Diary of a Sculptor: Volume Two

Weta Workshop is excited to announce a very special collaboration with New York sculptor, Sabin Howard. We are working with Sabin on the World War I memorial relief sculpture "A Soldier's Journey," to be displayed in Pershing Park, Washington D.C. As Sabin progresses in his work, he'll share his thoughts on the sculpting process from deep inside the walls of the Workshop. The first installment of Sabin's journey can be found here

Traditional Ways of Working Get a Technological Boost in the Creation of a Memorial

Journal Entry #2

Written by Sabin Howard 

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The Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova drew his inspiration from the past. His work also shows the first symptoms of the experimentation of the modern age. To achieve this great task, he employed a workshop that helped him to achieve his artistic vision. He hired workers to transfer his plaster models to marble.

Using the latest technology of his time, he perfected a machine called a ‘pointing’ machine, which revolutionised sculpture in the late 1700s. This measuring tool, used by stone sculptors, accurately copies plasters and allows artists to recreate their vision in stone.

What could I learn from Canova?

Canovas Gipsoteca

When I finished the compositional drawing for A Soldier’s Journey, I felt that I had accomplished an epic feat. The creation of that design idea came from nine months of incredibly focused and intense work. Needless to say, the task paid off – as we received concept approval from the Fine Arts Committee on May 18th 2017.

"I felt that I had accomplished an epic feat."

After that brief moment of elation, I knew what the next steps were. I would have to translate that drawing into a sculpture maquette. There was no way that I would be able to achieve so-called ‘museum level’ quality in the short span of time afforded for completion. The success of proceeding forward lay in figuring out a plan to maintain quality with maximum speed.

I had had a visit to my studio in April by Richard Taylor, who owns Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand. Richard had been following me for years and had a trip planned to New York for the premiere of Ghost in the Shell. Even though his company is well known for its work on The Lord of the Rings and Avatar, he has a real passion for Classical art, specifically sculpture.

The seed was planted when he asked me on that rainy New York day if I’d like to come have a look at his workshop in Wellington, New Zealand. Two weeks later I boarded a plane for a trip that would take me 9000 miles away from my studio and my family.

"Weta Workshop is unique in the world."

I knew that I had to take the grunt work out of the process, and I couldn’t do it by myself. Like Canova, I needed a highly skilled workforce to accomplish this task quickly. Weta Workshop is unique in the world. Among its many creative divisions, the Workshop has a sculpting department with figuratively trained sculptors.

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Those sculptors also knew how to take my vision within the concept drawing and help me translate that into sculptural terms. To do that, we photographed models in Weta Workshop’s Photo Studio from 360 degrees. The models were lit to pull out the structure and volume of the body. With that information, we were able to start sculpting on the computer. We could then take those digital files and compositionally flatten them to different degrees of relief.

The beauty of this programme called ZBrush is that you can move and manipulate figure compositions at a technological rate of speed, not a human rate of speed. This allows different options in figure composition to be explored in hours rather than days.

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This information is then milled out and overnight a decision can be made about the depth of a grouping in the relief, or the scale of a figure in the relief. Things that if done manually in clay would take months as opposed to hours.

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Just like Canova, who perfected the use of the pointing system to bring his art to life, I am using a modern technological tool to bring this relief to life. Canova also used a large trained workforce, and Weta Workshop supplied me with that. And lastly, just like Canova, I too feel like I am playing forward a tradition of figurative art that comes from the same roots of Greece and Rome!

-Sabin Howard

This article first appeared on Sabin Howard's blog. You can read the full version of it here. Photos: 1) Sabin & Weta Workshop Sculpture Team Leader Daniel Cockersell set up the model's pose as part of the 360-degree photography; 2) Canova Gysoteca in Possagno, Italy; 3) Sabin sets up the model's pose as part of the 360-degree photography; 4) Sabin assists the models to create the right force in the pose; 5) Work in progress, sculpture maquette test panel.

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