John Giang is a concept artist / illustrator currently at Industrial Light and Magic. The team behind some of the worlds biggest blockbuster movies, he has an impressive resume of projects in addition to his great illustrative career. In addition, he is also a graphic designer who has worked in video games and comics. What can John NOT do? Read below for the full interview…
So, this is kind of eerie. We interviewed Vong Yonghow who worked at Industrial Light & Magic who worked on the EXACT same filmography as you. Then it hit me that this can’t be a coincidence lol. Tell us a bit about working for ILM.
John: Well, needless to say, working at ILM is an absolute dream come true. That dream started with the movies obviously, and me playing with my old Star Wars toys. Then years later gawking over the works of Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston and Doug Chiang. And now I feel overwhelming awe just to be a small part of the ILM legacy. With that being said, ultimately it’s a job. So when it comes down to it, I have to contain that sense of awe to get stuff done. In our case the ‘job’ not only needs to be done, but also done with exacting technical prowess and inspired beauty. Still, once in a while I’ll be walking down the halls and see props and artwork for some of the most memorable cinematic experiences in our lifetime… I can’t help but smile!
Is even getting to that route of working on major motion films a tough road, starting from a university level and beyond?
John: Well, I can only speak for myself and my own experiences. I would say it was pretty tough as an artist and illustrator to ‘break in’. Aside from the basics that every good artist should have, such as ability and pure talent, it’s really important to have perseverance. We get challenged as artists in many ways. Each line, each color, composition, which piece to work on, are all decisions and challenges to overcome. On top of all that there’s the grind of breaking in, which is something that needs constant attention and comes with its daily wins and losses. So, it’s easy to be pushed and pulled on and off our artistic paths. The persistence and determination of keeping the eye on the prize is one of the most important talents us artists should have.
We were actually at ComiKaze and it was really interesting to see the stable of artists who believe in making convention appearances generates a bigger buzz for their work. Do you believe that these types of exhibitions help you in your career? And if so, what is the strongest aspect of it (fan interaction, getting more work out there, etc.)?
John: Definitely, all of the above! Aside from the gallery shows and having an online presence, displaying at cons has allowed me to expose my personal work directly to those most excited about it. Whether it’s fans, other artists, and various industry professionals. In fact, a big part of getting my break with ILM came from being noticed at a convention. And as I’ve always said, we as artists often work in quite isolated sort of ways. It’s always nice to get opportunities to share what we’re passionate about!
What is the biggest challenge between conceptual design and basic illustrating. What kind of demand is there on you when it comes to designing rather then illustrating?
John: Yeah, they definitely do have their own sets of unique and specific challenges, as well as a lot of crossover. Fundamentally, the term design, whether that be graphic, to industrial, to concept design, the goal is to solve a problem or provide answers. Kinda like what’s the best design for a mechanical toothbrush to what kind of alien design looks best on film, that also meets these specific needs of a script and production. The outcome often addresses those questions and is visually compelling. With illustration (especially with my own personal works) the focus is on style and to an even greater degree the aesthetics of a piece. At the end of the day both are intended to evoke an emotional response, which is usually ‘damn that’s cool!’
Tell us a bit about Orbital Harvest, and how that venture came to be, aside from your main work.
John: Orbital Harvest is the brand and studio name I’ve come up with to represent my personal work. To some extent I try to keep a balance between my film work and own personal endeavors. The general idea behind the name comes from my experiences as a designer and artist. The best outcomes in design and art usually comes from a mutual exchange of ideas and interactions between all parties involved. Between the client and artist. Between the artist and the work. Between the work and those who experience it. The Harvest is the outcome or good productiveness that can generally come from these successful exchanges. Harvest also is in homage to some film references that I love!
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
John: I love all kinds of films. Specifically in terms of Asian cinema, I’ve always been a huge fan of Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou, and Joon-Ho Bong. I love House of Flying Daggers, The Road Home, The Host, Joon-Ho Bong’s segment in Tokyo!, and Days of Being Wild, 2046, and I totally adore In the Mood for Love. I’m eager to see what Wong Kar Wai does with The Grand Masters. Anime-wise, of course I love most Miyazaki films. I’ve always loved Akira, anything Macross (well maybe with the exception of 7…), Ninja Scroll, Samurai Champloo, Grave of the Fireflies, and Wings of Honneamise. I like to think that my personal art style is an amalgam of many influences, but I still remember my first visceral reaction to any sort of art form and it was anime. Very early on I got hooked on stuff like Space Battleship Yamato, Gatchaman, again Macross, and later Voltron. Ah, such fun stuff!
Ten years ago you worked as an art director for one of the biggest websites (eBay). What was it like working for the internet in the early 2000s and how has web practices differed in todays age from a design/UI standpoint?
John: Wow, ten years ago already!? Yeah, all of my various graphic design tours of duty at eBay and other design houses have all been great experiences. But my eBay stint was a great period of growth as a designer and art director. Here’s a company, whose brand has been integral to its success, and during my time there I was able to help refine that tradition in some of the branding work itself. In addition to the branding, I also helped guide the marketing. And lastly I was able to help out on major user interaction tools such as My eBay and eBay Stores. Things have always moved fast in web based design, but now with the advent of mobile and user focused technology, things seem to be accelerating at light speed these days. Even back then, the primary goal was to bring people together easier, more efficiently and with great fun. Now, companies absolutely hinge on that idea. The spirit of experimentation and innovation is gonna yield some pretty crazy things in our time!
A lot of your concepts surround the theme of armor and armor based objects. Why do you gravitate towards this subject matter?
John: I think this comes as part of a combination of the things I’ve always visually loved. I dig hard surface and machine based designs. I’m a tech nerd. I love medieval designs, such as knights and other battle adornments too. So I guess I ended up developing a style, where often times my subject matter seems technologically advanced and hardware based, but is brimming with the life and energy of characters and creatures. At the end of day, it’s just cool looking!
Many of the films you worked on are in stages of sequel development. Do you look forward to joining the continued story lines of your past works or do you desire to work on new projects?
John: Um, a little of both. Not to sound noncommittal in answering the question, but with all the films and artwork that I’ve done, I know that there’s always a unique set of challenges and opportunities that I look forward to. I also like to think that my interests are wide and varied, which makes most potential projects very exciting.
Lastly, any advice for any creatives out there?
John: Love what you do and keep on it. Tough as it gets. Take in all there is to take in from the art form and community itself. Also never forget to learn from the world around us and just life in general. Then finally give back. Give back in inspiration, instruction, or whatever it may be. Continue to foster and grow the Harvest…
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