Digital technology has seen a shift in how we view and interact with visual culture, from the
growth of the internet to the emergence of computer games as well as the development of new
tools and software to be creative with. The role of the illustrator has expanded into new digital
territories. Illustrators have had to accommodate new ways of working, adapt to different
platforms (digital television, mobile phones, games consoles, computer interfaces, etc.) and
incorporate new ideas into their work, for instance introducing an interactive element.
“Some of the most interesting illustration work produced today defies its origins, and is a successful mixture of ‘old’ technology with ‘new’ technology.” Andrew Hall 2011
“Can we really say with confidence that the computer will only be a silent partner? Can’t some visionary artist create an illustration form that is unprecedented? Or is illustration an antiquated art that defies change and so will vanish? Film is an integral storytelling medium that bears no relationship to painting. Can the computer be an integral medium that changes the way we perceive and practice illustration?”
Steven Heller 2000
Is there a clear distinction between digital and non-digital illustration? This might be in terms
of style, production or the use of interactivity. Picking up on Steven Heller’s quote, what is the
future for digital illustration? Note down your thoughts in your learning log.
As a starting point you might want to look at Computer Arts magazine which celebrates digital
illustration in all its forms. www.computerarts.co.uk
An enormous growth area for illustrators, the games industry outsells Hollywood for
entertainment. Game design covers everything from online and computer games, apps for smart
phones and, of course, games for consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, etc.). Computer games have been
slowly developing since the early 1970s, making the transition to TV and home computers in
The games themselves vary greatly in content, visual style and technical underpinning. Some
can be made at home while others require teams of specialist technicians, equipment and 3D
software. Designing games requires a whole series of skills and ways of thinking. Technical
issues aside, games designers need to have a good understanding of how to construct nonlinear
narratives that allow users to make choices within a game.
Illustrators are involved in various ways, from the visualising of live action through storyboarding
to the development of characters and scenery, the creation of animated elements or directing
the whole feel and aesthetic of a game.
Interactive illustration and animation
Interactive elements for websites, mobile phone apps or other digital interfaces are an important
design feature that make people feel computers are being responsive. Small animated
movements on a click of a button, for example, feed back to the user that the computer has
Illustrators have also creatively explored this form of interaction by developing websites that
blend illustration and animation, interaction and storytelling.
J Otto Siebold has created a website for children called Bubblesoap (www.jottodotcom.com/bubblesoap) that is wonderfully playful, colourful and interactive. It moves his style of illustration into new territories by the inclusion of interactive games, music sounds and animated elements. This form of illustration draws heavily on computer games for its ideas, but because of the strength of Siebold’s illustrations, it feels more like an interactive book.
Another recent development for illustrators is the growth of digital greetings cards and with it
the opportunity to explore animations and interactive elements. One company that has been
pioneering this approach is Evan and Gregg Spiridellis’ digital entertainment studio, Jibjab.
These websites, like many others involving interaction, animation and audio, have been
created using Adobe Flash, the same software that animators have adopted. For developing
interactivity it’s not the easiest software to master, partly because it requires you to learn and
use scripting languages to make interactivity work, but it’s certainly a very sophisticated tool
in creating animation and games. Otto Siebold is very unlikely to have scripted Bubblesoap
himself. Like many other illustrators, when it comes to developing interactive material, it’s far
better to collaborate with somebody else who has the technical know-how to script a website.