An interview with Ryan Bliss, creator of Digital Blasphemy.
The Web's top resource for free, original desktop wallpaper, Digital Blasphemy has to be seen to be believed. Here, you find over 100 eye-popping, original 3D rendered images, including surreal images, lovely outer space scenes and abstract stuff.
In this interview, TheFreeSite.com talks to Digital Blasphemy's creator, digital artist Ryan Bliss.
Question: For our visitors who are not familiar with it, tell us what Digital Blasphemy is. Where is it based? Who is the creator of this site?
Answer: Digital Blasphemy is one of the most popular destinations on the Web for 3D rendered wallpaper (computer desktops). The name "Digital Blasphemy" was something I made up a long time ago (back in 1995), before I had a website. I do all the artwork and programming behind DB, with the only exceptions being the the graphics displayed in my User Gallery (they are submitted by various artists from around the world).
I recently moved from Iowa City, Iowa to San Diego, California. I just couldn't stand the thought of another Iowa winter :)
Q: The art on your site is quite stunning. What type of computer and graphics software do you use? How long does it usually take you to create a piece?
A: Thanks for saying so
I use a lot of Metacreations products (like Bryce, Ray Dream Studio, and Poser) to make my art. I also work with Vue d'Esprit and dabble with other programs like Truespace but I haven't used them enough yet to be truly proficient. Basically, my tools are within reach of the "average" computer user.
The time it takes to make an image depends on a lot of things: how inspired I am, how my computer is acting, how many times the phone rings, etc. The time it takes to do a Bryce pic is usually split up into two phases: design and rendering. Designing is where you create all your models and compose the scene, and rendering is like "taking a picture" of the scene you've designed. Unforunately, rendering (in Bryce anyway) is a lengthy, CPU-intensive process and it sometimes takes longer to render an image than design it.
A lot of different factors affect how long a render will take, but it usually takes between 30 minutes to 24 hours to fully render one of my hi-res (1600 x 1200) images. Sometimes I'll let an image "cook" on one of my old computers so I can work on something else in the meantime.
Despite my computer upgrades, the time it takes for me to do an image has remained mostly constant. I trade-off the faster processing for more complex and higher resolution images.
Q: When did Digital Blasphemy launch? What gave you the idea for this project in the first place? Why did you name the site "Digital Blasphemy"?
A: DB went live back in February 1997, when I was still in college. My first PC (back in '95) came with some bundled graphics software and no modem, so if I wanted something other than the "Windows Clouds" on my desktop I had to make it myself. I developed a small collection of wallpapers for my personal use.
In early 1997 I was trying to get a job in the computer field and I was asked if I knew HTML. I admitted that I didn't know HTML and I was subsequently turned down for the job. The website was "launched" basically as a learning tool to teach myself the HTML skills necessary to get a decent job in an exploding field.
The name "Digital Blasphemy" refers to the "godlike" feeling I got (and still get) from creating my own worlds inside a computer. According to Webster's dictionary, the world blasphemy can be used to describe someone who claims have Godlike attributes. Since I was doing just that, on my computer, I put the two together. I could have called it "Virtual Blasphemy", I guess, but I despise anything that's described as being "Virtual".
I came up with the term long before I had a website, because I wanted to put some cool sounding text onto a background I had made. I kept the name when I created my site because I thought it sounded more interesting than "Ryan Bliss's Art Gallery."
Some people think the name means that I'm satanic or that I'm disrespecting God. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
Q: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background? Before this site launched, what did you do for a living?
A: I'm 28 years old and I was born in Normal, Illinois (don't laugh, it's a real place). I've never taken an art class outside of the required high-school courses so I don't really consider myself an artist. I studied Computer Science and English at the University of Iowa and I have degrees in both.
My last job before going full time with DB was as a Web developer for a college admissions testing organization. My favorite "pre-web" job was the two years I spent as a pre-school teacher in Iowa City. I got to hang out with a group of 2 to 6 year olds all day and it was awesome. Besides what I'm doing now, I'd have to say that my time with those kids was the most rewarding thing I've ever done. I still remember all their names...
Q: How does Digital Blasphemy earn money? Has the project been a financial success?
A: DB started as a hobby. As traffic increased, though, so did the costs associated with hosting it. My first wake-up call came last year when my ISP asked me to move my site somewhere else because it was taking up 2/3 of their total bandwidth and choking dial-up connections all over town. I went with a web host which promised "Unlimited Bandwidth", but they decided to amend their policy after 2 days of hosting my gallery.
Basically, it costs very little for you to download stuff from the Internet, but it's very expensive to SERVE content (especially hi-res graphics). Several generous sys-admins from around the web have volunteered to help mirror my free graphics, so that helps, but the costs are still pretty outrageous.
