My next instalment of the creatives series features the amazingly talented concept artist Ev Shipard who worked on art concepts for the Engineer city, David’s Lab and the Egg chamber.
Clara Fei-Fei: Thanks so much for taking time to answer my questions, could you start by telling me what was your favourite Alien/sci-fi movie?
Ev Shipard: That’s a tough one- if we are talking about creature films then it’s a very close tie between Alien and The Thing- both get a lot of screen time in the studio. The level of tension in both of these has you on the edge of the seat looking into the shadows. Obviously Alien has stunning production design and cinematography which I find myself constantly coming back to for inspiration- a defining moment for Science Fiction. But let’s not forget the original trilogy of Star Wars. I was a kid of the late 70’s/80’s so it was my foray into the world of sci-fi film… and of course the toys!
CF: Who’s your favourite character in any alien/sci-fi movie?
ES: I think David’s character arc has been great. Getting my head around his approach with his Lab and Room during the design phase was a unique opportunity. Of course, I do have a soft spot for Private Hudson.
CF: Which variation of the xenomorph is your favourite?
ES: I always thought Fincher’s Alien 3 creature was great- it felt more animalistic and I remember moved a little better than the suits in Aliens. The browns and ochres were an interesting departure and Giger created a very cool looking variant initially for that film. I love the look of Fincher’s film and absolutely love the production design. Norman Reynolds interestingly enough also worked on Raiders and the original Star Wars Trilogy. Prior to Fincher, Vincent Ward has a very interesting approach to this film- the story is pretty much unchanged but it’s worth perusing his site for some of the visuals. On our ‘Covenant’ the creature department did an amazing job revisiting the Xenomorph- walking around the studio looking at the sculpts in progress was great inspiration for some of my work on David’s Lab.
CF: If you could enhance any part of your body using robotics, which would it be and what abilities would you choose to give it?
ES: I am a traditionalist at heart so I’d steer clear of any mods.
CF: What got you interested in being a concept artist? Which concept artists do you admire? What sort of advice do you have for others considering this line of work?
ES: I think I’d have to owe that to Star Wars and Bladerunner- seeing McQuarrie and Mead’s work in books as well as a drive to tell my own stories visually from a young age. I was the kid drawing in all my class books- massive battles starting on the back page. These days as an artist I am always looking for a creative outlet for personal expression which is usually drawing or oil painting.
Being an artist in the entertainment industry in a global market is very competitive and requires a real commitment to study. I think the best advice is to focus on fundamentals and be prepared to be the perpetual student- always willing to learn and grow. Not just with skill and aesthetic but also with the myriad of software packages that allow us to do what we do. An artist perceives the world in a unique way and I believe it isn’t a vocation but a way of life. It’s the curiosity about even the most mundane aspects of what most people take for granted and how to represent this visually often within a story.
CF: What is your favourite piece you ever created?
This is a hard one- most commercial work and even my personal work is only really a favourite till the next one. It’s always a challenge and rarely comes easy but this is all part of the process.
CF: What sort of concept art projects have you worked on in the past? What was the major difference between those projects? e.g: Large-scale vs small scale
ES: I’ve worked on a broad range of projects with the majority being period films from 300 to Unbroken. Every project has a unique with vision spearheaded by the Director and Production Designer. I’ve worked with the same crew many times however on both large and smaller budget projects. Sometimes there is more of a focus on design with pure concept art and sometimes it’s more about rendering sets already designed in the context of the story.
CF: What’s it like to work on concept art for a movie vs games?
ES: With games projects, I have only really worked with cinematics or live action marketing campaigns, like the Halo and Battlefield spots, so that is very similar to preproduction and postproduction on films.
CF: How long does it take to work on a piece? How many hours?
ES: Some artwork is executed in hours, some days, it really depends on the context and requirements of the work. I produced a lot of b/w studies or story beats from the script on Covenant which was used by Ridley Scott and Chris Seagers to work out the expedition from the Lander to the City and what we would see. some of these were done very quickly but for the most part, a rendered frame takes me around 2-3 days. This isn’t including the many iterations based on feedback/comments or script changes that occur throughout the process.
CF: I became familiar with your work through Alien: Covenant, what sort of concept art did you do for the movie?
