DPP Home Profiles Bert Monroy - Re-Creating Reality

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bert Monroy - Re-Creating Reality

Bert Monroy is a Photoshop master who uses software like a brush and canvas all at once. He's not a photographer, but a digital painter who pushes the software envelope to create his art

“I get the perspective working,” he continues, “and even then I'll tweak it a bit just to get a little distortion. There's a slight distortion that happens in peripheral view, not the way the camera would do it, but the way the eye would do it. Then I start building the elements. Each element is tackled individually so that I'll get all the detail that's required out of context of everything else. When it goes into context with everything else, then there have to be the reflections and the shadows and how it's relating to the other objects in the scene.

“The basic shape starts to look like a computer graphic at the beginning,” Monroy says, “because it's just big flat shapes—although nothing is really flat because I put gradients into everything. The smallest object will have a gradient in it. Many times I'll go in and modify it further with the Dodge and Burn tool. I'll start adding little touches so that something doesn't look so flat. If it's a metal panel, maybe somebody was leaning on it once and there's a little dent to it, so the light is going to be picked off differently right here at this little edge. So I'll go in there with the Dodge and Burn tool and create a little sweep, depending on what the material is and what exactly was happening to it.”

Panorama: The Chicago Damen Train Station

It's that amazing attention to detail that causes so many viewers to mistake Monroy's paintings for photographs. Nowhere is this meticulous detail more evident than in the immense panorama of the Chicago Damen train station. The 15,000 layers involved in Damen meant that instead of a typical 200-hour investment, Monroy spent almost 2,000 hours creating his largest piece to date. It's about four times the size of his typical images and was actually inspired by photographer friends, George Lepp and Jeff Schewe. It was Schewe, in fact, who had dropped him off at the Damen station.

“I'm standing there and I'm looking down the tracks, and there it hit me,” Monroy says. “I saw my panorama. I just happened to be standing there, and I had panorama on the brain from spending a couple of weeks with two panoramic photographers. The station was very quiet, there was nobody there, the sun was so bright, and I was just looking down at the city, looking down at the station, and that's when it hit me. I started planning it. How am I going to be able to capture this tremendous expanse in a file? That's when I whipped out my camera and started taking some shots.”

The train alone was created in five separate files. Monroy put all the elements in prior to dropping the train into the scene, with the exception of crucial shadows and reflections.

“Once I decided exactly where the train would be in the scene,” he explains, “then I figured out how the reflections would appear in the windows. In my original shot, there was no train. I put the train in as an afterthought. I started building the reflections and finishing the train once it was in context with the rest of the scene.”

While he utilized photographs for reference, like all of Monroy's other images, the photographic influence stopped there. Each element was created by his hand using a Cintiq monitor that allows him to draw right on the screen, making the process more like traditional painting.

“Even my hand movements are the traditional movements that I was trained to do,” Monroy says. “It's just that the medium is digital. I went from painting on the canvas to holding that bar of soap on the side. Then I started using a stylus but it was still on the side. Now I'm back to looking at my hand doing the strokes in front of me, so it's like coming back home. It's like I've gone full cycle. I'd say that the medium caught up to my training.”


Facts About Damen
• The image size is 40x120 inches.
• The flattened file weighs in at 1.7 GB.
• It took 11 months (close to 2,000 hours) to create.
• The painting is comprised of close to 50 individual Photoshop files.
• Taking a cumulative total of all the files, the overall image contains more than 15,000 layers.
• More than 500 Alpha channels were used for various effects.
• More than 250,000 paths make up the multitude of shapes throughout the scene.


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