Arrival: Concept Art, Part 2 – The Aliens

(Part 1 here) Once again, no spoilers.

When I was asked to take a shot at designing the aliens for Arrival, I leapt at the opportunity. It was still the very early days of pre-production, and Denis and Patrice had already given the alien task to a couple of concept artists. The extraordinary concept artist Peter Konig was working at the same time as me, but I didn’t get to see any of his work till a few weeks ago. In the end, veteran creature designer Carlos Huante was the one that got it right; his majestic and mysterious heptapods embodied all the qualities Denis was looking for.

My contributions were more to see if I could come up with something different than the other guys, so I had a little free reign to mess around with ideas, with the mandate to “design something we haven’t seen before.” I had only a couple of weeks for this task, so I experimented more with shapes and impressions. Below are just a few samples of ideas I tried. In hindsight, after seeing the film, I’m glad these didn’t make the cut, as I was going a bit too abstract to identify with the beings. Once again, I’m still so grateful that I got to work on such an incredible film, even if my part was small.

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A fairly abstract version of the aliens.

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My first doodles, based more on the original short story, “Story Of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang.

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More shape explorations. The bottom two rows were created using Alchemy, a little drawing app that allows you to draw symmetrical objects.

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More early impressions.

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Smaller, smokier shapes.

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I built this contraption, with a 16-sided prism from an old film editing bench. The idea was to experiment with flickering light on the screen and see if I could create some kind of sense that the aliens entered and exited though a projection. The video below was taken with my phone camera. The last 3 or 4 seconds are what I thought had an interesting feeling.

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More roughs, playing with shapes and symmetry again.

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Getting weirder with ideas here.

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Playing with very alien anatomies, shape-shifting and kinetic forms.

 

Arrival: Concept Art, Part 1: The Shell

In February of 2015, I began work on “Story Of Your Life,” the Denis Villeneuve movie that would eventually be called “Arrival.” I worked with Patrice Vermette, the production designer to illustrate his and Denis’ ideas, and over the course of three months provided many variations of designs for the ship and its occupants. It was a real treat to be part of this film, and to work so closely with one of our most visionary directors, a real honour.

Here are a few samples of the various designs, beginning with the vessels which were called ‘shells’. There were many shape explorations, beginning with  a sphere, some triangles, odd shapes, and eventually an ovoid. The lozenge shape seen in the final was designed by another concept artist; sorry, not sure who*. No spoilers here, as most of what you see ended up in the trailer.  (*Edit – the final lozenge shape was rendered by assistant art director Aaron Morrison)

Coming next, Part 2: Alien designs

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Spheres were in the first script I read. Thanks to Noah Bradley for his fine photos of Iceland, used in a couple of concepts here. The sphere shape was abandoned quickly at the start.

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One of many texture exploration pages.

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Getting closer to the final idea.

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An illustration of the basecamp, with the final design of the shell.

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Base camp, and on the way to the shell.

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Early explorations of the meeting room in the shell had various shapes and colours at first. this was getting closer to what Patrice and Denis were looking for. I loved the idea and simplicity of a wide and empty space – the exact opposite of typical cluttered movie spaceships. With less to distract, we pay more attention to the main characters.

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More interior explorations.

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The top image was going to be called “The Meinert Room”. The way one “entered” the room – inside it while being outside it, like a Klein bottle, was going to be a challenge, FX-wise, and for set-design it added a bit too much to an already tight soundstage. The bottom image shows some early exploration of the alien appearance.

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Eyes Almost Closed

Back in 2011, I posted some images I created, trying to reproduce the effect of light through eyelids that are almost closed. Recently, I created a video based on these images for an exciting exhibit at Dawson College called Vision(s), on till May 11th at the Warren G. Flowers Gallery at Dawson College in Montreal. The video was created using photography through polarized mylar, Photoshop layering and effects, video segments using lenses and found objects in front of the lens and After Effects compositing – my first full video using that program. I created the music using a tiny segment of the end of a song, time stretching it, reversing it and layering it on top of itself to create an ambient wash.

