CGSociety :: Special Feature
13 April 2011, by Paul Hellard
United Kingdom-based Concept Artist Paul Gerrard was painting in oils and acrylics until around 2001 but he was constantly experimented with the digital medium as well. "I thought, here is a technology that is going to challenge art. Its very nature is that of change and we have to let go of preconceived ideas of traditional art and traditional mediums and just go with it and at least try to evolve the art process via this digital means."
Over the years he'd developed a way of using the digital medium to explore his obsession with detail. An obsession that goes back to the cover artists of the late 80's. Books, magazines, records, games, all created by science fiction and horror artists alike. "I would lose myself in these images, the massive attention to detail and perfection.
At the same time the games genre was turning into a fully fledged industry. This was certainly an influence on my artworks, always a great source of inspiration. Later I started as a 3D artist / texture artist and progressed to art director for some nine years. It was in games that my digital style and technique evolved more with daily practice and creation of textures and overlays. If it wasn't for working in games as my 9-5, my digital art would not have evolved as it did."
Gerrard's break was a late one. This was Battle LA, because it opened his eyes to a career avenue that ticked a lot of boxes for him. "My love of film, detail, mood, style; All coming together," he says. "Before then I had never conceived actually working in film at all, I never joined the dots."
"Working as a concept artist at the very start of the project is fantastic. Usually back then, when the budget is low, ideas are just forming. Working usually with a small team is exhilarating, often just the director and producer.
The inroads to the studios is gradually getting easier as exposure to Battle LA grows but it is still very challenging. Getting the art out there to the directors and studios was very difficult at first. "I trawl the movie web sites daily for snippets of information on films in development."
They hit off very well doing this project, bouncing ideas around on the phone and pushing the art as far as they could. Unfortunately that particular project never got further than the pitch.
Two years later the opportunity came along to work with Liebesman for Battle LA and they both again went full tilt into the pitch artworks. "We came up with the look of the alien pretty early on," explains Gerrard. "For approx four months I created artworks, ships, aliens, scenes from the script and thankfully, we nailed the pitch at every stage."
Midway during pre-production, TyRuben Ellingson was brought on board. "He is as crazy as he is imaginative, absolutely awesome to work with," says Gerrard. "We refined all the elements of how the designs would work in the real world as well work up more intricate ships and weapons . The guy is a real powerhouse when it comes to design, a pleasure and privilege to work with, I learnt a lot from our time on Battle LA."
"My approach to the alien soldier was always that of keeping it creepy. Actually keeping it more horror that science fiction. In the early designs I had these things about 12 foot tall, very thin, very elegant, surreal perhaps, very creepy. As we progressed we wanted to do something even more unique with the legs.
I had it as a bi-ped at first. In the pitch and early designs the legs where very ambiguous. Over the months we played around with a host of ideas from multiple legs and mechanic machines. This must have gone on for about four months. There was plenty of extremely freaky designs but something just wasn't right."
It was the bones that Paul couldn't get out of his head. "I saw this creature as bone, muscle and machine. Seeing all these elements exposed did it for me," he says. "It added a different level of horror I hadn't seen before.
I felt we lost that with all the previous leg designs." He went back to the bi-ped model and pushed the exposed bone shapes. He played around with the spaces in between various bone structures. Negative space in the bones and legs went down extremely well with the team, and so the alien template was born.
"We had a great hook from there on to work with," Gerrard explains. "We later created a more proportional alien design. This leaned more towards a formidable militaristic enemy. They could manoeuvre faster, more efficiently than marines, navigate the landscape with more precision."
"My influences have always had two faces, two personalities to my approach towards creating artwork," Gerrard discloses. "There is a philosophical side, where I hope to challenge the way in which we process ideas.
The way in which we deal with what we are given as reality based thoughts and notions. This is a running theme throughout my art and indeed my life; I have always had a fascination with alternate cultures and belief systems. From wild big brother conspiracy theory's to belief systems such as Shamanism and Buddhism.
I've found it very hard to walk any individual path, I prefer to learn and understand the world around us and not be driven or influenced by any one man-made belief system. I strive to understand what realities are beyond our initial spectrum of sight and translate this into the nature of the artworks. All the while adding and playing with certain surrealist ideals of dream-like states that are evident in such alternate levels."
"The other face is that of film. I can debate the demise of the human soul all night long but I would equally pass the time watching John Carpenter's 'The Thing' or Paul Verhoeven's 'Robocop'," quips Gerrard. Directors such as Paul Verhoven, Clive Barker, David Cronenberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ken Russell all had a huge impact on Gerrard's life.
"I love the vibrancy and visceral nature of film, the mood it can capture. The horror, sci-fi, apocalyptic, cyberpunk, dreams. It does sound like an odd relationship, but for me it works," he adds.
The only elements that Gerrard saw differently to what made it to screen was the 'fusion of the machines'. "I see machines and flesh fused with each other," he says. "It should become difficult to distinguish the two.
I saw bones and mechanical parts working in a symbiotic way, wrapped in layers of muscles. As the design passed through the hands of the sculptors and CG artists, it become more about machines attached or embedded in the flesh. This looks awesome onscreen, particularly the close-up dissection shots."
Gerrard says his art is driven by both personalities. Take the image 'Vampire', a dark look into man's relationship with nature, the ever-carnivorous human need for love and destr
uction yet the image is wrapped up in a movie like still. "The visual nature of the image draws you in and then hopefully it pulls you deeper and opens up new notions, new challenges.
What I feel it comes down to is the nature of art and how it affects others," he says. "An image of a robot in battle does not always represent a robot in battle. I try to look beyond first pass of visual and delve deeper into the mind of the artist. I do feel that with this genre of science fiction and horror, and most people don't do that. They take these images on face value and that is such a shame. Why not have science fiction and horror on the walls of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art?"
In his personal work, Gerrard has kept this approach constant. In his professional life, particularly in games, this approach is near impossible for him, simply because of the nature of the industry, the sheer number of people involved. "Even as an art director, my vision had to adhere to marketing, mainstream culture, the demographic and so on," he says.
"If it was possible to have complete freedom to create a game, I would embrace it wholeheartedly and create something very unique and hopefully inspirational, probably very scary, but I fear that level of control and personal freedom is far from my reach. For film the philosophical and surrealist element of my work takes a step back somewhat, but it is still there. It's a battle of balance when working for film, a balance I am enjoying a great deal."