Illustrating the Future of Sex
Posted on 24th September 2018 by Austin Gould

We recently spoke with Illustrator Ryan Etter about images he created for DOW Jones, a long-time client of his. Ryan has worked on projects for DOW Jones before, ranging from SmartMoney Magazine to the The Wall Street Journal.

The images we spoke to him about were created for the Journal Report section of The Wall Street Journal. Ryan originally got this job when the art director for the project contacted him. She had been following his work, and felt he would be a great fit for the project

Ryan told us that while all the images varied in subject matter, they were all centered around one theme: technology.

As often happens in editorial illustration, the subject was new to him and required a fresh approach. For this project in particular, there was a "Future of Sex" illustration that required a delicate balance in order to convey the story while being appropriate for the Journal.

Ryan Etter Dripbook

Here's how Ryan described his initial approach to the subject matter:

"I started by searching stock photography that would be appropriate for the Journal and lend itself to a strong and evocative image. Working back and forth with the art director, it was decided that cropping to a tight composition would accomplish this."

Ryan Etter Dripbook

In terms of Ryan's creative process, he told us, "With most of my work, I start by sketching with pencil and paper. I rough out my initial ideas, as many as I can come up with, and then tighten down the successful concepts."

Ryan also told us that he frequently stumbles upon ideas while sketching that he wouldn’t have initially thought of. In the cases where he has a hard time coming up with ideas, he works in the same way, trusting that he will discover concepts along the way that will work for the project.

Ryan Etter Dripbook

Once a concept is selected, Ryan begins by gathering reference data and researching the subject. Getting to know the topic helps Ryan make relevant choices as to the details of the illustration – creating icons, background elements and even color choices. The more details Ryan can work into the piece, the more techy it feels, but it is important that the details are appropriate to the subject as well.

In terms of the technical details behind creating the images, here's what Ryan had to say:

"Although I work in 2D and 3D, most of my images start in Modo by the Foundry where I build a scene. I construct wireframe meshes for the individual elements. In this case, I modeled a bot that matched the pose of the woman in the original photograph."

Ryan Etter Dripbook

"I continued by establishing a light scheme to match the photo and building shaders for the model. My focus for the surfaces was to keep them slick and polished while maintaining a softness to help establish the feminine quality to the bot."

Ryan Etter Dripbook

"Finally, the last step was to composite the two sources, which I did in Photoshop. I spent time balancing the light and color to seamlessly blend the 3D render into the photo. To polish the final illustration, I created reflected colors on the bot skin, added edge highlights and specular hits, and created the blue illumination that breathes life into the robot."

Ryan Etter Dripbook

"With every project, there is the possibility that you’ll discover new ways of doing things. New tricks or alternatives that save time. I’ve developed a technique for minimizing my work in 3D, relying on Photoshop to push the piece to its final form. If you don’t see it in the image, don’t model it. With the bots shoulder, I kept it simple. Using black for the components where the shoulder connects, I relied on the blue lights to suggest more complexity. Simple can bring a lot of interest when done right."

Ryan Etter Dripbook

"I used several 3rd party photo filters to add contrast and film noise, in order to help merge the bot with the photo. By running a Tonal Contrast filter from the NIK suite, I added a slight amount of tone mapping that really brought her into frame. There is no cheating. The end goal is to use whatever you have at hand to make a killer image and make it believable."

We then asked Ryan what the conceptual relevance of the work was, to which he replied, "Most of us are all intrigued by the extent that we are embracing technology if not unnerved. A common thread in entertainment is merging technology with humanity. We see concepts ranging from neural implants and augmented human bodies to entertainment and pleasure. From holodecks to Westworld. The ‘Future of Sex' story is a small focus for huge possibilities."

In terms of Ryan's personal sentiments on this subject, he told us he believes that integrating technology into our daily lives will continue to grow, but that how we plan to use it is what's most relevant. Using smartphones as an example, Ryan believes that as we take advantage of the benefits of technology, we must be careful not to let it get in the way of our relationships, productivity, and human identity.

Ryan's favorite part of creating these illustrations was when they finally started coming together, when the bot was solidly in place and it felt like a part of the original photo. To Ryan, the details and polish were the icing on the cake.

Ryan was also pleased with the collaboration between him and the art director. "Her direction really pulled my concepts together. After several rounds of sketches, I really feel we nailed it," he told us.

Lastly, here is Ryan's advice to other, possibly up-and-coming creative professionals:

"In today’s creative industry, it is common for employers and clients to look for people who have a variety of skills in their arsenal. Although I think it’s a great idea to gear up and diversify, it’s easy to fall prey to the old adage ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ My advice is to really focus on your passion. Develop your skill to the point where you are the top pick for any job. If you’re totally into what you’re doing, it doesn’t become a job. Last, keep your options open. A career in art & design spans decades and you need to evolve."

To see more of Ryan's incredible illustrations, head here !

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