See exclusive concept art and learn about Peter Rubin's designs for Man of Steel.
Back in 2011, I talked to concept artist Peter Rubin about his work and he mentioned that he had some great stories about designing for Man of Steel. We had to wait till after the film came out so I could talk to him about it, but it was worth the wait.
Peter Rubin is a Illustrator and Designer for the motion picture industry for more than twenty years and worked on films like Independence Day (1996), Stargate (1994) and Gangs of New York (2002).
Man of Steel (2013) "Zod on the Black Planet" by Peter Rubin
Q: Welcome Peter, so how did you get the job working on Man of Steel?
I worked with Aaron Haye, one of the art directors, when we were both at ILM. He knew that I had adopted digital sculpture as one of my tools, and when they were looking for someone to do that for Man of Steel, he thought of me. He asked me to come down to Warner Brothers and Alex McDowell and I hit it off. I was originally hired for three weeks, and I wound up staying on for nine months.
Q: What kind of things did you design for the film?
I conceptualized a lot of the Kryptonian tech in 3D, often in collaboration with other artists working in 2D. Most importantly to me, the "S" glyph, and The Starcraft, were entirely, or mostly, mine.
Plus whole lot of smaller stuff, like the control panels that Jor-El and Lara use. The stasis pods in the Scout Ship. The device that cradles Kal-El in his father's laboratory and absorbs the Codex, before he's put into the Starcraft. Those ubiquitous standing control panels. All of that came primarily from me, with guidance from Alex.
Man of Steel (2013) "Starcraft Cradle" by Peter Rubin
Man of Steel (2013) "Freestanding Control" by Peter Rubin
I worked on the exterior of the Scout Ship. That was based on concept paintings by Jaime Jones, who is a phenomenon. I was responsible for moving it forward from the initial paintings, getting the proportions right, and then later helping to conceive the parts of the exterior that would be built into the sets in Vancouver.
Man of Steel (2013) "Scoutship" by Peter Rubin with a design by Jamie JonesThe Black Zero Escape Pod, same story. H'Raka, Jor-El's warsteed,and the Council Chamber Thrones fall into the same category. The first paintings of those were by Christian Lorenz Scheurer. I've included one of them. Then there's the interior walls of the Black Zero, and the equipment in Jor-El's laboratory, which were in collaboration with Jaime. These were all on-camera props and set-pieces that were built in Vancouver by our stage crews based directly on my digital sculpts.
Man of Steel (2013) "Council Chamber Chairs" by Peter Rubin after a concept by Christian Lorenz Scheurer
I wanted to get my hands on the robots, I was desperate to, and I had permission, but there wasn't time. I had to channel that elsewhere, later.
Man of Steel (2013) "H'Raka Jor-El's Warkite" by Peter Rubin after a concept by Christian Lorenz Scheurer
Man of Steel (2013) "H'Raka Jor-El's Warkite" by Christian Lorenz Scheurer
Q: What was the process like designing the "S" Shield and what was the biggest challenge you overcome?
Man of Steel (2013) "Superman Insignia" by Peter Rubin
The bio-mechanical look of Krypton was based on Alex's idea of an alien design aesthetic, revolving around one of the key conceits of the script; that Kryptonians had perfected the ability to manipulate DNA. It's their primary tech. For thousands of years, they could build almost anything by biological means.
To get at this, we avoided referencing other bio-mechanical SF works like Giger's Aliens, and instead went back to nature. Our art department was full of scientific specimens, bones and bark and fungi and dried plants, and we pored over books of microphotography and biological systems.
Then from there, we went to Art Nouveau works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, everything from architectural facades to bookplates to ladies' hairbrushes. Art Nouveau designers assumed that nothing could ever be as beautiful as what nature creates. We tried to be as true to that ideal as we could.
