Peter Popken is a film and video game concept and storyboard artist. He has recently worked on Cloud Atlas, Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. He kindly sat down with me to chat about his career.
What exactly is the role of a concept artist?
The concept artist translates the script into film visuals in a way as if it was a still from the final movie. As a member of the art department he develops film sets, costumes and props. His focus is on storytelling and he sets the mood for the film and each sequence. The illustrations serve the director when communicating with producers and other departments of the film crew such as camera, lighting, stunts, costume and post-production – to name but a few.
What is it about concept art that attracted you to the industry in the first place?
Concept art combines multiple tasks from architecture and graphics to product design. A concept illustration has to work on different levels and explain complex issues in a distinguished way. Most important is a permanent output of ideas and a sound knowledge of common design techniques. A quick and suggestive visual most likely supersedes the finished rendering.
On average, how many pieces do you make for a film?
This depends on the complexity of the material and the budget given. The number can range between 20 and 200 illustrations. Usually animated films, period and sci-fi films with many VFX (visual effects) shots need much more reference than other films.
Today greenscreens widely replace existing set pieces and additional CG footage is created in post-production. This demands careful planning before shooting to ensure high quality. On Speed Racer there were about 15 concept artists working over a duration of 7 months, whereas on The Bourne Supremacy I was the only person doing concept illustrations.
What has been your toughest challenge and how did you solve it?
The toughest challenge is to constantly generate ideas and communicate them successfully through visuals. In the worst case you have to please other people’s tastes if you can’t convince them to buy what you are offering.
When it comes to concept art, what is the difference between films and video games?
Compared to games the pre-production time on films is much shorter. Prepping a film usually takes 3 – 6 months whereas on game production it can take up to 6 years.
The work itself is pretty much the same. I suppose the artwork for games is more refined and properly rendered.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I am working on The Monuments Men which is best described as a cross between Inglourious Basterds and Ocean’s Eleven. The story is set at the end of WWII and based on the novel by Robert M Edsel. It is due for release December 2013.
Do you have any advice for budding artists?
A concept artist should be a team player, able to execute a task given whether he agrees with its directive or not. Like any job there are things you like to do and other things you’d rather not. Having your own realised projects is an advantage when working in a team. Very often social skills are as important as artistic skills in order to support a director and production designer in their undertaking.
I am sure if you love what you do, you will eventually end up in the place you belong.
To see more of Peter’s work, check out the links below: