Machines: How They Work

This series of short videos from the Science Channel reveal the hidden workings of our everyday world with photo-realistic 3D graphics to explode appliances, products and machines into their component parts.

The combination of video footage, CGI, interviews, and of course, overly-dramatic narration really pulls you in and gets you interested in the topic.

Watch the full playlist here.

MacBook Redesign Video

Yesterday’s post reminded me of this video about the redesign of the Apple MacBook released last year. This one is a bit more informative in tone and has some great visualizations of otherwise invisible features, the pressure-sensitive trackpad, for example.

This really shows the selling power of information.

Microsoft Surface Studio Commercial

This promo video for the just-announced Microsoft Surface Studio really caught my eye, beyond the hardware itself and what it could do in the hands of a tech illustrator. Watch starting at 0:25 at 0.25x speed. It’s not the most informational example of technical communication, but it certainly makes you marvel at the precision and sophistication of the product’s design and assembly beyond what the consumer would normally see.

John Hartman

John Hartman is a technical and scientific illustrator who seamlessly blends traditional media with 3D and digital techniques to create  images that are fresh and contemporary, yet warm and inviting. His work can be seen regularly in Fine Woodworking, Woodcraft, Fine Home Building and more. John agreed to answer a few questions about his work and career.

John Hartman - Paslode Nail Gun

What’s your background? How did you get started in technical illustration?

It’s a long story but here it is in a nut-shell. I have always been interested in drawing and painting. My early education was in fine art. I also found technical illustrations like those in Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and Fine Woodworking inspiring and they appealed to my interest in art, science and technology. Since my school days predated the personal computer, technical illustration was being created strictly by hand. As a student I was impatient, rebellious and seeing how fastidious hand drafting and airbrush painting was I decided to go another route and become a fine artist.

I found myself living in Brooklyn, working odd jobs to pay the rent. Being a starving artist wasn’t for me so I decided to learn a trade. I also had an interest in music as well as art so I re-educated myself as a piano technician. Fast forward a few decades and I am running my own business rebuilding grand pianos. Knowing of my art background the editor of the Piano Technician’s Journal, the trade magazine for people who tune and repair pianos, asked me to come on board as their illustrator. I spent the next six years teaching myself technical illustration. Starting with traditional hand methods and eventually developing digital techniques that emulate the handmade artwork I loved in my youth.

The pianos are now gone and I am working full time as a freelance illustrator. I’ve converted part of the piano shop into my studio, and have kept the woodworking shop as my man cave. I love this work and wish I would have started earlier. There’s a lesson in this somewhere.

John Hartman - Water Tank

You work in a range of styles and subject matter. How do you choose the right aesthetic for a project?

Well I think the right aesthetic is the one that gets the job done and also appeals to me personally. I have never hidden the fact that I work digitally but my personal taste in art and illustration is rooted in traditional analog techniques. So generally I don’t want my work to look like it popped out of a computer program. I think in my case what comes off as different styles is really a result of my penchant for experimenting with a wide range of tools and methods. Typically I may blend together 3D rendering with hand drawing and a little vector work as well. I love learning new software and trying to come up with different ways to create illustrations. Sometimes I attempt to emulate a particular analogue drawing style, the results vary but I always learn something new. For me, it’s more of a challenge to stay consistent and on track. Except for my personal taste, experience, and craftsmanship the style chooses me rather than the other way around.

As you noted, I enjoy working on different subjects as well; there is nothing better than being handed a unique assignment, and doing the research can be fun as well. But I have never consciously linked a style to a particular subject except in the case of my work with Fine Woodworking Magazine where there is an established style. I do try to be consistent within a project and if the art director points me in a particular direction stylistically I make every effort to accommodate. In addition, with art directors I know well I will often discuss style issues to better integrate the illustration with the page design or create something a little different than usual. Some of my most successful work stems from collaboration with a talented art director.

John Hartman - Bench

What challenges have you faced in your career? What opportunities do you see for the future?

Projects that are complex or those that require a new skill to pull off, or have a very tight deadline have kept me awake at night. Over time I have learned to expect these sorts of challenges and I find myself looking forward to difficult projects. One challenge we technical illustrators face is keeping up with ever evolving technology, requiring practice and self education. I think learning new software is vital to staying competitive. Also I find I need to brush up on core software I already know like Photoshop and Illustrator. Since software is doing more of the heavy lifting I find I need to practice my analog skills and foundation knowledge like perspective just to keep from losing this valuable tool set.

What I see on the horizon for technical illustrators is the increased use of 3D animation. On-line video is becoming the leading media for news, education and entertainment. It may take some time but eventually publishers, advertizing agencies and businesses will seek out talented illustrators to create information based animations.

Do you have any advice for new illustrators or students?

