fiction, John Woo, Jackie Chan, Sergio Leoni, almost any Riddley Scott, almost any Paul Verhoeven (I really like Flesh and Blood), Evil Dead (1,2 and Army of Darkness).

TV: Max Headroom, almost any cool commercial, The Addams Family (does that surprise anyone?), Xena (which inspired my “body switch” test for character development), A&E’s Biography, TLC and Discovery, numerous insipid sitcoms, Brisco County, Wild Wild West. Sometimes Star Trek DS9 and other treks where they go into Klingon culture, an interesting exercise in thorough development of an alien civilization. I’m sure there’s more, but offhand I can’t recall them.

A: Matt Wood, Freelance 3D Artist writes:

Hmmm, let’s see now, some things that get me wondering off in a world of my own…

  • Star Wars got me started – I think that’s obvious if you see my work
  • Everything (almost) by Steven Spielberg
  • Big fat books about architecture (I don’t bother reading the words)
  • Old crumbling castles in the English countryside
  • 2000 AD & Judge Dredd (not the film – oh please)
  • Crackpot stories about UFO’s – especially obscure ones from the 60’s or
  • South America
  • Big machines of any description
  • Really really bad weather
  • Airwolf (really)
  • The works of Arthur C Clarke (back when I used to have time to read)
  • Stanley Kubrick’s spooky, quiet dialogue scenes
  • Beer & barmaids (how did that get in there?)
  • Ugly, clumsy Russian military hardware
  • Mean looking Western military hardware
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Insects, especially ants (looks like somebody beat me to the film idea though)
  • Cheesy Victorian-style sci-fi films with Doug McClure, Peter Cushing and the like
  • The Fifth Element (perfect in every respect)
  • Sitting down and watching the sky or the sea or both
  • Ridley Scott’s photography (didn’t like Blade Runner all that much though)
  • Old Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers serials
  • Preposterous conspiracy theories
  • Corny sci-fi illustration from the 70’s
  • Really big buildings that weren’t built between 1940 and 1980
  • Anybody who can work one of those pencil things

and … the thing I find most inspiring of all …

  • Pretty much anything that could have been done so much better …

Trademark Advice

Trademark Advice
Written by David Diamond

*Disclaimer* : The following article is for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of professional legal advice. Anyone interested in trademarks and copyright related issues should consult a lawyer.

(NOTE: The following was written in reply to a post from someone whose company’s name had been challenged by another company for trademark infringement. It is the opinion of the author who is *not* an attorney, and should not be considered legal advice.)

First off, I’m not a lawyer. I once wrote a feature story on domain name issues with regard to legal use of names, etc. I had to interview a slew of copyright lawyers and experts in the field. Further, my company ( develops customer communications materials (user guides, Web sites, product brochures, white papers, CD-ROMs, etc.) for business, so I’m exposed to the legal considerations that we need to make when developing content for clients. I have an opinion about how trademark law works, and it follows:

1. Trademark law is based on the likelihood of consumer confusion, not necessarily technically similar or phonetically similar language. So, for example, a company selling hamburgers could not call themselves “MacDonalds.” Though it is *technically* not the same word as “McDonalds,” it is similar enough to cause consumer confusion.

2. Part of the determination of the likelihood of consumer confusion is the type of business. The “McDonalds Tire Company” would probably have no problems using that name. But the “McDonalds Bakery” might. (Notice I say words like “probably” and “might.” This is because trademark law is determined by the opinion of a court. It’s tough to guess the outcome of all cases.)

3. Terms that are generic to a given industry will probably not be granted trademark protection. For example, the word “digital” would be hard for any one computer-related company to “own” as it is generic and therefore may be seen by a court to be essential to the description of other companies in the same field. A food service company would most certainly not be granted trademark protection for the name “Cooked Food.” Those words are generic in that industry and could therefore be considered essential to other companies needing to describe themselves. On the other hand, a video production company calling themselves “Cooked Food Video Productions” may indeed get trademark protection for the phrase. In this case, the terms would be considered unique to that field.

