CD: Dan, thanks for being a great guy and participating in this crazy new venture. First off, you shoot and you retouch, you understand stock photography and also production. How do you keep it all straight in your head and find a sense of balance?
Dan Kopton: The photography and post production aspect of what I do goes way back to my fine art background. I studied Painting and Fine Art Photography for years and was into artists such as Holly Roberts, Luca Samaras, Joel-Peter Witkin, Ruth Thorne Thomsen, Starn Twins and others who would mix in elements of painting or “break the surface” of a photographic print. This is back in late 80′s early 90′s when digital was still in it’s infancy. I had some access in college to Mac clones, with Syquest disks and was really amazed by it but, it really was not viable in a professional manner for another decade really. So at that point I worked in a evidence lab as a printer for a few years where I picked up a ton of printing chops. Printing a few hundred 30×40 prints with mural enlargers in a week can be a crazy thing. I moved from Chicago to LA and worked in a lab that was moving to all digital workflow that worked mostly for movie houses doing promo imagery, set stills and the like. Outputs to Opal, film recorders and Jazz drives at this point. Bounced around to a few other labs then ended up at Corbis doing retouching during the transition to digital there. I became a Photo Editor when they closed most of the retouching lab. That got me involved in shoots and all elements of Production before I left to form Danklife in 2004. When I first started Danklife in LA, I was doing Digital Assistant work as well as post so that gave me even more exposure to the production process. Around then I met my wife Sara, who is also my Production Manager. She worked in production on commercials, movies and in the music industry for years. She Assistant Tour Managed the 2006 and 2007 Daft Punk world tours and did countless movies and commercials. So having her on board to help sort schedules, budgets and keep it all moving is a huge help..
CD: I love the color palette that you bring to my retouching. You listen and understand what I am going for and then surprise me with a much stronger image. Tell me about how you understand, distill and work with creatives?
Dan Kopton: It varies wildly on a client by client, project by project basis. I try to talk to people and distill what their intent is for the project. A gritty look is a very different approach than a clean product shot, than a model on a sunny beach. If I can get images from the client showing the style they are going for or the effect they want to achieve I can help them realize that with some technical tips for how to shoot to get that look. Plates, shooting on what type or color of background etc… Sometimes you have to come at it sideways by figuring out what they don’t like and whittle it down that way. Sometimes on professional projects the source material can dictate how the projects looks. At the end of the day it’s important to keep in mind that everyone doing this is trying to make something that looks great. I know it’s hard to believe but, no one want a shitty image. So you just have to work through it till you get the results everyone is happy with.
CD: CGI has grown in importance the past year. How do you envision moving forward and incorporating CGI into your retouching and production? Also, if you could build the perfect imaging machine and OS – would you consider creating a state of the art machine from scratch with Linux as the base or would you stay with OS X and the soon to be delivered Uber Black Mac Pro?
Dan Kopton: CGI is very important in doing what I do. Someone much smarter then me said, “2d is the new 3d”, which means that the next breakout market for 3d / CGI will be in 2d ads and packaging. I fully agree with this and see it happening already. In the past if I did not have source files of that stadium / city scape / corn field or what have you, it would not be in the final image. Tough cookies. Need a picture. Now I can fire up Modo and render out anything I can think of and composite that in. It is really freeing as a medium and can take imagery the to a whole new level.
In terms of gear, we are going through a very unfortunate phase where computer companies are rapidly moving away from traditional workstations. Look at Windows 8 being designed for tablets or at the iOS-ifacation of OS X. Yeah, tablets are great and I own a few, but no no one who does any kind of heavy lifting in visual arts, movies or audio uses them as their primary workstation. The progress has really stagnated. They say the PC market is dead but Apple has not made a whiz bang improvement to the Mac Pro in 4 years besides SSD drives. So why would anyone upgrade to a new system?
Currently I am using a Windows 7 system built by Doghouse Systems for all my CGI 3d work and a Quad Core Power Mac for most of my Photoshop work. If the files get too big I have to move them over to the Windows machine otherwise I can’t paint any more on the Mac. The Windows experience in Photoshop I find lacking in a multiple monitor environment so I suffer the slow speeds of the Mac. Both work stations have multiple monitors and Cintiqs, which I can’t live without.
The new Mac Pros show some promise but we really won’t know till it is released just what it can do. There are some issues with Adobe products using CUDA which is a Nvidia proprietary thing and the new macs are all ATI so hard to say how that will shake out. The writing on the wall is that heavy computing is moving towards the GPU doing all the work which the Mac Pro will rock at but not many programs use it yet. Most CGI rendering is all about the number and speed of the processor still. Octane Renderer is looking promising but like I said, it’s hard to say at this point.
CD: Aside from retouching–you also shoot. I love the personal project on bartenders. (http://danklife.com/tip-well-you-bastards/) How did you research this, produce it and what has the response been? Any great unknown Bourbons or Single Malts that you discovered?
Dan Kopton: Research involved a long, tedious process of drinking in bars. A lot. Getting to know the bartenders so they would let me come in as they were setting up so I could do a shoot. Once I had a few shots it was pretty easy to approach someone I did not know and they would be stoked on the idea. That was done in LA and there are just a ton of amazing bars there. All those shots are lit with Vivvitar 283′s clamped around the bar. Usually 10 frames or less as they kinda want to get on with their jobs. The project was printed out at 24×30 and hung in a store called Barkeeper in Silverlake for a number of years, but response has been pretty minimal. I don’t really put myself out there as a shooter. I just enjoy my fine art projects for me. Current drink of choice is Black Maple Hill Kentucky Bourbon
CD: What has been the most challenging retouch job you have worked on in terms of elements, layers and creative input? any thing chug your imaging machines to a barely perceptible crawl?
Dan Kopton: Every project is challenging for different reasons. Some technically, some artistically, some logistically. I’d did a recent project for Matt Davis at NONBOX for a sports motion tracker that had all sorts of CGI particle simulators to generate glass numbers flying out along the swing path of a batter, tennis player and golfer. So I had to make all of the simulations to have the numbers fly out, swirl around and all that stuff. Then the clients killed it at the last second… lol! Any CGI project grinds the 5 computers here to a halt since I use them all as a render farm and it will use 100% of the CPU.
CD: What is your advice for a young or aspiring photographer about to enter our crazy business?
Dan Kopton: Approach it like a fireman. When the bell goes off you go to work. It is not a normal business in any sense of the word. If you are looking to get into post, take drawing classes and start learning 3d.