Information concerning general artwork.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

We’ve all seen it before. You come across this great band that’s largely unknown. You think you’ve discovered a gold-mine, and in your excitement of this “discovery”, you’ve turned around and told all of your friends about the band. In turn, they start telling their friends and so on and so forth. The next minute, you’re watching a commercial on television and that “obscure” band which you so highly-prized is banging out a generic jingle for a car insurance commercial. In laymen’s terms, they’ve “sold out.”

The “sell-out” generally means that there was a sacrificial offering. It’s viewed that the band compromised their own artistic integrity by “watering down” their music in order to sell albums to the masses. Amongst the “indie” or “alternative” crowd, this is generally highly frowned-upon – except maybe in the rare instance that you happen to be The Cure. But as a whole, the psychological effect of “selling out” relates to taking something that feels personal, and spreading the love across the board rather thinly.

So as an artist or a creative person – where do you stand with your own values in this world – do you “sell out” (assuming that you can) or do you continue along your current path with no financial distractions? I’ve collaborated with plenty of phenomenal artists – some of which whose styles admittedly beat my own work hands-down (it’s quite a humbling experience.) More often than not, most of these artists have the financial backing (usually mom and dad) to support their efforts in taking one piece of art – and spending weeks if not months to polish that piece to perfection. Most ordinary people can’t afford to spend that amount of time to create a single piece, without the rest of the world falling down in and around them. Those “types” are almost definitely not going be able to perform the same quality of work on a live project from a client, unless that client has really deep pockets as well as some serious patience, or they happen to be the one in a billion ‘savants” living amongst this world. And from that experience, I’m reluctant to hire an artist whose portfolio looks “too good” – because usually something is amiss.

Unfortunately, unless you’re privileged to have land to grow your own crops on, you almost always have to rely on money. The whole financial issue is a catch-22 – it’s expected that an artist does what they do because they love their work for what it is, yet they’re also often expected from society to not want any financial gain, or in some cases, financial security. In my mind, this whole “integrity” versus “money” dichotomy is hypocritical and  unrealistic. It shouldn’t be an “and” or “or” issue. The fact is, an artist needs to survive. They may hide their resources well, but almost invariably rely on some source to put a 23-cent package of Ramen Noodles on the table and a roof over their head. If they didn’t manage to scrape on by, they’d probably end up with a bottle of Colt 45 sitting under some bridge with a shopping cart. I can’t speak for you, but I don’t want to see this happen to anyone. There’s a certain level of pride, and a certain level of foolishness involved in weighing out those “pros” and “cons” in working for the proverbial “man.”

Someone that doesn’t know my own situation would probably assume – “he has a company” or “he’s doing well.” Well, that’s the first mistake. Don’t assume. I do well with all things considered, but even I need to pick up more business and clients or else I might find myself manning a fast-food counter. I’ve heard this assumption time and time again – and sometimes people with that perception think that I would be willing to give them a discount because “he must be rolling in the dough.” The fact is, that there always needs to be a compromise unless you’re truly willing to commit Seppuku. I know that I’m not willing to sacrifice my own life. There must always be a balance between being able to survive, yet be productive enough to “not make a mess.”

The whole flock of struggling artists seem to follow a pattern. It starts off with wanting to create because you enjoy the act of creation. It’s often followed by a sense of pride and integrity. Next generally comes “starvation phase” unless you’ve hit the lottery jackpot. Scrambling for self-preservation through fear of death often follows that. If they managed to get past those phases, the artist becomes a “commercial artist” because they know what it’s like to barely make ends meet – more often than not, this is the level an experienced artist tends to shoot for and if they are “lucky”, they will stay in this state of eternal bliss. If these levels do not completely dissolve and integrity doesn’t take you back to the starting line, you may in that very rare instance “get lucky” and hit that next level of financial security. From my own personal experiences with these other, “lucky” artists – there really is no such thing as “luck.” They’ve almost always busted their asses to get to where they’re at. I have yet to really encounter any artist that has been struck by “artistic lightning.” That has to be a 1 in a 100 million chance of happening.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I finally managed to get a break for a day or two and it’s a bit strange to adjust to. The last two months have been extremely busy so this is a welcome respite. I do have a couple of projects in the horizon, but for now I’ve put it out of my mind until I have more information in my hands. In fact, it’s been so busy that I’ve had more work in the last two months than all of last year. Granted, most of these projects have been smaller compared to some of those major development projects which often involve animations and plenty of stills. But quantity-wise, these projects kicked last year’s butt. I’m not bragging or boasting – but rather implying that I think things are definitely turning around.