ES: My work encompassed many sets and potential locations but my main focus was the Engineers World. I spent the most time working on the Hall of Heads which included digitally painted art, sculpted clay maquettes, digitally sculpted pieces to mill for the set and worked with story points and dressing throughout it. I worked on an early rendition of the plaza and digital sculpts of statues that were also milled from foam full scale for the sets. David’s lab, his room and the egg chamber also took up a major part of my time. A lot of my work focuses on mood and lighting within these environments. I also worked on the Lander in the air and on the ground with Steve Burg’s amazing design. There were lots of location-based pieces of art using photos from various places in Australia and New Zealand- these are contextual paintings with script elements and used to help the production settle in a specific location. This is a big part of what we do on a lot of features.
CF: What details could you share about your pieces featured in the art book?
ES: The art book… a point of contention. I am grateful that I had many pieces featured but the lack of image credits for a lot of the art just really gets my blood boiling. Of course by the time the book is produced most of the art department is no longer involved in any of the process, it’s another publisher and marketing team working on it and rights and deals mean there is no requirement for any credit but still some of the best ‘making of’ books out there credit the artists. I’ve been involved in many projects where this is the case and it’s a frustrating aspect of the experience.
CF: As for the Engineer city and scenes, did you get much of a say in aesthetics? What sort of design brief were you given to adhere to?
ES: Ridley and Chris have accumulated tons of references- beautiful photographs from classical art, architecture, and design to really get the feel across. These were collated on large black foam core boards and posted in the ‘War Room’ which became our go-to place for inspiration. All this was replicated across the servers but it was nice to peruse all this together in the room. Stephane Levallois who is an amazing storyboard artist explored the city early on with some architectural designs in pencil. We also referenced Steve Messing’s earlier work. I was tasked with following this aesthetic and the look and feel of what we designed with the Plaza and interiors bringing it all together. I spent a lot of time designing profiles of buildings and structures to make sure the aesthetic flowed through into post-production. Our pre-production nestled nicely into post with a lot of communication with the VFX supervisor. Chris Seagers (Production Designer) was very savvy and aware of this- he wanted it to flow smoothly.
CF: For the hall of heads did you use the elder Engineers from the initial Sacrificial Engineer scene cut from Prometheus as a reference?
ES: They were part of the reference library but more specifically we tried to create an original look and feel for this culture that tied back to what we had seen in the previous film. Ridley had these great photos of elder indigenous people from all over the world and aspects of these were sculpted into all the 7 heads. The heads started life as ZBrush sculpts, clay maquettes and later milled foam sections from the digital file. These were reproduced in detail for the epic heads we see on the set. Each one is individual, however with the final lighting and framing that is a little hard to register. We built a bit of a hypothetical back story here with the heads being effigies of the elders of the society- this place was a meeting room where decisions were made. Initially there were specific seats, a fire pit in the middle and of course the large table which was a variation of the table in David’s Lab. 7 heads with 7 a prime number and perhaps they used a base 7 system- so a kind of history and culture was sketched out to give it all a foundation. I guess with many early Earth cultures tied into this we can hypothesise about the Engineers and our planet, seeding life etc- I’m making presumptions here as Ridley and Chris didn’t specifically explain this. The concept art room was a fun melting pot of ancient alien ramblings and conspiracy theories, to much of the Art Department’s entertainment. I’m not sure how serious we were considering this though, with this project I guess it comes with the territory.
CF: What sort of things did you have to consider when creating concept art for David’s lab?
ES: Initially the space for the lab was supposed to resemble the egg chamber- we had this favourite reference of a bunker and the ceiling would have a stone spine with arches that we could utilise across the two sets. This changed as many things invariably do within the context of the story and the idea. Often Ridley would sketch out in pen a rough idea, we called these Ridleygrams, and this would become the basic idea of our direction. Sometimes they would be very simple but all the information was there for a visual starting place. Ridley had an affinity for a photo reference of a catacomb in Malta and It was my job to take this aesthetic and shape language and bring it into David’s Lab and also his room. David was repurposing the space for his own work so the Lab would have aspects of its previous history plus all his experimentation and failed attempts at biology. We see again the ampules and canisters which were recreated for this film. One of the striking features were the drawings that Dane Hallett and Matt Hatton produced hanging from the walls and ceiling. These were originally supposed to be drawn on stretched flesh and mounted on frames above. I scattered these around as compositional elements in my paintings and used them to refract light and create interest- when the camera moves you would have nice overlapping elements and parallax. I built this set in 3d after the initial sketches and handed this over to the set designers to refine, create plans and accurate dimensions to build. The table was also a 3d model which started out life in ZBrush. My take on it was a large obsidian slab but with a fine blood channel through the centre and on the ground small drains. The idea was that it could have been a sacrificial chamber below the cathedral- David had repurposed this as his workbench. All this is my hypothesis rather than direction from above but these little things all become part of the bigger picture and it’s great to put your stamp on aspects that you consider have merit within the overarching narrative.
