Chad Dusenberry, like so many of his generation, has grown up in a digital world where sculpting no longer requires armature, clay, or tools. Blame (or praise) computers—they’ve changed everything. In the 21st century, all the aspiring sculptor needs is talent, an imagination (most important of all), and, of course, a computer.
But that doesn’t mean today’s digital sculptors don’t have an appreciation for traditional sculpture; quite the opposite, actually. Many revere traditional sculpture, though they’ve never created one of their own. Others, who’ve actually gotten their hands on clay, who’ve felt what it’s like to create something physical, and tangible—something that when cast in bronze can last for thousands of years—develop an even more profound reverence for the art. They know that while traditional sculpture doesn’t afford some of the flexibility that digital sculpture does, it’s often more rewarding, and engenders in both the artist and the viewer an emotional resonance that’s so often lacking in the digital realm.
Gnomon Workshop, a professional digital art school for aspiring animators, modelers, and digital sculptors, seems to agree with this notion. In fact, they require all sculpture students to take a minimum of two traditional sculpting classes focusing on form and composition. For those who’ve never so much as touched a brick of clay, it’s a bit of an eye opener, but these classes provide the basic underpinning for all the digital lessons to follow. In the interview below, Chad tells us what it’s like transitioning from digital sculpture to traditional sculpture; what it means to sculpt something with his hands instead of a mouse; and what traditional sculpture has taught him about the art form as a whole.
1. Artistically speaking, what is your background? (Illustrator, animator, sculptor, etc…)
I grew up playing video games. I started doing research on my favorite video game company, Bungie Studios, the makers of Halo. I looked into a career path with Bungie and learned that one of the requirements was knowledge of the software Maya. The next week I had a student version and a huge textbook. I made it my mission to learn this program. I did not realize I was doing anything artistically until my eighteenth birthday when our neighbors invited our family over to their home for Christmas Eve. It was there that I had the opportunity to meet Neville Page, and soon discovered that Neville was the lead creature designer for Avatar. He showed me some of his work and I could see the passion he had for the industry. I went home and returned with a few samples of my work on Maya. Neville was impressed that this kid in high school had the gumption to learn Maya on his own. Neville was the first person to introduce me to Zbrush, Gnomon School of VFX, and most importantly the Gnomon Workshop. Being a self-learner, the Gnomon Workshop has given me the tools to grow into the world of art.
2. How long have you been illustrating/animating/sculpting?
I have been studying Maya, Zbrush and developing my artistic skills for about four years, since I was 17.
3. Have you had any formal training? (art school, four year university, etc…)
I actually have not had a lot of formal training. I am self-taught through the Gnomon Workshop. I can not stress enough how powerful the Workshop library truly is. Being able to actually work personally with instructors whom I had been able to learn from on video has been a dream.
4. How has sculpting in the physical realm informed/helped your digital artistry?
I never touched clay before taking my first sculpting class from John Brown at Gnomon. I noticed a huge difference in developing my art, not just because I was working with clay but because I was applying John’s theories and fundamentals to my everyday digital work.
5. What did you learn from working with clay that you might not have otherwise learned from sculpting digitally?
Time and Patience. It’s a lot less labor in the digital realm: no scale, symmetry mode is off and lots of muscle labor to achieve form. So working with the real deal gave me the feeling that my arms were tied behind my back at all times; it was a very intimidating challenge to overcome but a rewarding feeling to overcome artistically.
6. What are your plans for future sculpting? Will you still sculpt in clay, or will you only sculpt digitally?
My goal at this point is to keep learning by continuing my education with John Brown’s sculpture classes. I am currently in his second class which is all about taking two steps back and then taking four steps forward with basic fundamentals. I plan to continue to sculpt in real clay because it is another artistic outlet for me that I can channel some of my energy into. It humbles me a bit more with time and patience.
7. Is there any more emotional investment in sculpting with clay than there is in sculpting digitally? If so, explain how.
Tons. The first time when I showed John Brown my Zbrush Character, he said “The heat is on, you’re going to have to give me exactly what you did in Zbrush .” I was pumped because of the challenge but it was a very daunting feeling because like I said my hands were tied behind my back. But my understanding of form was still all there, though intellectually on the computer my mind set was the same when I problem solved with clay.
8. Explain the process of moving from a digital sculpt to a clay sculpt. What, if anything, did you have to do to prepare for sculpting in clay? Is there an advantage to sculpting digitally before a clay sculpt, or vice versa?
Moving from digital to clay was not a complicated process. I had all the forms in my head of the digital sculpture to be represented in the real clay sculpt. Though I did have the advantage of sculpting in 3d, because I did not have to problem solve my way through a 2d orthographic like other students had to. I would definitely recommend for anybody with the knowledge of Zbrush to attempt this process.
9. What advice would you give next term’s students, especially those who’ve only ever sculpted digitally? How can they achieve the same level of competency seen in your work?
I would say learn to deal with symmetry mode off, and start to think more asymmetric because in the real world we don’t have the other side working to our advantage. Other than that it’s all about the fundamentals of art to get you a good end result.
10. Did you enjoy your time in Sculpture 1?
Every minute! I have to give it to John Brown, who is truly a modern day master sculptor. The wealth of knowledge which came from his class will stay with me as I develop my craft in the entertainment industry.