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    RETRO POST #07: Maya - Exploring Renaissance Paintings

    Steve Fuchs
    May 30, '04 11:40 AM EST
    RETRO POST #07: Maya - Exploring Renaissance Paintings
    From my personal blog (before Archinect)
    Authored on 2004-05-30 @ 08:40:05 AM

    The Magic of Illusion, The Renaissance and Maya

    Leonardo Da Vinci, Andrea Pozzo and Piero Della Francesco. In one short burst of intense artistic progress, these artists and others of the Renaissance changed the way that Western art evokes the human form. Just the mention of these Renaissance artists and their genius excites the eye and the imagination.

    Until now, the general public had to be content with seeing the fruits of these artists' brilliance without the benefit of insight into their techniques and the evolution of their artistry.

    Not anymore. Thanks to the magic of Maya, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. is currently recreating on film the genesis of several famous Renaissance artworks to convey the artists' revolutionary use of space, shadow and technique. During the Renaissance, artistic technique was undergoing a seismic shift in how likenesses were represented. Prior to the Renaissance, images were two-dimensional, lacking both perspective and context.

    A Seismic Shift in the Art World On Camera

    All this changed during The High Renaissance in Rome and Florence, which lasted only twenty-five years, from 1495-1520, but was nonetheless a period of tremendous artistic influence, introducing into artists' repertoire the ‘special effects' of shadow, light and using shading to convey depth and leaving an indelible impact on art. “From a special effects artist/Maya user perspective, it was fascinating to make a film explaining the basic principles behind illusions and modern day special effects---using special effects to explain special effects!” said Ellen Bryant, deputy to executive officer, external and international affairs, National Gallery of Art.

    The film, titled Empire of the Eye: The Magic of Illusion and hosted by The Today Show's, Al Roker, is set for wide public release on PBS in the fall of 2004. Considered one of the earliest examples of a new trend in using computer graphics as a primary tool for studying art history, Empire of the Eye details through use of models and recreations, how the technique of perspective evolved and how works were developed by the artists such as Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mantegna, Raphael and Uccello as their mastery of the technique developed.

    The National Gallery had already completed an earlier film recreating artistic technique. Vermeer : Master of Light also utilized Maya to illustrate the techniques in the Dutch master's The Music Lesson. Vermeer made particular use of Maya's texturing, modeling, lighting controls and Camera fly-throughs functionality. The project won the 2002 National Emmy for Best Graphic and Artistic Design in a Documentary or News Broadcast for Carol Hilliard lead artist on Vemeer and the Empire of the Eye series.

    Empire of the Eye expanded focus from examining how a single piece of work was executed to a detailed analysis of how Renaissance artists began working with form and perspective to convey how one of the most exciting periods of artistic flourishing in history came to be so significant.

    The artist Masaccio and his piece The Trinity was one of the first works to use linear perspective and its genesis is depicted in the film. Maya was used for the camera animation and deformations (Lattice), and spotlight animations to show the effects of light on space. Several models were built on site in Italy and incorporated templates of actual rare archival sketches from artists Pozzo, Da Vinci and Della Francesco. Accuracy and appropriateness were critical to this exercise, and Maya enabled the animators to depict the work's evolution with precision and detail.

    Maya Integrates Historical Perspective with Modern Narration

    The film addresses the magic of illusion and how our senses interact with canvas and paint to create something that is more implied than actually depicted. Al Roker of NBC narrates the hour-long documentary, which focuses on the visual tools that create the magic of illusion.

    “Maya made it possible to explore the works of art in greater detail and scope than can be achieved with a live camera. In exploring three-dimensional models of the art, audiences get a true sense of the space of the work, as well as a better understanding of the perspective techniques the masters of the Renaissance were employing in their works,” added Bryant.

    “Carol Hilliard and I worked closely together on site in Italy -- she with her laptop running Maya software and I on camera -- and together designed the effects. She also created storyboards to make sure that what we shot and what we designed in 3D animation would fit seamlessly, support each other and not get in the way of the viewer's learning experience," Tony Black, director of photography, told "Photographing priceless works of art was also demanding. Shooting in fragile architectural areas with large crews, laying down dolly track and lighting entire cathedrals -- in some cases for the first time -- presented many challenges."

    Maya was also used to seamlessly integrate host Al Roker's live narration into the visuals of the film. Maya's modeling tools were used heavily throughout both aspects of the project, and the spotlight animation tool was used extensively to show the effects of light on space. Maya also played a significant role in researching and developing the script for the film. The project took one Maya animator approximately one year to complete using Maya Complete on Mac OS X. The "Empire Of The Eye: The Magic Of Illusion" was filmed on location in numerous Italian cities and in Orlando, Florida. The documentary had its world premiere screening at the National Gallery of Art early in 2003 and will be released to PBS in the fall of 2004, airing on more than 200 PBS stations across the US.

    For more information on the National Gallery of Art, please visit

    (Found on Alias' website.)

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