Magazine Article


Color-ful Hands

"Color"-ful Hands

The Creative Arts of Tim Alt

Text by Michael Sheridan ~ Images by Tim Alt

In the beginning, there were large machines that were needed to produce a computer-generated image. Massive, heat-producing monstrosities designed to allow a new breed of artists to create designs solely in the computer.

These images were not very high in resolution, and were far from complex. But those artists were just beginning to tap into the capabilities of digital illustration.

"We had to have a special room that could cool the system," explained Tim Alt, a digital illustrator since 1985. "We used a paint box, which is kind of like what TV people use to do on-air graphics."

The unit was huge, he said, but "at that point, it was the only thing available to do the work we did."

Alt later graduated to a Mac2FX system in 1987, scanning images in with a video camera. "It kind of was a big relief, to be able to work on a smaller, simpler machine," Alt said. "But RAM was so expensive, we could only afford to put 8MB into that thing."

Today, Alt creates his work _ which is primarily for the stock image market _ on a Apple G4. With this far more powerful computer system, he's able to create vibrant computer illustrations for Corbis, one of the powerhouses in the stock image market, as well as his other clients.

Helping Hands

In developing the image featured on our cover, Alt used several different pieces of software _ all of which would have blown artists away back in the mid-80s. "For this image I used three different applications _ [Macromedia] Freehand, [Strata] Studio Pro, [Adobe] Photoshop," he said. "Strata to model out and render the 3D images, Freehand for all the line work, Photoshop for final assembly."

The Mind of Tim Alt

"I'm kind of like a chameleon, I like to explore different looks," Tim Alt said of his art. "So, although I like the image featured on the cover, I wouldn't say it's what I'd call my look."

So then, this interviewer asked, "How do you define your look?"

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The image, developed in 2000 to illustrate color management over a network, was actually one of several. "I generally create about ten different versions of each image," Alt said. In this case, "The background was different, and the treatment of the movement varied... With some, the computers would be basically the same, but the backgrounds were different, and on some of the other ones, the computers were positioned differently."

When starting an image, Alt works strictly on computer. "I generally dive right in," he said. "I very rarely do sketching at all. I come up with an idea and work it out in my mind."

The Stock Industry

Alt has been working for stock image companies since 1987. He and another artist friend worked together, creating images on computer. "At that time, there weren't a lot of people doing computer graphics," he said. "We approached a small stock image company here in California and they were interested in very raw computer graphics."

That company, like many others, was later purchased by Corbis Stock.

Creating art for stock imagery has helped Alt continue working, through good times and bad. "Originally, it was about 50-50," he explained. "But, it seems these days, because assignment work is few and far between, I spend most of my time creating images for stock."

Some illustrators look down on stock imagery, Alt said. But he simply feels it's another avenue to sell his artwork. "There's a large illustration community out there that dislike stock, because they think it takes away from assignment work," he said. "To tell you the truth, I have to make a living, one way or another. During the good times, I got a lot of assignment work. During the bad times, companies go to stock to save money, so that's the best way to sell my work."

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