18 Feel the Force

In­dus­trial Light & Magic and ArtS­ta­tion teamed up to let artists ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like work­ing on con­cept art for Star Wars – and one artist got an amaz­ing prize, as Beren Neale finds out

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We find out what hap­pened when ArtS­ta­tion and In­dus­trial Light & Magic teamed up for a Star Wars art chal­lenge.

This year ArtS­ta­tion made the on­line art com­pe­ti­tion ex­cit­ing again, work­ing with one of the most in­flu­en­tial and pop­u­lar film-art stu­dios in the world, In­dus­trial Light & Magic (ILM). Their joint com­pe­ti­tion gave en­trants an in­side view of how pro con­cept artists work.

It all started with a meet­ing at the FMX con­fer­ence in 2015, when chat turned to a ques­tion: how could an art com­pe­ti­tion help re­cruit a new gen­er­a­tion of con­cept artists to work on the up­com­ing Star Wars films? David Nak­abayashi, cre­ative di­rec­tor of the ILM art depart­ment, came up with the idea of a chal­lenge that would sim­u­late a real pro­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. For the ArtS­ta­tion’s soon-to-be chal­lenge man­ager, Daniel Wade, the chance was too good to miss and the 2016 ILM Art Depart­ment Chal­lenge was born.

“When we re­alised we would be run­ning a Star Wars

con­cept art chal­lenge,” says Daniel, “it had to be fit for pur­pose. Plan­ning be­gan on a plat­form that would bring art chal­lenges into the 21st cen­tury – and with­stand a record num­ber of en­trants.”

ArtS­ta­tion co-founder Leo Teo had al­ready pi­o­neered art chal­lenges in the mid2000s with CG Chal­lenges. “How­ever, the aim with the new plat­form was to leave be­hind fo­rum-based sys­tems in favour of a pur­pose-built plat­form with a greater com­mu­nity em­pha­sis,” says Daniel. “The most ex­cit­ing as­pect was that it was also a re­cruit­ment chal­lenge. Those artists who gave this op­por­tu­nity ev­ery­thing would likely help shape the look of fu­ture Star Wars films.”

chal­leng­ing times

Ital­ian-based artist Mario Al­berti pre­dom­i­nantly works in comics. But the ap­peal of join­ing this com­pe­ti­tion was what got him into art in the first place: a sense of awe, and a de­sire to soak up any­thing that might make him a bet­ter artist. “I’m al­ways hun­gry for new stuff to see and learn from,” he says. “I saw this as a chance to learn some­thing new, maybe get to know a bit about work­ing in films. Plus it’s Star Wars!”

That sense of awe had kicked in. “It felt a bit like a fish div­ing in a new sea, with all dif­fer­ent kinds of colour­ful and beau­ti­ful crea­tures swim­ming around it,” says Mario. “I was con­fi­dent I wouldn’t drown, and that I’d get as much fun as I could out of it.” The artist did more than that – he won first place.

The com­pe­ti­tion con­sisted of three ma­jor chal­lenges: a keyframe chal­lenge, a ve­hi­cle de­sign chal­lenge, and a boot-camp style chal­lenge, with many dead­lines and chang­ing de­sign briefs and re­quire­ments.

I was con­fi­dent I wouldn’t drown, and I’d get as much fun as I could out of it

“For each chal­lenge stage, the ILM art depart­ment cre­ated a de­sign brief which all artists had to fol­low, along with dead­lines and lim­ited guid­ance,” says Daniel. Gone were the days of reg­u­lar pos­i­tive crits on friendly fo­rums. “Some­times the art di­rec­tors gave us gen­eral ad­vice after they viewed an over­all panel of sub­mis­sions,” says run­ner-up Mor­gan Yon. “That mo­ti­vates you a lot. We also had some­thing spe­cial: a ‘Like’ but­ton on the bot­tom of our im­ages. Those small things gave me a lot of con­fi­dence. I re­mem­ber when I had the first ‘Like’ from David Nak­abayashi – that was in­tense.”

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing David on the judg­ing panel for the chal­lenges was a who’s who of in­dus­try le­gends, in­clud­ing Aaron McBride, Alex Jaeger, Doug Chi­ang, Ja­son Hor­ley, Chris­tian Alz­mann, James Clyne, Amy Beth Chris­ten­son, Bianca Draghici, Erik Tiemens, Kev Jenk­ins, Kil­ian Plun­kett, Ryan Church, Stephen Tap­pin, Thang Le and Yan­ick Dusseault. When each chal­lenge was com­pleted, these art be­he­moths judged the en­tries and de­cided who would go through to the next round.