Technical illustration is a broad field of study. It covers any illustration assignment that needs to show the viewer how something functions or how parts are interrelated. At its heart is clarity and precision, and consequently it requires more discipline and knowledge. I believe students need to work longer and harder to gain the skills needed. New illustrators and students need to know it’s going to take passion and dedication to be successful in this field.

Technical illustrators need to be able to draw well. This means being able to accurately depict the world around us with line, tone and color. Don’t expect to gain this by attending a few classes in school, it will take a lifetime of learning, and continued practice to maintain. You need to study perspective, how to render light and shade as well as color theory. Don’t expect computer programs to do this for you. If you wish to include the figure in your work you will need to study artistic anatomy as well.

Working as a technical illustrator is not a passive act, you are expected to research and understand the topics you are given. In addition you will need to solve the many technical and design issues that arise with each assignment. The artistic quality of your work is up to you. Hopefully you have a passion for fine art and can bring flair to your work that is attractive. I believe that technical illustration should be beautiful as well as useful.

John Hartman - Air-Conditioning-System

 

See more at Hartman Illustration.

Clicheria

Clicheria is a Brazilian illustration studio that seamlessly blends 3D renderings with vectors and digital painting to create beautiful and communicative scenes. Be sure to check out the full size versions.

Clicheria - Product Explosion

Clicheria - Treadmill

Clicheria - Dental Filling

Clicheria - Rowing Machine

Clicheria - Water Tank

Mr. Murdoch Design & Illustration

Graham Murdoch is the man behind MMDi. Although not strictly a technical illustrator, his 3D renderings of technology and futuristic subjects for clients like Popular Science, Wired UK, Maxim and Bloomberg Markets, should win the admiration of any techie. Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

How did you get your start in illustration?
My background is graphics and it’s still part of what I do today. Four years of college then ringing bells and following up leads. It feels a LOT busier today, there sure are a lot more cars on the road!

The tools of the day were Rotring pens (there’s still some visible ink in my finger from a 0.2 Rotring that was dropped on it about 30 years ago), CS10 artboard, cow gum, spray mount, 10A scalpel blades, gouache, frisk and a Devilbiss Aerograph (which I could never do anything more than gradients and splatters with). Caught the wave of desktop publishing at just the right time. First 3D package was Alias Sketch! (yep, it came with the exclamation mark), then Bryce, onto Lightwave 3D and now MODO (formely modo) which I’ve been using pretty much from 101.

Graham Murdoch - Railgun Scramjet

What’s your favorite subject matter or type of project?
One with time, I’m slow and need lots of it. The more there is the better things get. I’m pretty good at losing it too, though.

What’s your process on a typical project?
Understand what the brief is asking for, reference, more reference, distraction, avoidance, then work, work, work. Sketching, definitely, as a real quick way of laying things out and excersing some different muscles. Hardware has always been Mac-based, from the IIcx through to today’s 27” iMac. In this room there’s also a still operational G3 running OS9, a G4 Quicksilver and a dead G5 (nice job on the motherboard Apple!).

Graham Murdoch - Formula E

 The Formula E Car you did with Popular Science is amazing. What was that project like?
The project was a dream, I have to thank the fine people at Popular Science, particularly Todd Detwiler, for letting me run with that and giving the time it needed. Finding the car’s shell with decals as a purchaseable model was such a big time saver, it meant more attention could be put into the details. As the car was still in development there was next to no reference for the under the hood stuff, so the majority of that is just artistic license. The elements are there; batteries, motor, drive train etc. they just don’t look much like that on the real car.

Graham Murdoch - Formula E Detail

What advantages does working in 3D have over 2D?
The freedom of options and the ease with which they can be realised. Camera angles, materials, lighting, the whole virtual studio thing. Being able to get a 3D print of something you’ve just made, that’s a bit like the leap TV made from black and white to colour, for me. I really should be exploring that! The disadvantage is that there are so, so many options.

The people that did this stuff with pen, brush and board, o my, un-be-(insert expletive here)-lievable!!

Graham Murdoch - Driverless Car

What do you see for the future of the medium?
The expansion of 3D printing and definitely more motion. Total absorption by digital and virtual realities. Of course, we will be assimilated.

You can find Mr. Murdoch’s work on the MMDi website and Behance.

The Textbook, Reinvented

Yesterday, Apple announced a joint initiative with publishers to bring textbooks to the iPad. This move would make them cheaper, lighter, always up to date, and—of interest to us—more richly illustrated and interactive.

When we set out to bring textbooks to iPad, there were really three areas we focused on: we wanted to have really fast, fluid navigation, we wanted to have beautiful graphics, we wanted to create an easier way to take notes.

