Ge­orge Hull

star as­cend­ing

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The block­buster con­cept artist on life af­ter ILM

s a con­cep­tual artist, Ge­orge Hull’s work has helped shape the stunning im­agery of films such as Jupiter As­cend­ing, The Ma­trix Reloaded, The Cloud At­las and Ely­sium. Ge­orge likes work­ing as a hired gun for dif­fer­ent di­rec­tors. “I help draw and paint ideas for the look of a film’s set, ar­chi­tec­ture, ve­hi­cles and en­vi­ron­ments,” the con­cept artist says. “This is the most ex­cit­ing part for me – I just love the feel­ing of dis­cussing an idea at the start of a day and, by the end, hav­ing a piece of art in my hand.”

Like many, Ge­orge found art as a boy. “My artis­tic pas­sion was ig­nited watch­ing Alien, Blade Run­ner and Star Wars,” he says. “Like­wise, my ear­li­est artis­tic he­roes were Ralph McQuar­rie, Syd Mead, Joe John­ston and Moe­bius.”

The artist, how­ever, cites US land­scape painter Ed­win Church as a defin­ing in­flu­ence. As a child he would spend hours in the Cleve­land Mu­seum or Art, gaz­ing at Ed­win’s Twi­light in the Wilder­ness. “I was amazed by the piece’s mood, de­tail, tech­nique and his abil­ity to cap­ture scale with pig­ment and brushes.” The work, Ge­orge says, still in­spires him to­day.

“In high school, I re­searched my he­roes of film de­sign and dis­cov­ered al­most all of them had an ed­u­ca­tion in industrial de­sign,” he says. With his hope for the film in­dus­try parked, Ge­orge con­fronted his fu­ture, which seemed to be ar­chi­tec­tural, en­gi­neer­ing or com­mer­cial il­lus­tra­tion. “None of those felt quite right when de­cid­ing my col­lege stud­ies,” he re­calls. And then an epiphany hap­pened. “One day I saw a car mag­a­zine with con­cep­tual de­sign for a fu­tur­is­tic su­per car.” Ge­orge was off and run­ning.

The young artist knuck­led down and won a place study­ing industrial de­sign at the Uni­ver­sity of Cincin­nati. “I was very aware of the work com­ing out of the pre­mier schools such as Art Cen­ter and Cal­i­for­nia Col­lege of the Arts,” he re­calls. “My ID pro­gramme didn’t teach car de­sign or the flashy tech­niques that I saw other stu­dents learn­ing.”

In­deed, each year, Art Cen­ter would put out a cal­en­dar filled with fu­tur­is­tic cars

and high-con­cept ve­hi­cles. “My jaw would hit the floor when I saw it: I would get stom­ach pains wor­ry­ing about my com­peti­tors. My school as­sign­ments were to de­sign a next-gen­er­a­tion vac­uum cleaner!” He re­calls think­ing: “I’ll never be that good. I felt over­whelmed with the com­pe­ti­tion and con­fused. How could I get my skills even close?”

Steel and de­ter­mi­na­tion

Ge­orge didn’t give up, though. Rather, he did some­thing he says ev­ery as­pir­ing artist should do. He de­cided if his as­sign­ments were mun­dane, in­stead of feel­ing de­pressed and giv­ing up, he would chal­lenge him­self and push his skills for­ward him­self.

“I would draw com­plex per­spec­tives in­stead of sim­ple side-views,” he says. “I would cre­ate in­ter­est­ing sce­nar­ios and work on my tech­ni­cal drafts­man­ship. I would ex­plore new paint­ing tech­niques.” This way of ap­proach­ing work – of push­ing his skills – he says, keeps him grow­ing as a cre­ator even to­day. Not ev­ery film, he re­minds us, needs high-con­cept ideas. Some re­quire the ba­sics but, even in those mo­ments, he tries to ad­vance his artistry.

Ge­orge felt that work­ing in au­to­mo­tive de­sign would en­able him to test his skills and use his imag­i­na­tion. Yet to se­cure an in­tern­ship and job with a car com­pany, he had to com­pete with stu­dents from all over the world. And some of those stu­dents at­tended col­leges with ded­i­cated car de­sign stu­dios and cour­ses. “Get­ting the Chrysler and Ford ap­pren­tice­ships was crit­i­cal in my path, be­cause I got to talk to the staff de­sign­ers and see what my life would be like in the fu­ture – the re­ward for what I was striv­ing for," he re­calls.