Making matters even more confusing, in the United States (and elsewhere), trademark protection is not, in and of itself, *absolute* protection. The first business using the name for legitimate commerce actually owns the name. This is why Microsoft has had to buy off so many smaller companies along the way that have claimed trademark infringement for products that Microsoft has similarly named. Even though Microsoft may have gotten a trademark (or even gone the extra mile to get a registered trademark), if another company comes along that can prove they were using the term for legitimate commerce first, a court will uphold that. This is, in part, why companies are (or should be) so adamant about the proper use of their trademarks in documentation and advertising. Proper use of the trademark symbols establishes a public track record.

Equally important, the proper and consistent use of a trademark symbol tm, (sm), or ® also establishes public “claim” to a mark that helps prevent it from becoming a industry-generic term. Believe it or not, even after having a mark for years and having a brand name that is so popular that people start using the term generically, you can still lose the protection. One of the ways to protect against this is to use the marks that describe *your* particular product or company adjectivally. This is why you will always hear the makers of the following items describe them as:

Band-Aid ® Brand Bandages
Jell-O ® Brand Pudding
Kleenex ® Brand Facial Tissues

In these examples, the protected words are used as adjectives to describe a particular product, thereby ensuring that specific notice is given as to *which* brands of bandages, pudding and facial tissues are mentioned. Remember, this is all about consumer confusion. “I cut my finger, so I put on a band aid.” “I went through several boxes of Kleenex when I had a cold.” “Can you xerox these for me?” In cases like these, a court could rule that it was likely that the consumer was not aware of the specific brand of product that he/she was using, and that these terms had become generic in those industries. This is why the makers of those products use their protected marks adjectivally.

I can think of one software product whose name is in danger of become a generic term for what it does: I say “paint program” and you think… The very first line of the Photoshop manual reads, “Welcome to the Photoshop program.” They do not say “Welcome to Photoshop,” as someday “Photoshop,” due to its overwhelming popularity, might be ruled a generic term for a computer-based paint program. The phrase “Photoshop program” establishes exactly what Adobe has received protection for: a software program. This helps protect their mark. As soon as paragraph two, they drop the adjective structure.

“I am stuck on Band-Aid brand, ‘cuz Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” This moves us in to another area important for those who do documentation or publishing of any kind. Notice in the Band-Aid jingle that the phrase “Band-Aid brand” is not repeated in the last part of the sentence. Not only would it have been musically awkward to do so, but it’s also legally unnecessary. Once a proper claim has been made once in a piece–usually at the beginning–the protected word can be “abused” elsewhere in the same document. Different companies’ legal departments will argue this point. We had one client whose legal department insisted that their mark be used as an adjective on a Web site in every case. You can imagine how awkward this was to read. Other companies (thankfully!) are more realistic and use the marks, as needed, without going over board the point of alienating readers.

Trademark law is a very gray area. Even the so-called experts that I spoke with when doing my feature admitted that no one can guess how courts will rule in every case.

Here are a few guidelines and resources to consider when choosing a name for a company or product:

1. Pick a name that is unique in your business field. Better yet, make up a word of your own. “Java” is not a new word, but it certainly had nothing to do with technology before Sun adopted it. “Starbucks” is a new word. Marks like this are easiest to protect, should the need arise.

2. Search public resources to see if anyone has already sought protection for the same or a similar mark. Two resources that I find useful are:

a. The Network Solutions domain name registry. In this day and age, if a mark has been protected, it has also probably (but not always) been registered as an Internet domain name. Domain name registration is *not* the same thing as trademark protection, but remember, it’s who used the word/term first that will ultimately matter. If someone has registered it as a domain name, then there is at least some record of them already using it. (

b. Search the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Web database. Using this free service, you can easily see if a mark you’re seeking has already been taken. This is not considered a complete search: just because you don’t see a mark listed, doesn’t mean that it isn’t protected. Read the site’s disclaimers in that regard. But at least if you find the mark you’re seeking already protected for someone else, you need to think of a new one. (

You can also search your city’s fictitious business listings to see if anyone has a company named similarly to the name that you want to use. And, if you’re anywhere near Sunnyvale, California, you can call or visit the Sunnyvale Center for Innovation, Invention and Ideas. They handle trademark searches and such for the West Coast of the United States. They have some official affliction with the US Patent and Trademark office, but I’m not sure what it is.

For a really great look into the ins and outs of trademark law as it pertains to running a small business, I recommend the book: “TRADEMARK: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name.” It’s written by Kate McGrath and Stephen Elias and is published by Nolo Press. I read it and learned much from it.

