sangjun lee

Q & A with Sanjun Lee

I hope that this is enough answers for students who want to be a concept artist.

1) When did you know you wanted to be a concept artist, and how did you set out to achieve that goal?

I didn’t know I want to be a concept artist when I was South Korea. I was computer science major student at the time. At the age of 23 I move to San Francisco to study illustration at Academy of Art University. I’ve been working in the movie industry since 1999. Over the years I have worked closely with different directors on many films including Men In Black II, Peter Pan (2003), Hulk, Pirate of Caribbean, Star Wars Episode III, War of the World and various bidding projects. After that I start realized that what I like to do for my feature and what I need to learn more from different place and field. So I decided to move to New York to doing 3D feature animation at Blue Sky studio. It might help to set on my feature goal for me.

2) How did you become a concept artist?

I never imagined that one day I’d be working for Entertainment industry. My goal in college was to become a fine artist. My focus was on drawing during first and second years in college. It wasn’t until I was a senior that I became curious about what I was going to use my drawing skills for. From that curiosity I began looking outside of collage for opportunities. Then I found an internship at ILM. From there I realized that there was still a lot that I could learn from other people. So began my working experience at ILM. A few months later, I was privileged enough to become concept artist for a bidding project on Harry Potter. That was my first industry experience.

3) What struggles did you face along the way?

When I worked on Star Wars Episode EPIII, I had meeting with George Lucas every Friday morning, and I produce about 10 to 13 character designs a week over one year. The challenging part was trying to bring new idea every single day. I had to spend a lot of time finding different way to help fuel my creativity. I’d Sit down at the table with just blank paper and force my brain to put something on the paper and slowly grow from that. Or looking at different books from the library , talking with our researchers, books, magazines, documentaries, and other material. Another difficulty is working I face is working with clients. Sometime it’s hard to understand what the clients want. Bringing their ideas to life is my job. For the Star wars George Lucas knows exactly what he wants and he trust his artist to bring new ideas.

4) What is a typical work day like for you?

Most of time I my working schedule is tight by meetings. Most of time I have a lot of chance to talk to director about How to make it better for the shot of movie and design. It require working with other department which are sculpting, modeling, rigging and Animation department to talking about all the technical and design issue with others. Sometime you don’t have enough time to draw. For concept designer need to learn How to give right information to other departments. Because the concept works is going through different department.

5) What do your job responsibilities consist of?

The most important thing for a concept artist is having a strong passion of his work. This is the most important thing to have. If you don’t have passion, then you will have a harder time crafting your artistic skill. If you’re not happy with what your doing it will reflect in your work. Art always helps to bring new ideas to life. A concept artist has a wide range of responsibilities. Many tasks range from working with different directors, writers, and various clients which help visualize ideas and stories. It’s better if you have flexibility to working with new ideas and concepts. Drawing is easiest way to develop ideas and help create your own style. Your ideas don’t have to always be drawings, it could also be sculpturing, painting, 3D modeling and other methods that helps you’re your imagination.

6) Do you still take time for your own personal projects; and if so can you tell us about a couple of them?

Yes, It’s tough to do personal project with full time job at the same time. But It’s getting important for me doing my personal projects. When you are work for clients all the times, you felt that you are missing your own style and imagination from you. So After work, I am putting some time for myself. I’m planning to publishing the artwork as personal sketch book. And also I am making story book. It might be come out soon, I am exciting about this.

7) What keeps you inspired and motivated?

When you create characters it’s not only from my imagination, it’s also from my memory. If you carefully look at any object, you can find its true beauty. People image that the each object from nature has a sprite and personality, I believe that the beauty of nature give us imagination. When I create character, I try to think about the personality of the creature, and I try to have fun with it. I can’t explain every detail to audience, but they can have and idea of what I am trying to get across. Trying to tell a story through my art has always been my motivation for my work. When I develop ideas I use a lot of books and reference material to see how different cultural use costumes to express themselves. I especially used a lot of Korean costume influence for Natalie Portman character in EP3. For the more character and creature actors, I used a lot of animal reference books and DVDs.

8) What is the process you go through to create a finished piece of art?

First thing, I need a good story or idea, which is what fuels ideas during work. Also if you have a strong story, it’s much easier to bring good work. I usually spend a couple days sketching rough ideas. I let various ideas from imagination come to surface. While in this process the drawings don’t have to be good, I just have a fun with it. This is one of best working process for me. When I feel that I have enough ideas, then I chose couple from the rough sketches. For the rough sketches, I like to use pen and ink and whatever I’m comfortable with. Personally I use a Prisma color pencil or Graphite pencil for detail drawing. On Episode III, Most of time we have four days concept work before our presentation every Friday. First two days I spend on rough sketches and finding good references for new Ideas. Then on the third day I start drawing detail sketches from the rough ones. By the fourth day I can have 7 to 15 drawings ready, each drawing can take about 20 minutes to clean up. Finally on the last day I scan the drawings in the computer and start painting with Photoshop and Painter.

9) What is the best advice you can give for young aspiring artists?

Concept artist is fun job but it also it requires a lot of learning. For students, you need to learn more anatomy study and gestures drawings. Learning these skills will also give you energy to capture the moment of character. Even today I still study anatomy a lot. Enjoy your drawing; if you have good drawing skills, you can easily experiment with other departments like sculpture, painting, and computer skills. Drawing is not just to copy your favorite comic book, its much more then that. It’s about you. You are the person create your world. Also It’s drawing from life. What you see and how to describe that using your imagination. If you copy the comic book styles, there is no chance for you to develop your own style. You have to find your own way to see the world.

This is part of interview with Voice magazine long time ago. 
Thank you for your time to read this~