Interview With Concept Artist Neil Blevins
This week we’re talking to concept artist Neil Blevins. Neil’s worked in the industry for years and has been involved in some huge projects whilst working at Pixar. Let’s see what he has to say
Hi Neil, you’ve worked in the concept industry for a long time now. Could you tell us about your journey as a concept artist. We’d love to learn about the roots of your artistic nature and how you got to where you are today?
Well, I’ve actually done quite a number of jobs in the art field. I’ve
done asset creation for visual effects and animated features, Digimatte and Illustration as well as concept art. It started as it usually does, with drawing as a kid. Then I got into computers, trying to make my own video games by painting stuff pixel by pixel (this was before the mouse became commercially available). I then by chance started playing around
with an early 3d application, and got really into that field. But I missed the immediacy of being able to paint things, so I adapted my style to a mixture of hand painting, photo manipulation and 3d, the result is basically a giant digital collage. I got a bachelors of Fine Arts in Design Art in Canada, then moved to California where I’ve been working in the art field ever since.
Some artists can be guarded about revealing their techniques, yet you generously share your knowledge and experience with other artists on your website. Could you tell us a bit about your educational material and why you openly share this with the community?
Well, part of it is because other people have shared so much with me, that I feel its my place to continue to pass things along. I see us artists as a giant community, and anything I can do to help us move forward with new techniques and ideas is important. What if I kept all my techniques to myself? I’d make some money, then eventually I’d become old and die, and then that’s it. But if I help the community along, then I get to become a part of something much larger than myself, and in some small way my ideas will continue on long after I’m gone.
Working at Pixar Studios you must have been involved in some pretty interesting projects. Do you have any particular favourites and what’s it like working for such a massive studio?
My favourite project was The Incredibles, although Wall-e’s a close second because its style is the closest the company has come to my favourite genre and aesthetic. The thing I love about Pixar is the people, in general everyone is really supportive of each other, and the culture tries to promote a good life / work balance. And of course there’s so many talented people there to learn from in so many areas.
You can clearly see a lot of Sci-Fi influences in your work. Are there any specific films, games or other media that have had a strong influence on your development as an artist?
Star Wars. I was born 1 year before the first movie was released in theaters, so my entire childhood was all about droids, snow walkers and alien planets. I was also a huge fan of Goldorak, which was a french
translated Japanese cartoon originally called Grendizer. I mean, every week is a big robot fighting a new evil robot. How could you go wrong? Later on I was inspired by the more grittier scifi films such as Alien, Robocop, Predator, Terminator, etc. As far as video games go, most of my earlier inspirations were games available on the Sega Genesis, and then later games like Halo certainly affected my style. I am also a big metalhead, so album artwork from the genre has been a big influence, especially the covers by Dave McKean.
How would you describe your creative processes when approaching a client brief? Do you have a tried and tested method or do you treat each project as its own?
I have a pretty worked out process, the same process I discuss on my website, but then I don’t do every part of the process. For example, I have 6 sketch styles I like doing, but may only do 2 or 3 for a particular project. But the final result is always some sort of combination of 3d, photos and painting, although each project may have a different mix of those 3 elements, depending on what works easiest to achieve a particular result. I am always looking for new techniques or approaches, so my style does change a little over time.
What do you work with in your studio set up at the moment? We see lots of 3D elements in your work. Do you have any preference on hardware and applications?
My main software is 3dsmax for 3d, mudbox for sculpting, the vray renderer, photoshop for painting and Magic Bullet Looks for compositing. But I also use plenty of other stuff for smaller parts here and there. My computer is a PC with a dual monitor setup, one of which is a 24inch cintiq. I’d love to have a bigger set up, but I live in a small house and my computer is in a cramped space in the dining room. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get a bigger house and have a whole art room for me and my wife.
And finally do you have any exciting project coming up that you can tell us about?
On the day job front, I’ve been working these last 5 years on Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”, first doing concept/previs, and then in the sets team making assets for the final film. That should be out this fall. And on the side project front, I have a visual development book called “Inc” that myself and some friends are making. Its a scifi story with a narrative, but is mostly told through artwork, and should be published and out by next summer.
Check out more of Neil’s work on his website