Q & A with Peter König
3D Concept Art presents an Q & A with a very talented multi-skilled artist specializing in Concept design, illustration and Creature creation, Peter König. He has been around for about twenty-seven (27) years working in production of short and feature films, advertisements and games. For companies like Turtle Rock Studios, 343 Industries, Valve Software, Tippet Studio and many more. He has worked on almost 50 films and many high profile game projects.
He now uses skills and experience to make create concept art and illustration, both 2d and 3d as a freelancer. He also teaches valuable know-how in different workshops. He has been involved in blockbuster projects like Jupiter Ascending, Starship Troopers, Star Trek IV, Jurassic Park and many more. He has done everything from Traditional Sculpting, Moldmaking, Fabricating , Digital Sculpting, Animation, Art Directing and the list doesn’t end there. He has been involved in high-profile AAA game projects like Halo 4, Counterstrike 2, Dota 2, Portal 2, Left4Dead 2 and currently Evolve. He also co-founded Massive Black.
With a pleasure, we present Peter König.
| 3D Concept Art: Tell us about you and how did you become interested in the art of Character and Creature design, and 3D modeling?
| Peter König: → I got interested in all this stuff at a very early age. But when I was 9 or 10 and watching Star Wars, I couldn’t have guessed that this is where I’d end up 30+ years later. In the early years all I wanted to do is create monsters and characters, but for the practical effects world because that was all there was at the time and it was the pinnacle of what you could do. I was inspired by movies like American Werewolf in London and the Star Wars trilogy and that was the world I thought I’d be spending my career in; sculpting, making cool costumes and puppets, makeup effects. But when I was at Tippett Studios in 1991 or 92, Jurassic Park happened and computers were suddenly arriving in the studio and that’s when things really started changing.
I was instantly fascinated but it took a while for me to make the transition into using them. Modeling programs weren’t easy or intuitive back then, so it was a slow process for me to learn the tools and get to the point where I could actually make something usable. I kept sculpting and fabricating stuff for films as I and the programs slowly improved. Nurbs. I’m so glad I don’t have to model with Nurbs anymore. And I wasn’t that great at it to be honest. At the time 3d modeling was so far removed from sculpting with clay and making things with your hands in the real world that for years I was happier being an animator than a modeler. It wasn’t until Zbrush and Mudbox happened that I transitioned into 3d creature and character work more full time. The last clay character sculpt I did for a film was a scanning maquette of a dragon for Disney’s Enchanted.
| 3CA: You have a broad expertise and you work in different fields, how has the transition from traditional artwork to digital affected your ways, your thinking and how has that affected your view of the industry today?
| P.K: → Well, I feel like my thinking is still a bit old fashioned. I think of 3d and Zbrush as I would any physical sculpting or fabrication project. My approach is always as if I’m handing real materials and clay. Sure the workflow is very different, but my mind still thinks of these virtual object as if they are physical. When I start pulling and pushing a sphere around or even when doing 2d concept work, my brain goes back to the original training it had in the real world. It’s hard to explain. I’m sure if I started my career when Zbrush and Maya and the like were commonplace, I’d have a different mindset. So even though I’ve transitioned to the digital world, my mind is still thinking of real world materials and processes. With my view of the industry today, I have this sense that things have gone a bit too far into CG. It’s totally amazing what can be done now. I remember when cloth simulation and fur and skin were these impossible things to do with computers. Now even makeup effects are being taken over by graphics.
I love the technology we have today, but a big part of me misses the days when a spectacular movie felt spectacular and awe-inspiring to watch. I don’t know where this phrase comes from “Now that everything is special, nothing is”, but that’s the way it’s feeling these days. I took my 12 year old to see Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that if it were taken back in time and shown to the twelve year old me, I’d have had a heart attack. When we left the theater his reaction was, “Yeah, it was pretty cool”. So I guess what I’m saying is that since I come from the pre-digital world and have witnessed all the amazing changes, I worry that many movies are kind of losing touch with what surprises and moves people. That since nearly everything can be done and by pummeling people with amazing visuals relentlessly, one movie to the next, we’re losing the ability to create awe and wonder. I’m not sure that entirely answers the question but that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
| 3CA: Where do you get inspiration from and who are your role models?
| P.K: → I still get most of my inspiration from nature – everything from elephants to electron microscope images, undersea life, you name it, it interests me.As far as other artists go, my early influences were guys like Harryhausen, (obviously) , Jim Henson, makeup fx guys like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, old movies like Jason and the Argonauts, King Kong, the original Planet of the Apes, Frankenstein, stuff like that. Star Wars of course. I also loved illustrators like Doug Henderson, Wayne Barlowe, Enki Bilal. I still go back to their old stuff often to recharge my batteries. Contemporaries and colleagues that inspire me and push me to work harder are guys like Darren Bartley (Fight Punch), Paul Richards, Mathias Verhasselt, Daniel Chavez, Mike Bierek, Ian McQue, Sparth….I mean the list goes on. The fact that they all have different skills and styles from mine really helps shake my brain up and I need that often so I’m always checking in with what they’re doing. It’s important to humble yourself occasionally too.
As far as actual role models, the biggest one would have to be my old employer Phil Tippett. He is just a get it done, no bullshit kind of guy. He worked incredibly hard, really knew his craft and made sure you did too. I only know how to do a bunch of different things now because he provided an environment where I could do that. When I started working for him there were only 10 or 11 people there and nearly everyone could do 3 or 4 different jobs really well. And it was expected that you would be good at a bunch of different things and that made me work harder to meet those expectations. There were also times when he took me aside and read me the riot act when I was screwing up or not working to the best of my abilities and even though those were difficult and painful moments, they were incredibly important looking back now. So I owe him quite a lot.
| 3CA:After so many years working in the industry, what makes you still feeling the passion and hunger for still creating, pushing your boundaries, your visions and keep producing high quality artwork?
| P.K: → There’s just a world in my head that I haven’t gotten out yet. Creatively I’m reaching for stuff that’s always just out of my grasp, skill-wise. I don’t feel like I’ve really mastered anything yet. I don’t know if that’s even possible because as soon I think I’ve done something well, I realize I’m actually a fool and that I can do a lot better. And I’ve never finished a project; a film or game or concept or sculpture and said “Aha! I’ve finally done it! This was it! I’ve achieved something!”. It’s just never happens. Or if it did get that feeling, it lasted around 10 minutes. I guess that’s art in general. The joy comes from the doing and learning for me.
| 3CA: Any good advices for artists and students who want to get into the business as a Character and Creature designer within the 3D space?
| Peter König: → Study the real world, real animals, plants, anatomy, traditional, classical painters and sculptors, everything. Try to make things with your hands before you move completely to computers. Keep getting your hands dirty making real things even after you have a 3d job. Try not to ‘only’ look at other contemporaries in your field for inspiration. Also look at the Old Masters of painting and sculpture, photography, old movies, everything you can get your hands on. Try not to follow trends Try not to limit your focus to your specialty, your niche. The broader your skill set and wider your interests, the deeper and more authentic your 3d creations will be. And it’ll help you stay employed as well.
3D Concept Art Community thanks Peter König for sharing his knowledge and advice in this interview. Peter König is an industry legend and have been in the industry for a very long time, doing practically everything. His experience and involvement make a mark in this interview. Hopefully this will help readers to get an insight and enough of understanding about his profession and experience.