Posted Sep 16

5 insights into concept art in VFX

by The Focus
5 insights into concept art in VFX by The Focus

Concept art is the first and very critical step in the visual effects pipeline. Creating compelling design not just for creatures and characters but also for environments can mean the difference between a truly great film and a forgettable dud.

Leandre Lagrange has carved out a prolific career as a concept artist, with credits such as The Lion King, Detective Pikachu, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and more. In the last five years he has been based in Los Angeles, working as an artist for Technicolor’s VFX studio MPC Film with current projects including Artemis Fowl, Maleficent 2, and The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle.


In an in-depth look at the impact of concept art, 3D Artist magazine spoke to Lagrange about the art of design and his processes when it comes to accomplishing his best creative work.


Below we’ve highlighted five key insights from that interview.



Imagination that’s still rooted in logic

It’s easy to assume that concept art is all about a limitless range of creativity, working on anything and everything possible in the imagination. However, there is still critical structure to it in terms of design, particularly when it comes to characters or creatures that are the bread and butter of MPC Film. In fact, Lagrange told 3D Artist that it’s not enough to make characters visually compelling, they also must still be rooted in logic “of behaviour and design” even in imaginary circumstances.


Lagrange told 3D Artist: “The easy answer to that is nature. When you start referencing other artists too much… definitely look at other artists to see how they solve problems with lighting, but for design: nature is the way to go.”



Switching between 3D and 2D is useful

Lagrange, who studied industrial design and holds a masters in computer graphics, is noted as an expert in 2D and 3D design techniques. He detailed to 3D Artist how he uses 3D as a “helper” and “as a tool to help me think fast”. Lagrange utilises ZBrush in his workflow, which he explained adequately takes care of the technicalities while he focuses on creativity.


He said in the interview: “Our art involves lots of designs but also different angles of the same design to show that we are thinking thoroughly about it and not simply in a two-dimensional way.”


He also added: “I indeed review my design but mainly ‘refine’ it by working from 3D to 2D and so on. I can either do a 3D render or simply a Print Screen of the 3D viewport before painting over it in Photoshop. Using 3D, I can provide a lot of different art, and this is reassuring for directors.”



Concept designers are problem solvers


One of the most interesting nuggets of wisdom Lagrange imparted in the 3D Artist article was the critical dimension of concept artists as design problem solvers as well. This is in relation to the previous point about maximising both 2D and 3D.


He cited a specific example to 3D Artist: “On X Men: Days Of Future Past, the main thing was the design of the Sentinels — it was really cool to use 3D to sort out how the plates were moving around. You can get a look in 2D but you need to quickly dive into 3D to sort out problems.”


Inspiration can come from anywhere


If you’re curious about where concept artists get their inspiration, the answer can be quite broad. Lagrange, for instance, draws from classical art and filmmakers.


He told 3D Artist: “It goes all the way to classical art and the illustration from the golden age of illustration (1880s-1920s) and a filmmaker such as Kurosawa and concept artists like H.R. Giger and Carlos Huante.”



A sense of design is paramount


Finally, if you’re keen to chart a career as a concept artist, Lagrange offers valuable wisdom on what to work on beyond the imaginative and creative aspect of the job.


He said: “What we see are people who are software proficient, and what we tend to lack is the creativity and artistic foundation: they lack that sense of design. That would be because they will copy other artists and it becomes a bit too self-referential. You can tell where people are just drawing (with a pencil and paper) it gives you confidence and you can focus a design and solve problems.” —

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