Scott Robert­son

The en­tre­pre­neur­ial con­cept artist and ed­u­ca­tor on find­ing the artis­tic sweet spot be­tween de­sign and tech­nol­ogy.

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When he was 14, Scott Robert­son fin­ished sixth in Ohio’s fa­mous Soap­box Derby, in a car he’d de­signed and built with his fa­ther. Aside from be­ing an un­ex­pected claim to fame, this is telling for two rea­sons: it high­lights the pro­lific con­cept artist’s early love of ve­hi­cles, and fore­tells his later ca­reer work­ing at the cut­ting-edge of de­sign and tech­nol­ogy.

Best known for his ve­hi­cle work, Scott has worked across a stag­ger­ing range of projects – from feature films like Steven Spiel­berg’s Mi­nor­ity Re­port and Hot Wheels an­i­mated se­ries Bat­tle Force Five, to theme park at­trac­tions like the Men in Black ride at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios. He’s de­signed con­sumer prod­ucts in­clud­ing wheel­chairs and bikes, writ­ten 13 books on

art and de­sign though his pub­lish­ing com­pany De­sign Stu­dio Press, and co­pro­duced more than 40 ed­u­ca­tional DVDs with The Gnomon Work­shop.

But it all started with cars. “Some peo­ple just grow up lov­ing things with wheels,” he shrugs. “It was that sim­ple at first. As I got older, that fas­ci­na­tion with the func­tion and de­sign of ve­hi­cles con­tin­ued.”

At Cal­i­for­nia’s Art Cen­ter Col­lege of De­sign – where his fa­ther had stud­ied il­lus­tra­tion – Scott fine-tuned his fas­ci­na­tion, grad­u­at­ing with hon­ours with a B.S. de­gree in trans­porta­tion de­sign in 1990. “I came to ap­pre­ci­ate more fully the com­plex­ity of the ma­chines and the care­ful bal­ance of en­gi­neer­ing and style that each pos­sess,” he re­calls. “All of these me­chan­i­cal and aes­thetic el­e­ments si­mul­ta­ne­ously work­ing to­gether presents a de­sign chal­lenge, and that’s what makes them es­pe­cially re­ward­ing to de­sign and build.”

En­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit

De­spite his early fo­cus on ve­hi­cles, Scott’s roots re­main in prod­uct de­sign. The day af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he launched a prod­uct de­sign con­sult­ing firm in San Fran­cisco with his best friend and course mate Neville Page, at­tract­ing clients like Nis­san, Volvo Yamaha and Ever­est-Jen­nings with their durable med­i­cal and sport­ing goods. Was this an un­usual first ca­reer step for a trans­porta­tion de­signer?

Not re­ally, says Scott. He’d been study­ing both dis­ci­plines un­til his last year at school, so it was nat­u­ral jump: “About half­way through my ed­u­ca­tion at Art Cen­ter I re­alised that most main­stream car de­sign of that era moved at a snail’s pace, and was quite cor­po­rate and con­ser­va­tive. That’s when prod­uct de­sign started to be­come more in­ter­est­ing,” he ex­plains. “I built upon some in­tern­ship work I’d started in 1989,

Many con­cept artists have their fun­da­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion in in­dus­trial de­sign

when I worked for Kestrel Bi­cy­cles and Med­i­cal Com­pos­ite Tech­nolo­gies de­sign­ing bi­cy­cle frames and wheel­chairs man­u­fac­tured with ad­vanced com­pos­ites. Start­ing the con­sult­ing stu­dio with Neville seemed like a good op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue ser­vic­ing these two clients… and our prod­ucts were modes of trans­porta­tion, af­ter all.”

Since then, Scott and Neville have taught draw­ing and in­dus­trial de­sign at Switzer­land’s Art Cen­ter, Europe, be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Los An­ge­les where they con­tinue to con­sult for clients rang­ing from Raleigh Bi­cy­cles to Mat­tel Toys, Nike, An­gel Stu­dios and be­yond.

in­dus­trial de­sign ap­proach

For Scott, in­dus­trial and en­ter­tain­ment de­sign are in­trin­si­cally linked, and his ex­pe­ri­ence in prod­uct de­sign is at the core of his prac­tice as a con­cept artist. “Many well­re­garded con­cept artists and de­sign­ers have their fun­da­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion in in­dus­trial de­sign,” he says. “The prac­tice of in­dus­trial de­sign is be­ing able to project the de­sires and needs of a cus­tomer into a plau­si­ble prod­uct, be it car, bike, wheelchair or shoe.

“This learned skill – to re­search any sub­ject and imag­ine, vi­su­alise and in­vent a so­lu­tion to sat­isfy the project goal, and then be able to present that so­lu­tion us­ing draw­ings and ren­der­ings to oth­ers – is the foun­da­tion of cre­at­ing new prod­ucts for our own world and for imag­i­nary ones, too.”