And, most importantly, remember that this is all about consumer confusion. Don’t press your luck by choosing something that might be considered similar to a competitor. If it’s challenged, it will require Big Bucks for you to defend yourself. Be creative in your naming ideas, do some initial searches to see if any of them are immediate vetoes, and make sure that things look free and clear before you commit to anything. That way, should you ever find yourself in court defending your company or product name, you’ll be able to show a paper trail of the efforts that you went through to secure your name. And hire a trademark attorney that can take you through all the steps. I am not an attorney. This document is my opinion and should not be considered legal advice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Diamond works for The HERO Company, a San Francisco-based company that develops customer communications materials for business. (

Composition: A primer on Positive and negative space. Part 1

Composition, A primer on Positive and negative space, Part 1

Written by Michael Fulks | Reprinted with permission.
©1996 Apogee Photo Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

This article will make someone mad. I guarantee it. I am going to challenge what many of you learned in photography about composition. Do you still want to continue?

Over the past ten years I have been on the board of directors of two local arts councils, Chairman of the Board of one, and Executive Director, a job which involved overseeing an art gallery. The gallery welcomed photographers and at one time 25% of the gallery was devoted to photography. While criteria of accepting a photographer never hinged on the dreaded “yes, but it is art?” question, many photographers were dismayed when their work was not accepted. The judges, while not questioning the issue of art, did judge the work based on basic things like the photographer’s sense of composition. They considered his use of color or B/W, in other words did his use of color, or lack of it, add something to the body of work that distinguished him or her from other photographers. And they looked for something about the work that drew the viewer into it, captivating him visually or emotionally. Very rarely, and only if one of the judges was a photographer, did the discussion wander into technical issues such as depth of field, corner to corner sharpness of the printing, or choice of papers.

This frustration on the part of many photographers was repeated when they entered local and regional art shows. Many were rejected without explanation. If their work was accepted, they often wondered how and why ribbons were awarded in the photography category, especially if they did not get one. Comments I heard from photographers ranged from, “But it wasn’t even in focus!” to “What a lousy job of printing!” Clearly they were not seeing what the judges saw.

The difference between what the judges saw and what the photographers saw is often basic to the “is it art?” question. Preoccupation with technique generally characterizes a craft rather than an “art.” But while many photographers view their work as art, they often, nonetheless, judge another photographer’s work based upon his or her mastery of technique rather than artistic merit. Art judges, not versed in the subtleties of technique, tend to judge a photograph as they do other art, looking for composition, content, and style.

Many photographers feel that they have mastered composition; after all, composition was one of the first things they learned in basic photography. But what they don’t know is that what they learned in basic photography is only the tip of the iceberg. The average photography student probably didn’t learn what most other artists learn in their basic classes. And what artists know and you don’t, as a photographer, may be the key to producing dynamic and award winning photos. I am speaking, of course, from an artistic point of view. It probably won’t help win you a Pulitzer prize. And it may not help you be a winner at the local camera club unless your technique is also well polished. But it may get you noticed more often in the fine art competitions, and it will make you a better photographer.

Let’s begin with the basics. We all learn the basic “rule of thirds” in our first photography classes. (See figure 1) This was probably the first time anyone told us to stop putting everything dead center in the picture. Shooting using the rule of thirds immediately improved our pictures. Nonetheless you probably had someone in your life who commented that it looked like your camera slipped, and how come Aunt Edna wasn’t centered a little better. But maybe it was just your choice of subject matter.

Fig. 1 According to the rule of thirds, your subject should go at a point where the lines intersect.

While the rule of thirds produces pretty pictures, after a while many of those pictures start to look alike, especially if you are in a position where you have to look at a lot of photographs, like an photo editor or a judge. And because they start to look alike, we may start to look at other factors such as printing and “technique” or whether the girl in the picture should have worn more make-up or not. What is happening here is that the photograph does not interest the eye enough by itself and so we go looking for something “tangible” to judge it by.

So how do we keep the eye interested? Is putting something “eye-catching” in the photo the only solution? (Some people think so. Perhaps that is why so many photography competitions seem to use the unwritten rule: the prettier the girl in the picture the higher the score. But don’t get me started on that one.) Is there something more subtle going on that controls our interest and engages the eye and creates a picture that you won’t tire of?

