Chris Hartley, 25 Years of 3D

Chris Hartley is a UK-based designer covering design for print, web design, 3D illustration and a little animation. The clients he's worked with over his 32-year career have included Procter & Gamble, Barclays Bank, House of Fraser and British Gas.

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» How did you get started in the graphics industry?

I was always interested in 'art' as a kid - though I never even heard the term, "graphic design", until part way through a foundation year in art & design. From here I went through a 3-year design degree course, finishing with a first. This was the early 70's so you must remember there were no computers in use in design at all. Everything was hand work with pen, brush and scalpel. The 'technical' end of design came in the form of photo typesetting, process cameras and half-tone screens.

From college I went first to Ogilvy, Benson & Mather Advertising Agency in London (which I hated), then to a small Graphic Design company (which I also hated). Finally, my wife and I moved back up to the northeast where I worked the next 7 years producing graphics for two local authorities.

For the last couple of years as an employee, I moonlighted as a freelance designer before eventually biting the bullet and setting up on my own, full time. At one point, prior to the introduction of computers, I employed up to three other people, but once the Mac came along I found I could do as much work on my own - and to a higher standard, too.

Never having been much of a 'man-manager' I was happy enough to give up being an employer and go back to only being responsible for my family and myself.

» What made you pick up Strata 3D? Was there a specific problem/need that caused you to seek out a 3D application?

The first time I came across 3D software was when MacUser mentioned the early 'RayDream Designer' software and gave an address to apply for a demo version (this was also pre-internet). I sent for the demo and was stunned at how great an illustration I could manage with this fairly basic ray-tracer package.

Eventually I decided to buy a package (It was just because I wanted to experiment - I had no project in mind - and I don't remember why I didn't buy RayDream) and I chose Swivel3D.

Swivel was quite a fair modeler and it came with a version of RenderMan for output, but it was just a Phong renderer and couldn't match the results that RayDream produced - though it could create much better objects.

I went back to my supplier and had a chat with a knowledgeable sort of lad who recommended Strata Vision 1.0 - and they had a good price at the time, too. So I bought it, modeled and rendered the example models (a corkscrew and cork, a wine bottle and a worktop) and was overjoyed at the quality of the results.

I've used Strata products ever since.

» What other applications were part of your workflow, and how did Strata 3D work with those applications?

The two requirements have always been a vector drawing application and an image editor.

The vector side has always been a little problematic. Illustrator is the de-facto default vector package, but I have always preferred Freehand (I've had both since their very first incarnations). Fortunately, Freehand has always dealt with the problem by saving out in Illustrator formats (either directly or via a plug-in), and though the file usually had to be opened and re-saved in Illustrator, I was able to work in Freehand for the basic path creations.

Normally I will create a path in Freehand, filled and compounded as necessary and then save in a suitable format. These days, saving as PDF allows direct import into Strata with no further steps.

I have used Photoshop since v1.0, so there was no question there when it came to image editing.

Primarily, I create and modify textures in Photoshop. I always try to get my renders as complete as possible so as to avoid too much manipulation after rendering, but I do a little of this, as well.

When I am rendering for print, I will render to a PICT file in RGB and then use Photoshop's colour management engine to control the conversion to CMYK. Often I will also remove the background from an object leaving (or creating) drop shadows on a transparent layer for inclusion into a print document via InDesign.

» How did you learn Strata 3D, and would you recommend your method to new users?

As I mentioned, my first 'lesson' in Strata Vision was to follow the tutorial in the manual. (I'm not a great one for following tutorials, but the concepts were just too new to me to do much else).

After that, I did what I normally do with any application. I set a task for myself to create a scene or an object, and then I plugged away at it until I had something I could be satisfied with. A real-world project would be ideal except for the pressures involved, so I have always tried to set apart about 20% of my working time for 'playing' with the apps I own so as to improve my skills - I'm a very 'enlightened' (self)employer from that point of view!

» Has the introduction of 3D into your workflow caused you to branch out and explore opportunities you wouldn't have otherwise?