I think there’s a few different things at play here. Construction and advertising was put on hiatus during most of 2009 during the downturn in the economy. I think with this year, people are more optimistic and willing to spend. After all, there’s only so much “sitting on our butts” society can handle before we dust off our old clothes and put them back on. I don’t think the turnaround is going to be drastically immediate – there are still plenty of unemployed people around the world. But the people who do currently have jobs are managing to stay in them.  Employment has risen to above 2008 levels. Secondly, I think there was a major “thinning amongst the ranks.” In my field, plenty of people lost their jobs and lost work. People that didn’t strategize or market themselves fully, people that didn’t make the right business decisions, people that got caught up in the thing called “life”, or simply people who had a sub-par level of work found themselves out on the streets – struggling to either stay in the field or completely abandoning it altogether.

So I think I’ve experience a residual effect from other businesses picking-up pace. I also think people have found LunarStudio because other artists and art-related companies have gone under. In some ways it’s a good thing, but in other ways it’s bad. I don’t like receiving 2-3 resumes and 2-3 solicitations for outsourcing on a daily basis. It simply means that other people aren’t doing as well and if you have any sense of compassion, this is not what you want to see out of your fellow man. I consider myself fortunate for the time-being, but it comes at a human cost.

The business of art is a tricky concept. Most artists know well in advanced that our field is not something you’re probably going to get rich at in our lifetimes. In my mind, the ideal medium/compromise is a little of both – you want enough money to live comfortably and perhaps even retire, but you also want to be able to love what you are doing. That has been my goal – to create, inspire, and simply make a comfortable living. Becoming “rich” is just a pipe-dream – it would be nice, but that’s not my goal. If that’s your sole-goal, than you might lose track of the art itself.

As for fellow artists – the field is simply flooded with creative talent (and quite a bit of novices.) Most will go largely unknown and lost, especially in today’s white noise of telecommunication. In art, that’s just the way things have been since the dawn of mankind. People that painted caves, pottery, knitted baskets, troubadours, musicians-alike, painters, sculpters – they have always been highly admired yet grossly under-rewarded for their efforts. I think with art that there’s “too many” people in the creative field to be completely sustainable, people feel that they don’t need to pay for something they feel is “unnecessary”, and last but not least, people feel that artists love what they do so they feel they can “get away with” not paying too much for an artist’s services. Hence the common english term, “starving artist.”

To me – there needs to be a compromise in order to earn a living in the field of art. Being passionate about your “style” almost always involves learning how to work well with others in order to even earn an average living. You can’t just go around painting whatever you feel like painting and expect that people will automatically buy into it. You almost always have to cater to some degree to other people’s tastes unless you feel like starving, or are fortunate enough to have parents, husbands, and wives to support individualistic efforts. Technically, you can do whatever the heck you want, but be prepared to have to take on that part-time or full-time job to support what essentially becomes a part-time hobby.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

Background

I was recently ripped-off on one of my projects back in January. It’s the first time that this has ever happened to me in the 10+ years that I have either been freelancing or running LunarStudio. Over the years, I’ve worked on over several hundred images and websites, and I’ve never once encountered any unreasonable circumstances which weren’t easily remedied or corrected. With all of my projects, I’ve always been certain to send out a contract unless it was a really trusted client. Without going into too many specific details, this contract basically serves five main purposes:

  1. Outlines what I will deliver.
  2. Outlines what is expected from a client such as plans, elevations, etc.
  3. Protects both the client and myself.
  4. It appears more professional.
  5. Helps me keep track of paperwork.

To summarize what happened, I did work for a company called Advanced Fabrication now called Coffee Shop experts out in California. They also go by the name Coffee Cart Biz. While I’m very reluctant to have actually released any names, I feel that in this rare case it is necessary to prevent other artists from encountering the same issues that I have had. As it stands, they have still refused to pay for my time and services. In no ways would this be considered slander or libel – it is merely stating the facts. I even have it in writing that they refused to pay and the contract to show for it. To add salt to the wound, they went ahead and posted my work on their website without permission (nor payment) which amounts to copyright infringement.

In my contracts, I stipulate that I will work initially from a client’s supplied plans. After that initial round, I allot for a couple rounds of changes thinking that it would be advantageous for future business by keeping the client happy. I also stipulate that plans should be provided which are correct and finalized from the start, that way any potential changes are kept down to a minimum. Well, we started off on the wrong foot here. First, I was sent incorrect plans. When I mentioned this to the client, they told me I was in the wrong (which I wasn’t) and finally when I convinced them that they were incorrect, they ended up telling me to go hunt around for their files. The client also made arbitrary delivery dates such as sending me information on a Friday night, and then expecting changes the following Monday during the week of Christmas. The point in telling you this is to show that they were being quite unreasonable.

