In the beginning of this year I was rather active in the forums over at conceptart.org. There I found the sub-forum for concept art where I shared some of my beginners concept work. To my surprise, soon thereafter I was approached by a young British filmmaker, who at the time was in the process of location scouting for his planned feature film „Animals“. In his message he asked, whether I would like to contribute some concept art to his Action/Horror film.
My initial reaction was hesitant. While I had been working more consciously on concept art style paintings and designs, I was not sure I was ready to take on an actual, serious assignment. This I stressed repeatedly throughout the following exchanges of E-Mails. However, I was assured my lack of experience would not be a problem. Eventually I excitedly committed to the project.
Ryan, said writer and director, subsequently began to share images and collages he had put together to showcase the mood he was going for. And most importantly the story outline for the movie. I am sharing this story, because something incredible happened, once Ryan had shared the details of the intriguing story with me.
My imagination came to life. I began to think extensively about the story and it’s characters, their possible backgrounds, physical features and the individual looks, I had been „hired“ to design.
„Animals“, of course, not by accident the title of this film. At its core was a group of young children who, through some circumstances I won’t reveal, are living alone, deep in the Rocky Mountain woods. Think: „Lord of the Flies“ or „Stand by Me“.
Note: I am writing in past tense, because unfortunately this project has been iced for now, though I hope the imaginative story will be realized at some later point. Therefore I also will not share any more detail about the story beyond what has been communicated publicly.
So, the title „Animals“, derived from the special, distinct looks of the main characters whose real names we never learn. Instead, what was given to me, both, as the task at hand as well as one of the most interesting story details, were the pro- and antagonist’s chosen alter-egos: Fox, Wolf, Rabbit, Owl and Bear.
Living in the woods from a young age on, each of the children took on the role of the animal of their choice. And of course, each with the corresponding physical appearance and outfit, completed by a self-made wooden animal-mask.
Becoming a concept designer
Now let me explain. The reason why I felt like sharing this story is to encourage others to get their feet wet with some actual design work. By doing so, I believe there is a win-win here, since upcoming filmmakers get to profit from fresh ideas and - lets be honest here - free concept art, while upcoming artists get the chance to learn a hands-on lesson that cannot be achieved by merely working on own projects.
This might be a bit far fetched, but I can best describe my experience by comparing it to acting in a play or giving a public presentation or speech. With this I refer to my experience of the quality of performance you get out of yourself when performing for real vs. the quality of work one manages during self-contained practice.
Having the inspiration and ideas from somebody to interpret and work with made a huge difference to me. Often I find myself getting stuck when trying to come up with a subject to paint or draw. Being able to skip this step has really helped me to build on somebody else’s imagination and to put myself into a problem-based mindset.
I am struggling to properly explain it, but working on this basis just opened up a completely new perspective for me. To work on a conceptual basis and taking into account the practical dimensions of actually building the designs, made all the difference in the world.
I spent a lot of time watching numerous videos on concept art. There I often came across descriptions of this dimension of working for a „client“, going to the places and imagining the worlds and characters. But only after actually getting the chance to try, I really understand the beauty of that.
Now, of course we’re talking about amateur work for a film that didn’t come to be, so lets not get too romantic about it all. But I hope you get what I am saying. I’m sure though, these things are even more true on a professional level. So I can only imagine the fun of that.
I am sure at this point you can hardly contain your excitement to see the actual work that came out of this project. Again, to remain humble, I have to stress that of course this is not professional work.
Looking back on it, I made many mistakes in the process. Foremost getting into details too fast, before creating a wider variety of rough designs to present and let my client choose from. But I went in head first and produced my first pitches.
Fortunately, the communication was fast and open, so the pitches could rather quickly go through different iterations, up to the point where they could be published to support the social media work surrounding the announcement of the film.
As mentioned above, unfortunately at some point I was informed that the project would not be further pursued. So, I did not tackle the designs for „Owl“ and „Bear“. Here are the final designs for „Rabbit“, „Wolf“ and „Fox“ that I prefer most:
I also created a 3D render for Fox: check it out here
To wrap things up, I again want to encourage anyone interested in concept design to go out there and take on a real challenge to experience working on a real project. For me, I fortunately got to work on a different project in the meantime (#WasteLandMovie).
I hope you found this little personal insight interesting and/or helpful.
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Want to get in touch? Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org