I use the Flycast network to sell banner advertising in my free gallery and this pretty much covers the costs for hosting plus a little extra. It wasn't enough for me to leave my day-job though, so I was working 9 hours a day on my "job" and then another 8 to 10 on my "hobby". As you can see, this left little time for a life and I think both my job and my hobby were suffering from my lack of sleep. I had to make a choice between one or the other, and I chose to take the risk and focus full-time on DB.
Banner ads, IMO, are a dying phenomenon and I don't think they will be a viable means of supporting free content for much longer. The revenue from them fluctuates wildly and has mostly been on a downward spiral. I knew I couldn't rely on them to support my site far into the future, much less rely on them to pay ALL my bills as a full-time webmaster.
That's why I created a membership gallery on my site earlier this year. Members pay a small fee and they get a full years access to my ENTIRE graphics collection (including bulk zipfile downloads, works in progress, and other goodies). Without my subscribers, I probably wouldn't have been able to continue my site and you wouldn't be interviewing me right now. It was important to me, though, that I not take anything away from my free site. In other words, I did not take all my free wallpapers and start charging for them. Instead I left the free stuff free and I added about 200 wallpapers that people could download if they signed up. The free site is pretty much the same as it always was (though it's updated somewhat less often) with the same number of graphics for you to download. Subscribers get new pictures much more often because it is their support which gives me the time to make more artwork in the first place.
Has it been a financial success? Well, I try to put a lot of the money I make back into making better art and upgrading my bandwidth to serve more people. I think it's been a success because it allows me to concentrate full-time on doing something I love; making art and sharing it with the world.
Q: Where do you get the inspiration for your art? Have you worked in other art mediums besides computer graphics?
A: I get asked this a lot, and it's the hardest question to answer. As I said before, I am not a classically trained artist and I haven't worked in any other mediums besides digital. People call me an artist, but I still have a hard time believing it. Basically, I have neither the manual dexterity nor the patience to work in a medium that won't let me "Undo" my mistakes.
As for the inspiration. Like all other artists, I start with a blank "canvas". I rarely have an idea of what I am going to make when I start though. Instead I start by playing around with my software, trying out different techniques, creating funky looking objects that have no real context. So there I am looking at this object I made and I think: "What else would look cool next to it". If I can come up with something, then I have two objects. If you have two objects, then you have a dynamic or a story and that gives me a direction. The rest of the work is simply filling out the story. I want all my artwork to tell a story, or at least make you think of one.
Deep down, the inspiration probably comes from the hundreds of fantasy and science-fiction novels I've read. I'm a big fan of "book cover" art. Particularly the works of Michael Whelan.
Q: Where do you see this project going? What do you envision for Digital Blasphemy, say, five years down the road?
A: Hopefully, I will still be making art in some way, shape, or form. Only one thing could ever possibly make me consider taking a break from Digital Blasphemy, and that would be if someone from Lucasarts called me up and asked me to work on the new Star Wars movies. Personally, I think I have quite a long ways to go before I'll be on par with some of the other professional artists I've seen. I learn something new pretty much every time I sit down to work with my graphics software, and I don't think my imagination is going to quiet down any time soon. I don't think I'll be slowing down any time soon.
I think the heavy traffic on my site makes it the perfect vehicle for showcasing undiscovered talent in the 3D arts field. This will remain a goal of mine as long as I have a web site. If enough people supported my site with memberships I might even consider "hiring" some outside talent (not any time soon though).
Someday I'd like to publish a novel (and maybe illustrate it). It's been a goal of mine since I first read "Dune" when I was 13 years old.
Q: We sometimes get visitors at TheFreeSite.com who would like to learn more about creating their own computer art. What advice would you offer someone starting out in this area?
A: If you're going to do 3D graphics I think it really helps to have a good background in Math and Science (Physics). 3D design, when you boil it down to it's essential elements, is mostly Mathematics. Some apps (like Bryce) do a better job of shielding you from this than others but your art will always be more "beliveable" if you have a firm grounding in physics, linear algebra, geometry and trig.
Whatever software you decide to use, it will most likely come with presets (a preset water texture, for example, so you don't have to make water from scratch). Use the presets! Use them as starting points for your own custom objects and textures. You'll probably never completely master every aspect of your software, but don't let that keep you from trying. One day you'll figure out how to make fire, the next you'll figure out how to make a bush. After that it's easy to create a burning bush...
Don't expect to create a masterpiece when you're just learning your software. Keep practicing your craft and try to work on an image every day, if only for a short time. Don't get discouraged if you think you'll never be as good as some other artist you've seen. Somebody is probably looking at your work and thinking the exact same thing.
Visit Digital Blasphemy here.
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