If you’re wondering why I’m even considering looking at an iPad Pro for drawing and painting after espousing the unlimited benefits of the Wacom Intuos, look at my previous post about being the 180 Man. Joking mostly aside, the main reason I was looking to get either a new Cintiq (I sold my 24″ HD a year ago) or an iPad Pro was because I’d developed tendinitis from drawing on the Intuos full time for several years. It turns out my setup was great for my back but horrible for my wrists. In fact, I’ve developed tendinitis in both wrists, funnily with my left, non-drawing hand being the worst hit (those damned keyboard shortcuts I love so much turned out to be not such a shortcut after all!). I’m slow to admit when something I like isn’t working, but my wrists, and forearms were becoming more and more painful with every passing month. When it was almost unbearable for me to lift my son, I knew I had to rethink how I was working. First, I took some time away from work, but the minute I went back to the office the pain came running back. I needed a solution, but I really don’t like the experience of drawing on the Cintiq lines of Wacom…my previous posts pretty much sum up how I feel about them.
Then all of a sudden, this wacky new thing by Apple emerged; the iPad Pro with its own Pencil. After my not so great experience with the iPad Air 2 and the drawing app Procreate, I was very skeptical about it being a “professional” device. So I lurked in the shadows for 2 months after its release, as various reviews came in, many in favour with just as many against. Also, we don’t have an Apple store in Iqaluit, or within 3000 Kms of Iqaluit for that matter, so I couldn’t just walk into the nearest store and try it out. It wasn’t until I got down to Montreal to work on my wife’s soon to be released documentary, Angry Inuk, that I picked it up, along with the Pencil. I had to do about 5 minutes of animation for the film, so I needed to create a lot drawings and my wrists had given up on me. It was either go traditional, pick up a Cintiq, or try out the iPad Pro. Whatever I decided, I didn’t have a lot of time, since the film had to be wrapped up within a month. So, I swung by the Apple Store and gave it a whirl.
The device blew me away as I drew in an app that comes with the iPad Pro, called Notes. How the Pencil works in that app is so sexy, it’s indescribable. Take my word when I say that it works as close as you can get to pencil on paper without it being the real thing. So I took it home, downloaded the third party app called Procreate, and put it through its paces. But I have to say that I almost returned the device after playing with it for a bit. The drawing experience in Procreate doesn’t come anywhere near close to what you get when you combine the Apple Pencil and Notes. And that was my main reason for getting the damned thing…to draw and paint assets that I would later animate in After Effects. But, I stuck it out for a day, and it turns out that you can really customize the brushes in the Procreate, and I came fairly close to recreating the Notes pencil, as have others on the net. Close enough I should say, that I kept using the iPad Pro.
Skip ahead a month, and what do I think? Well, I finished 5 minutes of animation using the iPad Pro for all the drawing and painting of assets. I learned fairly quickly that the device has some pretty big drawbacks, but that if you use it solely for drawing and painting, and don’t expect anything else from it, it’s pretty close to perfect. Coupled with the app Procreate, you have a drawing station better than any 6 or 7 thousand dollar setup with honking computers and huge Cintiqs. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I way prefer this iPad Pro than my Intuos! And my wrists are almost back to normal, even after resuming my left hand claw stance whenever I had to use AFX.
For drawing apps, I bought Procreate, and Sketchbook, and looked in depth at a few more, But honestly, the Pencil in concert with Procreate was the main reason I got the iPad Pro. Don’t waste your money on Sketchbook- I wish I could have my 5 bucks back. Procreate, though, is like a streamlined Photoshop with all the key features you want from that desktop application, but with such a better interface that you end up working faster and more intuitively. Procreate is the tool that ends up letting you use the iPad Pro in place of a Cintiq, plain and simple.
I can’t believe how much I’d missed drawing. Plain old drawing. I had intentionally focused on my painting skills the past few years, and the Intuos is a fantastic tool for painting digitally, but it just plain sucks when you want to have sinewy line drawings. Don’t even think about refining or tracing over your line work- you just can’t do it on an Intuos. I can fake it like the best of them, and you develop techniques to make it look like you’re doing nice linework, erasing is fantastic at accomplishing that for instance as well as the path tool in PS, but nothing will ever replace confident lines, and I was missing showing off my lines. Look at most of the recent work in this site, and there are almost no lines. Anywhere. Lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines. I even missed writing that word it seems.