It took me a couple of years of feeling I had to 'defend' my purchase of 3D software before I really made it pay for itself. There were a few odd little icons or logos that crept into jobs, but generally it was just an outgoing cost.

Then I persuaded a client into having an all-3D illustrated brochure without a single photograph in it... and to pay for it, too! That one job earned enough to pay for every 3d application I'd ever owned and all their upgrades, too! It also gave me sample printed copies of the work that I could use to persuade other clients to use it, too.

The work I'd done 'preparing' myself to work with Strata also stood me in good stead when I was asked if I could produce 'roughs' of some animated computer graphics to be used in P&G advertising. Mine were nothing like the quality (or the price) of the finished agency animations, but they served as discussion points and illustrations of possibilities within the organisation and were eventually handed on to the agencies as a starting point.

These days, I'll use it to create diagrams, illustrations and images for my print jobs as well as visualising potential packages, displays, etc.

For me, though, the most important thing is I enjoy working in 3D. When I get a job that required some input, I look forward to that part, almost as a holiday from the rest. I tend to 'get the rest of the job out of the way' so that I can get onto the good bit!

» Have you tried other 3D applications? How did Strata 3D compare?

I've already mentioned RayDream and Swivel3D. I have a copy of RayDream 5 by Metacreations and I tried Macromedia's foray into the field of a few years back - Extreme 3D and also Infini-D.

They were all OK in their way, but none had the ease of use or the superb render quality of Strata, so why change?

More recently I've looked briefly at Cinema, Maya and Max (which I found too expensive/difficult for my needs) and experimented with Amapi (too whacky), Electric Studio (amazing booleans and beveling - but too polygon heavy), Wings (I just don't like working in it!) and Silo (silky smooth modeling a real partner to Strata).

With 3D being just one aspect of my overall work I can't afford much time to learn every application!

» Do you use any other applications to compliment Strata 3D?

At the moment, the only other 3D application I am likely to use in my workflow is Silo. Sometimes it is easier to create a cage for an SDS object in Silo, but as Strata 3D improves, even that is getting less and less the case.

Photoshop is still in there, of course, and I keep meaning to get up to speed on UV mapping applications. I'll get there one day.

» How has your personal style and workflow changed since learning Strata 3D?

I don't think it has, really.

Since my first MacII, I've always been a stickler for a tidy desktop and well organised files. I do this with all applications, having well regimented file structures for client files, job files, resources, etc.

Strata is a good fit here because the whole 'Shape' hierarchy structure encourages you to model tidily as well (The equivalent in, say, InDesign is for me to work in regimented layers. I always have a text layer on the top, an image layer, a background layer, etc.)

The biggest change to workflow has actually come from the fact that I have Strata 3D on both Mac and PC platforms.

I work with a Mac and two PC's on the desktop. I have Adobe on the Mac (for imaging, video, vector and publishing) and I have Macromedia on the PC (for web, and flash, primarily).

Strata works so well cross-platform that I frequently model on one machine (either platform will do as the Strata interface is so similar) and then hand off rendering to whichever machine/platform I'm not using!

So, typically, I'll be in the middle of a brochure (on the Mac) and I'll create a required object, hand it off to one of the PC's to render, then get on at full speed on the Mac while it 'cooks'. Or I may be in the middle of a web design or Flash animation and will pass the file to the Mac to render, instead.

Sometimes I'll have all three going flat out at once.

» Was there anything else regarding your experience with Strata 3D that our readers would find interesting or useful?

In the 20 years I have used computers in my work, I have used scores of different applications from many software houses, large and small.

Some have been quite helpful such as Aldus and iProof. Some would supply information but be difficult to contact real people like Adobe and Macromedia.

But I've never known another company like Strata for being so approachable and friendly - and for building such a community on the back of it all.

Even before Michael built the StrataCafe there was a friendly, 'family' feel to communications between users and between users and the company. Now that has built up to the point where we really all are just that - a family.