CF: What was it like creating your version of Giger’s Li?
ES: For me, this was a fun diversion. It plugged into David’s lab but the script was constantly moving with this and I wanted to create something early on- a tribute to Giger. It became a bit of a talking point then we moved on still not knowing what was happening with Shaw even up to the shoot (from the perspective of the Art Department). Then I started to see some of the work Creatures were doing and I ended up producing a painting later with Shaw on the Slab and David and Oram looking over her. The interesting thing I found with the Li painting was how much Noomi started to resemble Sigourney as I worked the face in. There were a number of variations done of this with more or less biomechanoid features and elements.
CF: What did you think about Alien: Covenant? if there was something you could change, what would it be?
I think our work in the Art Department was showcased well. I’m proud of how the Engineer’s world was resolved ultimately. Personally, I would like to have seen more of our city and spent the time to delve into the culture and most people I have spoken to loved this aspect of the film and wanted to know more. Perhaps this will be dealt with in other avenues- audio books, comics, novels etc but I guess the test screenings wanted more aliens in space and we ended up with what we got. There was a lot more of the culture designed(loosely)- gardens, the graves, a tree of life etc that was ultimately cut. Ridley always produces a stunning looking well-designed piece of entertainment and it was a pleasure to work as part of his team.
Thank you for reaching out and the opportunity to talk about this project that I consider a career highlight. I can be found at http://evshipardentertainmentart.com/ and for those that are interested in behind-the-scenes and my sketches… https://www.instagram.com/evshipard/
As part of our creatives series, Wayne Haag answers some questions on Science fiction and fantasy, also giving us some insight into his work.
Clara Fei-Fei: My first encounter with your work was for The Fifth Element (which I LOVE). I always wondered what sort of design requirements did you have to meet for the movie? Did you speak to Luc Besson about what he wanted?
Wayne Haag: As a matte painter I didn’t have to meet any design requirements, that was all taken care of by the concept designers.. who were Jean-Claude Mézières and Moebius, among others. I just had to paint to their designs. Within the scope of the matte painting itself, there are mini design problems or choices and those I discussed with my supervisors and Luc a few times for the various matte painting shots I worked on.
CF: What’s your favourite Scifi movie?
WH: Alien with Empire Strikes Back a very very close second. I know Star Wars isn’t strictly science fiction, more fantasy but for me, it’s about a sense of wonder and they both have it. I still have every Marvel Star Wars comic btw.
CF: Wow awesome! And who is your favourite character from any Scifi movie/comic/game?
Favourite character… I don’t have a favourite actually… If pushed I’d have to say Luke Skywalker, he’s the archetypal hero we all relate to.
CF: If you could enhance your body using robotics, what abilities would you choose?
WH: Eyes… Mine are going! Visibility into a much larger part of the EM spectrum – IR, UV, X-ray etc, zoom capability, heads-up display – data overlay, distance measurement, image capture…
CF: What inspired you to pursue work in concept art? For anyone wanting to pursue the same line of work, where do you suggest they start?
WH: I had always wanted to be an artist, always wanted to make images. It was never an option to not be an artist. This has encompassed professional photography, matte painting, illustration for publishing, concept art, mural painting, oil painting. Start drawing and painting, nothing more to it than that. Learn what you need to be a competent illustrator and the rest will follow.
CF: Could you give me an idea of what it’s like during production? What sort of guidelines you are given and what’s your average turn around time for the work you have done?