Scott con­tin­ues: “The same thought process can also be ap­plied to de­sign­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for peo­ple, so the jump from in­dus­trial de­sign to en­ter­tain­ment de­sign, where peo­ple in­ter­act with imag­i­nary worlds full of props, ve­hi­cles and other char­ac­ters, is a rel­a­tively fa­mil­iar in­tel­lec­tual ex­er­cise. The main dif­fer­ence is that en­ter­tain­ment de­sign re­quires a lot less ef­fort to de­sign how an object might ac­tu­ally be en­gi­neered and man­u­fac­tured. It mostly needs to look cool and be en­ter­tain­ing.”

One of the big­gest prob­lems in de­sign and cre­ative ed­u­ca­tion to­day, he says, is that too few stu­dents un­der­stand how to build phys­i­cal ob­jects. This lack of un­der­stand­ing hin­ders their abil­ity to draw from their imag­i­na­tions and ‘com­mu­ni­cate be­liev­abil­ity’ in their de­signs. Scott should know: he’s been teach­ing and cre­at­ing cur­ricu­lum on how to de­sign, draw and ren­der for al­most 20 years. He’s trained sev­eral high-pro­file con­cept artists in­clud­ing Thom Ten­ery (Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens) , Ben Mauro (Ely­sium) and Khang Le (Hawken), and was key in the cre­ation of the En­ter­tain­ment De­sign depart­ment at Art Cen­ter Col­lege of De­sign.

“There were very few, if any, en­ter­tain­ment de­sign pro­grammes be­ing of­fered at col­lege level at that time,” he ex­plains. “It was around 2004 or 2005 that we of­fi­cially be­gan the pro­gramme, if I re­mem­ber cor­rectly. Art Cen­ter al­ready had top-notch il­lus­tra­tion and in­dus­trial

En­ter­tain­ment de­sign re­quires roughly 40 per cent il­lus­tra­tion and 60 per cent in­dus­trial de­sign skills

de­sign pro­grammes, so it was uniquely qual­i­fied to of­fer en­ter­tain­ment de­sign, which I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered to re­quire roughly 40 per cent il­lus­tra­tion and 60 per cent in­dus­trial de­sign skills.”

It makes sense: in trans­porta­tion de­sign, for ex­am­ple, artists are al­ways con­strained by the ‘pack­age’ – or “the spe­cific ar­range­ment of the func­tional el­e­ments of a ve­hi­cle that a de­signer can’t eas­ily move around to achieve new ve­hi­cle pro­por­tions,” as Scott ex­plains. A deeper un­der­stand­ing of the en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing of a ve­hi­cle, how­ever, can help a con­cept de­signer find op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­no­vate and in­flu­ence the pack­age. This, he points out, can greatly im­prove the over­all vis­ual ap­peal of the en­tire end prod­uct.

When it comes to his own cre­ative process, ev­ery­thing starts – broadly speak­ing – with re­search based on the de­sign brief or script. Early ideas form as sketches or writ­ten notes, and from this ini­tial “idea dump” he cre­ates new sketches to share with oth­ers for feed­back.

mod­el­ling the ideas

“Af­ter this cri­tique process, I choose a di­rec­tion and com­mu­ni­cate the con­cepts more clearly by cre­at­ing full-colour, pho­to­real ren­der­ings in Pho­to­shop or a 3D mod­el­ling and ren­der­ing pro­gram like MODO,” Scott con­tin­ues. “Based on the in­put from these pre­sen­ta­tions, a de­sign ei­ther moves into phys­i­cal mod­el­ling or stays in the dig­i­tal realm for fi­nal mod­el­ling. I re­peat the feed­back loop of pro­to­type-present-cri­tique-re­fine un­til the de­sign is right or they run out of time or money – which­ever comes first.”

Since fin­ish­ing his last books, How To Draw and How To Ren­der, Scott’s gone back to his roots in in­dus­trial de­sign and is cur­rently work­ing for a start-up on “one of the most ex­cit­ing projects” that he’s ever been part of. For now it re­mains a closely guarded se­cret, but you can ex­pect a pub­lic an­nounce­ment in early 2017.

On a per­sonal front, he’s also spent the last year de­sign­ing and build­ing a 1934 Ford hot rod truck with the team at Foothill Fab­ri­ca­tion in Corona, Cal­i­for­nia. He’s doc­u­ment­ing the de­sign and build process via his Face­book and In­sta­gram (@scoro5) ac­counts. And this is key: self-ini­ti­ated projects run cen­trally through Scott’s prac­tice – and it’s his top ad­vice for all con­cept artists.

“You have to re­alise that do­ing pro­fes­sional con­cept art and de­sign work is

a ‘yes’ job. What I mean is that the job isn’t there to sat­isfy your own per­sonal, artis­tic pur­suits. You’re cre­at­ing de­signs and art to tell some­one else’s story or to build their business around.

“You get paid well to do this job, so act pro­fes­sional – but al­ways set aside a lit­tle time for your­self to pur­sue your own projects, on your own time and on your own dime,” Scott ad­vises, be­fore de­liv­er­ing the punch line: “Do­ing this keeps the pro­fes­sional work in per­spec­tive – mak­ing it much more en­joy­able to say ‘yes’ with a smile on your face.”

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