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Here’s the stuff I used to make the video.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Pencil Sketch

Every once in awhile, I like to grab a pencil and draw without any preconceived idea or rough sketch. Sometimes it’s just random scribbles, sometimes it’s something like this that happens. It’s got some old-fashioned Sci-Fi clichés. Guy standing, looking at alien stuff. Took me about about 4.5 hours total. Sometimes I want to smack myself and say “imagine how many drawings you could crank out if you did this every day.” Yeah, I know. We who carry our supply of pencils, pens and paints will always beat ourselves up  for all the times we “could have been making art.” I think when all the client-based work slows down, and we have time to do other things, we do other things. Then, when the time is quiet, we draw, to remind ourselves that we can still do it.

First landscape paintings in oils

I took the plunge, got my hands dirty and made a few oils paintings. I think if I really take the time to practice, I’ll get the hang of it. These were done over 4 days, (there’s another one, but didn’t post it because it needs touch ups) and though I think they turned out ok, I feel like I have a lot to learn. I want to paint much larger canvases next.

Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01 Spaceship Designs

About a year ago, I was contacted to design spaceships for a YA sci-fi novel. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and it was a thrill to come up with these ships. I’m pleased to say the book has been released this week and it was a blast to read! It’s the first in a trilogy, and I highly recommend it if you like a fast-paced and unique space adventure. It’s also an amazingly well-designed book, told through transcripts, archived files, text messages, blueprints… and at 600 pages, it’s a surprisingly fast read. This book is going to be a big hit. Thanks to Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the brilliant authors, and Heather Kelly, designer at Penguin Random House for this cool opportunity.

Here are my designs for the main ships that appear in the story, and in the book.

This ship is huge - 3.25km long, and 1.3km high.

This ship is huge – 3.25km long, and 1.3km high.

A LOT of desk on this ship.

A LOT of decks on this ship.

A more sleek, less military design.

A more sleek, less military design.

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Long absence, slowly returning

It’s been a long and busy time. I’ve been teaching full-time, and also freelancing on various projects. This means that anything I do cannot be seen until the projects are complete, on DVD/broadcast and/or published. In the past year I’ve worked on a book, three feature films and two short films. Some of this stuff I can’t wait to show, as it’s been both challenging and exciting.

I’ve been looking at a lot of artist’s blogs and it occurs to me that if I want to keep this site up to date, I need to be doing personal work on top of everything else, as that can be published immediately. The good news is that I’m going to have the summer off to do just that, so stay tuned for more posts.

I look forward to more exploration and drawing.

A quick little sketch done during a break in class.

A quick little sketch done during a break in class.

My Spacesuit

Here’s something I worked on, on and off, over the past month when I had free time. I intend to do a little video shoot with it at some point. I’ve had the Russian MIG helmet for 6 years, and always intended to build a retro-looking suit to match it. The collar needs to be adjusted, because it rides too high over the shoulder straps, but otherwise, it’s quite comfortable, even with the heavy backpack.

Old vacuum cleaner, cocktail shakers, water bottles and a military backpack harness.

Old vacuum cleaner, cocktail shakers, water bottles and a military backpack harness.

Workman gloves and plumbing parts, with a BBQ thermometer and video remote buttons.

Workman gloves and plumbing parts, with a BBQ thermometer and video remote buttons.

The collar is made from a plastic bucket, and the rim for the helmet is from a drum practice pad, exactly the right size for the helmet.

The collar is made from a plastic bucket, and the rim for the helmet is from a drum practice pad, exactly the right size for the helmet.

Here I am at the office with the full suit on. As you can see, the helmet is riding a bit too high, but that's an easy fix. Can't wear the helmet sealed for too long before it fogs up, so I'm going to put a little fan in it.

Here I am at the office with the full suit on. As you can see, the helmet is riding a bit too high, but that’s an easy fix. Can’t wear the helmet sealed for too long before it fogs up, so I’m going to put a little fan in it.