“To be hon­est, I had just two Likes on my work in progress post,” says the comp’s third­place artist Fred Pala­cio.” No com­ment. Just two thumbs up. So I felt I was on my own and kept go­ing.” Though Fred did have some help from a lit­tle friend. “I re­mem­ber one night my nine-year-old son Matis came over and told me a ve­hi­cle looked Avatar-ish. I took one el­e­ment away and, done, it worked! Every­one’s opin­ion counts, but self-crit­i­cism is very im­por­tant,” he says.

emo­tional re­sponse

Kick­ing things off, The Mo­ment keyframe chal­lenge in­vited artists to cre­ate two emo­tive im­ages that told a cin­e­matic story within the world of Episodes IV to VI. Keyframes could use only ex­ist­ing Star Wars worlds, ve­hi­cles, crea­tures and char­ac­ters to cre­ate a story mo­ment. A to­tal of 3,888 artists be­gan the chal­lenge, with 1,010 com­plet­ing this first phase. The first round of judg­ing re­duced the num­ber of artists go­ing through to the next round to 330.

Next, The Ride chal­lenge asked en­trants to de­sign two new Star Wars ve­hi­cles within the aes­thetic of Episodes IV to VI. Ve­hi­cles could be Rebel, Im­pe­rial or util­i­tar­ian: any­thing from a gi­ant star­ship to a land speeder. Just un­der 300 artists com­pleted

I never pro­moted my­self, but as soon as the re­sult came out I got so many of­fers

The Ride chal­lenge, and the judg­ing phase re­duced the num­ber who went through to the fi­nal stage to 224.

The Job chal­lenge con­sisted of six mini-chal­lenges de­signed to push artists to their lim­its. Dead­lines were the same as they would be in a film pro­duc­tion. Cre­ative briefs were changed to show how di­rec­tors can change their minds. And the story could evolve based on key frames from artists. Every­one was kept on their toes.

“The ILM art di­rec­tors asked for the best that artists could pro­duce within tough time re­stric­tions, and 210 artists met that chal­lenge,” says Daniel. “Al­though the dead­lines were al­most im­pos­si­ble and the work­loads ex­treme, 90 per cent of the artists who un­der­took The Job chal­lenge com­pleted the six mini chal­lenges, and were awarded the ti­tle Sur­vivor.”

Once the dust sett les...

So what’s the legacy of this ex­cit­ing on­line chal­lenge? For the five artists who gained honourable men­tions (and eight more la­belled “ILM Favourites"), it’s get­ting ku­dos from peers and hope­fully com­mis­sions from com­pa­nies. For the three win­ners, there’s more ku­dos and some very de­sir­able prizes from Wa­com and ArtS­ta­tion.

For Fred Pala­cio it was a sur­prise enough to be named in the top three. “When the re­sult came out, I over­looked my name,” he says. “I looked at the win­ners an­nounce­ment video and that’s when I re­alised I was one of the three win­ners. I never pro­moted my­self, but as soon as the re­sult came out I got so many work of­fers.” And an in­ter­view at ILM.

“The in­ter­view with Nak (David Nak­abayashi) and Jen­nifer Coron­ado was filled with pos­i­tive en­ergy.” He ob­vi­ously im­pressed, be­cause Fred was sub­se­quently ap­pointed art di­rec­tor at ILM Van­cou­ver.

“The art di­rec­tor role is the most dif­fi­cult po­si­tion to fill," said David. “We’d been keep­ing our eye out for over a year.”

Fred is un­der­stand­ably thrilled with the de­vel­op­ment. “Right now, I’m ex­plor­ing a new world. I’m step­ping into an arena filled with the big­gest gla­di­a­tors – and it seems they’re quite nice ! This huge com­mu­nity is mak­ing a di­rec­tor’s vi­sion hap­pen and I’m happy and grate­ful to be in the mid­dle of it.”

How did the com­pe­ti­tion work out for ILM over­all? David gives his fi­nal thoughts: “We were thrilled about this com­pe­ti­tion be­cause it helped us find new tal­ent. Most im­por­tantly, it gave us the op­por­tu­nity to re­motely men­tor peo­ple (whether they knew it or not) and help them evolve their craft. There’s noth­ing more ex­cit­ing than be­ing able to par­tic­i­pate in this im­por­tant, cre­ative com­mu­nity.”

To see the full brief for each chal­lenge and ex­plore all the great art it prompted, visit http://ilm­chal­lenge.arts­ta­tion.com.

Ital­ian artist Mario tri­umphed out of 3,888 artists who ini­tially en­tered the art chal­lenge. Mario is a comics au­thor and il­lus­tra­tor, work­ing for both DC and Marvel.

The win­ner: Mario Al­berti

The Bat­tle of Hoth as de­picted by Mario Al­berti, the over­all win­ner of the chal­lenge.

Mor­gan was awarded se­cond place in the real­is­ti­cally struc­tured ILM/ArtS­ta­tion chal­lenge. Mor­gan Yon dra­mat­i­cally reimag­ines the board­ing of the Rebel block­ade run­ner from the open­ing of Episode IV.

Mor­gan de­scribes get­ting a ‘Like’ from David Nak­abayashi dur­ing the art chal­lenge as “in­tense.”

A scene rich in Star Wars lore, this time from third-placed Fred Pala­cio, who got the big­gest prize of all.

Fred de­vel­oped his own Star Wars story based on Luke’s sev­ered hand. The artist re­ceived a key cri­tique from his nine-year-old son for his ve­hi­cle art.

Fred was so sur­prised to be named in the top three, he didn’t even look for his name ini­tially.

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