In every film we watch there are multiple working parts that go beyond the actors and director. It’s my wish to highlight the numerous key individuals that bring your favorite films to life.
This interview is with Concept Artist Po Sing Chu, and I am incredibly honored and lucky that he has taken the time to speak with me. Po is based in the UK, and has done Concept Art for films such as Kong: Skull Island, The Jungle Book, King Arthur, Wonder Woman, and Tomb Raider, among others.
How would you define concept art and its impact on the final piece?
I would say concept art is a means of exploring and developing ideas and whatever may need designing. It’s often problem solving in a visual medium and its impact can vary, from inspiring the mood and look to driving essential parts of the story.
For people who aren’t in film, where does concept art come during the filmmaking process and who are you working with closest?
Typically, there is pre-production, production, and post-production phases to filmmaking all of which can require concept art. During pre-production you might be working with the director more, however, there is overlap and it’s circumstantial. It really depends on what you might be tasked with doing. You may find yourself only working with your art director and the production designer. I’m mostly working closest with an art director.
How do you typically find projects, particularly films like Tomb Raider, Kong: Skull Island?
What’s the breakdown of assignments in the art department for concept artists, that is, typically how much are you assigned to work on? A singular character? Multiple?
It can vary, with multiple concept artists each tackling a design, to hiring someone who specializes in characters or a combination of the two.
With projects that you’ve worked on, like Wonder Woman, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Guardians of the Galaxy, how much research is needed for your designs, and how much are you trying to break away from the designs of others?
I think it always helps to have done ample research and reference gathering. Regarding how much I’m trying to break away from designs of others really depends on the goal, so for example in King Arthur, there were briefs that were completely open and had no pre-existing starting point. In the case of Wonder Woman, when designing Ares, you had the comic book version, so you’re tasked with trying to make a modern day film version that still pays homage to the original design.
How is the final design chosen?
I would say the director ultimately approves final designs. You would have been given a brief by your art director and each step of the way the director would give input until he or she’s happy with it.
How much access do you have to the script, if at all?
Sometimes you’re given the script which is held very preciously. Your access is limited insofar that you’re not supposed to take it home or leave it lying around irresponsibly.
What’s the most difficult film project you’ve worked on, in terms of designing and creating concept art?
I find most of them difficult; it’s a constant struggle, although I remember struggling the most with Guardians of the Galaxy. It was my first job, and although I was given the opportunity to work on a variety of things, I felt hopelessly out of my depth for all of them. I remembered one time when tasked with designing an environment I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the brief. At the time, I felt like I needed an architecture degree first to not design something silly.
What specific environment was it, and what was the brief asking for?
The environment we were designing for was Xandar, in particular we had existing building designs which just needed to be developed or embellished a bit further, and I remember struggling and overthinking my bit. They just needed to be visually appealing I think, but I thought I really had to design something that would completely make sense and work and I found that a bit overwhelming.
What project did you enjoy working on the most, and what made that project enjoyable?
I have so many for different reasons. It’s hard for me to pick one, but typically; creatively speaking, I enjoy the projects where I have more freedom to be creative and paint more. I felt like I had that kind of freedom in Wonder Woman and enjoyed having the room to explore ideas, however, I think for me it’s always the team I’m working with that would make the job enjoyable ultimately, and luckily I’ve always had nice and funny coworkers.
Do you ever watch the final product in the theater, and if you do, what feelings do you have when you see it?
Yes, of course. In the beginning, I was so critical that I couldn’t enjoy the movie, I would only focus on the visual elements of the movie I worked on. Nowadays I’m much more relaxed and I’m likely only seeing the film if I’m interested in it anyway, and not just because I worked on it. I do feel a sense of pride if I see a particular design on screen that is verbatim to what I did. I’m happiest when the movie does particularly well and I get to say I was part of the team.
Once again, a massive thank you to Po Sing Chu. I would definitely recommend readers to keep an eye open for Chu’s upcoming work, as he’s now working on Artemis Fowl!
Next week I’ll be interviewing Brad Turner, who has served as an Editor on films, such as Goat and Patti Cake$.