When Art Imitates Life: Artists Inspire Photoshop Tools
Adobe began licensing and shipping the first version of Photoshop in 1990. Created in 1987 by Thomas Knoll, Photoshop originally began as a simple program to display grayscale images on a black-and-white monitor. However, after further collaboration with his brother John Knoll, the two began adding features to make Photoshop capable of processing digital image files.
Many of the initial features were inspired by the creative needs and requests John submitted to Thomas, as he pursued his visual effects career with Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). There began the first relationship between artist and engineer – a unique collaboration that still exists on the product team today.
This week, I sat down with Zorana Gee – Photoshop product manager and author of “3D in Photoshop: the Ultimate Guide for Creative Professionals” – to learn more about how her interactions with artists in the field impacts feature development in Photoshop.
How do you involve artists in the Photoshop development process?
Zorana: Some people may not know that we spend a lot of time regularly meeting with customers. I visit digital artists of all types – freelancers, web and interactive designers, graphic and print designers, painters, design firms, creative companies and photographers. I always make it a priority to take our research and development team along with me. In those meetings, we introduce new technology concepts and innovation, gather feedback and just observe how they use Photoshop. Sometimes those customers will share trends in their industries, come prepared with pages and pages of feature requests or challenges they might be facing that they want our help solving. This is a great opportunity for engineers to meet with customers right where they live and work and see firsthand how they’re using features they’ve personally developed. The artists I meet with, help drive the direction of a feature or contribute to JDI’s that impact usability. This broad feedback is very important to us.
How have you approached feature development for digital painting, keeping in mind its more traditional roots?
Zorana: There are two ends of the painting spectrum – the very technical digital painters and those that prefer a traditional paintbrush and paint experience. For instance, I’ll meet with texture or matte painters in the film industry who rely heavily on all the parameters and controls in Photoshop. Then there are some that like to keep things simple – using 1-2 brushes and fiddling with some controls to create amazing artwork. The challenge for us is finding the balance between exposing innovation and technology in our tools, but also retaining the traditional experience that may have drawn artists to their craft in the first place. In some cases, we don’t want to overwhelm the creative experience with too many controls.
This means we’ll also meet and talk with artists that have never gone digital so we can observe how they mix paints, understand their workspace, how many brushes they use, whether they add water or a thinning medium throughout the process and how they test colors. It’s equally important, then for us to watch how people paint digitally to see which tool presets they use or find out the strokes they can’t achieve digitally, so we can expose those parameters and allow them to realize their vision.
It’s a very collaborative effort and we do a lot of listening and observing…
Are there any artists in particular that directly impacted feature development for Photoshop?
Zorana: Yes, one that immediately comes to mind is Bert Monroy. I met Bert – master digital artist renowned for his hyper-realistic style – at Photoshop World several years ago. Bert has actually been working with the Photoshop team for years. He often invites the team to his home! It’s really interesting for us to sit in his studio, with all his gear and the inspirational bay area views right outside his window. He shows us his creative process, tells us what’s working and where we can make improvements.
What’s amazing about Bert is that he is one artist that knows the app inside and out! He uses Photoshop’s photography features, vectors, paintbrushes, channels and masks…and he even contributed a chapter to my 3D book.
Because of his deep knowledge of the product and his everyday use, we’re able to reach out to Bert and provide him with an early look at tools like the Mixer Brush. We were still uncertain as to how the feature would be implemented. I showed him how the underlying technology worked and he was able to tell me the reasons why it would be useful for him and how it could be incorporated into a real world workflow. As we developed the feature and integrated it into Photoshop CS5, we maintained an open dialogue and he provided us a lot of valuable feedback along the way. The Mixer Brush now allows you to define multiple colors on a single brush tip to paint with realistic color blends. Or you can also use a dry Mixer Brush to blend a photo’s colors and transform it into a beautiful painting.
How have you seen Bert Monroy directly take advantage of those painting features in Photoshop?
Zorana: For those that had an opportunity to stop by the Photoshop & You experience in San Francisco, we had the honor of displaying Bert’s 25 foot long digital illustration of New York’s Times Square in our gallery space. It’s an extremely detailed look at the energy and excitement of New York with realistic images of familiar landmarks and actual Photoshop team members and industry influencers. Many people spent hours standing in front of this massive piece and looking at all the personal touches he added in throughout – even his brief stint as a cab driver! Like many of Bert’s creations, it’s easy to mistake all that detail for a photograph…it’s just that realistic.
Bert originally began the artwork with Photoshop CS3 and CS4. However, through his work with us we were able to provide him with an early preview of Photoshop CS5 which allowed him to take advantage of 64-bit. You can imagine with his huge illustration, he was a very happy and willing tester!
I also co-run and frequently present at the San Francisco Photoshop User Group and Bert has visited several times to present great tutorials and instruction on the process. He will take specific pieces of the painting, such as the Corona bottle, and demonstrate how he took advantage of Photoshop techniques in order to create it. For instance, you can see blinds in one of the windows – he created postcards, using 3D objects in Photoshop, which he then rotated to get just the right perspective. It’s fascinating to see all that goes into every element of his work.
Fun Facts About Bert Monroy’s Illustration:
- 5ft x 25 ft long image
- 4 years to create (48 mega-productive months!)
- 500,000 Photoshop Layers
- Between 10,000-15,000 Photoshop and Illustrator files
- 146 People bustling through Times Square
- 2 Bert Monroys – can you spot both?
There are also members of the Photoshop team in the image. How many can you find? Bert will be sharing the Photoshop tips, techniques, and shortcuts he painstakingly learned over many months in a seminar series – THE MAKING OF TIMES SQUARE: LIVE!
What do enjoy the most about your visits with artists?
Zorana: It’s inspiring to see a feature the team has developed or is in the process of developing, really help address a key need or fill in the gaps of a creative workflow. I enjoy literally looking over an artist’s shoulder and watching what they do. We have the unique privilege of a behind the scenes look at how artists create and together, we can come up with new features for Photoshop that will help them do things that were once impossible.