And why not a Cintiq, you ask? Well, I guess it’s not the Cintiq itself that doesn’t do it for me, but the desktop apps that don’t work anywhere near as well with it as Procreate does with the iPad Pro. Photoshop (PS) is great on an Intuos, but not a Cintiq. On a Cintiq, your arms travel miles from where you’re drawing to your palettes or layers, but with Procreate everything is where you expect it. And you get used to the gestures so quickly, it’s impressive. I now double tap to undo even when I’m back drawing in photoshop! Man, o man, the selection tool in Procreate far outperforms the lasso tool in PS, not to mention the smudge tool, which brings even my 32 gig Ram machine at work to a grinding halt. Procreate and the iPad Pro with the Pencil is frankly the best digital drawing tool out there. Once procreate brushes catch up to the sexy Notes pencil, even diehard traditionalists will jump on the digital bandwagon. Get it and you won’t look back.
Where the iPad Pro falls short is not in its performance as a drawing tool, but in how it works in the digital art workflow, especially animation. I think it is pretty damned close to perfect if all you’re doing is illustration, but if you’re doing animation, you’re going to find there are some major hiccups. And that’s why I don’t see major studios incorporating it into their workflow. For my work, I use After Effects as my animation software, and it’s meant to be used in concert with Photoshop. After I finished a drawing on the iPad, it wasn’t fun getting it saved and opened in after effects on my iMac. You can export a layered psd file from procreate, but you can’t import a psd for some reason. So that means any change that you need to do to an image will have many steps involved to get from the iPad to the computer. And that was much, much slower than when I was doing all the drawing painting on the same machine as I was animating on. But my wrist stopped hurting (mostly), so I have no real complaints. And I feel the drawings themselves are much stronger now that I can do confident linework once again. I also can draw so much faster than I was on the Intuos, I’ll never use an Intuos again for the drawing/sketching stage of an illustration. (See my post about being the 180 Man) I can see still using it in the painting/colouring stages, but the more I use Procreate, the less desire I have to go back to Wacom products.
Oh, and I bought the app Astropad hoping I could use it as a Cintiq, so that I could still use the iPad Pro for Photoshop work when needed, but it sucks. I think people who are giving it good reviews are those who have never used a Cintiq and don’t know how well it’s supposed to work. The lag is unbearable, and the screen resolution reminds me of 1989. It only mirrors the screen resolution of whichever machine you’re connecting the iPad Pro with, so when you hook it up to an 11″ MacBook Air for instance, you’re iPad has a screen that looks like my old blackberry. Crap. I want my money back from them too. I also got the an app called Duet, which is supposed to make the iPad into a secondary display. Neat, but really doesn’t work for serious work, mainly because it doesn’t make use of the native resolution of the iPad- pixels are fuzzy. Not gonna work in a pro setting.
So, for now, I’m hanging up my Intuos. Wacom, you have a hard road ahead of you, I’m sorry to say. The responsiveness and accuracy of the Pencil on that gorgeous screen leaves even the large 27″ Cintiq way, way behind. Oh, and as an additional comparison with the Cintiq, especially the model which I think is still their best (the 21″), there is no feeling of a disconnect from the tip of the Pencil with the drawing. On the Cintiqs, there is a noticeable distance between the stylus and the screen itself because there’s a honking piece of glass separating the two. Wacom tried its best by letting you “calibrate” the two together so that the feeling of drawing a few millimeters away from where the tip of the stylus is, but it doesn’t quite work. Especially near the edges of the monitor, and that reality of disconnect is much more pronounced when you tilt and swivel the display. Somehow, the iPad Pro has none of that. I swear.
All the drawings in this post I did on the iPad Pro in Procreate for the film. What you’re seeing aren’t final compositions, just screen grabs of some of the layered characters before I brought them into After Effects to animate, so the characters are haphazardly placed beside or on top of each other. I used some photographed textures in place of clothing to give an additional depth. I even used the camera on the machine itself in one instance!
I hope you enjoy ’em, because I had fun drawing them. Especially since now I can draw digitally as quickly as I’ve learned to paint in Photoshop. Shexy.
All images courtesy Unikkaat Studios. And go check out the doc Angry Inuk if you’re in Toronto this April/May for HotDocs- it’s a great film in my completely married, unbiased opinion.