Observation. Analysis. Practice
A comment I hear from students (and professionals sometimes) goes like this:
“I’ve seen this dude’s work, and oh wow, it is awesome! I wish I was as good as that. And this dude’s work too. And check out this link, and this link, and this link. They’re amazing. I’ll never be that good though ☹.”
Clicking on the links they send, it’s usually true; the work is amazing.
The understanding of anatomy in the models; of bone, muscle, tendon and fat - beautiful.
The subtlety of movement in the animation; the timing, the weight, the gesture - inspiring.
The attention to detail in the shaders; the corrosion of the metals, the dirt on the plastics, the micro detail in the skin - incredible.
They usually follow the above comment with something like this:
“I wish I knew how they did it. They must use some really good software. I bet you can only do that in that software, and I bet it is quite expensive. And I bet they have a really good machine ☹.”
My response to such a conversation can usually be summed up in 3 words:
“Observation. Analysis. Practice.”
And I usually follow up with something like this:
If you want to be as good as that dude, you need to go out and study anatomy, understand materials and light, go to some life drawing classes, shoot some photography, get a magnifying glass and get knee deep in the mud and study the world around you. And no, looking at images online is not the same as looking at something in the real-world.
If you want to be that good, go out and observe, analyse and then practice. Because if you do not know something, you will never be able to capture it in your work, and you cannot then push the boundaries to create new, imaginative characters, worlds and stories.
No traditional/digital tool or button will ever make you a better artist. The right tool will make things more efficient to get the job done, but there are NO magic buttons. Just good old practice makes perfect (or better as perfect is not really achievable in my eyes). So get your butt out there, experience the world around you, and then put that experience in to your work
We’ve gone from painting on the walls of caves to creating full digital environments in VR. Technology and the tools will always change, but your sternocleidomastoid muscle, that’s been around a while, and I am sure that we are not due a version update any time soon.