World building in Roma

I Recently spent a weekend in Rome at the IDEA Academy doing a workshop on ‘world building on your doorstep’ with Ian Mcque.

It was a bit of a whirlwind three days with a lot to take in but I enjoyed it immensely.  I am a huge fan of Ian’s work and was really excited to get a place on the course.  Getting to go visit Rome at the same time was an obvious added benefit.  Ian was as calm, understated and humble as I was hoping and it was a real pleasure listening to him talk and watching him paint.

Having spent 20 years at Rockstar working on the GTA franchise Ian had lots of jucy game dev stories and was really good company.  He now works mostly for film, he showed us some of his work he did for Solo, so was great to hear about the differences in working in a huge team at a AAA studio and freelancing in your shed for the Hollywood movie machine.  He even managed to fit in the odd rant about on-line behaviour, chasing ‘likes’ and getting hung up on perspective.

The general idea of the workshop was to show Ian’s thought processes rather than specific techniques or detil what brushes he uses.  There was a big emphasis on locally sourced reference and the use of sketching and drawing as an ideation tool.  He has a great imagination but feels it is really only at its maximum when he is physically drawing and thinking at the same time.  He showed us pages of his sketchbook where you could see the ideas evolving from one sketch to the next.  Starting with a reasonably standard looking wheeled APC he then brought in elements of lighthouses, cranes and canal boats until he was left with something pretty unique by the end of it.  One particularly great drawing of a huge towered floating mothership was done in front the the Brooklyn Bridge and when you looked closely you could see all kinds of details from the bridge and surrounding buildings in there.

A recurring theme was that as a concept artist people pay you for your ideas, not pretty pictures. You are a problem solver.  It is important to be able to present your ideas in a clear and appealing way but a great looking image that doesn’t solve the problem at hand or propose anything new and interesting is not useful.  The concept art and illustration world is very self referencing and starting to feel very generic, hence Ian’s emphasis on studying the world around you and looking out side of the art world for inspiration.  This may be something you have heard said before, I had, but Ian is truly someone who lives by this and one of only a few who do feel fresh and interesting (IMO).

First day of the workshop was spent out and about in Rome.  We spent time warming up, drawing things around us and spending time looking, listening and smelling – Rome is a great place for this.  After an hour or so Ian then encouraged us to start mashing up the objects we saw around us.  Drawing the building behind us on top of the building in front of us, jamming a piece of the ancient city wall into the modern apartment block buildings and thinking about how to join the two, what happens to the different materials when these buildings meet and how would people live in the resulting structure.  I really struggled with this process, I have done some observational drawing but had never used my imagination in quite this way.  It was hard to maintain a believable perspective and sense of scale but it was an excellent exercise to do and I actually came up with a couple of pics I didn’t think I had in me.

We then went back to the classroom to scan stuff in and chat about the experience.  Ian showed us some drawings he had done in New York where he had  taken a ‘tool kit’ of buildings and props that were around him and built monolithic structures out of them, some of which he had turned into huge floating boats or spaceships.  Most of us then went and had some pizza and beer.

here are some of my sketches.

Day two was mostly watching Ian paint and him talking us through the ideas he was having while sketching the day before and how these evolve while he works.  He always has a narritive going through his head while he is working, imagining the people who live there and what has happened to them.  He hadn’t pre prepared anything so it was great to see him running into problems and solving them on the spot, whether they were compositional, narrative of colour issues. He was working on an image where all the traffic in Rome was grid locked for years and people had adapted by building walkways over the roofs of the cars.  People had cut holes in the roofs and were living in the vehicles, a kind of shanty town in the streets, a river of tarpaulin covered cars between the buildings. He didn’t end up finishing it off, but if he does and sends it through I will post it.

Towards the end of the day we started on our own stuff, scanning our sketches in and deciding which to expand on and work up to something more final. Then we had some more beer..

Third day was everyone getting on with their stuff, lots of pausing for chats and him talking us through what he was doing and us asking questions. He did a portfolio review with people who wanted it towards the end of the day.

Ian’s actual techniques are pretty simple. He generally does everything by hand, crunching down layers regularly with usually only one or two on the go at any time, says this really helps tie the pic together and gives you lots of nice lost and found edges.  He has occasionally mocked things up in 3D as a starting point but generally just scans in a sketch or draws directly in photoshop as a starting point.  Never really does any photobashing or using photos for textures although he has worked on projects where he was required to do this.  He generally prefers building up texture with brushes, although, again, only really uses a couple of brushes, one chisel and one rough textural one with a bit of a hue jitter on it.

Really enjoyed my weekend in Rome and a big thank you to Ian and the IDEA Academy for facilitating it 🙂

Here is my final pic, a mashup of Rome past and present.