Fantasy films have universal appeal all around world
Concept artist speaks about global success of ‘Aquaman’
Superhero smash-hit “Aquaman” has been a huge success with moviegoers. Between the superhero film’s Korea debut on Dec. 19 last year and Sunday, Jan. 6, the box-office hit attracted nearly 5 million viewers.
Christian Scheurer, a Swiss concept artist who had been part of the filmmaking process for a year by creating creatures, said the fantasy film has universal, cross-cultural elements that can appeal to a broad spectrum of fans, citing this as one of the critical reasons behind its global success.
“’Aquaman’ is a big fantasy. It is a big relief for people,” Scheuer said during a recent Korea Times interview in Seoul.
Scheuer, who has worked on over 32 feature films that have won in total 32 Academy Awards, visited South Korea last week for a conference held by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) to share his powerful story and provide inspiration to young starters in the industry. The KOCCA, a culture ministry-affiliated organization, has been training and helping Korean creators to enter the industry, to start contents business or find job.
Q Why do you think “Aquaman” has been so successful in Korea?
A I think it’s actually a global success. I’m super happy. I was involved with it for almost a year and a half as an illustrator. I do think it’s all about James Wan (the film’s director). I think he’s very empathetic to his characters. He loves these characters. All the characters, even in the end there is certain friendliness to it, or certain humanity to it. Whereas the previous DC movies, except for “Wonder Woman,” took place in pretty cold, very brutal, very dark world. Our world has become dark enough, in America especially. And we have enough problems, and people have enough fear all the time. Q Can you explain its success more specifically? A “Aquaman,” is a big fantasy. It is a big relief for people. They can escape into these roles. It also appeals to many people. It appeals to young boys who want to be Jason Momoa. Grandmas like it because Nicole Kidman’s character is very important in the end. It gives women a lot of power. Mera (Amber Heard) and Nicole Kidman both have amazing parts and so it allows (viewers) to empathize to all the different charac- ters. So the grandma is important. The mama is important. The dad is important. As a child it’s important.
So everybody gets something to identify with and because of all those identifiers we have, it works for a very broad spectrum. And I might say, I know that James Wan is Australian, but I think he also has an Asian cinema idea of epicness.
Q How would you compare “Aquaman” with other superhero films?
A In a typical Hollywood movie, for example in “Robin Hood,” he shoots an arrow. He shoots one arrow, maybe 10. But in a Chinese movie or a Korean movie, the whole sky goes black with arrows. When he (Wan) brings that sort of sensibility to “Aquaman,” it’s not five sharks, it’s 10,000 sharks which come out of that movie. This notion of immensity is, I think, very attractive to everybody.
Q What about the visual parts that you worked on for “Aquaman”? Some said they felt like they had spent two hours in the aquarium.
A I was involved with a lot of the visuals. I was immediately involved with Atlantis. Visually I knew it will be very different from day 1. Bill Brzeski (the film’s production designer) was sort of my boss and I was part of a team. Not a big team, but a team of about seven, eight illustrators, including creature guy, vehicle guy, and I was one of the main environment guys.
Bill Brzeski gave us an enormous amount of freedom to design, to come up with things and all of us have done how many movies, so my colleagues have worked on things from the “Matrix” to “Star Wars.” It was a very strong team and that’s why we got a lot more freedom than usual.
Q What are some factors that you consider important when you converge your skills from movies to games?
A I actually like the idea of changing techniques and technology. That can help. So I used to only draw by hand and then Photoshop came along. I did a lot of Photoshop and then I still love 3D, so I do it.You can see a lot of 3D now. And I think technology and art, if it’s well combined, it can be very refreshing. It opens new avenues and new perspectives and so I have been always trying to do that. And also there are new types of projects. A phone game is very different from a movie, but it’s also challenging. It’s just these learning moments, where you still learn something, and every time when there is a learning experience, it’s exciting.
Q You said you started off in Hollywood on your own, without any help. Could you give some advice for aspiring concept artists?
A First of all, Hollywood is not what it used to be in the 1990s. There are less movies in Hollywood than before. There are many markets now to enter. I think London has an enormous amount of visual effects, amazing studios. A lot happens also in Canada. So I think there’s a bigger chance where you can enter things. To be on a big movie like “Aquaman,” is not easy. Because firstly, there are unions which protect the work and then there’s just so much relationship in order to be trusted. To be on the franchise which makes a billion dollars and to be the first five people to come up with it, they need to be trustful staffs.
So for the young people, they should just get on super-exciting movies. Whatever they find in Korea, wherever they can make something. If you work on “Snow Piercer” or if you work on “Oldboy” or if you work on something or even if you create your own content, you’re probably better off than just creating a portfolio which looks like everybody else’s.
So if you create your own project and augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR), it’s yours. It’s exciting to bring that out into the world. It can be Hollywood or London or Seoul, or wherever; I think they have a bigger chance to get recognition.
Christian Scheurer, a Swiss concept artist, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times in Seoul last Thursday.