Ok, so let’s see how this goes. As part of setting up this blog, I initially wanted a place to not only showcase whatever doodle or painting I was working on but also a place to talk about my thoughts on how art and design has played a role in Film/TV production. This part of my plan has obviously fallen by the way side but I’m going to attempt a written piece now. Let’s just see if I can at least keep to one article per year for now!
The following text might well go all over the place as my tangentially, fractured thought process often does so please have patience… also it offers no answers, just pointless questions open to discussion.
Firstly let me turn your attention to an article over on Buzzfeed that I came across today. It is one of many pieces you’ll find on the web that looks at Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork. Now anyone with a working knowledge of Star Wars will know this name but for those who don’t he was an illustrator for NASA and concept designer for a number of entertainment IPs.
For those in the know, let me get the often repeated, obvious comments out the way;
- Without McQuarrie’s input, Star Wars would not be what it is visually
- Without McQuarrie’s paintings, there’s a good chance Star Wars would never have been made
- McQuarrie has now influenced 2 generations of artists/designers working in film.
With those 3 very simplified comments I don’t want to give off the sense I’m trivialising what this man did for popular culture. I’m not. I’m very much in the "McQuarrie-is-a-design-Legend" camp. It’s the above article that had me scrolling and staring at such beautifully rendered production paintings and thinking what do I need to do to improve myself as a designer.
But it’s a plain fact that his major output of work was in the analogue era of acrylics, oils and gouache that got me thinking of concept art as a whole for this writing malarkey…
I’m really not a scholar on the subject but what I think helped build his reputation as a prolific artist was the bold, clearly presented compositions in his pictures. Everything is depicted cleanly and more importantly tells a story (all key factors in producing quality concept art). There is no ‘photobashing’ or collaging of images to get to a bigger picture. Everything is precise and thought out ahead of painting. It may well be considered an illustration to help sell a moment in a film but I can’t call it fine art. It is designed from the get go. There never seems to be more than 3 things going on in his pictures and therefore your brain can comfortably take in the image.
If you Google ‘concept art’ and look at the images (go on I dare you!), it’s truly scary how much imagery you will be bombarded with.
The imagery is probably 90-99% digitally composed, very moody lighting and HIGHLY detailed. I can’t knock any of it. The vast majority of it is better than anything I can currently produce and they are all produced by someone in the world who in that moment were influenced/inspired to simply create.
What I’m not sure on is what the value of this content truly is…
Let me work backwards once more. Come with me to 1999 and a 12 year old Me picks up ‘The Art of Episode 1’. Commercially to you and I, digital painting may as well have not existed yet (for about another 3-5 years) so what I saw in this book was 1) a job prospect of epic proportions and 2) a ton of artwork not too far from what had been produced over 20 years previous. Gorgeous pen and marker designs and gouache paintings form Doug Chiang and his team not unlike Ralph’s and Joe Johnson’s images of the late 70s. I fell in love right there and it set me on a course I still travel on to this day.
By Episode 3 (2005) digital painting and Photoshop had truly come along and over-night seemed to change the landscape of concept art. Also it’s probably important to note that the internet had started to grow out of its infancy and the world was using it, sometimes productively, to communicate with each other.
Side note; who remembers their first website coming from Geocities… eek!
Along this journey, I’ve had to change my ideas of what concept art would be to me and perhaps that’s what got me righting this elongated mind-fart. I like to remind myself that I came from that time JUST before technology went mad for us. Looking at that art book of Doug’s drawings I truly believed that’s all I would ever have to do. Like McQuarrie’s art I wanted to present clear beautiful designs that would end up on the screen but life’s never that straight forward.
With Photoshop taking over, the possibilities became infinite and because of the ease of photo manipulation, ‘photobashing’ initially became a trend (like lens flares, haha) and eventually a worthy required skill. Production of images sped up, generating multiple concepts sped up and therefore demand for more sped up. You can complete greater quantity at a higher quality so much quicker now.
I really am not here to knock it. It’s a process in a huge pipeline that must be done. If you can reach the lead creatives imagination with a few photos of a moody skyline and some mountain photos in the background then great because it leads to less changes/time/money being spent further down the line. Also to reiterate, concept art is not fine art. It is not a precious item. It’s there to solve a problem, be changed if necessary and then put to the side when complete. All this is achievable on a schedule that would have been impossible in the 70s. How many paintings these days take more than 1 or 2 days when the classic images of the past would take a full week to paint?
So I guess what I’m trying to get around to is; should I feel nostalgic for a time and process that ultimately can’t be replicated because of where technology and industry is right now?
A notable story of recent years would be Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. To integrate some of the original ‘Alien’ feel to the new film, Scott hired the original creature designer, H.R.Giger to do some drawings. This occurred parallel to hiring the usual squad of high profile, 8-10 concept designers. It’s to no surprise that the design team created everything needed for the film from suits to vehicles to locations etc. What is a little saddening is that Giger was eventually let go after producing a few simple design ideas because the timescale of production did not allow for his full involvement. When I say “let go” I’m genuinely not suggesting it was some terrible firing. I believe, if memory serves, this is all commented on by Ridley in the Making of documentary "The Furious Gods" on the DVD/Bluray. Giger (who uses the traditional airbrush system) simply wasn’t fast enough for pre-production. It’s just a prime example of the need to get things done in this day and age at a far greater pace than 30 years ago.
So to come back to me again and the title of this 1500 word debacle, what do I want to happen?
I’m not sure…
I continue to chase that elusive rabbit down the hole that is concept art. I want to work in design and film now as much as I did at 12. But somewhere along the line, if a ‘passion project’ should come to me in a vague dream or a well thought out idea, I would want to allow myself to consider how I come to design things.
For the sake of production would/should I get as much done quickly through the current process of digital design or should/could I go ‘old-school’, be ‘traditional’ and produce what would be considered real images? Would said images stand the test of time if done with paint and MDF board or would they get lost in the vacuum of digital space if painted on a computer? I guess that one is not for me to answer.
But my lasting thought is of all the artwork I’ve sucked in through my eyeballs the ones that have held their place in my memory banks are that of a pre-digital age. Are there artists of today that I look up to and find their work inspiring and amazing; you bet! But I can’t help feel the older stuff that we all love isn’t just held highly because it was an important influence in our young impressionable minds, it’s because they are a benchmark of quality that remain to this day.
Written while listening to RotJ soundtrack… :D