Warren Manser Talks About Creating 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon's' Laserbeak and Other Things That Don't Exist

Warren Manser once said, "As a conceptual artist, what I do is visualize the elements of the movie, so that everyone can understand what an effects shot is going to be..." And what a job he's done.

From Sam Raimi's low-budget horror classic Army of Darkness (1992) to Michael Bay's big budget Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) he has provided visuals that shape the landscape of film far beyond his illustrations. In this exclusive interview he shares his insights on concept art in general, the future of Photoshop and being a a kid again through his designs.

What's your background as an artist? 
My education is in industrial design and specifically automotive design. Early on I decided that I'd like to explore other forms of commercial art so I came to Los Angeles to break into the movie industry. It has been a non stop education since then. I learn something on every project and continue to develop as an artist.

How did you decide to become a concept illustrator versus other types of art?
I've been drawing as long as I can remember. And the subject matter has almost exclusively been about sci-fi/fantasy, superheroes, and vehicles.

I enjoy creating something that doesn't exist in the real world. Or creating something that will soon become part of the real world.

Its a form of artistic exploration that includes self expression, technical knowledge, technical skills, and especially abstraction. You get to expand your intellect as you create.

Working on Transformers: Dark of the Moon is there a piece that you created that you were excited to see come to life?
The 3D artists/animators really did an amazing job in bringing my concepts to life. It may sound unlikely but I really enjoyed creating concept art for Laserbeak the most.

My fellow artists and I invented a whole fictitious persona around him that had nothing to do with the movie, but was good for a laugh.

I created concepts for him transforming into a toy penguin that never made it into the movie, but I have it on my website. I think I get more comments about that penguin than anything else.

How did you handle the incredibly intricate designs of the robots? Was there one that was more challenging than others?
I relied on my years of drawing experience. Many times these days artists rely on found imagery, but when you can't find the pixels, you have to invent them. Not that collaging is invalid, but it is limited to the elements you find. Whereas if you can draw from a blank page, you manipulate every line, every shape. Its time consuming, but it is also custom made.

Laserbeak was very challenging, but great fun as previously mentioned. His form is composed of many small twisted shapes that curve around his neck and into his body. Once I had a rhythm going it became easier, but getting it all to work together took some time and concentration. Then, translating that into his penguin form was another mind bender, but totally worth it.

Some of your designs are dated from 2009. As a concept artists, what's it like working with such a long time between design to completion?
I think I was on Transformers 3 for around 7 months or so, and that's a pretty good run. It was an intense schedule, so I enjoyed a break upon completion.

Once I start another movie, I usually start to forget the last, or at least most of the details. So when the film comes out, some things are a surprise to see.

I think its fun to not know what happens in a film before you see it - to experience it for the first time. I don't look at a lot of trailers or purposely seek out info before the release. I still want to be a fan sometimes, so the longer time between design and release date the better - for me anyway.

Transformers 3 is a great theatrical experience.

While everything you have done has its own rewards is there one project that you're particularly proud of?
I think I'm most proud of my work on Spider-Man.

The Matrix was fantastic, but short in duration, while Spider-Man utilized many skills and was a great education as well.

Creating the concept art was very exciting. It was like being a kid again.

And on the flip side, I contributed to the trompe l'oeil technique applied to the actual suit fabric and created the vector artwork used to make the raised webs on his suit. All of which was incredible experience gained that has been invaluable on subsequent projects.

Where do you see the conceptual design industry five years from now?
That's a great question. Its evolving very fast and sometimes in unpredictable ways.

Over ten years ago Photoshop changed everything, and since then 3D software has become very prevalent. And by every prediction, my friends and I thought by now 3D would consume everything and more traditional skills would be obsolete, but that hasn't completely happened.

There seems to be a time and place for a variety of talents and disciplines depending on the project or goal. I do see more 3D in the future though, and eventually someone will make powerful 3D software that a child can use. By removing the steep learning curve of technology, I believe an individual's talent will then be exposed.

Do you have a favorite tool that you work with?
Besides the usual digital tools, Wacom tablet with art pen, large displays, etc, I recently bought a Humanscale monitor arm to float my Apple display and it is fantastic. I can rotate vertical, raise and lower height, and swing the display around for presentations.

Now if I can lose the wires it would be truly free.

How does color influence your design?
Color is a great psychological tool. Color can evoke a mood, an atmosphere, or energy from the viewer and myself.

I created an illustrated book on the Epic of Gilgamesh (Constellation Orion: The Immortal Hunter) and I desaturated the images. I showed a friend and he said "don't be offended, but it reminds me of an old illustrated bible I once saw." I was the opposite of offended, I really was happy to hear it. I was telling the most ancient adventure poem in history and through drawing and color choices I evoked the response I wanted.

Who influences your artistic style the most?
I like a variety of artists including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Alphonse Mucha, Frank Frazetta, William-Adolphe Bouguereau. And of course DaVinci and Bernini, to name a few. I find it impossible to not be amazed and humbled by the greats.

What's the next movie you'll be working on?
I cannot comment just yet, but I will be more than happy to follow up when the time comes.

Thanks Warren!

Warren Manser's website warrenmanser.com is chock full of great artwork from movies like Daredevil, Speed Racer and other great films! Also, check out Warren Manser's amazing book Constellation Orion: The Immortal Hunter.

Check out more of my interviews with artists here including my interview with Mr. Manser's wife Dawn Brown.
What do you think of Warren Manser's work?  Is the future of art really in 3-D?


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