The frame, the positive and the negative.

In many basic drawing classes students learn that there are three basic elements of a composition: the frame, the positive space and the negative space.

The positive space is easiest to understand. Generally, it is the space occupied by your subject. Conversely, negative space is the space that is not your subject. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Not quite. The negative space is defined by the edges of the positive space and the frame or border, our third element. So, part of our negative space is bounded by the frame and another part is bounded by the positive space. Sometimes the negative space is completely bounded by the positive space. What is important also to note is that the negative space also defines our subject. Confused, look at the illustrations of the stool. (Fig. 2-4) That should make it easier to understand.

Fig. 2 A stool. Fig. 3 The positive space is masked in black Fig. 4 The negative space is masked in black. See how the negative space exists as objects that define the stool. In fact you can draw the stool simply by drawing the negative spaces alone!

Subjectively speaking, a composition “works” when there is a balance struck between the positive and the negative. A major factor in controlling this balance is the frame or border of the picture. While the balance notion is easy to grasp, the contribution of the frame is harder to grasp and harder to teach, especially to grownups.

The frame is edge of the paper if you’re drawing. It could be the edge of the print, negative or slide in photography. It is the edges of the view finder in the camera. Sounds easy, but do you know, that most adults are not aware of the edges of their view finder, or the edges of the paper. They have to be trained to see it as part of their compositions. Art teachers of pre-adolescent youngsters tell me that those children pick up on this almost instinctively, but that it becomes harder to teach the older the child becomes, apparently because of how we train our minds to process information. The older we get the less likely we are to categorize the edge of the paper as having important information or relevance to our composition.

But it does. It is what gives definition to our composition. When I was taking my fine art photography course, my instructor forbade us to crop. In teaching us to “see” he wanted to force us to pay attention to the edges of the view finder. When we presented our pictures for critique, of course, he was there with the cropping “L’s” to take a little off here and there until suddenly the picture would “pop.” He didn’t call it balancing negative and positive space, but I realize now that was what he was doing. His goal was to teach us to see that balance when we were shooting. He believed that that would make us more aware of what we were shooting and more selective and careful when he finally clicked the shutter.

What it also did for me was to make me more aware of the effect of the background of my photograph, in other words, that which was not my subject – the negative space. Suddenly I was more aware of elements that would be distractive. I was aware of when a branch came out of my subject’s head, because I saw how it became linked to the subject’s space and threw off the balance of the picture. This is an important realization: The branch protruding from Aunt Edna’s head not only destroys the picture because it looks funny, but because it upsets the balance between positive and negative spaces. The branch by making contact with her head, and being in the same focal plane as her head, becomes part of the positive space, instead of the negative space as I intended.

This does not mean I do not crop, I do, but I always attempt to see and get what I want the first time rather than relying on the darkroom or my paper cutter. And you should crop too, but only if it will improve the balance and composition of the picture. But how are you cropping? Is it square, oval, round, or rectangle? We are back to the frame again (frame meaning the physical border of the photograph.) The very shape of the frame affects the relationship of positive and negative space. And sometimes the balance isn’t achieved by a standard format. It may be long and narrow! Have you noticed how much more beautiful a movie looks in “letter-box” format on the “silver screen” than in the more square format of a TV set. This is the effect of the frame and the fact that the cinematographer composed the scene knowing that his frame is the long and narrow of a wide screen. When his work is cropped arbitrarily to accommodate the TV set, much of the mastery and beauty of the cinematographer’s work is lost.

Composition, the skilled use of the positive and negative spaces interacting with the edges of your work, has measurable effects on a viewer’s eye. For one thing it provides a road map for his eye to view the picture. Remember that your goal in composition is controlling your viewer’s eye. You want him to see what you want him to and not to get bored. You want him to discover things that might not be so obvious.

Composition: A primer on Positive and negative space. Part 2

Composition, A primer on Positive and negative space, Part 2

Written by Michael Fulks | Reprinted with permission.
©1996 Apogee Photo Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Continued from Part 1…

Let’s look at Joe McDonald’s picture of a tree frog. It is an excellent example of what we have been talking about. First let’s identify the positive space. If you guessed the frog, you were partially right. I have masked the positive space in white in figure 1. Do you see that the positive space encompasses not only the frog but the branches as well? OK, what about the negative space? This is easy, it is the areas in black.

