EK Interview: Greg Broadmore

Greg Broadmore is a concept designer, illustrator, writer, art director, and many more awesome things, I’m sure.  He was also a key artist in the development in the bonerlicious film District 9.  He designed the alien technology, the vehicles and the weapons. The rambunctious exo suit was conceived and designed by Greg and he has graced us with an interview regarding his work and more.

art blog - Greg Broadmore - empty kingdom

The Interview

Tell us a little about yourself, how did you get into concept design/illustration?

I kind of wandered into concept design.  It’s certainly not something I set out to do, although I have been fascinated with concept art since I was a kid.  Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarries Star Wars concept drawings were a revelation when I saw as a youngster.  That would be the moment when I realized that someone like myself had designed those cool ships and costumes in sci-fi movies.

That said, I had my heart set on doing comics.  I was really into 2000 AD and Judge Dredd. That’s what I wanted to draw.

It was only after Fellowship of the Ring came out and it dawned on me that a company in the city I was living in made fantasy films, that I decided to send in a folio.  Richard Taylor liked my work and with a good dose of luck, a few weeks later I had a job.

My first real job actually. Before that I was on the dole and working off and on at a videogame store.

How would you describe your style?

This is one of those questions that young bands get asked, and they act like arseholes who say they can’t be compared to anything, they are wholly original.

I totally understand how they feel.

I would say that my style is my attempt to create original and believable designs and art in spite of my own abilities.

Name some inspirations for your art

So many, and it grows everyday. I save hundreds of images from the web each week. I’m fascinated by robotics, science, animals and the natural world, physics, astronomy and explosions. I have hundreds of images of explosions. The universe seems to have started with one, and I, like many humans, enjoy looking at them very much.

As far as art goes, my original inspirations were 2000AD artists like Mike Mc Mahon, Steve Dillon, Simon Bisley etc… then as an adult my main artistic inspiration has been the Brandywine artists like N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

How long have you worked at WETA, and what do you do over there?

I’ve been at Weta for around 8 years now. I worked originally as a concept designer, but now focus mainly on Dr. Grordbort’s. Writing, illustrating, art directing.

Who are some kick ass concept artists?

Shit, there are so many amazing concept artists out there. It’s humbling and bewildering.

I could do a quick Google and come up with hundreds who’s images I have ogled at with admiration, but I’ll go out to bat for Weta and say Christian Pearce, Aaron Beck and Leri Greer.Those three guys kick all kinds of arse.

What advice would you have for aspiring illustrators/ concept designers starting out?

That’s a hard question to answer. Work hard, there are thousands of aspiring hopefuls and not nearly as many jobs.

I think the most important thing I look for is a unique look or sensibility, not just technical skill.

What are some common misconceptions about breaking into the concept design biz?

I don’t know if there are general misconceptions. It really is a job where you draw monsters and spaceships for money. I suppose the only reality check might be that it’s often a massively stressful and competitive job.

On any new project, every designer in the group wants to design the cool thing in the movie. Weta has a large design team, and often everyone submits work for the most appealing design jobs in a project.

Another aspect that might be unknown to newcomers is how you have to perform an emotional trick on yourself to even do strong design work.  On one hand you have to be emotionally invested in a design to give it your all, to care enough to put in the deep thought needed for a great design.

On the other hand, a design maybe massively reworked by someone down the line, in digital or sculptural form, or altered or axed entirely from the film. To deal with that you have to be able to let it go and not care so much.

I have trouble with that and get really invested in my designs. I try to only be involved in a project if I have a great deal of creative control.

What are some art websites you follow?

I follow very few art websites. I check mainly science based sites. I check Boston Big Picture every now and again for a visual wow moment, and I follow Shawn Elliott’s twitter account for hilariously offensive gifs.

What are some good resources for concept designers?

I think the best reference for concept designers is not art or fantasy based at all, it’s real world science, design, technology and natural history.

Regarding District 9: D-9 is a film we love dearly over here, and one of the things I really appreciated was all the weapon and character designs:

What kind of reference material did you use for District 9?

D9 had two major aspects to it’s design.  MNU, and the aliens.  For MNU I referred to contemporary military and mercenary equipment.  Teched out 4 by 4’s and Humvees for the Hiluxes for instance.

For the aliens, I used very little reference other than that which I’ve stored mentally over the years. The weapons ergonomics were checked with real weapons to make sure they could be shouldered correctly, and in the case of the Aliens tech, I didn’t use direct reference, but we (Neill and myself) made allusions to 70’s and 80’s sci fi design.  Chris Foss‘s strong graphic paint jobs were a partial influence also.

Regarding the D-9 pics on your website -do those represent the final selections in a long evolved process, or did your original ideas ended up being closely translated onto screen?

Some are the last note in a multi-pass iterative process, sometimes bearing the influence of a few designers. For others, like the Dropship, it was a first attempt hit.

The Exo suit is my proudest design and one that went through two full and finished, completely different designs. On top of that, there would have been as many as thirty or more designs, completely unique from what you finally see on screen.

I art directed all the builds of props and prosthetics at Weta so the designs where as accurate to the concept as the budget would allow.

Regarding your Dr. Grordbort books:

Can you tell the boys and girls what your Victory book is all about?

Victory is the second Dr. Grordbort’s book I’ve written and illustrated and apart from being a graphic novel of sorts, is a big book of Grordbort propaganda. Even though I wrote it for me, an adult audience of one, I thought of it throughout it’s creation as propaganda for children. Within the Grordbort’s world, it’s function is to indoctrinate young people, to get them to go out and join the armed forces and subjugate our heathen solar system. Part of Dr. Grordbort’s long term plan to strip-mall the surface of all of our neighboring planets.

What do you get out of that process as opposed to the work you do at WETA?

It’s massively more rewarding than regular film work. For me, contributing to an actual film is the least interesting part of the equation. I enjoy the act of making new ideas, and rendering those ideas as images and stories. I enjoy the world building aspect of it. So the fact that Grordbort’s is not yet a film, and may possibly not ever be is of little significance to me.

Obviously I want those sorts of things to happen, but they aren’t the end goal. I really just enjoy building a world like Grordbort’s and the fact that I can manipulate every aspect of it makes it far more satisfying than being a smaller part in the big machine of film making.

That said, D9 was an exception where I was involved to a much more rewarding and deeper level.

Do you ever see yourself making a traditional comic/graphic novel series?

Yeah, I’d love to expand it into more regular and continuous fiction. That will require bringing in new people as there’s only so much I can do with my limited time, but that’s inevitable I think.

What are you reading these days?

I just finished The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins which i liked, and I’ve just started Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson which I’m really enjoying a lot.

What’s next for you/what can fans look forward to?

Well, I really want to do another Grordbort’s book, and the idea for that is crystallizing at the moment. Whatever it turns out to be, it’ll be art heavy.

Behind the scenes at Weta we’re brewing up something big from the world of Dr. Grordbort, but I’m afraid that is top secret.

Would you rather choose:

Simpsons or Family Guy? Simpsons

Godzilla or King Kong? Man! that’s hard! Godzilla

Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan? Damn! that’s even harder.. Bru…no wait..ah shit, it has to be Jackie Chan. I mean Bruce Lee. Fuck this question.

Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson? Easy, Ali.

Dinosaurs or Robots? Shiiiiit…what a cunt of a question. Well, seeing as they’ll be in charge eventually, Robots. No point pissing them ahead of time.

Aside from reading this interview over and over, you can follow Greg on his website: http://www.thebattery.co.nz/, and blog: http://gregbroadmore.blogspot.com/