Sunday, March 13, 2011

An Interview with Greg Broadmore - Part one

I first came across the work of Greg Broadmore sometime around 2005-early 2006 after watching Peter Jackson's remake of the classic film "King Kong". The creatures and stunning visuals immediately captivated me and I was very intrigued to check out more of this familiar yet new, lush and beautiful but unforgiving world of Kong. It was in the 'art of' book aptly titled " The World of Kong: A natural History of Skull Island" that I first came across Greg's amazing concept work. While following his blog: The King of Fatboss it became apparent that he also had an equal love for Robots and Sci-fi tech as well as creatures.
Since then I have kept a close eye on his work and his unique and recognizable style. Greg's creature design displays some of the strongest in understanding of anatomy and originality that I have had the pleasure of coming across, but his creative skills don't end there. You may remember a little film called "District 9" which was directed by Neill Blomkamp with pre-production concept art and special FX visuals provided by the multi-award winning conceptual design and physical manufacturing facility Weta Workshop founded by Richard Taylor.
The studio is known for such titles as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia Trilogy as well as District 9 and countless other big budget films including James Cameron's Avatar. As a lead concept designer, Greg was one of only a handful of artists producing concept art for District 9. Although the film had a rather tight budget in comparison to films like King Kong, it made a huge mark in the industry and was immediately a hit. Greg produced concepts for the prawns and played a large role in designing the prawn's Exo-Suit. He also was involved in industrial design related concepts, including multiple weapons, the mother ship, the drop ship and even playing a part in the designs of the MNU armor and security vehicle.
(left to right: Greg Broadmore, Tania Rodger, Richard Taylor)
MC: Greg, I want to thank you for taking part in this interview and sharing your film industry experience and knowledge with us. If you could, would you please explain a little about your background as an artist. What life was like before and up to working for Weta Workshop.

GB: I was born and grew up in a small town in the Eastern Bay of New Zealand called Whakatane. There was absolutely no way to make a living from art there, and I never even entertained the thought. I assumed that I would be unemployed my whole life really. I moved to some of New Zealand's larger cities later, and I tried to send some artwork around the world (pre-internet of course) to a few companies, but I was basically resigned to the fact that New Zealand, which I love, is not a place to make a career in art.
I tried taking a course in Fine Art, and I quickly discovered that it was completely wrong for me. I quit after a few months, later returning to the dole and played in punk rock and metal bands around New Zealand. Eventually, while living in Hamilton, I got fired from the dole (Yes, it's possible and I'm proof). I had to sell everything I had scrimped and saved to buy over the years and decided to move to Wellington. In Wellington I worked at a video game store, while trying my hardest to get some work as an artist (I did illustration for around 30 children's books in the end) but I struggled with it a lot.


Then the first Lord of the Rings movie came out and I was stunned. I had been a fan of Peter's movies for a long time, but I had never even considered the possibility of working in the film industry. The realization that there was a company, in the very city I was living in, making fantasy films, was like an epiphany to me. So, I sent in a portfolio to Weta and I got a call from Richard Taylor, and a few short weeks later I had visited Weta, met the designers of the LOTR films and had myself a job in short order. I was stunned, terrified, amazed, elated.... It has proved to be a defining part of my life. I have learned more in the last 10 years while working at Weta than I have ever learned previously. In fact it'd be fair to say that I learned more in the first year at Weta than I had in my previous decades.
While at Weta I've worked on many, many films. District 9 has been the film that I'm most proud to have worked on, but I also enjoyed Kong as I am a big Dinosaur enthusiast. I've worked on little films like Black Sheep, as well as monsters for films like Narnia and then there are all the films that never made it - Evangelion, Halo etc...

I tend to steer clear of film work these days as I have projects of my own like Dr. Grordbort's that I'm developing either at Weta or in my own time. While I've loved many of the films I've done, I really got into film by chance. It was as they say, being at the right place at the right time. I love it, but it doesn't define me, and to be honest, most of what gets presented as ideas for film leaves me cold. It's very seldom that someone like Neill Blomkamp (Director of District 9) comes along whose vision inspires and motivates me. So my focus these days is creating art that interests me, and developing my own ideas and seeing where I can take them. That might be film, or games, or simply comics and illustration. As long as I'm inspired I'm happy.
(Greg proudly holding a Dr. Grordbort weapon design)


MC: Have you had any formal education concerning concept art, entertainment design or illustration? If so, what school did you attend and what did you study?

GB: Nope, nope and nope.
After failing to get into New Zealand's best fine arts course, I tried my hand at a commercial art course. It basically involved bone carving, sign writing, typography (using letraset and hand created fonts - not computers). So all I really learned from that experience was that I was certain I did not want to be a sign writer.

MC: What inspires or motivates you, and what kind of reference and research do you do when coming up with creature or character designs?