Please notice something. Do you see the negative space is actually shapes? These shapes have substance or mass. This is important to remember. Negative space is not just the absence of something. It has weight and mass, and plays an important role in defining your subject.

Let’s consider the positive space again. Notice how the positive space travels across and intersects with the frame. See how it provides the eye several gates or roadways into the picture. And where do they all lead? To the frog! They also provide a way out of the picture and back in through another gate, so the eye will not get stuck on the frog with no place to go, but can go in and out of the picture always coming back to the frog. Because the branches are part of the positive space and we must travel along them to get to the frog, we also get to see the relationship of the branches and the frog, texture, color, form and function. So the photographer has shown us more than just the frog but taught us a little about its environment.

“Tree Frog” © Joe McDonald. All Rights Reserved
Fig.1 The positive space is in white, the negative in black.
Fig. 2 Notice how much easier it is to see the shapes of the negative space when the picture is upside down.

Branches, of course, are easy to make intersect with our frame. It is not so easy with other subjects, but how you accomplish the positive space’s intersection with the frame, and how many times you do it, can provide interest and meaning to the photograph.

In my Fine Art Class, I often show up to 100 slides of a variety of photographer’s work taken from magazines, books and other sources. As each slide is shown we evaluate each picture’s use of positive and negative space, and discuss alternative cropping (frames) that might change the photograph. What students find is that photographs can often be dramatically improved by some subtle adjustment, mostly because the new cropping allows the eye to move more freely through the photograph revealing more of the subject than before. And they also find that the meaning or intent of a photograph can be altered just the same way.

This is something you can do yourself, by going through magazines and seeing how some of the ad photographs are put together. Is the ad about clothing? Does the cropping cause the eye to move to the model’s face or the clothes? What gateways and roads in and out of the picture encourage this? Look how many head and shoulder shots have the top of the head touching the frame. How does this affect what the eyes do and see first? Why do you think this happens?

Now apply it to your own photography. Here’s a tip. When it’s your photograph, and when you are emotionally involved with some element of the process, subject, etc., it is hard to turn off your analyzing mind and see the negative and positive space. Your tendency is to see “the frog,” “the branch,” “Aunt Edna.” You are processing the information that comes from them being things, not elements of the picture. So try this. Turn your picture upside down. Positive and negative space when balanced stay balanced no matter what the orientation of the picture. By turning the picture upside down, you will inhibit that part of your brain that tries to categorize and give things names. It will then be easier to see shapes and the spaces between your frame and the subject. I often set a picture on a coffee table for a few days, so that I can see it over a period of time, sometimes looking at it sideways or upside down. Those that survive this kind of scrutiny go into my portfolio.

Where can you go from here? Consider taking a drawing class at your local adult education center. I firmly believe that doing so will have as much or more impact on your photography than any other class you can take. Can’t draw, you say. Just wait. You have no idea what you can do until you start. You will begin to see photography in a whole new light. And you will see things you never saw before.

For more information pick up Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, published by Jeremy P Tharcher, Inc.

Composition Tips for 3D Artists

Composition Tips for 3D Artists
Written by Unknown Source

1. Have a strong center of interest – While you may want to include a secondary subject, make sure that it doesn’t detract from your main subject. Avoid putting the center of interest in the center of your pictures. A main subject in the middle can look static and uninteresting. Try placing your center of interest according to the rule of thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Place your center of interest at one of the four places where the lines intersect. Have the subject look or move toward the center of the picture.

2. Know the angles – Study your subject from all angles. Select the viewpoint that shows your subject to the best advantage. For outdoor environment images, rendering from a low angle provides an uncluttered sky background. Consider the horizon line. Avoid cutting your picture in half by placing the horizon in the middle of your picture. Place the horizon line low to accent spaciousness or high to suggest closeness.

3. Move close – Move toward your subject until you have eliminated everything that does not add to the picture. It is always best to crop carefully when you render. Close-ups convey a sense of intimacy, while long shots evoke a sense of airiness and depth.

4. Use lines for interest and clarity – Predominant lines should generally run into the image, not out of it. You can find a line in almost anything: a road, a fence, a stream, or a hedge. These lines are called leading lines because they lead the viewer’s eye into the picture and often right to the subject.

