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Gavin's Underground

Gina Miller

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2010-07-11 -

As 3D animation continues to progress we're finding it slowly added to everyday media one piece at a time. Animators on professional and amateur levels are taking the tools they have before them with film and game making and adapting those works to commercials, web ads, music videos, and in today's case... a graphic novel.
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Gina Miller took her animations and integrated them into her recently released book, Lazarus. Releasing it under her own publishing company and, very fittingly, selling copies online via Amazon and Barnes & Noble's online store. I got a chance to chat with Gina about her work as an artist and animator, the work she's done over the years, the book, and a few other topics. Plus some of her paintings and material from Lazarus for you to browse throughout.

Gina Miller
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http://www.nanogirl.com/

Gavin: Hey Gina! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Gina: Hello. That's easy, I love art and I love science.

Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some of your early influences?

Gina: When I was a child I spent a lot of time at the library reading about artists and poets and dreaming my own dreams. Of course I love the greats like Warhol, Picasso, and da Vinci. Da Vinci was interesting because he wasn't just a brilliant artist, he was a polymath who applied his art skills to many of his diverse interests. I appreciate the well roundedness of his mind. I enjoy all types of art but I do have a tendency to like abstract art - for example Paul Klee, Joan Miro` and Jonas Gerard. What I like about abstract art is that it is creation from the ground floor up. It is creating something that did not exist before. And each person looks at this new world differently. It's just so full of complexity. I know right away when I like a piece of art. Art is funny that way, everyone knows when they like it. There is some sort of internal detector that everyone has. I wonder why Joe Shmoe has one type of detector and we have another. Perhaps it is our individual experiences or something else unseen in the mind. Locally I like the abstract artist Nel Ivancich. She has some very rich and amazing artwork at the Phillips Gallery.
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Gavin: Did you seek out any college for art or was it more self-taught?

Gina: I had been creating digital artwork for a few years on my own but by 2003 I decided I wanted to take the next step and make 3D computer animations. I was living in Seattle at that time and I took classes at Mesmer Animation Labs. I had unwittingly chosen just the right time as they closed down shortly after. I think you can learn a lot on your own but you can learn so much more from other people. I really enjoyed the experience.

Gavin: What drew you to doing digital designs as opposed to other traditional artforms?

Gina: I am and was very interested in technology and computers. At the time I was on the computer most of the day establishing my website and networking so it was a matter of convenience to experiment with digital image programs in my free time.
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Gavin: Having done that for a few years, was it easier for you to transition over to animated works or did you find it more difficult?

Gina: Animation is much more difficult than still work. You can alter a single image more easily. Animation is similar to film in that it generates between 24 to 30 frames per second, so it is not as easy to alter or to fix a mistake. It is problem solving all the way through, from the beginning to the end of an animation, and each animation brings about a new set of challenges. But honestly, I love the challenge it provides. It flexes my mind and makes the end result all the more rewarding. My initial goal was to "see" things that we could not yet see. And I did do that with some of my animations, one in particular. I worked with the author Robert A. Freitas Jr. making an animation based on a design from his book Nanomedicine. The animation demonstrates a hypothesized application of a computer on the hand that can do what all computers do but could also be monitoring one's body for health statistics. As time rolled on I made more artistic statements like my computer animated recreation of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and "The Surrealist".
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Gavin: What the process like for you when creating an animation, from concept to final product?

Gina: First I think of the general idea for example "I want to animate a singing robot." Then I write it down in a linear fashion, describing each scene in one sentence on a piece of paper. It looks like an outline, it doesn't have details written in which leaves me room to be creative while I am making the animations. Using this as a guide I then go into my 3D programs and start setting up my 3D models. Afterwards I go into my audio program and mix music tracks and/or record my narration so that I have a final audio track. Then I animate the 3D models with movements all the while attempting to complement the audio track. I then render all of the frames out of the 3D programs. Then I go into my Combustion program where I bring in all of the rendered parts and assemble them. It's sort of like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. From here I render my final video. Because they render so large, usually in gigabytes, I have to compress them with Sorenson Squeeze so that they are small enough to upload to the internet for you to watch.

Gavin: Do you usually have a set idea of what you're aiming for, or will you play around with it frequently until you like what you've got?

Gina: In the beginning my process was different. When you are learning you play around a bit more; you are doing a lot of exploring. At that time I would go into my 3D programs without having any plan at all. But now that I understand my tools I can better map out my end goal ahead of time.
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Gavin: Tech wise, what do you use both OS and hardware wise to create these works?

Gina: I use a multitude of programs which I combine for the totality of the work. I use 3D Studio Max, Vegas, Poser, Particle Illusion, Bryce, Photoshop, Combustion and Sorenson Squeeze. My computer is a specialty Boxx workstation (Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit OS, 3TB RAID, 12GB RAM). I use a Drobo to back up my large animation files.

Gavin: On the side you also paint textured works. What got you started in creating those pieces?