GB: I am inspired by the natural world, science and technology. I don't really look very often at other works of fiction when designing creatures, although they do serve as reference points.
I have studied a lot of anatomy over the years. Weta Workshop has been brilliant in regards to improving an artist's understanding of anatomy. When I first started producing concept art, designers like Jamie Beswarick, Ben Wootten and Warren Mahy helped to focus my natural tendencies in design, and I learned to look at creature design in a more specific way.


When working on a realistic creature for a film, you need to think form and function at the same time. You have form specific requirements from the director, but function specific requirements from the pragmatic side of film making. A creature still needs to be able to function properly in it's role in the film, to move and be animated in a naturalistic way. Movement is a natural outcome of the form, so it needs to be informed by nature. Nature has solved or set the best example already, and it makes sense (for realistic design at least) to design with the laws of nature in mind.

Of course, as a film artist you are fighting a battle for both sides of two opposing ideas. You want to create a unique or visually distinct creature, while at the same time making sure it functions in a pragmatic sense. These are opposing concepts and they certainly don't make the job any easier. They're on different ends of the scale and finding the right blend is the real challenge. However, when you get it right, it makes you smile.
(Please Note: King Kong concept art Copyright © 2011 Universal Studios/Wingnut Films)


MC: Something I noticed when looking at the fictional paleo designs you produced for Peter Jackson's' "King Kong", is that they have a very strong sense of musculature, skeletal structure and realistic anatomy that lay beneath the surface. Have you had any formal training in paleo anatomy or was it all gathered and learned through your own research and observations from museums, other artists renditions of dinosaurs and studying real world animals? What ultimately prepared you for that type of project?

GB: It's a combination of things I've learned. I have taught myself and learned from great sculptors and designers while at Weta. The standards here are quite high, and you learn a lot very quickly under such circumstances. I've always had an interest in anatomy in general and particularly with dinosaurs. I had referenced artists like Douglas Henderson and Gregory S. Paul, so I had self taught myself a lot over the years regarding prehistoric biology but there is always room for improvement.
(Please Note: King Kong concept art Copyright © 2011 Universal Studios/Wingnut Films)

You're always learning more too right? As an artist, as a visual person, you're always observing and absorbing. You pay attention to the details of certain things and over time they begin to form a mental library of information.
I often think of creature designs as structurally engineered objects. I think of the creature in context - scale,mass, center of gravity, leg structure etc... and compare that with what I know of the real world. So if it makes sense in reality, it's bound to make sense in design. On top of that, you try and fit the creature into it's ecology, what role does it fit in its fictional animal kingdom or habitat? Besides all that, sometimes you just want to create something surprising, something that just comes completely out of left field. That's form versus function again - uniqueness versus practicality. Sometimes 'fuck that's cool' wins completely.
(Please Note: King Kong concept art Copyright © 2011 Universal Studios/Wingnut Films)

MC: Prior to working for Weta Workshop in New Zealand, What sort of work did you do and who did you work for? Were you always in love with drawing creatures and monsters?

GB: Yes. I've loved drawing creatures all my life. Mainly dinosaurs. The first thing I ever sculpted - in fact the last thing I ever sculpted before starting at Weta, was a T-Rex while I was at church with my grandmother. How fitting! When I started at Weta, Richard Taylor told me that learning to sculpt would be a great benefit, so I did a practice sculpt at home in super-sculpey. What did I sculpt? A T-Rex of course.
(Please Note: King Kong concept art Copyright © 2011 Universal Studios/Wingnut Films)

MC: Aside from functional and plausible anatomy, what do you feel makes for a memorable creature/character? What advice can you offer on designing something that will stand out from the masses of generic concepts?

GB: For me, that's a next to impossible question to answer. The answer is a visual one - you know it when you see it. Advice on creating something that stands out is much easier - stop looking at other concept design.


MC: When producing creature or alien designs in the rough stages, do you usually try and think about how they would function, walk, run, eat and attack at that stage, or is it more about unique and interesting shapes and aesthetic at that phase?

GB: I think that the battle I mentioned earlier starts almost straight away. Form really is the first thing - you move your hand. Those movements may be informed by an idea you have, but for me, the first forms are subconscious and the design flows from these forms. I steer the forms towards my goal as rationally as I have skill or patience for, though there's very likely a lot of post- rationalisation going on too. It's very easy to trick yourself.


(Please Note: King Kong concept art Copyright © 2011 Universal Studios/Wingnut Films)

In Part 02 of the interview we'll be talking with Greg and finding out more about his personal project and the World of Dr. Grordbort. We'll also get to hear about the film that in my opinion has become a cult classic "District 9" so check back soon! Mike C -
Everyone can check out more of Greg's work at the following sites:
http://www.thebattery.co.nz/
http://gregbroadmore.blogspot.com/
http://www.wetanz.com/greg-broadmore/
http://www.drgrordborts.com/

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.

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