Creating creature concepts for film

Leading concept artist, Jerad S. Marantz, has worked on many titles, from Clash of the Titans to Falling Skies. He gives us a peek into the life of a freelance creature designer.

Leading concept artist, Jerad S. Marantz, has worked on many titles, from Clash of the Titans to Falling Skies. He gives us a peek into the life of a freelance creature designer.

Creature design master, Jerad Marantz was lucky to decide what he wanted to do at a very early age and was obsessed with monsters even as a small child. From the age of thirteen, he studied at a school called school called Associates in Art and was taught by commercial artists.

Landing an internship at a practical effects house called S.O.T.A FX, he tried a little bit of everything mold-making, sculpting, painting, fiberglassing, and more. He came to realize that design was what made him tick.

Final alien design for American Horror Story: Asylum - This is the alien design for American Horror Story season 2. I had a lot of fun doing this for Tinsley Studio

While studying at Pasadena Art Center, Jerad worked towards developing a portfolio to show studios like Stan Winstons or Rick Bakers. Then, after graduating, he got an appointment with Stan Winston and the man himself hired Jerad on the spot!

From there onwards, Jerad has worked on a huge number of awesome films such as Clash of the Titans (Lead Character Designer), Sucker Punch (Lead Character Designer), Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, Green Lantern, Avatar, Amazing Spiderman 2 and The Conjuring.

Final Alien Model Ortho close up - This is a close-up of the model that I did for the alien for American Horror Story season 2

Hi Jerad, thanks for talking to us at 3dtotal! To kick things off, could you tell us a little about how you came to be a concept artist?

I was very lucky at an early age to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. As a child, I was obsessed with monsters and have been drawing them for as long as I can remember. My parents supported me and I bounced around from art class to art class until I found a school called Associates in Art.

At the age of 13, that school was ideal because it was art classes taught by actual commercial artists. While going there I learned that I could make a living designing and sculpting monsters. After taking a few classes, I was able to get an internship at a local practical effects house called S.O.T.A Effects. There I was able to try my hand at many different design techniques and I came to realize it was design that I cared most about.

Final Bloody Face design for American Horror Story season 2 - This is the design that I did with Christian Tinsley for the serial killer in Asylum, season 2

All throughout high school and college I worked on very small projects, doing a few designs here and there, sculpting and drawing. I realized that if I wanted to focus on being a designer, I had to work on my drawing, painting and illustration.

I enrolled in Pasadena Art Center right after high school. The school is an incredible place for design, but at the time they had just started to develop their entertainment department. You could only minor in entertainment design. Going through Art Center, I had only one goal in mind and I wanted to work towards developing a portfolio for studios like Stan Winstons or Rick Bakers. I filled my portfolio with creature designs and sculptures. It was hard to do while still in college because there really weren't any classes to help me in those areas.

Finally, upon graduating from the Art Center, I set up an appointment over at Stan Winston's. Stan himself hired me on the spot and I started working for him. That's when my career really started to take off.

Wrath of the Titans Minotaur concept - This was a concept that I did for the film early on

How much, would you say, of what you know comes from formal education and how much is self-taught?

I learned a lot over the years from going to schools, working with talented artists and figuring out quite a bit on my own. The industry has changed so much since I graduated from school. Over the years I've had to completely change the way I work. When I first started working, I was strictly pencil and paper doing one sketch after the other. Nowadays, I spend a lot of time in Photoshop and in ZBrush.

"the most valuable education an artist can get, once he has a strong foundation, is on the job"

I think all that one can truly hope for when going through a structured curriculum is that they're able to get the foundation that they need so that, down the line, when the industry does change, it's simply a matter of learning a new tool and not a skill like drawing and painting. I wouldn't necessarily say that my education prepared me for what the industry is really like the most valuable education an artist can get, once he has a strong foundation, is on the job.

Unused alien concept for Green Lantern - I did a lot of work on the Green Lantern film. I spent most of my time designing Hector Hammond and the Guardians. This was a concept that I did that didn't make it into the film

Last time we spoke, it was about your article in Digital Art Masters 8. What have you been up to since?

I've been bouncing around quite a bit since my last interview with you guys. I've worked on a lot of fun movies and for a few other studios. I love keeping busy.

Ive worked on several new film projects like Amazing Spiderman 2, Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Metallica Through the Never. They are all great projects and I cant wait to see how they turn out.

I also had a lot of fun on Guardians of the Galaxy over at Marvel Studios. I was there for several months with some of the most talented artist I have ever had the pleasure of working with. That was a great project to be a part of and hopefully I will get a chance to work with them all again soon.

The dark rider - This concept I did for myself for a personal project. I also used this as an opportunity to try doing hard surface modeling in ZBrush

You have worked on some amazing projects; do you have any particular favorites?

I've been really fortunate over the years to work on a lot of different films. The most fun I have, I think, is on the comic book movies. I spent a lot of time as a child reading comics. Being able to re-imagine these characters and design them for films is an incredible challenge.

Clash of the Titans will always stand out as a big moment for me. It was the first big budget film I worked on where I could really see my influence in creatures. I learned a lot on that project and got a lead design credit.

Female alien - I did this image for my creature design class at Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Youve worked on so many awesome fantasy, adventure and horror films; have you always been a film buff or has it come as part of your career?

I've always loved films. When I was a kid, my mom actually started me on all of the Universal horror films all the classic stuff with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price. Films are definitely my number one passion. There's just something so amazing about them and I get more fulfillment working on films than almost anything else. I don't know if I would necessarily call myself a film buff, but a film fan definitely. Oddly enough, I find that the older I get the less picky I've become. After working in this industry for so long, it's actually very hard for me to trash films, since I know how much hard work and sleepless nights goes into making these things.

