What Sony Pictures Animation ruined

Adobe Photoshop on the iPad? This artist is ready

Leif Johnson

Visual artist Lizzie Nichols has never taken the iPad seriously before. Photoshop will change that.

EnlargeiPad Pro with Apple Pencil - and soon with Photoshop

Lizzie Nichols tells me that she is slightly offended that graphics programs like Procreate can be found under "Entertainment" in the iPad App Store.

EnlargeLizzy Nichols at work
© Sony Pictures Animation

I can't blame her for that. Nichols is one of the artists responsible for the visual design of Sony Pictures Animation's "Hotel Transylvania 3," the animated film that hit theaters late last week and has received praise for its art and animation (if not its blatant Humor) reaped. Art is Nichols' business, painting environments and props that show the 3D designers what a production should look like, as well as painting characters - and they do it well. She worked on the last Hotel Transylvania film, and not only that. She was also involved in "Emoji - The Movie", "The Smurfs: The Lost Village" and "Futurama", as well as freelance work for Disney Television and Cartoon Network busy. And it does almost everything with Adobe Photoshop on a Mac Pro with an attached Wacom Cintiq Companion Display.

EnlargeFrom environmental and prop design to character painting, Nichols' work can be found in most areas of the Transylvania 3 hotel.
© Sony Pictures Animation

But that could change soon. Around the same time that "Hotel Transylvania 3" was on the screen for the first time, Adobe confirmed that it would finally bring a full version of Photoshop to the iPad (Pro) next year. And now, for the first time, Nichols is considering making the iPad Pro an integral part of their workflow.

"If the iPad were able to faithfully reproduce Photoshop on my Mac with a Cintiq," she says, "then I would probably be using the iPad a lot more than my Cintiq Companion." When Nichols says "replicate faithfully" she means "replicate everything". Anything else would be inadequate.

"Photoshop is the most important tool in creating my artwork. The more ways I get to access it, the better it is," she explains. "The ideal would be to take Photoshop outside with the iPad and be able to work from my office or home studio without losing the functionality of Photoshop on my desktop."

EnlargeAn example of how Lizzie explains to the 3D modeler what certain settings should look like. (Note the Halloween date: so fitting!
© Sony Pictures Animation

That means Adobe even has to make sure that the keyboard shortcuts survive the transition, because Nichols finds that they keep their workflow "fast and efficient". Along with Apple's Finder, they're also a big reason why she prefers Apple's ecosystem over Windows. The latter "ruined her groove" by suggesting tools whenever she hit the Alt key.

The lack of Photoshop so far has kept them from taking the iPad seriously. She has had an iPad Pro since 2016, but found it "more geared towards the hobbyist". She never had the illusion that it would replace her desktop setup, or at least provide an alternative. Here, too, Apple's classification of Procreate under "entertainment" did little to change this impression.

EnlargeThe young Van Helsing, painted by Nichols
© Sony Pictures Animation

So here we have a true Apple fan and pro who could easily star any of those "behind the Mac" ads Apple is now airing - and she clearly doesn't think the iPad Pro deserves its name. That's a problem. "I saw it as a fancy toy with some potentially fun painting apps that I might use to do some digital outdoor painting," she clarifies.

A decade of development

But why do we have to have such a conversation in 2018? It's clearly not about the performance of the hardware: We have known for years that iPads Pro are more powerful than many laptops. Apple is certainly not just sluggish here: Photoshop has been an important part of the Mac since its release in 1990. In fact, there are a few people who believe the photo editing flagship is Apple itself.

Perhaps it's no mistake that Adobe dropped the news of Photoshop for iPad just days after the App Store's anniversary and all the cheers that explained how much the software offering for iPhone and iPad has helped us over the past decade - by giving us programs that were previously only available for desktops.

EnlargeSome of the images from the Tinder-like app in the movie.
© Sony Pictures Animation

It reminds us that this revolution was sparked in part by the enthusiastic embrace of the iPhone and iPad by third-party apps. Adobe was never one of them with Photoshop. Sure, you could find the watered down apps like Adobe Photoshop Express and Adobe Photoshop Mix, but for anyone familiar with the real software, it felt like listening to someone who thinks Cincinnati Oktoberfest is an authentic experience.

It's Photoshop time. It is especially time when the new iPads Pro come out as they are virtually guaranteed to use stronger chips. So much has been written on the subject, I still don't think people fully understand how revolutionary a full version of Photoshop on the iPad Pro could be. With apps like Photoshop that can only get by with an iPad, the Apple tablet will be even more attractive than it already is.

A pencil for your thoughts

Back to Lizzie. She's a professional, and despite my gasping at the upcoming revolution, she knows better and doesn't expect anything but a seamless transition. That's a smart attitude, considering that even I don't get enough of the iPad Pro for some of the simplest professional tasks.

For one thing, she's concerned that the Apple Pencil, which she admires for its weight and general design, may lag behind Wacom's stylus.

EnlargeMore concept art from Lizzie.
© Sony Pictures Animation

"It would be great if the Apple Pencil had some sort of clickable button, like the Wacom stylus, that I could set to do whatever I wanted," she says. "I've always set my Wacom pen buttons to Option and Right-Click. That saves me tons of time on my Cintiq, and right now there's really no way I can do that with the Apple Pencil." She's also not too enthusiastic about the smooth and glassy finish of the iPad Pro, whether it's laminated or not.
"It's not a big deal," she says, "but when I go from the sketch on my iPad back to my Cintiq, I can really feel the slight roughness of the Cintiq screen and that makes a difference."
But Apple's announcement also makes a difference. She tells me that Photoshop on the iPad Pro would "definitely" convince her to buy one if she didn't already have one. After the feedback I've seen on social media over the past few days, she's nowhere near the only one.

EnlargeNichols' concept art for the underwater areas of Hotel Transylvania 3.
© Sony Pictures Animation

For Lizzie, it's a sign that the right people are listening to creative professionals again. "I find it exciting to hear that both Adobe and Apple are listening to the people who make a living from their products," says Nichols, "so I'm cautiously optimistic that Adobe and Apple will get it right."