By Fred Fernando
Concept art plays a major role in the overall look of a film’s world and the characters that inhabit it. Not unlike the process of storyboarding, concept design also happens during the preproduction stage and is responsible for determining minute details of costumes, character, props, and – in the case of a fantasy film – even the background elements such as flora and fauna.
We spoke to artist Roshan de Selfa, also known as @line.demon on Instagram, about the fine art of concept design.
Role of a concept artist
Roshan believes the role of a concept artist is beyond people’s idea of someone who draws or paints well. Tackling an issue and solving it creatively is the task of any creative individual, and concept art too is essentially this. A concept artist is expected to provide artwork which is a creative solution to kickstart a complex production line. Roshan also said that a passion for creating a narrative through his medium is crucial.
As for what sort of experience one needs to become a concept artist, Roshan shared that you need a good understanding of the world around you – nature, architecture, technology, mythology, etc. A healthy layman’s knowledge and interest in these fields will fill your mind with great art.
“In the industry, what you need is technical training and an impressive portfolio. But I think those who are passionate enough to pick up skills and illustrate their wildest ideas can make it just as well.”
How story influences design
As for how Roshan integrates the story into his character design, he insists that character design is inherently visual storytelling. A character’s silhouette, posture, accessories, and body language, when animated, can tell a viewer many things about the character’s history and their motivations. Therefore, he believes it to be of importance to design characters that, despite being an alien or fantastic robot, can be in some way relatable to the audience.
“The job to me is to create characters for a story. The better the story, the more well realised the characters are and the easier it would be for a concept artist to deliver a real living being in a simple sketch.”
Sketching concepts during a pandemic
Speaking on being a concept artist during a pandemic, Roshan said he would spend a fair amount of time at his graphic tablet doodling away. Concept design is something that can be done from any location, and he believes the pandemic might have actually given him more work as planning stages for productions would be happening more often without the ability to physically collaborate during such a time. But he also stated that human contact and the outdoors are necessary for a healthy outlook, since constant isolation can take a toll.
Including Lankan elements in design
The Junkies collaborated with Roshan on The Knight Out, which used his artwork as a basis for designing the Lankanised chess pieces and overall motifs for the film. Roshan reminisced that he was given an idea of the beats and rhythms and crazy action attached to the very sophisticated game that is chess.
“It instantly captured my imagination. I worked with a director and team filled with ideas and excellent feedback. Being someone who personally loves chess (though sucking monumentally at it) and design, I had an interest in designing unique chess sets earlier on. And I got the chance to do so for a bigger and better story than my little doodles. I took inspiration from the traditional Sri Lankan aesthetic and the very cool concepts provided by Akash.”
Collaborating with departments
Roshan is also of the opinion that collaboration is what creates magic and drives innovation. He believes that having a team that works well together and has a passion for their fields and the entire subject helps the entire production be unified in a vision. He stated that seeing work of other departments inspires and excites him, and he hopes his artwork does the same.
When asked for tips for working under budget and time constraints, Roshan revealed that any limitations thrown at him would be welcomed as challenges and sometimes they could end up paving the way for him to provide more creative pathways to address any design issues.
Challenge in the face of concept art
Roshan shared that the challenges faced as a concept artist are largely down to people’s as well as our own perceptions and beliefs around a particular field – in this case, art. Roshan is adamant that the notion of technical prowess or lack of tools should not hold you back.
“Sri Lanka currently has not much in the way of infrastructure for film and game. And so, being a concept artist is not a very lucrative profession. But lately, there have been some interesting projects started by some awesome people and it is very real that they’ll pave the way for everyone else.”
In 2015, filmmaking collective High School Junkies started creating short films out of passion and soon gained momentum as a film production house that championed frugal filmmaking. Their second short EIDETIC became the first ever Sri Lankan film to be screened at San Diego Comic-Con and has subsequently been screened over the world. They host guests from Hollywood on their webinar Junkyard Theory.