I think the end result is all that matters…if someone spends a lot of time and care on something, you should be able to see and feel that in the final product without some sad tale of woe from the author.
On the flipside, don’t forget people work at different speeds and skill levels…just because it takes someone 6 months to make something doesn’t mean it’s better than something that took a month…what if it sucks after all that time? It just means that person needs to learn more. There are people who can make a human head in a day that would take others weeks…it’s just how it is.
I don’t think doing the MOST amount of work should necessarily win by default, I think doing the BEST work should, whatever amount you do. If you can do certain things faster and easier, then it just means you can put more layers and detail and visual interest into the final piece. If you can accomplish whatever you intended visually in 10 mins, AND it still looks good and unique to observers, and not like some cookie-cutter piece of crap, then you’ve done what you set out to do. Most of the time this isn’t the case.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it does count, it’s just not the overriding be-all end-all of existence. All things in moderation. The important thing to me also is WHERE the shortcuts are, and if you can see them as an observer…if someone does a piece that’s purely a figure study and all they use is Poser, then you can say “ok, that’s lighting, composition and/or texturing”, but that’s all you take away from the image. If someone does a figure study and it’s all built from scratch, then you look deeper at it and can appreciate their modeling skills too. Same with using downloaded spaceships, animation libraries, or ready-made anything. You have to make it unique from there. And of course if someone represents themselves as having done the entire piece from scratch, and they didn’t, then it takes away from your appreciation of it later when you find out it wasn’t as much work as you thought.
Now from a production standpoint, if something looks good, it looks good, and you’ve got to get the hell on with it…I appreciate crafstmanship, and have been amazed sometimes by “he added all that by hand!”, but if there’s a new plugin or script that will for instance put rivets on your steam ship model automatically, and they don’t look half-assed, am I supposed to give more props to the guy who placed each one by hand, IF the end result looks the same? Odds are he didn’t make his deadline. If for instance the hand placed ones had something special to them that added to the quality of the end image, then it’s worth it…but otherwise it’s just being inefficient.