Not only did I continue to politely work on their project, but I ended up going above and beyond the outlined rounds of changes. The thought process behind “being accommodating,” is that they promised to have more work in the future. In all, I ended up creating five rounds total, with about 5 views/renderings per round. Each round would take several days on average. The project, which probably should have not run any longer than one week ended up running about a month in total. And they were not just “simple” changes, but often involved complete changes in geometry.

The problem is that I think the client either didn’t care, or they simply “assumed” that changes were easy to make. Anyone that is experienced with the 3D process knows that nothing could be further from the truth. A “simple” change such as a wall color could tack on several hours easily – by the time you make the changes, test process several rounds, and send off the revised image for approval. This can seriously lead to a major time-sink. If you also have other clients, than this could adversely affect the outcome of their artwork as well. Last but not least, it directly impacts our own time-frame for receiving prompt payment. As a 3D artist working with people who are somewhat unfamiliar with the process, I believe it is our obligation to let the client know how their requests for changes can impact our time and that of others. It is simply the responsible and professional thing to do.

Without going into every nit-picky and unreasonable demand (and they were demands), I finally mentioned that this went well beyond my contract and that my fifth round was to be considered a final round. If they needed any other changes, I would gladly make them but those changes would be billable. Advanced Fabrication in turn replied by saying that they refused to pay me unless I made another round of changes for them. Tim Langdon of Advanced Fabrication offered up a meager “$100” for at least one more additional day’s worth of work. That was the last straw which broke the proverbial camel’s back. I felt that their method of holding finances over someone’s head that’s conscientiously gone above and beyond a reasonable amount of work, and tried to provide the best work possible, to be a very crass method of conducting business.

Current Case

I approached two attorneys who both specialized in copyright issues. Both wouldn’t consider the case due to the “trivial” amount involved (a couple thousand in case you need to know.) Attorneys on average bill out around $400 hour. Their advice to me was to take this issue to small claims court which I have done. I have also gathered all of the paperwork which includes a signed contract, all of the emails, as well as printouts of the artwork and screenshots of this company using one of my images without permission.

As for them using my image without permission, I had informed them of copyright infringement and they pulled my image down within a week. According to one attorney, a judge would award compensation based on the amount of damage the infringement may have caused. In this case, a week’s time was probably not enough to warrant significant damages.

Hopefully, I can obtain payment through the small claims judicial system. If this goes through, I can also write the Better Business Bureau of California, it will affect their credit rating and history, and can also be submitted to the Secretary of State and/or Attorney General.

Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily need a written and signed contract to conduct business. Word of mouth is just as admissible in the court of law, however the burden of proof becomes more difficult. It is better to play it safe than sorry.

Lessons Learned

We often learn from our mistakes, and in this case there are several things which could have been done differently and some things I’m glad that I didn’t change.

  1. Always have a contract. It might take a half hour tops to create, but it’s well worth having the documentation handy for reference. In this rare instance, this will benefit me.
  2. Do not allow for “free” rounds of changes. There should only be an initial preview round to make sure that your scene and model is correct. The client needs to provide you with finalized plans from the beginning. If they can’t provide solid plans, then you will need to wait.
  3. If you feel something is minor and you want to provide free changes, you can do so at your discretion. But at least you will have it in concrete writing that you didn’t allow for any changes without billing extra. This way you avoid spending extra days worth of time and working with what I like to call the “maybe factor.”
  4. Mistakes on your behalf should always be corrected free of charge. After all, you made them.
  5. List your change rates in your contracts, and make certain your client is well aware of this rate.
  6. If changes are asked, itemize those changes and provide the client with an estimate as to how long you think their changes will take. Wait until they sign off on them.
  7. Always point out all of the free and additional work you have done on a project. If you don’t inform them of your changes done out of courtesy, don’t expect them to automatically realize it.
  8. Always take it with a grain of salt when a client holds a “carrot over your head.” Just about every single person I speak with almost always mentions that they probably will have future opportunities. This is something you should automatically assume – after all, if you did a great job to begin with, then why wouldn’t they come back to you? It’s just another way of saying, “can you give me something relatively inexpensive, and I’ll feed you more work down the road?” You realize shouldn’t compromise here. If it’s a project that you really want to work on are interested in – there are some exceptions but the exceptions shouldn’t be the rule.
  9. Take screen shots.
  10. Save emails.
  11. Save contracts.
  12. Analyze their work as well. In this case, if I looked more closely at their previous renderings, I would have noticed a variety of 3D rendering styles. If I had paid more attention, this would have raised an initial flag of concern.
  13. You should watermark your images and don’t remove the watermark until you received payment. This must be spelled out clearly in your contracts.