Gina: It was my move here to Utah. I moved here from Seattle the end of September. Something about the close mountain range inspired me. It generates a feeling of living inside of a piece of artwork. I started creating the textured paintings in February. I was creating different types of artwork before, such as handmade cards, fabric wall hangings and jewelry but I wanted to create something bigger. Something that could hang on people's walls.
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Gavin: How did the idea come from to write a graphic novel?

Gina: Before my animation work I was very focused on nanotechnology, I developed a web portal and nanotechnology news service. This is why you will sometimes see this topic in my artwork and animations. Nanotechnology is an emerging science that is on a scale so small you can not see it with the human eye. It is one billionth of a meter. If fully developed nanotechnology could provide some amazing benefits to humanity. For example: cures for diseases, one could have nanobots roaming the body and repairing any nasty viruses or cancer cells. Nanobots could be sent out into the atmosphere to repair pollution. Nanotechnology could also help fight starvation via molecular food synthesis. Before I began the graphic novel I had watched a lot of movies and read books where humans build a great technology, then this technology turns against humanity and endangers it. I knew that I would like to see a story where it wasn't so black and white. As I progressed with my own art I began thinking why can't I make that story. The plot itself developed quite unexpectedly. A few years ago I began seeing pieces of the Lazarus story in my mind. Over time the details began to fill in and I wrote the story out. This must have awoken something in my mind because after that I wrote out more stories that perhaps will take a life of their own one day.
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Gavin: What was the process like for you in writing the story for Lazarus and developing those characters and their world?

Gina: I had the story written out as a linear plot but later had to rewrite a second version as a script so that my characters could speak to each other. Once I completed the script I could then go ahead into the 3D computer programs. The initial part is a lot of set up, what should they be wearing, what should they be sitting on etc. it is basically a gathering of parts. Then the fun part begins, creating the the 3D images that you see in the graphic novel. I did this image by image and page by page looking at the script as I went along. I used Photoshop to put the text above the images and arrange the page layouts. I proofed the final version for months. In the 3D world it is easy to have feet standing through a mountain or a toe poking through a shoe, so there are a lot of details to watch out for.

Gavin: How was it for you writing that story while adapting it to your 3D artwork?

Gina: It was a lot of fun. I really enjoy creating artwork, but the graphic novel concept was new to me. I felt like a puppeteer bringing my story to life. It was very Zen, a whole new way to approach my work.
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Gavin: What was it like finding a publisher for this specific kind of story?

Gina: I actually decided to do it myself. I set up my own publishing company. Lewis is my husband's last name and Miller is mine.

Gavin: What's the public reaction been like since its release?

Gina: I have been very pleased with the response. People are embracing the idea of 3D art in a graphic novel. I have gotten supportive emails and a lot of great comments about Lazarus at my blog.
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Gavin: Are there any plans right now to do a second book, or sticking to your art for now?

Gina: Yes. I have a lot of ideas for future books. I have many more stories but I would also like to create some graphic novel poems. I have written poetry since I was a child and back then I had a dream that I would publish books of poetry. The dream has altered a bit now. I would like to write a poem and have that single poem become the story and the inspiration for the artwork. With Lazarus there was a story line that I had to make the artwork represent. With a poem I could really break the boundaries of the artwork and take it to a heightened degree. I am looking forward to exploring the freedom of that. I will also be continuing to create more textured paintings.

Gavin: Going local for a bit, what's your take on the local art scene, both good and bad?

Gina: I would love to know more about it myself. I have heard that there is a great local art scene here. I have on my to do list to take a trip down to the Gallery Stroll. Since I am still relatively new to the area I still have a lot to discover but I very much look forward to finding out more.
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Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Gina: For the community, I know there are a lot of great art galleries here in the state of Utah. Take a day to visit some, I think you will really enjoy it. For the artist or those who want to become an artist, dare to dream. In today's world you can learn a lot from just the internet alone. Get inspired by other artists. You can learn what you don't know and you can achieve your dreams, just keep trying.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on the way computerized artwork is recognized these days as an art form, and what do you think people could do to improve that?

Gina: I hope that people are open to it. I believe that all art is an expression that can speak loudly no matter what the process for creating the artwork. Art is an inner reflection or a reflection of the world around us, or some found place that is being shared. We have come a long way in the development of artistic tools, from film to electronica music. Digital is the next generation. It is not a threat to traditional mediums, it is just another tool, another option. As you can see with my own work, I create both computer generated art and real world art. I think there is value and beauty in both. I think whatever you are creating, whether it's fabric, digital, a painting, a book, music, animations, movies, it all comes from the same place. A real passion to create and the joy that comes from that. We can enjoy all forms of art.
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Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Gina: I hope to pique the interest of a local art gallery for my collection of textured paintings. I would love to have an established relationship with a gallery so that I can make art for people to enjoy in their daily lives. It's a dream of mine. Secondly, when I first moved to Utah the area was so striking to me that I drove around taking photographs. I then ran the photographs through a computer process to create a kaleidoscope effect. I will be making another book out of this project.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Gina: You can watch the trailer for my graphic novel Lazarus and find out where to purchase it here. Photographs of my textured paintings are here. Keep checking back at my website because you never know what I'll be doing next. And please feel free to send me an email, I'd love to hear from you!
nanogina@aol.com.


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