MetamorFx creature - This is a piece I did for my friend Constantine Sekiris's book MetamorFx

MetamorFx creature orthographic - This is the orthographic view of the model

I loved your concept for Leatherface for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D and the internet has been abuzz with people who wish it had been used. Are you able to explain some of the decisions as to why the design changed?

It was an absolute honor to take a stab at Leatherface. When I'm brought in on a project, I'm not usually the only artist on shows like that. I didn't know that my designs had gotten such a response online. As a concept artist your job is really to help the studio resolve the character. Every artist contributes so that the character can be refined all the way through the process. A lot of the work that I do can influence the final product. They're only a handful of designs that I've done that really look exactly as I intended them to look on screen. It's the decision of the director and the studios that really determine what a character or creature looks like in a film. My job is to simply give them options.

Falling Skies crawlers concept - This is a design that I did for Falling Skies. It's one of many concepts. Though this one wasn't approved it's still one of my favorites

You are now freelancing after working as lead concept artist at Aaron Sims. How have you found this change? Do you have any advice for other people thinking of going freelance?

I've always technically been a freelance artist. When I was working with the Sims Company, I decided to spend the majority of my time there. It was a very comfortable environment and a lot of projects went through the studio that I could work on.

"I would advise an artist wanting to go freelance to first spend some time in a studio"

I decided to become completely independent because I wanted more responsibility. I wanted to deal with the clients on my own and take a greater part in the collaborative process. I also really enjoy going from studio to studio meeting new artists and new directors. It's a lot of fun and I enjoy the freedom of making my own hours.

I would advise an artist wanting to go freelance to first spend some time in a studio. Gain some experience first.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance concept - My first concept for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Final design for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - This is the final design for the character in the film. I had a lot of fun working on this for Tinsley Studio

What is your design process? Are you someone who does lots of research, or does inspiration just hit? Do you sketch on paper or go straight to a computer?

My design process can vary depending on who I'm working with. Usually when I get a call for a design job, the client will tell me what they like about my work. If the client talks about how much he likes my drawings, I'll actually start the process with a bunch of sketches. This has become more and more rare as the years go by. Most of the clients that I work with respond to either my Photoshop or my 3D work. Ideally, I would love to start every design on paper but often there isn't time for that.

I used to spend a lot of time working things out in sketches just for myself before jumping into a model or a painting. Since I have been working with clients for so many years, after getting the description of the character or creature and understanding what the look and feel of the film is, I can get fairly close on the first pass. I'll then get a couple of notes and work on the design from there.

Costume concept illustration is a bit different. When working on a character for a film with a costume designer, the first thing you want to do is get the body and pose down. From then on, you're simply working on top of that image for a while, doing tons of variations until everyone's happy. No matter what I design, everything tends to flow in this manner. Every now and then I'm lucky enough to get the design approved in the first pass but that's rare.

Infantata 3D head and shoulders - This is a model that I did to begin my illustration design of the baby character from American Horror Story season 1

American Horror Story Infantata final design - This was a great character to work on over at Tinsley Studio. It was an incredible challenge and the most fun I've ever had working on a TV show

What sorts of sources inspire your work?
When I'm on the job, what inspires my work is a great assignment. If I am doing a superhero costume or creature design work for film, inspiration comes very easily. Of course not every job is going to be that fun! The trick as a concept artist is to really enjoy the process and the challenge, whether it's a cool character or a shoe. The process of painting, designing and executing those illustrations must be enough to inspire you.

I find that when I'm working I get a lot of my inspiration during the research stage. Every project you start begins with research. If I am lacking motivation before starting the job, I find it during the research phase when I go online looking at different options for what I am about to design. I find my inspiration there.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Koba design - Here's a design that I did for the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was a unique experience because the design did not take that long to get approved. Weta did an incredible job executing this character

When I'm working on my own properties, I pool from all sorts of different inspiration. Music has a big influence on my work. Anytime I'm painting or writing or sculpting, I'll create a playlist that pertains to what I'm doing. I love doing that because it helps me visualize what I am trying to create. The music acts as a soundtrack and I can imagine the characters more clearly, moving and interacting with one another.

The Amazing Spiderman lizard concept - This is a concept that I did for the film. As a comic book geek myself, this was a real honor

Finally, my favorite interview question! What would be your dream project to work on?

That's a hard one. I feel very fortunate working in this industry. The only thing that would be better would be working on my own properties. I've written a couple of treatments and scripts that I eventually hope to get off the ground. If my job was just to design my own projects, I think that could make me happier than what I'm currently doing.

Vampire - This was another Photoshop demo that I did for my Concept Design Academy class. Concept Design Academy is a great school in Pasadena that I've been teaching at for several years

Top tips

A lot of people trying to get into the industry are concerned with the technological side of concept art. They tend to focus more on learning new programs and learning the latest tricks. Though this is valuable, it pales in comparison to having a strong foundation grounded in traditional art.

Find a Path
In the pursuit of becoming a concept artist, knowing exactly what you want to do and which companies you want to work for is imperative. A huge advantage I had entering the workforce was catering my portfolio specifically to getting those jobs that would make me the most artistically fulfilled. A lot of people waste time in school trying to figure out exactly what they want to do and miss out on time that could be best used honeing their portfolio.

Get comfortable and open to criticism. Having your work criticized and judged is a daily activity. Nothing you do as a concept artist is precious. If you can't take criticism and if your ego is too fragile, this is not the job for you. The best thing to do is to find balance. I enjoy working on my own projects when I get home that's the work that I do 100% for me. It's a great way to keep things in perspective.

Finally, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to take part in our interview!

To see more by Jerad Marantz, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 8

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