Thumbnails, useful or useless?

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Old 02 February 2017   #1
Thumbnails, useful or useless?

Hi. I hope this turns out into a little research for all people who are interested in this topic. My intention is to spark debate, learn and not insult whatever method you use.

Kicking off the disclaimer...
Back at college I had a class just to learn a set of archetypes of techniques that felt really alien to me. Brainstorming, Design thinking, Brainwriting, Moodboards... so on, so forth.
With time, I started taking some into account and reverence to use it in my own process, like Moodboards and Storyboards, which I really felt useful to click on a style, set a value, trend, aesthetic.

Nearly all tutorials and courses with entertainment design and concept art I see online, stress the use of thumbnails, which, to be honest I feel really close to useless, and I want to explore this subject, see if others agree.. it may even be a matter of personal taste, like I love doing moodboards, other people may not be so found of them.

Not long ago, what really made it the last drop, was to check a few interviews with my favorite director, Chris Cunningham, who claims making storyboards just as a 'comfort blanket', that he only follows like 50% of them and just wings the rest, and goes with whatever the flow is at the moment... and his work turns out brilliant, transcends time and trends... has an edge.
In nearly all his interviews where he was inquired about a video he directed and another, and another, he'd often start with:
- 'There was this idea I had in my head for a while' or
- 'I had an experience like so and such as a kid so listening to this soundtrack made me feel like that one time...;
- 'When I was thinking of the brief, there was one idea that came to my mind...'

Something like the concept art crowd would just be like pulling hairs out and asking... well where is the thumbnailing on that? the sweat and blood?
Which I ultimately feel like it's not how much blood your nails bleed against the paper for pages and pages of thumbnail sprees... but more like how you feel it? Emotion > Methodical tools?

I still find thumbnails extremely useful, when I'm coming up with a form language or designing shapes, but for an idea... I feel like it's not so useful, or not as much as just laying on my back and listening to a soundtrack until it connects to a particular world.

It may be that C.Cunningham has his own design strategy going on, he is more of an artist, and he makes the process of being inspired on a song to make something, as if it was his own design lineage, what he thinks is good art and design, he applies it to the work and the work shows what the artist stands for.

One teacher once told me, in a graphic design class, that my work was too literal, I used too many rulers and guides, I thought too much, and the work was shy, anxious (in a bad way), claustrophobic.
One day I started a project without thinking, and with a mind set to never use backspace or ctrl+z, (that would show him!) the result was violent and he loved it. So there it dawned on me... 'violent and mental-fast' is a legit way to design.

So I rest this case by asking, is there such thing as a bad process to make art and design? Be it with design thinking or with something else? Anyone else dislikes thumbnails and uses something else?
Old 05 May 2017   #2
It really depends on the person, and on the workflow required by the production.

First of all, Chris Cunningham is a director, not a concept artist. He sees imagery in his mind's eye and wants to translate them into moving pictures with sound. He is not responsible for coming up with all kinds of concept art that details how everything in the project is supposed to look. He's also calling the shots being the director, so he gets to change his mind as he sees fit, while concept artists must answer to producers, creative directors, art directors, game designers, etc.

Thumbnail sketches are very useful because it allows you to generate rough visual design ideas very quickly without getting bogged down with unnecessary minute details. You can also come up with variations quickly and compare them to see which one works best. There's nothing else artists can do to generate different visual design ideas very quickly and compare them, which is why thumbnail sketches is still the best approach.

As for generating "ideas" in the context of visual narrative/storytelling and not purely visual design, then yes, you're right in that simply doing thumbnail sketches isn't as useful. Visual storytelling ideas come mostly from within our mind's eye as our imagination fires and our mind wanders into daydreaming territory. Listening to music is great for generating imagery in your mind's eye, but once you have that basic premise and narrative, you'll have to do thumbnail sketches to turn them into actual images. Also, pure storytelling can come from anywhere, such as inspired by a news article you read, or events that happened in your life, or a dream you had, or themes you're fascinated by and wants to explore (such as sociopolitical or philosophical ideas), or anything else that you're exposed to and experienced in your life. The stories you come up with will then become the basis for your artworks, and that's when thumbnail sketches come in--when you need to do concept art or illustrations for your story ideas.
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