There came a point in the process when it became clear to me that Alex was counting on me not to simply dimensionalize the things we'd done in 2D, but to make the Art Nouveau thing my own, really understand it on a physical level, and bring that to the table. I spent a few days really working on it, taking it to the nth degree, trying to make it part of my hand-eye repertoire. Shout out to Chris Strother, our art department researcher, who is awesome, and who sort of took me by the hand and showed me the path. In the end the work was, funnily enough, unusable, because it was too slavish to the 19th century, but by the time I was done I had the style down. It worked out in my favor, because when Alex and Zack decided they needed a new approach to the glyph, the El family crest, Alex came to me, because I was able to reflect that style most effectively.
We started by throwing open the door to almost anything. I must have created more than thirty very different shields. The only rule was that it had to fit in with Alex's preferred aesthetic. No straight lines, only graceful curves. Even the exterior frame is curved, although we came close to breaking the rule for that for a bit. There are probably some who would have preferred a radical departure from the past, but I regarded it as my particular challenge to make this version both something new, and a loving homage to the image of Superman I've carried in my head my whole life. I was extremely lucky, in that Zack and Alex instinctively saw exactly what I saw in it.
Q: The shield has changed many times over the decades, was there a particular style you wanted to reference?
I looked at all of it without deliberately referencing any one particular version.
The glyph that I created, the one that Zack chose, was based on my memory of the childhood years I spent drawing the "S," and idealized from that. Nevertheless, when I was done, I saw that I had unconsciously adopted certain features from historical versions - such as the serif being connected to both the upper and rightmost frame edges, which was a feature from the 1940s-era H. J. Ward painting that once hung in DC's offices. That was the original model for the modern Superman.
So that, for sure, and then the Silver Age Superman's symbol, big and thick-limbed. Then there was the Max Fleischer version, which took the colors and threw them in a hat. We played around with a black field behind the S, for a bit. Bright yellow seemed out of place on our Krypton.
Q: What's it like going from drawing the shield in crayon to designing for a major motion picture?
Just what you'd expect for any lifelong fan, I guess... I watched George Reeves on the TV show before I ever saw a comic book. To me, at that age, I thought he was the real thing. I spent a lot of time as a young kid with a towel around my neck, changing back and forth between being Clark Kent and Superman.
I drew a new "S" daily, in red and yellow crayons, because I always attached them to my t-shirt with safety pins. They took a lot of damage that way. I spent a long time trying to perfect my drawing of the symbol. To my six year-old mind, there was one right way to do it, and I would figure out the technique one day, which bit to start with, how to assemble the shield out of pieces of negative space, how to get the colors even enough.
Of course I was always drawing Superman too. And dinosaurs. :)
On the movie, a lot of my work was done on tight deadlines. Like on any film. But once in a while I'd stop, take a breath, and allow my inner child to really enjoy the fact that this assignment had been handed to me. It was, and is, a source of pride and joy.
Q: Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson said there was a "Neo-Medievel" design to Krypton. How was that achieved and what was your inspiration?
Well, I don't think there was ever a dictum to "go medieval." I think that it grew organically out of a desire to create a back story that would justify a man wearing a skin-tight set of leggings, tall, calf-hugging boots, a cape and a heraldic crest on his chest. You tend to gravitate toward something classical, and I believe that is what inspired the costume designer in creating the look for Krypton's outerwear. It just seems to make sense. The original comics drew on the look of circus aerial performers, side-show strong-men, and popular science-fiction pulp illustrations of the period.
For me personally, as one of a half-dozen or so conceptual artists and designers, the inspiration was Alex's direction and the desire to create something that was different and made some kind of science fiction sense in the context of the story. I'm very big on story.
Q: You mentioned that working with Production Designer Alex McDowell helped you to stretch as an artist. What was the biggest thing you learned?
I've been an illustrator and a sketch artist for a long time. Artists I admire have liked some of my work, and I've received plenty of compliments on individual pieces in the right context. I was an art director at ILM, and that was my job there too, to design VFX and hardware. But Alex was the first one with his sort of stature who, in my twenty years of working in film, had ever turned to me and said "you are a real designer, and a good one," in so many words. And it was said in the context of working on the "S." It's a small thing, but it meant a great deal to me.
