Pacific Rim opened up last weekend to enormous fanfare and opening gross numbers. Many people will go and enjoy the film without thinking much on the process and work involved by illustrators and concept artists. Enter Frank Hong. What an honor it was to talk with the man whose resume is filled with successful Hollywood movies from Pacific Rim, to Oblivion, to 2014’s Godzilla. It’s always a treat to pick the brain of a creative who has the opportunity to work on films, so we sit down with Frank and ask him a variety of questions pertaining to art, film, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Can you please talk us through how you create your images, from an initial idea to a final piece of concept art?
Frank: I usually start my images with a simple black and white sketch called thumbnail, and depending on how complex or unclear the direction is I may have to do a dozen of these thumbnails. Since I’m often designing for production, efficiency is very important because we don’t get a whole lot of time for each step. Roughs and thumbnails will get immediate feedback from the Production Designer, gaining a more detailed direction to proceed forward. A lot of photo references will be pooled for creating the concept, these generally have approval or feedbacks from the PD, given some are closer to what we like than other. The actual painting part of the image happens quite rapidly. Photoshop is a great versatile tool for this as we work with a lot of custom brushes and photographs. This pipeline allows for maximum speed and everything can and should be done within a day with some exceptions. After the image takes shape I will receive feedback and revisions from the Director, and PD. These may take anywhere from a day to a week to iron out, during which time I will have started the next piece of concept.
You’ve done quite well for yourself in the past two years since graduation. What was your post-grad plans and how did you bring them to fruition?
Frank: I was really lucky to be involved in some of the dream like projects soon after graduating from Sheridan, I always had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t have imagined how things would have gone better. I met Guillermo Del Toro during FanExpo 11’ when he came by my table in the Artist Alley. He stops to look at my artworks and we chatted a little about them. I had no idea this meeting would have been a life changing one for me because it took awhile to sink in in my head about what exactly happened. To be honest I didn’t recognize Del Toro at first sight, only to realize after he bid his goodbye and people starts to ask him for autographs and photos. Del Toro asked me for my card and had me write my number on the back. This reminds the most surreal experience in my career, because the day after Fan Expo ended, I get a call from Pacific Rim. He pulled me straight out of a dying game company into one of the biggest feature films of the year, for that I will be eternally grateful. That had been a great kickstart to my career in film.
Tell us a bit about your involvement with Pacific Rim and how you contributed to it.
Frank: I was an Illustrator/Concept Artist for Pacific Rim Art Department. along with a few colleagues and our Production Designer Andrew Neskoromny, we were responsible for illustrating all the designs and looks of the movie. We were able to generate the world of Pacific Rim to Guillermo Del Toro’s vision, ranging from busy market streets in future Hong Kong, to the heavily guarded Jaeger base called the Shatter Dome. Everything has to be designed and illustrated by the members of the Art department.
There is a big nod to Neon Genesis Evangelion with the film. Are you an anime fan? Any favorites?
Having worked on short film project were these the types of projects that allowed you to work on big blockbusters? What kind of film work did you do prior to Pacific Rim?
Frank: Before Pacific Rim I had the opportunity to work design on Godzilla (2014) and an unannounced movie, along with a number of console game since I was primarily employed in the videogames industry. Fortunately my jump into film had happened as a sort of happy accident as I have explained earlier. I think what has allowed my art to capture Guillermo Del Toro’s attention was the type of worlds I was depicting in my paintings. I knew from a start that I was going to be more of an environment artist; when my peer were exploring character design and animation I knew I didn’t have an advantage competing with them, so I decided to take up this field of creating spaces and environments that provokes the viewer’s imagination, to draw them in as if they were standing in the paintings themselves. The pieces that had gotten me more work in the past has mostly been my personal artworks, and piece from clients serves as a reassurance that I can calibrate to the production needs professionally.
What is your print selling process like? I know you participate in Artist Alley’s and was wondering how you decide which artwork to sell and how this process benefits you as an artist?
Frank: Selling prints in Artist Alley is a fantastic way to be more involved with the arts community, I personally had been doing it for as long as four years. It’s a great motivation to create and express personal artworks, arts that weren’t created for clients. It benefited me from constantly giving me an urge to paint more, everyday, non-stop. Because when I was involved in the community, I feel like I’m not alone on this path. The people I met and befriend in conventions and the artists sitting next to me provides constant motivation for me to get better, and more “popular”. It’s a scene I eventually grew out of but I will remember the experience vividly for the it made me a better artist in a hurry.
You do Matte-painting, concept, animation and many other mediums. Describe your evolution as an artist and how you find balance as a multi-disciplinary artist.
Frank: We live in an age where competition is so fierce and in order to find work we as artists would need to be BETTER than the guy we aim to replace in the field. That guy who already has years of experience and connections versus you and I. The industry was not getting bigger in the past two years, and it was him or me for the position. I was never a multi-disciplinary artist by choice, if I had it my way I’d only paint concept designs and let everyone else worry about making it happen. For the past while I had worked in Matte-Painting for Oblivion, The Mortal Instruments, Copper, Hannibal and some unannounced shows. These jobs will fill the void when I’m not working in design. And I teach a matte-painting class in a college locally in Toronto. The balance will come naturally when I’m trying to fill up any down time, as a working professional I have to constantly adapt to new work environments and odd jobs/offers. I do not have this down yet but keeping busy is the best way to stay afloat.
Another film you worked on was Oblivion. How was that journey and were you pleased with how that film come out?
Frank: I interviewed with Pixomondo when I was graduating from Sheridan, it was a great interview and I was asked to come in. It wasn’t until a year later when our schedule finally worked out and I was able to put on a brand new film they were working on. That turned out to be Oblivion. This was one of my first Matte-Painting experiences for feature film, and there was a lot to learn. I had a great mentor on the show Slav Kravchenko, we’ve become friends after dumping in countless hours at the office chugging out mattes after mattes. There were certainly bumps and obstacles along the way but I really appreciate Pixomondo for providing me with this valuable and fun experience, the end result is another satisfying piece of memory and an great start in my career in Matte-Painting.
Any projects coming out that you can talk about that you are apart of?
Frank: I wish I could, but I will have to contain my excitement and wait for the official release.
Lastly, any advice for any creative out there?
Frank: Advice is pretty cheap, but I want to remind the creatives out there to take a good hard look at the industry and decide if this is what they want to be a part of for the rest of their life. If the answer is yes then start doing things tactically. Many people will work for a lifetime without hitting their dream position, if you want it bad enough, formulate a plan to get there, and ignore anything that distracts you from achieving your goals. If you want to be a world class concept artist, paint EVERY DAY and paint smart! it will not happen in a day, a year or five years. Goals are set far because they take time, no one was born a good artist, and we all go through the grind. Athletes train everyday to excel in their field, racecar drivers train everyday to sharpen their lap-time by fraction of a second. Artists are no different, it’s a skilled trait that needs hours and hours of grind that eventually settled into 2nd nature. The good thing is once you’ve got it in you, no one can take it away from you.
Want to keep tabs on all of Frank’s projects past, present, and future? Visit his cookie crumb trail below: