This is the transcript for the podcast episode Interview With ‘Ender’s Game’ & ‘Spider-Man’ Concept Artist Robert Simons (Part 2) :: ArtCast #80To listen to the podcast click here.
Chris: This is Chris Oatley’s Art Cast, episode 80 – an interview with Robert Simons, concept artist for Ender’s Game and The Amazing Spiderman 2, part 2!
Hello my friends, and welcome to another episode of Chris Oatley’s Art Cast, the show that goes inside the hearts and minds of successful professional artists. I’m Chris Oatley. I was a visual development artist at Disney before I quit to start my own online art school – The Oatley Academy of Concept Art & Illustration. Find more art instruction and career advice from some of the most inspiring voices in animation, games, comics, and new media at ChrisOatley.com. That’s ChrisOatley.com.
Robert Simons’ career in concept art began before he even graduated from art school. His designs for an indie sci-fi short called Project Arbiter demonstrated artistic maturity beyond that of the average nineteen year old artist which opened doors to the Vfx industry. Now in part two of our interview, Robert and I discuss sketching on mobile devices, what it’s like to see your concept art come to life on set, the ups and downs of epic personal projects, and his experience working on Ender’s Game and The Amazing Spiderman 2.
When did you start working digitally?
Robert: Let’s see, I was lucky in the fact that when I was growing up probably around 13 or 14, I started working…I was working between digital and then also working with markers and colored pencils. And the reason I started working digital is my brother Rikki Simons, he’s a voice actor/illustrator, and he was working on my show when I was a kid called Invader Zim.
Chris: Oh man.
Robert: Yeah. Well he did the voice of Gir in that show but he also did a large part of the backgrounds you see throughout. He’s sort of the one that set the style for the coloring of Invader Zim when it came to the backgrounds. And he always pushed me to use digital media because he said that was the future of art, and it was never going to go backwards, that you have to keep pushing forward, you have to keep learning new technology like 3D and stuff like that. He brought me programs like Bryce 5 and then he also…like early 3D stuff, and he’s like, “You need to learn this stuff.” And so I did start to learn it back when I was like 13 or 14 and I was terrible at it, but it wasn’t until I was like probably 16 or 17 where I started to feel like I knew Photoshop like the back of my hand even though I wasn’t that good at Photoshop, I felt like I understood everything that was laid out in it at least. And that was all because my brother, like he helped push me in the direction of digital media and now that’s all I use is digital media. It’s sad to say but I actually don’t mind it, I haven’t used paper in probably like two or three years. Everything I do, I have a Cintiq that I draw on so it’s like drawing on paper and I also have a cell phone that has, it’s a Samsung Galaxy Note, it has a pen on the back of it that pops out and you can actually draw on that as if it’s like a notepad.
Chris: I’m a fan of the Cintiq obviously, I’ve talked about that quite a bit on the show and I love that I still have to sketch. I do sketch digitally but I also have to just have that tactile experience of sketching on paper for my own sanity. But I haven’t talked about this formally yet, I need to do a real blog post with a full on review and everything, but I have not found a stylus for the iPad that I’m a fan of.
Robert: There’s one that I keep wanting to try but I gave my older iPad to my nephew and I haven’t bought a new one yet. But Wacom actually makes a pen now.
Chris: It’s okay.
Robert: Oh, you bought it?
Chris: It’s okay, it’s the best of all of the options. I’ve tried the Jot and the Pogo and it’s best one but you know…still…
Robert: I’m convinced it’s not so much that pen technology, I think it’s the software that is being written for these portable devices. Even though the software is pretty damn good, there’s just not a Photoshop out there for that. Like there is Photoshop for the iPad, but it is like…
Chris: It’s barebones.
Robert: It doesn’t have all that information in there and it’s just…I tried using it and I just feel so handicapped when I try using it. The only program I’ve been able to use that’s somewhat decent is SketchPro. It comes natively with the Galaxy Note but it’s by Autodesk and they sell it on iPad and stuff too. But if you download SketchPro, I belive that program works with Wacom sometimes, or I think the program upgrades itself if you have that pen installed on the iPad and you can actually draw with the same sensitivity that you can draw with your Cintiq. I just don’t think you can paint with the same sensitivity because I don’t think the program has that in its nature but I think the drawing aspect is there so you get all the line weight control and all that stuff. So yeah, look up SketchPro from Autodesk.
