Posted May 13

Concept to screen: inside the art department of Technicolor Pre-Production

by Jane Bracher
Concept to screen: inside the art department of Technicolor Pre-Production by Jane Bracher

From colossal powerful monsters to Dora’s quirky monkey Boots and to the frighteningly creepy Jangly Man, these striking, carefully crafted characters arrived on screens as successful products of rigorous visual effects work. But they all trace their beginnings to an idea that was then transposed into lines, shades and possibly some colour -- all created in the drawing rooms of the art department.

The Focus spoke to Lead Concept Artist Leandre Lagrange about what it’s like to support the creative process from start to finish.

Can you talk about what you do specifically in the Art Department and what your day to day is like? 

I am Lead Concept Artist in the Art Department for Technicolor Pre-Production in LA. I work on a wide range of projects: designing characters, costumes, creatures, environments, visual effects and key art. Having received a brief from our clients (whether producers, directors, production designers, costume designers, or visual effects supervisors), I help establish the visuals they are looking to achieve for their film. To do so, I will spend my day collecting references, drawing, painting, sculpting. As a lead artist, I can also be more involved in managing specific projects, communicating closely with clients, finding creative solutions, assigning tasks, and helping other artists. We all chime in when it comes to helping each other achieve the best work possible.

Can you explain what the Art Department does, particularly in the context of the VFX pipeline and where it sits within it?

We can jump into action at the very beginning of a film’s inception. During the pitch phase, we can show our client what type of imagery our sister visual effects companies can create, giving them a taste and an incentive to work with us. We may also be asked by a VFX supervisor to help a movie get greenlit by creating key concept art, giving a projected vision of what the film will look like, to help the production team sell the project to a studio. 

In the pre-production phase we are getting to the core of our job, which is help establishing visual languages that fit the film and applying those to the design tasks.

In our art department, we have a broad range in that regard with artists being able to concept from costume to creature, to environment through the lens of different styles and sensibilities. Further down the pipeline, our job will be to design in connection with post-production teams to make sure that we help them understand the vision and art direction. In practice, the VFX supervisor will ultimately be responsible to coordinate all those efforts! Quite often, we will be supporting well into post-production by helping with painting over shots to help visual effects artists with set extension, effects look, lighting and mood or adjustments if the script has changed.

How did you come to this career and this role? Was it always something you wanted and pursued? And what were some of the challenges you faced in achieving it?

I always had an interest in movie making. My primary interest were special effects, prosthetics, especially for adventure and monster movies. Once I got hooked, I started discovering other types of jobs involved in making a movie like matte painting, design, costume making, and finally new technologies. First of all, the challenge is that there are so many ways you can reach this industry and there is no clear path (apart maybe for a few specialised schools). People working in film are from very different backgrounds. In the Art Department, we have artists coming from industrial design, jewellery design, graphic design and nationalities from all over the world. There is this preconceived opinion, especially when you live in a small town in France, that working in the film industry is only for a selected few and that, as a teenager, you should have a backup solution. So, you really need that extra motivation, hard work and patience to get to where you want. You will also have to be flexible and ready to travel all over the globe.

How much artistic or creative freedom are you allowed to work with? Or is there a semblance of restriction there because you must work with the director’s vision (and depending on the director too)? If so, does that get more frustrating or challenging for you?

Creative freedom really depends on the project and at what point in time we are joining the process. Pitch projects give us a lot of freedom because we are trying to show our vision to a potential client to see if we can be of use to them. At that point no one has set boundaries for us, so we choose how to steer it. It’s a lot of fun.

Besides those, it really depends on where our clients are in their thought and design process. We could be working from scratch giving a blueprint for others to follow or we can be working from established material already and have a visual world to respect. In the case of a strong intellectual property or a franchise, we will have clearly set boundaries. Those can be helpful as they set some rules to follow and give us a visual language to use. They can also sometimes be a real jigsaw puzzle as you are trying to translate an animated film into a live action feature while keeping it believable. In any case, the fun is always there but on different levels. We are lucky enough that most of the time when a client comes to us it is because they need help to clarify their vision and hence, giving us a lot of creative freedom.

What’s the most fulfilling and fun part of what you do?

It really depends on the project. It can be the persons you are working with or a particular moment when a design or a painting comes together or just the sheer pleasure of painting. The beauty of it is that you always find something you can connect with in every project. But overall you are always learning new things everyday by having to design in worlds and trades you know nothing about.

And finally, what is your most interesting or unique experience thus far in the industry?

It is always hard to single out the one experience. I’d say that is it always so much fun to be on a movie set, we spend our time in front of our computers even though our mind wanders in the worlds or images we are designing. Being on set really makes you feel part of something amazing. It is when you see things come to life. –

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