Then Ge­orge changes tone. “I found out that very few peo­ple get to do con­cep­tual work. Most of the jobs in­volved real-world man­u­fac­tur­ing de­tails of the same type of prod­uct.” There just wasn’t much call for high con­cept imag­i­na­tion. This was a huge let-down. It was made dou­bly sour as he re­alised he’d still have to work like a dog to se­cure a car or prod­uct de­sign job, the re­al­i­ties of which now left him feel­ing cold.

Ge­orge pressed on though. And then he stopped. “On an in­tern­ship at Chrysler, I re­mem­ber sit­ting in a bath­room stall for an hour, think­ing about my path. Where would I be in five years? All roads seemed to lead to dis­ap­point­ment, re­gard­less of how hard I worked.”

End of th e road

Fi­nally the artist ad­mit­ted to him­self that the job he re­ally wanted was in film de­sign. ”That felt like say­ing you wanted to be Han Solo for a living,” he says, aware of the re­mark’s sig­nif­i­cance. He grasped the net­tle and com­mit­ted to the film in­dus­try.

Ge­orge’s school wasn’t im­pressed. It branded his de­ci­sion ridicu­lous and waste­ful. Look­ing back, Ge­orge says he was, at that point, a man on a mission. The gloves were off. “I heard that Lu­cas­film had an in­tern­ship pro­gramme,” he ex­plains, “and I de­cided that was my goal.”

Yet doubt still lin­gered in his mind. “If car de­sign was com­pet­i­tive, the ILM art depart­ment spot was go­ing to be ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive,” he thought at the time. Was

I got stom­ach pains from wor­ry­ing… I felt over­whelmed, con­fused

his dream re­al­is­tic? Were there a mil­lion other artists bet­ter than him? And if it didn’t land him a film job, would he be shoot­ing him­self in the foot for even a de­cent ID job? It was all or noth­ing.

“I tried to be smart. My col­lege the­sis was a tele-op­er­ated robot, de­signed for haz­ardous emer­gen­cies or dis­as­ters such as Ch­er­nobyl. I wanted to de­fine my­self as a high con­cept designer who thinks about func­tion as well as styling,” Ge­orge says. “It won Best in Show and got me into the ILM in­tern­ship. I still re­mem­ber lis­ten­ing to the phone mes­sage say­ing I was ac­cepted, and fall­ing to the floor!”

“At ILM I was elated to be work­ing with, and learn­ing from, the artists and model mak­ers from Star Wars, In­di­ana Jones and Juras­sic Park,“Ge­orge says. “Many of them were my child­hood he­roes, such as Den­nis Muren. He se­lected me to work on the Spe­cial Edi­tion of The Em­pire Strikes Back, and the Juras­sic Park se­quel. I was ob­sessed with learn­ing the craft.”

Ge­orge moved through the ranks at ILM and was quickly pro­moted to VFX art direc­tor. “It was a fan­tas­tic job and great for the ego,“he says. “But my tasks were mainly lead­er­ship, meet­ings, del­e­ga­tion. There was very lit­tle time for cre­at­ing art­work my­self. I knew my skills were not grow­ing to the level of my he­roes. Peo­ple who were in­volved with cre­at­ing film from the ear­li­est stages,“he says.

“I imag­ined an el­e­gantly dec­o­rated palace

as a space­ship.“ JUPITER AS­CEND­ING


OR NATE SPACE­SHIP DOCK “I jux­ta­posed high-tech and low-tech to cre­ate an or­nate dock­ing bay with stat­ues and chan­de­liers.”

“My idea was for float­ing can­nons and wing seg­ments that could ar­range them­selves in dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions.”


Jux­tap os­ing Aesth et­ics “For this Jupiter As­cend­ing con­cept, I imag­ined a royal shut­tle emerg­ing from an or­nate pala­tial struc­ture.”

SPACE BATTLE STAND­OFF “A battle sketch and force­field con­cept from Jupiter As­cend­ing.”

“This ship from the game Star Cit­i­zen cuts as­ter­oids and col­lect pre­cious ore us­ing pow­er­ful trac­tor beams.” MIN­ING SHIP CON­CEPT

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