You have to really look at our artistic profession from the perspective of any other professional industry. For example, if you were to hire a painter to paint your house, you would select a color and have them paint it. However, after they had painted it and you decided that you didn’t like it, it would be ridiculous and unethical to tell the painter to redo the paint in a different color and expect it to be free of charge – even if you were “promised” more work down the road.

You can pretty much take any other industry as an example. If you took your car to a mechanic and asked them to change your oil, you wouldn’t expect them to replace your brake pads for free. It’s simply a ludicrous thought. You would need to pay them for the extra time, expertise/labor, and parts involved.It’s only fair.

In the same respect, we should all handle our artwork and value our time and efforts equally. Anyone that’s being cheap about these matters is probably not worth conducting business with. Not charging for changes is really doing a disservice to the industry as a whole and it only serves to make the rest of us look unprofessional.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

My newly redesigned website, HDRSource is up and running again. In all actuality, it never really went anywhere – I just had laid off promoting it for several years as the real work with LunarStudio managed to keep me preoccupied. It’s one of the first online stores that sold HDRs and HDR libraries. I created HDRSource when the term ‘HDR’  turned up around 20 links maximum when ‘HDR’ was searched in Google – so it’s really been something that I’ve worked on in the background since the technique’s infancy. This site even predates Photoshop’s support for High Dynamic Range Images. As some of you might have followed, I’ve take time off this summer to completely update all of my websites, and this was the last website on my list. So I’m proud to announce once again that it is up and running with newly-minted 360-degree images.

Originally, HDRSource was all hand-coded – long before the popularity of blogging systems and CMSs came into play. However, having to manually update it every single time turned into a really big pain. That’s why I made the decision to use a WordPress installation and to “fake it” into resembling more of a regular, non-blogging look type of website. I have absolutely no regrets with this system now. I don’t have to fiddle with Photoshop every time I want to insert a graphic. I don’t have to open up Dreamweaver and peck through code – trying to remember every single time what I had did and what each piece of CSS stood for. It’s simply, much easier to maintain and update. And if I want to add additional functionality, then that’s mostly a breeze as well. Plus, I know search engine optimization – and if you look closely, I have all of those tools mostly at my disposal.

As for the HDRSource website itself, it caters mostly to the 3-D community and ties in directly with my work at Lunarstudio. It’s a store that specializes in High Dynamic Range photographic panoramas which I have manually produced. 3-D artists sometimes use HDRs to surround and light 3D models and scenes. It is a form of technique which we often call Image Based Lighting – or IBL for short. HDRs tend to lend a realistic look to our models because of the nuances in lighting, variations in color, as well as reflections. They can make a flat, almost toon-like 3d model into something realistically convincing. The differences between using them and not using them can often be quite drastic.

HDR originally has its roots in computer graphics research – and assisted 3D artists. As Photoshop released it’s first basic import option, it started to gain the interest of the general photography community. Soon, photographers set out to capture some pretty remarkable photographs using the HDR technique. However, while I appreciate many photographers adventure into this avenue, I’ve somewhat insisted on staying a purist for the 3d world. My photos generally don’t have what some call and over-saturated ‘radioactive’ glow to them. I prefer mine to match exactly what the human eye can capture.

If you have a moment, please head on over there and check out my photography work. I’m not asking anyone to buy anything – perhaps you’ll simply get a ‘kick out of’ browsing some of my 360 degree HDR panoramic image.

HDRSource High Dynamic Range Images

www.hdrsource.com

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

It’s always good to hear a simple one word sentence when you turn on your computer, grab a cup of coffee, and then check your email. “Wow” was the word I read today and it brightened everything up.

I’m so used to beating myself over creating artwork for people and making them happy, that often when I send them a piece – people always seem to find “something” wrong – ie. “change this color, don’t like this camera angle, not sure about the chair, let me run this by the other people in the office, etc.” The list of revisions can be really infinite especially when it gets into the realm of photorealism.

So to hear “wow” alone in an email is a big sigh of relief. It means that someone likes the direction it went in. Now for them to run it by the rest of the office lol…