Tell us what it was like working on this amazing film.
One of the cool things that happened was that we had started designing the Kryptonian script, and after it was well along - a really good art director and graphic designer named Kirsten Franson was working on it - it was determined that we needed to have a real language. A linguistics professor from UBC was brought in, and against everyone's expectations the two of them were able to create a working dictionary of Kryptonian script, and in record time. Everything you see written on the walls in the Council Chamber and in Jor-El's lab is actually something from the Superman comics, existing Kryptonian mythology or philosophy. David S. Goyer is a madman for that stuff. I thought I was a fan - he's a super-fan.
Aside from that, the stuff that stands out for me was watching the people in other disciplines do their jobs. That's always the best for me. The paint crew and the sculptors, the set decorators were huge on this show, very inventive... the prop crew, the costumers... The guys building alien worlds out of plywood and Styrofoam. Seeing stuff I had designed on paper or my computer become real, physical objects was great. Seeing the Starship turned into a sixteen-foot long set piece that would sit in the Kent's barn, or later on that aircraft, was lovely.
Man of Steel (2013) "Kal-El's Starcraft" by Peter Rubin
Q: Are there any more stories you'd like to tell?
I have one story, not from the production, but from after the opening.
A friend of mine, very smart and certainly more of an authority on comics than I am, has it in for Man of Steel, and says he's disappointed that kids today are "too cynical" for the red underpants and a glasses-only disguise. I think he's wrong. The kids I know who are going to this movie aren't jaded - they approach it full of wonder. Proof positive came in the form of my other friend Vince's story about his own son, twelve, who accompanied him to the movie as a Father's Day weekend treat.
When a certain scene came up between young Clark and his adoptive father, Pa Kent (if you've seen it, you can guess which one), this twenty-first century pre-teen kid reached over and held his own father's hand. They looked at each other, eyes wet, and without having to say so, mutually felt the absence of the boy's grandfather, Vince's dad, who had recently passed.
This blockbuster, popcorn, slam-bang action movie was able to act as a symbol of connection, and help these two strengthen their bond, and mourn, and celebrate, and make the pain a little better.That's what movies are for.
That's what Superman is for. That's his real power.
Q: Where will we see your work next?
I spent some time on "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" for Marvel. Also, I'm collaborating with comics writer Mariah Huehner on a collectible figure based on her character "The Empress of the Jellies." We are going to Kickstarter to make it available to fans.
And then, there's my own movie. I'm excited about that. It's called "Gage," and I wrote it while I was on Man of Steel. It's robot-themed, robots and kids - and a fun adventure.
I've had lots of positive feedback about it, and there'll be some news later this year, I hope.
See more of Peter Rubin's incredible work at ironroosterstudios.com and follow him on Twitter. Also, see the portfolio of Christian Lorenz Scheurer at christianlorenzscheurer.com and Jamie Jones at http://www.artpad.org.
Official Man of Steel Synopsis
From Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures comes "Man of Steel," starring Henry Cavill in the role of Clark Kent/Superman, under the direction of Zack Snyder ("300,""Watchmen"). The film also stars three-time Oscar® nominee Amy Adams as Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane, and Oscar® nominee Laurence Fishburne as her editor-in-chief, Perry White. Starring as Clark Kent's adoptive parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent, are Oscar® nominee Diane Lane and Academy Award® winner Kevin Costner. Squaring off against the superhero are two other surviving Kryptonians, the villainous General Zod, played by Oscar® nominee Michael Shannon, and Faora, Zod's evil partner, played by Antje Traue. Also from Superman's native Krypton are Lara Lor-Van, Superman's mother, played by Ayelet Zurer, and Superman's father, Jor-El, portrayed by Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe.
Official Site: manofsteel.warnerbros.com
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Russell Crowe
Cinematography by Amir Mokri
Release Date: June 14, 2013
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