WH: That’s a large question. Every production is different, the vibe is different, some are relaxed some are stressful. It’s why I prefer to work from home mostly. Gigs like Alien you have to be there every day in house which is fine, can’t be a hermit all the time! Guidelines are simple – make this scene/shot look awesome – There’s the script, here’s the director’s brief now paint something that fulfils that brief. Don’t care how you do it, just get there.
Turn around time can vary from several (6 to 8) quick paintings in an afternoon to an evolving painting over several weeks. Not continuous of course, but bigger paintings I might have 3 or 4 days, it may sit around for a bit when you finally get feedback and you jump back onto that painting and off it goes into the cycle again. Some finish quickly and get approved just as quickly and you never see it again. Some hang around like bad smells!
CF: What is your favourite piece you ever created?
WH: One of my oil paintings, titled Sky Burial #2. It encapsulated everything I love about sci-fi, sense of wonder, mystery, story, history, spaceship wrecks, the desert.
CF: What variant of the Xenomorph is your favourite?
WH: The original.. because you didn’t see much of it. It was the implied cold-blooded violence that was scary, not so much the beast itself – which was scary as hell in its own right, I just preferred the implicit horror.
CF: I really loved Daniels cabin in the Covenant, what work did you do on that?
WH: The design for Daniel’s cabin evolved quite a lot for many months. A couple of concept artists had started the process, set designers etc, all working towards the final. My contribution was to bring the design language in from the other interior sets Steve Burg had designed and made it feel more modular like you would find on a ship. Then it was a matter of painting a couple of frames that illustrated the lighting and mood, which is my main area of interest.
CF: I read that the white room is inspired by 2001, what aspects of the movie did you consider when creating this set?
WH: Firstly, no one concept artists create ‘the set’, it really is an army of people that have some contribution at some point along the way, from top to bottom. The overall layout was inspired by a physical location in Sydney that they wanted to use but could not, so the decision was made to build the set at Fox. I had plans for the location and built that in 3D to scale. Then as I mentioned above, I paint the scene up for lighting, mood and composition, ie. camera position and lens choice. (which was used by Ridley on the day of the shoot).
No references to 2001 were used, not by me anyway. I approach each painting/set as a real place and try to work out how I would shoot it if I were really there, what kind of lighting situation, time of day, weather, season etc etc. Unless the director specifically references another movie, I go with my own references and ideas that I think to fulfil the script/story.
CF: What work did you do on the mothership in The Crossing and Alien: Covenant? What other aspects of the engineer city did you work on?
WH: I didn’t do any design work on the Mother Juggernaut, that was all Steve Messing. As we all have access to the 3D resources, I used the model he built simply as a prop within the greater scene. Again, setting up composition, lighting, mood. Although I did build the city and surrounds in 3D as one big model to scale so that everyone could see how shots would look if you were standing in the plaza. The 3D allows me to place human figures in the correct relative scale to a known real-world camera and the renders provide a basis with which to paint on.
My model of the plaza was based on Steve Messing’s original plaza layout. As the set designers finalised buildings and sets, I would incorporate them into my huge Maya file, kind of like a master file. Then I’d place 3D cameras around matching pov’s Ridley wanted.
Like all film designs, they grow, evolve and change. The final city you see in the film is quite a bit different from the city I built, so the VFX guys had further developed the city layout as per Ridley’s ongoing massaging.
CF: What was the inspiration for the shower scene?
WH: T&A as far as I can tell…
CF: Do you have a list of the art pieces you infused into the movie?
WH: Not really, when you’re working on a film you don’t have time to immerse yourself in the art references and meaning, least I don’t anyway. All art choices are Ridley’s, I just create the scene as if it were really there and I shot it with a camera. The decision to not use the Francis Bacon triptych in the white room was solely due to licensing costs, nothing more than that. The Bacon estate wanted too much money. The Bugatti chair was also a licensed design and the prop was to be destroyed in front of lawyers once shooting wrapped.
CF: What pieces of yours made it the final film? Was there anything that didn’t?
WH: What pieces had an influence you should ask, concept art never makes it into the film per se, it is a tool for solving creative visual, technical, financial problems. How will this set look? How big will it be? How much VFX will be needed for that shot, how will the DP light the set etc?
