Thank you for doing this interview. What led you to become an artist? Was it a lifelong dream?
What led me to become an artist? The money! Nah, just kidding.
Actually, I've always been an artist. I've been drawing and designing as far back as I can remember. I was attracted to films like Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Singing in the Rain....Just kidding....I hate Star Wars......(yeah right!)
These films influenced me tremendously. They spawned this creative energy that I just had to release whether it was by drawing, sculpting, writing, and designing. You name it, I did it! I wrote scripts and submitted them to studios (complete with my illustrations scotch-taped into the margins). Bet Paul Haggis doesn't do that!
I drew and designed sets, characters, vehicles. I experimented with visual effects causing my parents to increase their home owners' insurance. In school, I drove my teachers crazy because I never paid attention in class and sketched in my books and folders all the time. I had no time for Math or English. I had to design parachute rigs for my GI Joe action figures!!!
I mean, in my warped twisted adolescent world, I was the Production Designer on the Star Wars sequels (little did George Lucas know).I was the youngest Production Designer in motion picture history. I wasn't getting paid, and my art department was my bedroom, but that's irrelevant!! I was creating!!! I couldn't let down the fans. It was a tremendous amount of stress for a nine year old LOL! But seriously, being an artist wasn't a lifelong dream because I've always lived it. I believed it.
How did you become a concept artist?
I've always been a concept artist ha ha! Being a “paid” concept artist is another issue entirely. Actually, I started like most out there.
I went to college, graduated with honors, receiving a BA in Illustration (very useful in showbiz, you'll soon find out). After a 3 month job hunt, I started out designing for theme park rides and show attractions which opened a door into doing work in videogame, commercial, animation design. Then one day, I got a call to work on a film project with the amazing designer and director Patrick Tatopoulos which started me on this really great adventure in designing and illustrating for film. That initial project sparked a friendship and collaboration that continues to this day.
I now work in various industries. I work mostly on motion pictures in various stages of production, but I take on commercials, music videos, and videogame projects from time to time.
As a professional, I've been fortunate to have found success at what I do, and have achieved my goals. A lot of that is credited to the people who helped me get there. Teachers and colleagues played a significant role in my development. They were a tremendous inspiration to me.
One day I subbed a class for a friend and something just clicked. I started to teach and out of my mouth came the knowledge of great teachers like Gary Meyer, Dave Luce, Bob Kato, Tom Thordarson, Bryan Jowers, Norm Schuremann (rest his soul). Just when I thought my dreams came true, I uncovered another. It was to be like those great teachers that came before me and inspired me.
It's important to me to give back to these young artists what these people gave to me.
Do you see the digital medium as the future of conceptual design?
We have to adapt to technology trends and be open to new ways of tackling projects. However, what always remains constant are story and ideas. Concept design is all about great story and ideas. The digital medium is just another tool to communicate ideas.
Ten years from now, who knows what we'll be embracing.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Depending on the project, I'm inspired by many different sources.
Sometimes, it's the movies I watch or a book I read. Often, inspiration comes from accident or from something unplanned. When I was working on Die Hard, I had to design “America's ATM Machine” basically.
I worked for a few days developing sketches for this thing and was just not happy with what I was coming up with. I remember tossing a worthless comp in the trash, when I spotted an apple core in the can. The shape was awesome. It was the basis for the design of the machine. The final design was a cross between a cutaway of a nuclear missile and..... an apple core.
What was it like working on Inception?
I work on a lot of different shows with a lot of amazing and talented people. Inception was no exception. I worked on it briefly between shows, but I had the opportunity to work with some of the top minds in this business and see them in action.
It was a difficult concept to wrap around, but it's to be expected when you work with someone as talented and original as Chris Nolan. It was a very challenging project to be a part of that's for sure but rewarding because of the professional relationships I established on that show.
Did you have the feeling you would be a part of something as monumental as the film?
It's always great to be a part of something special, but I feel even more fortunate to have worked with the best and brightest in this business. Every time I see a great movie on the screen past or present, I feel incredibly humbled and privileged to be a part of this creative industry. That means so much more to me than a particular film.
Wouldn't mind seeing Inception win some Oscars though. Ha ha.
Thank you, I had a blast workin' on Terminator: Salvation. I remember the Hydrobot was in development hell. Many artists tackled it, but it just wasn't workin' for the director. Must have been a year or so of development. All fantastic designs, but just not clicking for the director.
I remember takin' my kids to IHOP for breakfast one morning, and sketching the Hydrobot on a napkin before work. I scanned the sketch in and cleaned it up for presentation. Thought I'd take a shot at the design (a long shot at best). 1st shot, it was approved. One of my proudest professional moments.
And yes, even more than seeing it on the cover of Empire Magazine.
What is the biggest challenge that concept artists face today?
There are various issues Concepters deal with daily.
There are pitfalls in business decisions, contract haggles, lack of work out there, outsourcing, technological shifts, among other things. But we survive because we are a part of a network of good talented men and women I'm proud to call my friends and colleagues.
We're always helpin each other out whether it be recommending each other for projects or simply just being available to chat.
What's the next project we'll see your work on?
This December Tron: Legacy comes out. I'm incredibly excited about this film. I really think people are going to be blown away by it.
Next year, Transformers: The Dark of the Moon (Transformers III) and Part I of the new Twilight movie Breaking Dawn. Beyond that, I can’t talk about the projects I'm on now.
But I can tell you, they are big! A lot of cool stuff coming up.
Ok ok....wanna know how Transformers III ends? Ok here it is......yeah right!
Robert is a prolific blogger. Check out more of his amazing work at http://robertmckinnon.blogspot.com/
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