Designing Balem’s clipper
George describes the ideas that led to the look of this elegant spaceship from Jupiter Ascending “One of my career goals was to design a high-concept vehicle for a big science fiction film. I worked very hard to draw something unique that hadn’t been seen before in the genre, which is the hardest challenge as a designer.
“I love the idea of a floating palace combined with a spaceship, complete with statues and decorative stylings. My starting point was thinking if Napoleon or members of the Third Reich existed in a space opera setting, how would they get around the galaxy? It turned into the lead character and villain Balem’s runabout: a giant clipper ship that docks in his factory within the eye of the storms on Jupiter.
“I’ve always loved to read stories and see movies that in various ways ask, “Can you imagine if...?” Sure, it’s just me tapping into my childhood wonderment of the fantastic. But even though movies are in the business of entertainment, I like to think that creatively inspired minds leaving the cinema is a good thing.”
Once more, George reminded himself who he wanted to be as an artist and after six years at ILM, he hung up his hat. Unemployed, he spent the summer working on his portfolio and blindly sent it to the directors of the Matrix movies. “I yelled with excitement, “he says, remembering how he felt when the phone rang and he was offered a place among the Wachowskis’ design team. “Working so close to the creative process and with the directors was a dream job.”
So, what’s it like inside the mind of the man who makes such grand and dramatic images? How does he fire the furnaces of his imagination? “Music,” George replies. “When I work I set the mood with soundtrack music and I play it loud.”
Despite the often futuristic nature of his art, George’s creations are born in a very basic world. “I like to start off in blue pencil, ink and a sketchbook,“he explains. “I’ll thumbnail ideas for large environments. From there I’ll jump into a 3D or 2D workflow and explore the big pictures.” Yet part of his process doesn’t involve any drawing tools or media at all. “I think daydreaming is highly underrated,” he says.
da ydream believer
George’s daydreaming took on a forceful form for the recent film Jupiter Ascending, where he was asked to design a new visual vocabulary for several dynasties, each decorating its spaceships in different ways. The task, he says, always starts by breaking the spell of the blank page.
“I always look to the story first. I discuss everything with a director or production designer. I ask about the feel or theme that should be conveyed.” Usually, he reveals, they’ll use words like elegant, imperialistic, aggressive or scary. For one of his tasks on Jupiter Ascending, George needed to create a ship design that was strong, elegant and highly decorated: “I used cues from Siamese fighting fish and art deco, as well as a beautiful Rajasthani dagger and pistol.”
Summing up his take on the creative process, George says: ”I feel good design comes from a combination of thoughtful problem solving and blue sky thinking – and finding the intersection where both can work together.”
Just as we go to press, the artist tells us he’s got the call to work on a new project. He can’t say precisely what it is, apart from it’s his “favourite franchise of all time.” Clearly, George’s dreams have come true.
Drawing a unique spaceship never seen before was my hardest challenge
follow your pass ion “Define what it is that you’re passionate about, what makes you jaw drop wishing you could create? What would you regret not trying for when you are looking back at your life?”
“Environment, mood and lighting study for the recent film Chappie.”
SALVAGE SHIP CONCEPT
“Here’s the Aegis Reclaimer and its salvage drones, which
I painted for Star Citizen.” RO BOT TESTING LAB