One of the joys of working independently is having the freedom to work where you like. Whether you're on location for a job, want to collaborate out of the studio, or just need a change of scenery, it's great to have a remote production setup with as little compromise as possible.
Unfortunately for me, working in both digital drawing AND 3D modeling (often in the same project) makes it pretty tough to find a portable solution that's acceptable for both applications. Tablet PCs or Surface Pro? Great for drawing, but not well suited for 3D graphics work. Laptops with speedy graphics cards? Generally bad battery life and you need to add a pen tablet. iPad? Useful for sketching at best and forget about 3D work.
Last year however, Wacom released a couple interesting new tablets in their Cintiq line. If you're unfamiliar with a Cintiq, it's basically a monitor you can directly draw on which attaches to a stand-alone computer. One of the new models is novel because when detached from the computer, it can operate as a battery powered Android tablet. An unadvertised side-effect to this mode is the ability to operate as a battery powered pen monitor... in contrast, all other Cintiq models need to be tethered to a power outlet, i.e. not particularly portable. What this means is that if you combine this new Cintiq with a beefy Windows, Mac or Linux laptop, you've got a portable drawing station that can finally do some 3D work too.
Hold your horses though, there's two problems. First, now it's two things you're lugging around, and second, laptops with fast 3D graphics generally don't have great battery life.
To solve the second problem, I managed to find a laptop that made a reasonable compromise in terms of graphics performance, battery life, and portability. Before buying new however, I took to eBay and came across someone selling the exact model I wanted with a broken screen. This got me thinking about the two device problem... what if I removed the screen entirely and just used the Cintiq as the only display? Somewhat more cumbersome than a traditional laptop, but still very portable and something that would do everything I needed. So I went for it and after some surgery and a few upgraded internal components, I'm the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind, hybrid, mobile workstation that I can draw production work with and do 3D rendering/animation on. The coolest part is that since the laptop has no power-draining display (the Cintiq has its own battery), the whole system can run all day on a charge.
The other major benefit is that when I'm working from the studio, I can attach the same Cintiq to my primary desktop machine meaning the transition from HQ to off-site is pretty seamless. Take a look at the pictures above to see how I use it in drawing mode, laptop mode (along with my Vertical Mouse), and a picture of the "Franken-laptop" on it's own. Special appearance by the two best dogs yet.
If you have similar requirements as me, I highly recommend trying this approach and feel free to write me about the specifics!