—Roger Rosner, VP Productivity Applications, Apple

Apple also released a free iBooks authoring suite, iBooks Author. This application enables anyone to write, design, create interactive modules, and publish a book to the iBooks store for sale.

Medical Illustration in iPad Textbook

Scientific Illustration in iPad Textbook

While I’m not sure that the iPad is a more durable medium than paper for kindergardeners through high school students (could you see yourself in your garage with a iHaynes manual?), this is certainly an encouraging development for our trade. It demonstrates that people learn best, are enthusiastic about learning, when information is presented in a highly visual, immersive way.

The choice of graphics shown might also be a signal that if you’re not dabbling in 3D, motion and interactivity yet, it might be a good time to start. Remember, every threat is also an opportunity.

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

Brett wrote in looking for a way to accomplish a diamond grip pattern wrapping around a cylinder, like the one shown above. It’s easy enough to trace a photo, but what if you didn’t have one, or it wasn’t at the right angle?

The technique I’d use is similar to mapping a label to a can.

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

1. Create the artwork you’ll need. The diamond pattern matches the angle and density of the original. The black circle is the same diameter as the reference part, and is filled with no stroke.

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

2. Make the pattern a symbol. Drag the pattern into the Symbols palette.

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

3. Extrude the circle. Go to Effects > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Click the Surface dropdown at the bottom and select Wireframe. This will help you orient the cylinder to the desired angle. I usually start by entering 0° for all the rotation angles, then rotating one axis at a time by grabbing the edges of the preview cube.

You may need to reposition your cylinder to line up better with a reference image. To do this, Click OK, move the cylinder as needed, then open your Appearance pallete and double click on the 3D Extrude & Bevel item. You may need to turn Preview back on.

When you’re happy with your geometry, click Map Art…

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

4. Map Art. Click through the Surfaces to find the rectangular side surface. Then select your pattern from the Symbol drop down. Next, select Scale To Fit at the bottom and check off Invisible Geometry. Click OK.

Wrapping Patterns Around Cylinders

5. Change Surface to Flat Shading. Click OK. You can now edit the artwork as needed by going to Object > Expand Appearance. In my example, I changed the yellow fill to white, then drew the rest of the lineart on another layer.

Have a common problem in Illustrator? Let us know in the comments, or email it to suggest@technicalillustrators.org!

Oil Spill Illustration Roundup

The biggest news story of the past two months is highly technical and happening beneath 5,000 feet of water. These obstacles make technical illustration the obvious medium for telling the story. Collected here are illustrations and graphics from various sources, showing their visual approach to communicating the information. (Mouseover for source, click for larger version)

The New York Times‘ illustrations are well designed and executed in a graphic style typical for newspapers. Black lines delineate the key information, both a visual strategy and a production consideration (black prints well on grainy paper in fast presses, since it’s a single plate). Deep-red lines and arrows call the eye’s attention to important details. Light colour tones provide additional information such as material, dimension/shading, or simply visual separation. A variety of views are used, elevations, isometrics, perspectives, whatever suits the content. Nice stuff here.

Infographic World‘s ambitious graphic attempts to tell the entire story, relying heavily on text, but ends up feeling cluttered, unfocused and disorganized. The individual illustrations feel underdeveloped.

NOLA/Times-Picayune‘s graphics are similar in style to The Times’, but with a much thicker line weight which makes me think they might have appeared smaller in print. The multitude of arrows really get in the way of the information. A bit heavy handed.

The Economist is a weekly news magazine, but the illustration doesn’t have much to show for the extra time (to be fair, there’s no telling what sort of turnaround time the illustrator was given).

BP employs slick [no pun intended] 3D renderings to communicate the company’s repair efforts and give the impression of openness and transparency. I have two problems with this. First, they feel expensive. I imagine BP already had a 3D model library of all their equipment for planning and presentation purposes, so this may very well be the most cost-effective visual solution for them. But the impression these polished 3D renderings give is that they’re spending a lot on visuals, when they should be devoting all their resources to the repair and cleanup process.

Secondly, 3D renderings feel like constructed illusions rather than explanatory depictions of their efforts. Maybe it’s my bias towards illustration since both are just as artifical (ie. not photographs or videos), but I find The Times’ illustrations more trustworthy than BP’s 3D world.

Sources

The New York Times. “Methods That Have Been Tried to Stop the Leaking Oil”
Infographic World. “Crude Awakening”
NOLA.com. “Oil Spill Graphics”
The Economist. “Mudslinging”
Unified Command for the BP Oil Spill. “Graphics”
BP. “Gulf of Mexico Response”

Have you seen any additional illustrations of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? Let us know in the comments!

Autodesk Design Viz Showreel


Lots to look at in this selection of some of the year’s best 3DS Max and Maya work, as selected by developer Autodesk.