LightBox Expo 2023: An Incredible Variety of Demos

We previously discussed our LightBox Expo 2023 highlights and recapped its heavy-hitting animation panels. For our third feature, the CFG wanted to recap the show’s incredible variety of demos from individual artists. These provided plenty of opportunities to learn. With so many demos to pick from, LightBox Expo practically felt like a series of mini classes and tutorials. We often moved from presentation to presentation in the demo area. Although LightBox Expo encompassed animation, storyboarding, and many other fields, we primarily attended demos covering digital 2D illustration, traditional 2D painting, and 3D character and environment art. 

The digital 2D illustration demos discussed fundamental principles and how to improve your art skills. Kalen Chock’s “Drawing with Intent” underlined different ways to solve problems visually. To design an object’s silhouette, he uses a two value system without lines. For figuring out which colors to use, he creates small thumbnails so that he does not spend too much time on other details. He also underscored the importance of considering how a design like a robot arm would actually function. “Color and Light with Devin Elle Kurtz” involved painting a cat from start to finish. Devin sketched loosely to capture large shapes, applied a warm orange base, painted blocks of shadows, built textured layers of fur with strokes, and then added bits of reflected light. Interestingly, she deliberately chose an imperfect photo to study color and light rather than sticking too closely to details. 

During his “Dinosaur Anatomy for Concept Artists” demo, RJ Palmer dove into key details behind creating a dinosaur design. He showed plenty of reference photos of scales, jaws, teeth, and more. One example is that a strong-looking dinosaur would have a dense area of muscle around the jaw. He also mentioned how once he had initially made the scales too big for a T-Rex drawn to scale, and he noted that actual scales would have been rather small. Naomi VanDoren’s “Transforming the Mundane to Magical: Digital Art” showcased interesting Photoshop techniques. She chose a tree photo to establish directionality, and her layer blending resulted in an organic background color palette. At the same time, she also mentioned the importance of not creating too much chaos. In another demo, the well-renowned digital painter Craig Mullins discussed his painterly approaches. He mentioned that one approach is to start with abstract shapes and then building figurative shapes, but he also mentioned the opposite approach of abstracting existing objects. 

One demo station showcased analog painting with an overhead camera setup. In her “Sketching Fantastical Creatures with Pencil and Watercolour” demo, Iris Compiet demonstrated her process from graphite sketches to watercolor washes. She kept her graphite sketches loose before she added paint layers, and she mentioned how watercolor can be a temperamental medium. She noted how brushes, pigments, humidity, water, and paper texture can all react differently and that her process was akin to having a conversation with her art. Later on, Djamilia Knopf painted some vibrant clouds in “Painting an Anime-Style Background in Gouache” that seemed reminiscent of a Ghibli film’s sky. She noted how paint changes colors as it dries, and she noted the importance of premixing colors. She subtly mixed green into her blue in a way that made her sky look natural. 

“Worldbuilding: A Demo with Finnian MacManus” discussed building an environment shot using 3D props and other aspects of his artmaking process. He mentioned using tools such as pointed shapes, negative space, and proportions in order to tell a story and direct the viewer’s eye. He also recounted an anecdote where John Park once set up raw broccoli on tables for inspiration, and he noted the challenge of separating broccoli into different visual elements and creating something unique. Finnian also mentioned the importance of honing 2D drawing skills which helped build muscle memory later on. Stephen Anderson’s “3D Production Art in zBrush” discussed building 3D sculpts differently based on their purpose. For example, objects intended for 3D printing cannot be too pointy or thin. He also discussed optimization and how Overwatch models need to have lower polygon counts compared to those of single-player action games like God of War

We hope that this feature provided an idea of LightBox Expo 2023’s vast demo selection as well as its opportunities to learn. Of course, these examples are by no means an exhaustive list, and the show had plenty to pick from. We also hope that these written features have been helpful, and anybody remotely interested in art will certainly find something to love at LightBox Expo.