Digital Artists of the Future

As a digital artist, working in 3D, there's a lot to be excited about. In the future, there will be a shift in the skills that are valued.

Technology is changing the world around us at a rapid pace. Our lives are better for it, and our jobs are easier to do. The acceleration in change can be scary for some and leave us feeling anxious about what this future world might look like.

There are three influences I want to touch on - machine learning, user experience (UX) and the constant increase and access to knowledge.

Machine Learning

I'm not going to get into the specifics of how machine learning will impact our work, but it's safe to say that digital content creation software will look very different in a couple of years. As deep learning algorithms improve and become more accessible, the power of the computer and these algorithms will replace more and more of our daily work. Texture synthesis, denoising, self-learning simulations, are just the start. Notice that I said these algorithms will replace parts of our daily work. I don't think they will replace our jobs entirely. As Tim O'Reilly described it in his book, WTF?: What's the Future and Why it's Up to Us, these algorithms will augment the work we do. That means the mechanics of creating art will change, not the intent behind it.

User Experience

User Experience Design is maturing as a field. A UX designers job is to create an experience that delights people. I think you would agree that there are many software packages out there that do not delight. They can be downright frustrating at times. I think that's going to change. More companies are investing in both the technology and the UX of a product. That level of attention and intention is starting to filter into niche software packages. People expect their software to be powerful, flexible and user-friendly. Two out of three isn't good enough anymore. The process of creating should be a delight. As more companies embrace this trend and consider how people use their software, the better the overall ecosystem will look for UX in digital content creation software.

Having the determination and technical skills to work around poor UX won't be enough to do good work in the future. As the user experience improves, several things happen. When something is intuitive, time spent reading documentation decreases. When the software experience guides you through a defined set of steps, there's less need for additional education. The distinction between learning and doing is blurred.

Access to knowledge

Access to information is rapidly evolving in the digital arts. There's a lot to learn, but it's easier than ever to find the information you need to round out your knowledge in your chosen field. It's no longer enough to be an expert in a piece of software because given enough time almost anyone can become an expert just by googling and practice.

So what?

You can't rely on your ability to crank through the mundane tasks. Machine learning has that covered. Improved UX will make it easier for people to get up and running with a piece of software, stay in the flow, iterate quicker, and reduce the time for someone to learn skills and techniques. The information age has already made it possible for anyone to learn the theory and technical expertise to join the job market without attending a university or some other educational institution.

The digital artist of the future will have to cultivate and excel at a different set of skills.

The digital artist of the future will have to cultivate and excel at a different set of skills. The principles of art and animation are still fundamental building blocks. I don't think computers will replace the need for that knowledge, yet. Consistently practising and refining one's ability to compose an image, apply the principles of animation or tell a story are life long pursuits. Craft is craft.

I believe that the following skills will become increasingly valuable.

Storytelling can take on many forms, and one of them is to help people understand a problem and hopefully convince them to help you solve yours. This is not the story you see on the screen, but the story told in the studio. The story that helps move everyone in the same direction with purpose.

Decision making. Having access to better UX and technology still requires some input and an understanding of the desired output. The ability to make insightful decisions and know when to reject the output instead of blindly following a computer-generated result will become even more critical for the artist of the future.

Leverage. The expansion of applications for machine learning might become too much for one person to understand it all. The artist of the future will be able to leverage these new technologies as well as the people around her who can provide insight or technical support to get the job done.

Principles. It's easy to follow along with a tutorial. The real skill is the ability to dissect a technique to figure out the underlying, core principles and apply them as a more general framework for different problems.

The future of digital artists is exciting. Technology is inching closer to that direct responsiveness of pencil on paper. Zero delay between our ideas and the manifestation in front of us. At a scale and efficiency that we've never seen before. It's up to us to cultivate the next level of skills that allow us to create. That enable us to be artists.