Wayne Haag - Concept Artist interview

Wayne Haag

Concept Artist and Teacher

Wayne was born in Melbourne, Australia. He received his BA in Photography with distinction at RMIT in 1994 and started his professional art career matte painting on The Fifth Element and Red Corner at Digital Domain in 1996. Most recently he completed concept art for the films, The Wolverine, Maze Runner, Unbroken, Gods of Egypt and Alien: Covenant.

Wayne's website


Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?


My name is Wayne Haag; I’m from Melbourne, Australia and currently living in Sydney. I work as a concept artist for the film industry but I also teach Color & Light. My background was in industrial electronics with the Department of Defence, including a full top secret security clearance to boot! Photography came next in the form of a Bachelors of Art which I graduated from in1994.

That course was a means to becoming a matte painter as I’d been experimenting with compositing photo elements together using Lith film as a mask on a pin registration board. This was how the SFX guys used to composite films like Star Wars before digital compositing - photo chemically, but I discovered Photoshop v1.5 and gave up the darkroom right there and then!

My first gig in the film industry was working on The Fifth Element at Digital Domain in 1996. These days I also paint large size science fiction oil paintings which is what I really love doing - assuming I have time.


Who were your biggest influences as child? Who are your biggest influences now?


The Terran Trade Authority series of books started it all for me when I was a kid in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Jim Burns, Chris Moore, John Harris, Time White, Chris Foss, Peter Elson, et al. I just loved those artists and the TTA books and I still have them. That golden era of mostly British sci-fi art blew my mind, still does. Spacewrecks is my favorite which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

I was also into euro comics so obviously Moebius was top of the list there. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to discover many obscure illustrators of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, mostly US based that are just fantastic artists.

concept art, futuristic, ship

Sky Burial #2
This is the second oil painting in the ship breaking saga.

concept art, ship, futuristic, pencil sketch, rocky, atv

Rendezvous - Detail
An enlarged detail from the oil painting.

concept art, ship, futuristic, pencil sketch, rocky

Kunzum La - Gouache study
A gouache study for a larger oil painting.

concept art, ship, futuristic, pencil sketch

Pencil Sketch 1
A small pencil sketch for the ship breaking series.


You’ve worked on some huge projects (The Fifth Element, The Lord of the Rings, The Wolverine, Alien: Covenant) what was that experience like?


The Fifth Element was my first film industry experience and still my best. The LOTR production was the beginning of my understanding that VFX wasn’t the area for me and that matte painting as an art form was dying. A lot of film is design by committee these days and VFX at the back end has lost the craftsman attitude that artisans still had on Fifth Element.

This is why I went into concept art at the pre-production phase. Here no one cares how you paint, what tools you use, as long as you paint and create compelling images; that’s infinitely more interesting to me. The Wolverine and Alien Covenant were both great films to work on because of that; excellent Designers, AD’s, artists, everyone encouraging everyone else - awesome!


What medium do you work in, both for work or personal projects?


For my commercial work, which is mostly film I use digital tools, Photoshop and Maya. I have started Introducing Procreate into my workflow too. My personal work as I mentioned earlier is oil painting. While the end result is obviously traditional, I do use digital tools as and when I need for my traditional painting work. I’m happy to use whatever tool I need to get the work done.


How do you get into the “creative zone?” Do you prefer a particular place or time of day?


In the film industry you learn to turn it on regardless! Concept art is easier in that regard as the script informs us of the scene, the environment, time of day, emotional state etc., so it doesn’t take long to find the inspiration.

My approach is to find photographic realism for any given shot, as that is how the film will look, so my inspiration can also be technical, in that I’m looking for a photo optical look. Finding the right composition and lighting is what drives me more than the content.


Which piece of work are you most proud of? Why?


One of my oil paintings, “Sky Burial #2.” It was a watershed moment for me and set the stage as it were for my personal direction with that series of work. It’s not perfect, but it was the first time my artistic compass needle pointed at true north. I just need to stay on course now! It was also shown at the Spectrum Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York City in 2016, selected by Greg Manchess so I was very happy with that!


How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?


My portfolio isn’t adjusted very often these days.

Tips; never put anything in your portfolio you don’t want to do, and less is more. Don’t jam twenty images in if you only have ten great images; just go with the ten, dump the rest. And be ruthless: only the best you’ve managed at that point.

futuristic, ship, rocky, concept art

Sky Burial #1
This is the first oil painting in the ship breaking saga.

futuristic, ship, rocky, concept art, pencil sketch

Pencil Sketch 2
A small pencil sketch for the ship breaking series.

futuristic, ship, rocky, concept art,

Desert Wreck - Detail
An enlarged detail from the oil painting.

futuristic, ship, rocky, concept art, machine, mechanical concept

A small oil painting study on paper.

futuristic, ship, rocky, concept art, pilot

Sky Burial #3 - Detail
An enlarged detail from the oil painting.

futuristic, concept art, space man, space suit, astronaut, helmet

Oil painting on paper, cover image for Interzone magazine #250


How important do you think formal education is working as a professional artist?


Tricky question as a lot of art schools are expensive and not worth it. The school I teach at is not accredited (yet) and we produce far better students because we aren’t hamstrung by useless bureaucratic interference. We teach actual fundamental skills and not software – or tips and tricks! Universal skills and knowledge can only ever help you.

Our students arrive without knowing what they need to know. They leave with structure, tools that empower them for the rest of their artistic life and the ability to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses for the future.

Yes, it is important but preferably not from expensive and or bad schools following some government sanctioned curriculum. You want to learn from active working artists in the industry, not dusty old teachers that haven’t picked up a brush in twenty years. Obviously for those that cannot afford structured tuition, there are a lot of resources online to get you going.


What are your artistic ambitions?


To be able to paint full time without sweating over finances or worrying about where I’m going to live!


What can we expect to see from you next?


More oil paintings time permitting. The paintings are actually a means to an end as I want to publish a large format illustrated book. Science fiction of course, possibly made up of short stories or a novella - Large, lush, full of paintings.

The story is from the perspective of an artist who lived through certain times in a certain place and was witness to events that shaped his society. We as readers of the book are three-hundred years beyond those events so looking back at an artist’s history and their work. I’m also looking into that world becoming a game of some sort but not the kind you would expect.

Apart from that I hope to continue working in film and I am also starting to produce tutorial videos in color and light.

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