Chris: Did you have any type of influence in the actual film aspects of Arbiter, did you go on set, anything like that? Or were you mostly kind of, Mike would call and you would send him art?
Robert: Well early on, yes it was very much that, but when he actually filmed I wanted to be on set really bad because it was actually the first time that I was on set for something. I never had been on set before and I love being an illustrator but I hate the fact that I’m always locked inside of a room that’s dark. I love, love very much being out in the field, and actually being involved in it. So me and my girlfriend both went out there when they were filming Arbiter and we helped in so many ways that we could. And then it was lucky we were out there because the day of, they freaked out and they realized that they didn’t have plans for the Arbiter suit, like the way the plans would look during that time and so…
Chris: That’s awesome.
Robert: They were just like…yeah if you watch the film, there’s plans like right in the beginning of it. Mike came to me and was like, “Uh Robert, we need you guys to draw up some plans for the Arbiter suit.” So me and my girlfriend, like the next day they were going to shoot it, so that day me and my girlfriend just drew up the plans for the Arbiter suit and we had one of the other guys on the film too help us out and he helped write everything in German that went onto those plans. And then they just ran off to Kinkos and printed it real fast and then had it for the next day.
Chris: So what was it like to see this suit for the first time? Where were you and what was that experience like?
Robert: Oh man, yeah, when I saw the Arbiter suit for the first time, that blew my mind because that was the first thing I ever designed that actually got built. And I think I was twenty when I went to actually see it finally because it was 2010, and like the first time I saw it I like stepped on and they had it laying in the back, it wasn’t even on a person yet. And I was like, “Oh my god! There it is!” And my friend, I was the one who got him the spot as the lead in Arbiter, Lex Cassar. If you look him up, he was there. He was like, “Yeah, let me put it on.” So he got dressed up in the suit and it takes like an hour to put the thing on because there’s so many parts, but he’s totally cool like that. Like he’ll just suddenly go do something, and then I just stood there and we took photos together, like him in the Arbiter suit.
Chris: Oh that’s awesome!
Robert: Posing next to it like a geek! Like yeah, check it out! I designed this thing!
Chris: Oh man, that’s great. And then, seeing it in action on set?
Robert: That was crazy too just seeing that thing run around and like oh my god, it’s moving! Wow! I never thought of that, like one thing I was doing too is I wanted to make…if Mike ever gets the chance to make the future film, there’s actually a 2.0 version of that suit that no one else has ever seen yet. If you go to my website, the helmet is on the website, you’ll see that it has different apparatuses and stuff on it and that the helmet is mostly made from leather now. It still has steel plates but that underneath part is all leather.
Chris: Yeah, it’s wicked.
Robert: The new suit though, if Mike ever shows you sometime, is actually mostly all leather too. And we did that because the suit itself constricted Lex a lot when he was running around out there in a lot of areas. So I was learning a lot when he was running around as to what you can’t have in certain areas because it just restricts the actor’s movement and the suit will break if you have stuff there. And so that helped me make the 2.0 version which is a very realistic suit now because it’s designed in a way where a person could do all the things they need to do but it will still protect them.
Chris: Wow, that’s amazing. And in fact, it just makes you all the more of an asset from a VFX standpoint in being a lead or moving up to a directorial role even just within the industry.
Robert: Yeah, I mean I love learning in general, I love learning as much as I can about every little aspect of a film. Like going back to momentum a little bit, that was partly one of the reasons why me and Peggy really wanted to do it, because you know, what do I do because I really do want to move my career towards directing now. And do I really want to try to go to another college or worse yet maybe go back into Art Center again after all these things happened there and go into directing? And we talked about it for a long time, we’re like well look, either we go back into school and make films we don’t want to make because the teacher is going to give you assignments or we just make a new college education for ourselves and go make the films we want to make so that one day we can do what Mike is doing and that’s hopefully pitch these things as future films and actually go an extra step. And so that was the route we decided to take, so what’s been great about art center is, I love the school. It really helped me define who I am when it comes to how I work and that part was invaluable about art center. And now I was able to use that towards making my own education which is now directing, filming, all these other things. And I’m able to stay pretty tightly on schedule with everything and I’m pretty crazy about schedule if you ask anybody else on Momentum because I constantly email them every day to make sure that things are going on time and are still happening because there is a deadline for things. No matter how much an art piece it is, I feel like there has to be a deadline because if you miss that deadline, you might miss the opportunity to catch something that’s going around in people’s minds.