Today I’m lucky enough to have an interview with Gero Gries - I’m a big fan of his work and he’s a key figure when it comes to CGI and fine art. He’s been at it since the early nineties and has exhibited through Europe and the US. His work escapes the cliches of CGI and creates a dialogue between the traditions of painting and the possibilities of 3D technology. Check out his latest work. The image above is from 2008 and is entitled ‘Zone’.
CGWTF: Hi Gero. First off, how would you describe your work?
GG: My imagination is more or less photo realistic, this is a reason why I use this medium. Besides this, my interest is the continuation of painting with 3D tools, being part in the evolution of a new medium. The results looks more or less photo realistic, but photo realism is not the purpose, but a means to involve the viewer. My aim is to communicate a certain visual idea or emotion.
CGWTF: What got you interested in CGI?
GG: In 1991/92 I spent a year as artist in residence in ArtCenter in Pasadena which is also a major education center for automobile designers. For this reason General Motors subsidized ACCD with a state of the art computer lab in the basement. I had been interested in CGI before, but the medium was still to expensive for my small budget in the eighties. I took an introduction course and felt attracted too the medium. My first CGI image was a proposal for a light installation. It was abstract and real at the same time. After returning from USA I started with my own computer. I felt a bit like a pioneer with unclaimed property under my feet.
CGWTF: What tools do you use?
GG: Nowadays mostly Vue XStream 7 and Cinema 4D with VRay as render engine, but most of my imaging till 2004 was done in FormZ and a little Maya.
CGWTF: Where do you find your inspiration?
GG: I’m kind of hunting and gathering my images. I don’t want to let this process become too conscious, because being attracted to something is too complex to be handled by reason. If I come across an interesting image in my mind or elsewhere, I let it sink down and after a while, when it is sedimented (a process of forgetting and remembering), I try to build it.
CGWTF: I love your image 'Zone’ - it seems that this has emerged from the sort of process you describe - the process of remembering and forgetting. Another thing that attracts me to this image is it’s relationship to the image 'Nirvanagoodbye’. Through the use of colour (and the fact that the images appear next to each other on your website) it seems as though we’re seeing the interior and exterior of the same location, even though I think the 'Nirvana’ series predates 'Zone’. I guess my question is whether you reuse your 3D scenes and 'shoot’ them from different angles? I find this idea of reusable assets really exciting and unique to CGI. There’s also the idea that by creating these 'unheimlich’ images using 3D software, there’s a tension or contradiction between the unchartable space of the dream and the vector-perfect simulation of the 3D scene.
GG: 'Nirvana’ and 'Zone’ are not the inside and outside of the same scenery, but I do work this way. 'Departure’ from 2007 and 'Wenn’ from 2008 for example base on the same 'set’. I often reuse maps, textures and furniture. The chair in 'Nirvana’ is the same as in 'Token’ from 2006 and so on. The point of the 'shot’ or viewer as I usually refer to it, often changes during image construction, til it finds it’s final destination. I often have half a dozen render cams in a 'set’ before it is finished.
CGWTF: Where are the limits of CGI? What can’t be done? What would you like to do but can’t?
GG: That depends on the way you are going. If mere photorealism is the aim, human imaging is still the most difficult item. My approach is a bit different: My interest is the intrinsic properties of the medium. So every result has it’s own justification. It is my decision to say whether I want or not, and my decision is not controlled by photo realistic interest, which is, to be honest, a bit boring after a while. Tweaking realism is where the game gets interesting.
CGWTF: Your work seems to me to be hyper real rather than photo real - finely detailed but very 'clean’. Is this a conscious decision?
GG: Almost every decision in CGI is conscious. To add dirt and stained surfaces is a conscious decision. Dirtiness isn’t, unlike in reality, the natural state in CGI. I have to have a certain creative intention to add dirt, which I actually do sometimes.
CGWTF: Modelling dust and detritus could probably get quite boring though!
GG: You are right!
CGWTF: Do you think of your artistic practice as similar to any traditional art forms - painting or sculpture, for example?
GG: Painting is the reference, although modeling reminds more of sculpting. But I’m often enough a lazy modeler.
CGWTF: I’ve noticed your earlier work includes a lot of images that look like ghostly re-renders of institutional spaces and show-homes. Was this a deliberate decision?
GG: In part: There were still severe hardware and software restrictions. On the other hand I was interested in the interior as a genre. You can’t really separate the tracks that lead to an image. Let’s put it like this: I was interested in what I could do.
CGWTF: Your new work seems to involve more vegetation - can you tell me more about this?
GG: In evolving my interiors, I came to a turning point. The image that marks this point was 'Einblick’ from 2007. Although it is not a strict change, there have been exteriors before and interiors after this image, it marks the shift from inside to outside. Actually not only in my sujets (is this French word also known in English? In German it means depicted scenery).
CGWTF: I think the German meaning is unique - 'sujet’ from French translates simply as 'subject’. I was thinking that the change in your work not only involves more exterior scenes but exterior scenes with vegetation. From a technical perspective, making vegetation look authentic and unregulated can be quite difficult. Your vegetation looks authentic but is still regulated in many ways. I’m thinking of 'Paddy’ and 'Plantage’, where nature is to some extent 'contained’. I’m wondering whether you approach the limits of CGI vegetation as a technical challenge to be overcome or rather as something to play with conceptually.
GG: I have a playful mind and to overcome technical challenges is not my main interest in CGI.
CGWTF: What are you working on at the moment?
GG: I’m clearing my head for a next step. As an intermediate interest I’m playing with traditional painterly approaches in the shape of CGI. An example is 'Containerlandia’ from 2009. It’s an attempt to transfer abstract painting to an CGI environment.
CGWTF: This image stood out as something quite different - I definitely recognised art references (Donald Judd/Daniel Buren/Sean Scully etc). 'Cistrans’ has something optical (i.e. op-art) and minimal about it, and 'Uhuhpool’ reminded me a little of Hockney’s pool rendering. I personally think these are your strongest images to date and I look forward to seeing what you do next.
GG: Thank you!
CGWTF: How do you know an image is 'finished’?
GG: Good question. In the old days I worked after this formula: An image is finished if every attempt to improve it makes it worse. Today telling when an image is finished isn’t so difficult any more. There is a certain strain when an image gets overworked. After finishing, I have more difficulties with the question if the image is good or not. This is how I handle it: Sometimes I know it on the spot, sometimes I ask my wife, sometimes I try to forget the image after making, without looking at it for 1-2 month. After that time I usually know what it’s worth.