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Building science-fiction worlds with Wayne Haag & Apple’s “Foundation”

Wayne Haag

Concept Artist and Teacher

Apple “Foundation” concept artist Wayne Haag takes us through his working processes, exploring digitally in 3D and 2D, before explaining about his true love – science fiction oil painting…

Wayne's Artstation

Concept artist Wayne Haag is an Australia science-fiction artist who has worked on a plethora of high-profile projects, from Lord of the Rings to Farscape, and most recently Apple’s Foundation Series. Photography was always  his first love. “Since I was 6, I always wanted to be a photojournalist… that was until I saw Star Wars! That’s when everything changed. Although having said that, the artwork on science-fiction book covers had sparked my interest before Star Wars, and I wondered how I could create these sort of images with photography rather than painting.”

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futuristic cityscape 2d sunset rendering illustration scenery

“Fast forward many years,” continues Haag, “and I was an electronic tech for 6 and a half years, took retrenchment, and went back to school and got my BA in Photography. It was there I discovered Photoshop. It was then I discovered that I could create far more digitally than I ever could with straight photographs. I also wanted to become a matte painter in the film industry by that point and aimed for LA.”

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Haag’s first job in the industry was as a matte painter on The Fifth Element. “Right place right time! I moved back to Sydney and worked on the Farscape TV series, then eventually ended up in New Zealand working on Lord of the Rings. These days I work exclusively in pre-production as a concept artist helping to visualize scenes for Production Designers. When time permits I also paint my own large format science fiction oil paintings. “

pilot vehicles sand plain environmental design illustration scenery 2d
sand plain environmental design illustration scenery 2d

Asimov's “Foundation” series has just released on Apple+, and the producers have created a truly gorgeous world, helped not least by Haag’s work for the show. “The process of concept art can be varied depending on what the Production Designer (PD) is looking for or what needs to be solved. There’s the open blue sky phase which is developing ideas right from the script, and there are more practical concepts that will show how an existing location or portion thereof, will be used in the context of a wider fantastical scene. A lot of concept art is for the greater Art Department to get a grip on what needs building, how much will that cost, and so on. In most cases it’s the first look at a scene beyond the words in the script. Sometimes it’s a fresh look at a scene because an earlier version was too expensive to build or the location impossible to get to.”

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Haag explains that the process can vary, depending on many of these elements, so there’s no one process. “Some common jumping off points are utilizing photographs shot on location by the PD and/or ADs, and they would have to build a world around those photos. That can be accomplished with a combination of 3D and 2D software. I match a 3D camera to the real world camera of the photo and build into that scene. Sometimes I will paint directly in 2D without 3D. The overall look and feel is directed by the PD but the nitty gritty is left up to me to render the scene in a photographically believable way.”

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Do you have a favorite concept piece for the show / one you are most proud of? How does it feel seeing your ideas given life on the screen?

There are many great locations in Foundation, but Haag explains which one is his favorite. “The very first painting I did for the show was the world of Synnax. That was a hit right out of the gate apparently. It’s the one painting I did that translated to the screen more than the others.

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“A lot of the time the ideas I may have incorporated into a scene don’t materialize on screen, some do but others are superseded. From the time I submit a work to the time they have to shoot the scene, there’s all sorts of real world constraints that prevent the production from going with the first idea, so I never get upset when I don’t see my work on screen. It’s a minor miracle that film productions manage what they do every day anyway, so the amount of compromise is on another level. My contribution is to provide options for the PD, ADs and Director to choose from, they are not bound by any of it. I just want to see the show on screen looking spectacular!

cityscape 2d future exterior clean buildings digital art rendering
futuristic library 2d environment scenery concept art illustration digital art

I love your science fiction oil paintings – is this your preferred medium when time is not an issue, or for your personal work? Are you a meticulous planner before setting your brushstrokes or more of a ‘pantser’?

“When time is not an issue,” explains Haag, his true love is his science fiction oil paintings. Looking at them, you are indeed reminded of 60s and 70s science-fiction book covers, that are at once evocative and able to give a small hint of the story. “This is where I get to play and explore light, scale, and sense of wonder. I love the feel of real paint, I love the smell, the tactile nature of it. And I’m very much a planner. I don’t discard a single thing I’ve learned in the film industry, I put it all to good use.”

space planet sand environment futuristic scenery 2d concept art illustration digital art
sand environment futuristic scenery 2d concept art illustration digital art

“I’m very fussy about composition and lighting. Camera point of view is very important for me. Lens focal length even more so. Yes, you read right, lens focal length is very important in my oil painting! If I’m using 3D software as a composition tool, I can dial in the exact focal length, say a 50mm lens or a 28mm or even 200mm. I see more photographically than I do as a pure painter, and 3D software allows me to dial that in precisely. I use that as a rough guide then draw over that for the final painting. Some are pure hand drawn and I have to guess at the lens I’m creating. Once into the painting, there’s plenty of ‘pantsering’ going on!”

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