5. Watch the background – The background can make or break an image. It can add to the composition and help set the mood but it can be distracting if cluttered. Before you render the image, stop for a moment and look around. Is there an object (part of the background) growing out of your subject’s head (a merger)? Throw the background out of focus for a pleasing effect. Remember to look beyond your subject because your viewer will.

6. Add interest to your scenic shots – Frame your scenes with an interesting foreground such as a tree or a branch or interesting object. Look at the scene to determine additions that may improve the scenic shot.


Composition is simply the selection and arrangement of objects within the picture area. When you looking at your image before rendering, have the whole picture in mind. These rules of composition are suggestions that will improve your images and assure that you can appreciate them for years to come.

To industry members: Am I good, or do I suck?

To industry members: Am I good, or do I suck?
A newsgroup posting by Zero Dean (Jan 1997)

This newsgroup posting holds no real educational significance other than it is the seed that gave birth to 3D ARK. It is here more as a novelty than for any other reason.

For weeks after I posted this message, I received hundreds of personal replies to my letter (and was crazy enough to try and reply to every one…which I think I did) and watched the thread go on for months and months (I saw it pop up again later in June). It went everywhere and it was read by thousands of people. By June, I was already hired as the new Head of the Art Dept and Lead Artist (one who wears many hats) at a startup gaming company in Massachusetts, Whatif Productions. Ironically, my employment had nothing to do with the thread or a demo reel. It was based on the potential my boss saw in my on-line gallery, my “vision”. I received a phone call from Whatif expressing an interest in my work, arranged to do some test images, and the rest as they say, is history.

Here is the original post in its entirety.


Subject: To industry members: Am I good, or do I suck?
From: [email protected] (Zero Dean)
Date: 1997/01/27
Message-Id: [email protected]
Newsgroups: [various graphics newsgroups]

This message is directed at those working in the computer graphics/gaming industry. However, I welcome any and all responses.

The title is somewhat blunt, but it _is_ to the point.

Here’s the situation: I’m trying to break my way into the industry, but after sending out over 10 resumes and demo reels to top 2D/3D graphics houses/gaming houses (ie. LucasArts, Digital Domain, Activision, etc.) a couple months ago, I was virtually ‘ignored’.

The point: I’m talented (IMO), but obviously I’m being overlooked for a reason (or maybe I’m getting lost in the numbers?). And yes, I know it’s a tough industry to break into.

The conclusion: I’d like people to take a look at examples of my work and tell me what they see (Talent? No talent?) [old web address here] (These images are optimized for the web, thumbnails are available first, and this shouldn’t take much of your time).

I accept the fact that I am not yet proficient with the top industry standards in 3D (3D Studio Max, Lightwave 5.0, or Alias PowerAnimator), though I am skilled with several other software packages. But the fact of the matter is, it’s only software. Software _doesn’t_ make you great nor talented. It’s how you use your mind, creativity, and tools at hand that make you great. I believe that any true computer graphics artist can show talent and promise with any program, whether it cost $20 or $20,000. I would have thought that the types of companies I applied to would understand that. Anything I don’t know, I’ll learn, and learn quickly (and I am currently trying to arrange to learn at least one of these ‘standards’).

I also do not have a college degree. I believe that genuine talent, ambition, enthusiasm, and creativity are more important than a sheet of paper (degree). Notice I said ‘genuine’. (I believe a solid college education is good for everyone, but a degree does not signify genuine talent). I haven’t graduated because I refuse to take 2 years of a foreign language that I’ll never use. Does that make me less of a computer graphics artist and less worthy?

Am I being overlooked because I don’t know these “standard” programs, or am I being overlooked because I am simply not that good?

Honest responses won’t kill me. This isn’t just some dream of mine and I refuse to quit. I’m going to make it (whether it’s tomorrow or next year). We learn from our mistakes, grow from them, and move on. I simply need to have an understanding of where people might think I’m at. I have a lot to learn, I know, but I’m no beginner and I’m not a passive person in my own life’s education.

I appreciate you reading this and I’d appreciate it more if you could check out some examples of my work and send me feedback. [And any job offers (for those who would like to reconsider ;) would be nice too.]

Gallery: [old web address]

You are welcome to check out the rest of my site as well.