Digital's Brave New World

Here's an interesting mix of the old and the new. These images from Walt Disney's classic “Sleeping Beauty” look as though they could have been pulled from the film. However, these are not frame grabs. They're new illustrations created for the Disney storybooks. The marvelous artwork you see here was definitely informed by the impressive motion picture. Yet the images you see here are all new. The Disney storybook illustrators recreated Eyvind Earle's beautiful backgrounds using Adobe PhotoShop and Macintosh computers.

What I find particularly impressive is the art work looks exactly like the gouache paintings created by Eyvind Earle and his crew back in the fifties. I doubt many would be able to distinguish an Eyvind Earle painting from these new digital images. I was around back in the fifties and I observe the laborious, painstaking process of creating a Sleeping Beauty background. The painting took incredible patience and required layers upon layers of paint. I know this first hand because many of us young Disney artists took a shot at this painting technique ourselves. Of course, our humble efforts never came close to matching the beautiful artwork of the Disney Masters. But, at least we had the opportunity to learn what was required to create such a painting using gouache, the medium of the time.

It would appear that traditional paint has finally been eclipsed by the new tools of the high end computer along with software such as Corel Painter and Adobe PhotoShop. As impressive as these new tools can be, they still lack one very important advantage that we had in the old days. There is absolutely no original piece of artwork that exists. Sure, you can print out as many copies as you desire from the nearby color printer. You can even create a marvelous print on heavy water color paper or even on canvas. However, the fact remains that the “painting” is really only a series of one's and zero's. The computer equivalent of what used to be the painter's tangible original art. In today's digital world…there is no original art.

I shouldn't find this troubling - but I do. Whether one works in motion pictures or storybook illustration today, pretty much everything we do is digital. I still can't help but regard our new digital world as something potentially volatile. There's always the danger of a massive screwup where data can be lost. Don't laugh. It's already happened a number of times - and we've been lucky. I still miss the good old days when art was tangible and you could actually hold an original painting in your hand. Our new digital world is a brave new frontier offering many new opportunities. I only hope we keep in mind that there are dangers ahead as well.