Over at creditdotpinball.com, the owner of the site posted a complaint about the recently released Hobbit playfield art. In response to his article, he received an email from Doug Watson, an accomplished pinball artist with many games to his credit. The e-mail was so interesting that creditdotpinball got permission from Watson to publish the letter which you can find here. The email has a great story about Watson’s work on Attack from Mars and all the effort he went to in order to get exactly what he wanted.
I disagree with the e-mail to the extent that it seems to chastise current artists for using photoshop and not doing the hard work. I think that a person dedicated to art would like to be cut loose like Watson was and would likely do the necessary work to achieve a great result. I think the real problem is the insistence, likely with good reason, on using licensed themes.
Licensed themes lead to limited artwork filled with photoshopped images because the license holder insists on total control of the license. Marvel, or whatever company held the Iron Man license, would not allow target decals reading Iron Man because the two sets of targets were separated on the playfield and the license required that the words Iron Man not be separated. As a result, the machine shipped without Iron Man stickers. This level of control is an absolute constraint on artists and we will not see a return to great pinball art until there is an unlicensed machine produced or there is a license holder with a vision that allows for flexibility beyond the use of photoshopped images.