YouTube channel Learn Engineering is a great series of videos explaining how everyday objects work. The 3D animations of different gears, motors, coils and fields are clear and really help illustrate the easy-to-understand script.
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.
Freelance illustrator Remie Geoffroi creates a wide range of work—from portraits, lifestyle, sports and business editorials to infographics, exploded diagrams, instructional illustrations and architectural drawings. What unites it all is his clean, technical use of vector artwork and a mastery of line quality.
It’s probably this combination of versatility and consistency that keeps art directors calling. Remie has worked with clients including AARP, Sports Illustrated, TIME, ESPN, Men’s Health, Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appétit, and advertising clients including American Airlines, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Volkswagen.
How did you get started in illustration?
Drawing was all I ever wanted to do. Through high school I took part time jobs at an animation studio, a screen printer’s art department, etc. I went to college for graphic design because I was pretty hazy on what a career as an illustrator would look like. I ended up being hired as a clip art illustrator right out of college, and set out as a freelancer shortly afterwards.
What is a typical day for you as a freelance illustrator?
I regularly work with magazines (Billboard, ESPN, etc.), and occasionally advertising agencies, Sid Lee, DDB, etc. I recently illustrated “Tools of Titans” the new book from Tim Ferriss, and a book for Gold’s Gym, coming out later this year.
I have a shared studio space where I work from, or I’ll sometimes choose to work out of my home office if the weather is bad or my workload is light.
How do you create your illustrations?
I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator. Many of my illustrations that people have assumed are raster (Photoshop) are actually vector. I like the versatility of being able to tweak the lines. I’ve developed a very streamlined, comfortable process for creating vector artwork. I appreciate being able to revisit files years later to harvest and reuse elements.
You work in a range of styles, how do you choose the style for a particular project?
The assignment usually dictates the style. Art directors usually point to one example or another from my site that they’d like to see. Repeat clients don’t usually request a particular style, as they usually trust where I’ll take a particular project.
What challenges have you faced in your career? What opportunities do you see for the future?
Like most freelancers, workflow can ebb from time to time, and those can be nerve-wracking periods. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any true work droughts in my 17 years of freelancing.
I’m optimistic new opportunities will continue to appear. App development wasn’t even a thing a few years ago, and it’s become a major place for illustrators to create and find work.
Magazines were supposed to be dead years ago, and yet they continue. That said, I’ve been sad to see a few fall away recently.
Any tips for illustrators starting their careers?
A successful career as a freelance illustrator is built upon relationships. Recognize that you’re building relationships with your clients, primarily art directors. Be ready and willing to accept their criticism and make changes. Be professional and on time with your work. Be courteous and understand that there are many other illustrators out there, so your attitude can be a big factor in who wants to work with you.
Big thanks to Remie Geoffroi for his time!
SpaceX has some great technical illustrations on their website, showcasing the design and features of their current and future spacecraft.
I especially like the use of scrolling animation on the Dragon page. It’s so simple and intuitive, using static artwork and a little bit code to create subtle movement that grabs the eye and really helps tell the story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See more at Hartman 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.
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!).
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.
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!!
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.
@HalfPics serves up pictures of things cut in half. Quality and subject matter varies, but always something interesting.
Jim Hatch recently completed this great project for Volkswagen, featuring finely detailed and rendered cutaway illustrations of their entire vehicle lineup. After the break, he shares some insight on working on a project of this scale, some process work, and lots of beautiful final illustrations.
Davvi wrote in to tell me about this somewhat hidden collection of technical illustrations and photography of the Chevy Volt. Very cool stuff, hopefully that link doesn’t disappear!
From there I found my way to GM’s excellent media portal which provides official content and high resolution images for news and editorial outlets. Digging around in the photo section yielded some awesome finds like the huge David Kimble airbrushed cutaway illustration above. Try searching for illustration, cutaway, and rendering, you’ll love what you find!
Know of any other manufacturers with public media portals? Let us know in the comments!