Dustin you’re a D#*&!

The setup

Let me preface that gloriously click-baity title with this: somehow during the lockdown of early 2021, a perfect storm of learning and creativity hit.

You see, I’ve played around with CGI work in the past, a brief interlude into the world of Blender. I made a donut, built a whisky glass and then had to move onto work again, as the process was somewhat laborious and the results were not optimal.

Enter Pro Edu (www.proedu.com) and their shiny new “CGI for photographers” course.

The course was spearheaded by a creative force-du-nature, Dustin Valkema, an industry vet, whos’ real world knowledge of current creative work environments, made him an amazing teacher for those who wanted the proverbial rocket fuel for their imaginations. The course, a seemingly grueling 6 weeks behemoth (this feeling quickly dissipates as each lessons pacing and details gave you unique perspectives on the programs abilities and systems, gave you the tools you needed to be dangerous in the field of CGI, if you were willing to learn the core mechanics of C4D, and build upon Dustins’ ground work that he had meticulously created.

Cynical optimism

CGI is very interesting, and with our recent video work, I’ve often wondered if I could add more to scenes with effects or even create different elements in blender. But the sheer time it’d take me to get to the point where my work was good enough seemed too far away. So when I started the Pro Edu course, I really didn’t think I’d be adding something super different, maybe I could add some simple elements to scenes.

Simply put, it was my way of spending the lock-down that the government had placed us into, in Ontario, during that time. I figured “hey here’s a new program to make a donut in”.

So with that (somewhat cynical) optimism I plunged into the course. The course was dense, Pro Edu had parsed out the course-load into 6 weeks; with entire libraries of videos to chunk through. The first few weeks were tiring, the sheer amount of data to consume resulted in many rewind and re-watches as I continued to manufacture new swearwords directed at the screen. My interest was piqued though, as I started to realize the sheer power of CGI currently and where it will go…

That’s when the dread hit my stomach when I realized I had felt this before.



Back in the days of young Ash, holding his fresh MZ-7 with his K1000 nestled in his backpack, staring through the new arrival in the camera store: The Canon 10D.

The sales guy was droning on about it, and was walking me through a bunch of different things. I didn’t listen, I only saw one thing: NO MORE FILM.

NO MORE FILM was a huge game changer; my mind whirled with ideas. I could actually see the results live (this may not seem like a big deal to those of you raised into a digital world, but the analogue world required pages and pages in a small notebook for me, and a lightmeter… It was a palaver), not spend time at print labs, and best of all was the value of the entire ordeal! Film wasn’t super expensive but it wasn’t cheap either. I shot family photos and weddings back then, and there was always those moments where you’d say “sorry, but we don’t have the film for that”.

Game changer indeed it was, as over the consequent years, I saw friends and peers leave photojournalism, get into teaching, insurance and even into policing. I’m not going to list the changes that occurred in every field, that’s a whole story for another day. The reality became digital was here, and here to stay. As someone who eagerly rode that wave, I didn’t face down the loss of work, entire careers vanished, and old practices became staples for hipsters and people who actively enjoy flogging themselves.


Bombastic glory

Photographers have been digital creatives longer than we like to admit. We have photo-shopped images to work, (yes, yes, another can of worms for another day) and created images that defy physics, minds and push creativity into the bombastic glory of the digital realm.

Here comes the stomach churn.

CGI just embraces a full digital realm, by replacing a camera with a digital camera. This medium is going to take  taking over the lives of many creatives, similar to the film-digital world.

Product photographers should be prepared. In the time it’d take me to setup a studio to shoot a package shot, I had created a product with animation and had already got the “clay render” out. The animation, I can pull any frame and use as a stock shot for the client, send it over to Phil to get edited (I’ll hand over some amazing passes that’ll speed that process up a ton), and have a realistic looking, product image that will wow the client and have them excited to share with their clients. Often I’ll render out ideas as a friend shoots in his studio, it’s amazing how fast CGI can be, and with time, the results will only get better.

And it’s not just product shooters. Architecture, arguably has been using this the most relevantly, just look at your local “condo dev” ads in your closest cities, showing gorgeous 26th story views, from a building that doesn’t exist. As a commercial / advertising photographer, I see myself utilizing tricks to ensure my work looks “right”. There are many photographers who should be at minimum, aware of the capacity of CGI, as it’ll be affecting large swathes of artists in the next 5-10 years. I’d argue sooner, as I see it already in the ad realms where 70% of the stuff I see in major print ads is CGI.


Common side affects include: increase in awesome

Here’s the reason for this blog post. Dustin Valkema, digital artist and unwitting D#*&!

Dustins’ intentions were simple: Make photographers aware of CGI, hopefully convert a few flailing artists into beautiful peacocks (You gotta let me fly!).

And he was highly successful. The course that Pro Edu created (side bar, I am not being paid for this, it’s just my musings, if Pro Edu paid me I’d let you know... (Call me Pro Edu 😉 ), was a great tool to help artists get closer to making what they love to make. Hell by week 3 I felt like I really got a solid understanding of C4D, and was building renders with relative ease, problem solving minor issues solo, and working towards building out my final project (I’ll include the link below if you’re curious as to what 6 weeks of concentrated effort ends up looking like in C4D).

Then Covid-19 restrictions lifted, and clients started booking me up again. I returned to the outdoors, camera in hand and looking to help clients tell their stories.

Something had changed. My usual habits, ideas while shooting had changed. My eyes, forced to really study reflectivity, opacity, framing, lighting and colour during my CGI work. This visual appreciation has bled into my photography. Suddenly I found my mind bouncing between mediums.

CGI made me a better photographer?!?!?

It’s true, my imagery has adjusted slightly, allowing for easier edits, to better use of lighting and elements within the scene. Incidentally,  I’d love to show you some recent work, but it’s so new it’s not even released yet.

Dustin, had not made me not only a better CGI artist, but a better photographer? You’re a D#*&! for not giving me a heads up on that!


Cake, high fives and a big ol’ whisky

Lets wrap this post with some take aways, a lesson for ALL creatives that like to work in this industry.

Digital art, is digital art. You cannot bury your head in the sand as CGI work gains traction, and makes this industry we love different than what we’re used to. Pandemic proof CGI has really gained traction over the last year, and even if it’s simply to get better as a photographer, learn the basics of CGI.

So drink some whisky. High five the dog. Eat some cake, and settle into a new horizon of creativity.

The realm of CGI is restricted to dreamers only, small minds, step aside.


Love yo’ faces.





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