Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 6 (June 2002)

Strata Fine Artists

Chris Balaskas

Graphic designer/comic book artist Chris Balaskas discovered digital art while pursuing fine arts in college. "After playing with Adobe Systems' Photoshop for a few days, I became hooked on CG, and have been ever since," he recalls.

To generate his work, Balaskas uses Strata3DPro, along with Corel's Bryce and Curious Labs' Poser, running on a PC. His early projects consisted mainly of spaceships and planets, which reflects the artist's interest in science fiction. Recently, Balaskas has been concentrating on the artistic beauty of less "spectacular" subjects and settings as a result of studying the detailed textures of real-world objects. "Although sci-fi will always be close to my heart, a simple plate of fruit can move me," he adds.

For Balaskas, creating original art remains one of the most challenging aspects of using a digital palette. "So much digital art contains CG cliches," he says. "It's easy to slap on lens flares and chrome, and say 'wow.' But it's far more difficult and rewarding to avoid gimmicky effects. You can be subtle and still have an impact on the viewer."

Additional information about Balaskas's art can be found at

Robot (AI) For Balaskas, one of the biggest advantages of using digital tools is that they enable him to easily incorporate changes. Yet, for this ambitious project, the artist progressed from a sketch to the final render with only minor revisions.

Raven Interceptor Many of the artist's earlier works, including this image, incorporate space-related themes, which reflect his interest in science fiction and astrophysics.

Alien Vine Using a simple method for rotating text objects, Balaskas produced this organic-looking structure of twisting vines and curves.

Duncan MacGruer

Industrial designer/illustrator Duncan MacGruer's initial foray into computer graphics began with CAD, though he studied theater and the fine arts while in college, concentrating on sculpture, art history, and scenography. Once he became proficient with drafting software while creating museum exhibits and corporate and environmental designs, he realized that CAD tools could also be used to generate art. "I produced some interesting work, considering I was limited to lines and fills," he recalls.

Today, MacGruer still uses industrial design tools to generate fine art, along with 3D modeling and graphics software including Strata3DPro, Nemetschek's VectorWorks, Electric Image's Universe, Maxon's Cinema4D XL, and Adobe Sys tems' Photoshop and Illustrator, all of which run on a dual-processor Macintosh. Although the artist uses a wide range of software to build his models, he does scene composition, texturing, and rendering using only Strata3DPro software. Further more, MacGruer has his drawing board situated next to his computer, which enables him to integrate handcrafted elements into a digital scene. "It's exciting to visualize an image that is based on a combination of digital and hand-drawn art, including digital photography, watercolor, scanned images, and 3D modeling, and arrive at the expected result," he says.

"I'm looser with my ideas and implementation than I used to be when using just traditional methods," MacGruer continues. "It may seem ironic that a tool set built of code and accessed through a keyboard can be emancipating. But I can create almost anything I conceive, and that enables me to think more broadly."

More of MacGruer's art can be seen at

Oranges Primarily lit with diffuse illumination, this radiosity rendering represents an attempt to emulate the light and character used by the Dutch masters.

Check Please This image, like many of MacGruer's works, demonstrates how he uses 3D illustration to mimic a photograph. The reflection maps were painted from scratch in Photoshop.

No Marbles Often, MacGruer replicates real-world objects and integrates them into a digital composition. This image, which had four light sources, was rendered with radiosity.

Eric Smith

While making computer-generated art, digital videographer/animator Eric Smith uses the skills he honed while studying traditional drawing and painting, as well as graphic design and photography. "Through photography, I learned a great deal about lighting," he says. "Lighting is such an important, and I think under-appreci ated, part of 3D rendering. It's what makes the difference between a technically accurate scene and one that is magical."

Smith uses an extensive tool set to generate his work, from 3D modeling and animation software to video production tools. Besides using Strata3DPro, Smith also employs NewTek's Light Wave; Electric Images' Amorphium Pro; Curious Labs' Poser; Adobe Systems' After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator; Apple Computer's Final Cut Pro; and many others. His projects are similarly diverse, including print design, video production, 2D and 3D animation, special effects, sound and music design, and Web site creation.

"I would like to think that my vision has matured over the years and has kept up with what is contemporary in the world of art," Smith notes.

For a more in-depth look at Smith's art, go to

Chess An accomplished photographer and traditional artist, Smith often incorporates photographic techniques into his works. For instance, he achieved the soft shadows in this image by rendering with radiosity.

Figure In the animation from which this still image was generated, the human figure is opaque in its normal state, but is made transparent by the illumination of the rings as they rotate-a result achieved with After Effects.

Desert The key element of this image is the atmosphere, which was generated using a combination of Strata's haze tool and a cool, purple-toned non-shadow-casting fill light that contrasts with the warm, orange-toned main light.

Chris Tyler

Graphic designer Chris Tyler began generating computer graphics using a MacPlus running MacDraw software. Now his tools, like his art, have grown more sophisticated, and he uses a Macintosh Pow erbook and dual-processor G4 running Strata3DPro and Eovia's Amapi software.

The hallmark of Tyler's work is the lighting, though it is often challenging for him to generate, as is the composition and texturing. "I've never had any formal training in photography or lighting, but I have learned to replicate traditional lighting inside the computer with the help of 3DPro's radiosity renderer," he notes. "Through lighting, I can achieve a high degree of realism. I've been told that my 3D technical illustrations have been clearer and more precise than what could be achieved with a photograph. 3D provides me with flexibility when producing illustrations that a camera does not."

To view more images by Tyler, visit

Twisted Martini This image, generated entirely with spline objects, contains just a single light source. However, some glow panels around the objects are reflected in the shaker bottle.

Temple at Night Most of the structure was built in Amapi, but the columns, which consist entirely of spline objects, were made in Strata3DPro. The software doesn't automatically convert the splines into polygons during rendering, so the curved surfaces maintain their smooth appearance.

Modern Austerity An experiment in indoor lighting using radiosity, this image contains bright lights aimed at the walls on the sides of the room that were not rendered. However, the reflection of those lights illuminated the scene above.