Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Exotique 7 from Ballistic Publishing

From time to time, Ballistic Publishing sends me an unsolicited copy of one of their impressive art digital art books to review -- and early this week another one came in the mail: Exotique 7. (Shipping in November 2011 but pre-ordering available now).

I shared some of my thoughts on digital art books in general on my review of Exotique 5, so this time I will try to look at it from a different angle.

A quick flip-through (available online) of the book shows it (obviously) packed with artwork. But what kind of artwork?

Chances are, what comes to mind first will be "babes". Although there are a lot of D-cups and skin showing, there isn't much that would be considered erotic.

If you happen to be gay and are looking for beefcake, you'll have to look pretty hard, and then try to justify the price tag of $59 USD. I don't want to get into a debate about the girl:guy mix here. There was a brief discussion of it in Character Design: In brief, female characters are easier to make appealing for both sexes; male characters evoke more thinking/consideration about the character, with both positive and negative outcomes, and so are more complicated as a marketing tool.

Anyway, back to first impressions: In a distant last place will you probably think "digital art".
Why do I mention this? Well, if you look through the artwork without any annotation, you may well think that most of these are "paintings" -- that they could have been done without any computing resources, such as the ubiquitous Photoshop. And so Exotique 7 is really more "just" an art book, and only incidentally also a digital art collection.

Video games are where I am primarily exposed to "digital art", and we are at a time when home computing resources have caught up to the point where an almost-human look with fluid, emotional, movement are now possible -- and video games continue to push in that direction. And on top of that, visual effects can be overlaid on those in-game resources to evoke a certain ambiance. As examples, watch the two videos below from Hunted: The Demon's Forge.

Combined with impressive face-making resources like the character generator in Dragon Age Origins -- where you can tweak hair, eyes, nose, cheeks, chin, lips... -- and the bar (for realistic looking characters) is set very high nowadays.

So it seems to me ironic that while the video game industry goes in one direction with digital art -- realism not just in characters but the environment -- the digital art community has stayed quite firmly in "traditional art". Meanwhile, video games are working hard to surpass the too-clean plastic-mold look (such as in the clothing on Dani Garcia's Sorceress -- Exotique 7, page 31), but are still not quite at the eerily photographic quality of U Ri So's Portrait (Exotique 7, page 92). All Photoshop does away with is the mess of paints and brushes and easels -- which makes Exotique 7 also a reminder that digital art isn't just about animation and Pixar.

In summary, I think if you do pick up Exotique 7, you will be looking for a thick book jam-packed with beautiful artwork with careful attention to detail on durable glossy paper. Where it distinguishes itself from other art collections (such as artwork from a particular fiction work or artist) is in its colourful variety and deliberate lack of a theme: Flip through enough pages and you'll find something that feels fresh again. It's harder to revive that sense of newness and excitement when it's a book of just scenes from the Lord of the Rings, Boris Vallejo hardbodies, or women in swimsuits. If you're looking for realistic-looking characters, go play one of the newer games instead and feel the realism not just in imagery but motion, action, and environment.

Not sure? Flip through the book at the Ballistic Publishing website.

TIP: Look in the back of your copy of Exotique 7 for a coupon with a password to download artwork tutorial videos. And no, I'm not going to use my promo code to download them for you. (^_^)

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