It’s an internal document that hopefully answers the director’s, art director’s and production designer’s questions. If not, try something else, or remove things from the artwork. For example, I had two statues out front of the Cathedral and was asked to remove them from the piece. If that artwork had been disseminated throughout the production, someone may have assumed those statues were to be made and start spending money making them!
There are several paintings I did that you can see as shots in the film, they aren’t exact, but the overall compositions had been faithfully translated.
CF: What would you say has been your favourite project to work on?
WH: Fifth Element, The Wolverine, Alien Covenant, three best projects of my career.
CF: What is it like working on a large scale production such as Alien compared to smaller scale ones?
WH: Depends on who you’re working with and answering to directly, i.e. production designer. Some large-scale projects are overly corporate and anal, smaller ones are creatively easy going. It can also be the reverse too! Alien was super creative, very easy going (hard work, long hours but no BS!). Great people all around. Some tv commercial gigs can be a giant PITA, some smaller directors can sometimes want to prove themselves by having too much attitude and want to override your ideas, big directors like Ridley don’t have those insecurities and are therefore great to work with.
CF: Congratulations on winning the award for your work on Alien: Covenant.
WH: Thank you!
CF: Is there anything you are working on currently?
WH: I just finished working on a pitch project for Pixar and as I write this, doing concepts for a Chinese comedy film shot here in Australia.
CF: In future what sort of opportunities would you like to be involved in?
WH: Well I currently work freelance, for the most part, I teach part-time (at Production Art Department PAD http://www.productionartdepartment.com ), I’m starting to put out video tutorials of how to paint etc and I need to get my arse into gear and get back to oil painting my own project. As far as the future is concerned, I’d like more time to paint my own work.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, I look forward to having you on Yutani Podcast soon.
It was late last evening when Carlos Huante had shared some concept art on instagram, which he stated was for a movie that never got made.
Here are the images:
These pieces are beautiful, but the style would suit a sequel to Prometheus, rather than Neil Blomkamp’s shelved Alien movie.
For unknown reasons his pieces are no longer available on his instagram, which makes me wonder if Disney are in the process of weighing up which direction to go in. Since Khang Le’s Prometheus 2 concept art was also pulled from access.
I guess we will have to wait and see.
Hard outer casing surrounding a somewhat fleshy substance which seems to be sufficient in satiating appetite. When extracted correctly the remaining shell creates a useful vessel.
This concept art was by Matt Hatton
I have identified this to be a bumpy gourd. It’s interesting that David mentions it’s sufficient to satiate an appetite, could it be Elizabeth that he was testing the food for?
Massam Corrumpit is Latin for Lump
Gourds are possibly the first domesticated plant species with fossilised specimens found at archaeological sites dating from as early as 13,000 BC. They have had numerous uses throughout history, including as tools, musical instruments, objects of art, film, and food.
As well as a food source this could also be a link to creation and flood mythology.
Long ago, when the world first began, there were two people, Nü Kua and her older brother. They lived on Mount K’un-lun. And there were not yet any ordinary people in the world. They talked about becoming husband and wife, but they felt ashamed. So the brother at once went with his sister up Mount K’un-lun and made this prayer: “Oh Heaven, if Thou wouldst send us two forth as man and wife, then make all the misty vapor gather. If not, then make all the misty vapor disperse.” At this, the misty vapor immediately gathered. When the sister became intimate with her brother, they plaited some grass to make a fan to screen their faces. Even today, when a man takes a wife, they hold a fan, which is a symbol of what happened long ago. – 獨異志; c. 846 – 874 AD
Fuxi and Nüwa, according to the Classic of Mountains and Seas were the original humans who lived on the mythological Kunlun Mountain (Huashan).
One myth says they set up two separated piles of fire, and the fire eventually became one. Under the fire, they decided to become husband and wife. Fuxi and Nüwa used clay to create offsprings, and with the divine power they made the clay figures come to life. These clay figures were the earliest human beings.
This myth has several variations, but the outline describes a great flood which destroyed all the humans all over the world except a pair of brother and sister, or aunt and nephew. Both were forced to be married in order to repopulate the world.
One version stated that their children were ordinary humans, while the others said it was a lump of meat, gourd, melon, or grindstone; after they opened, cut, or destroyed it, humans emerged.