Conceptual Design: A Conversation with Christian Lorenz Scheurer
|Christian Lorenz Scheurer is a concept artist and illustrator whose first published book is entitled Entropia: A Collection of Unusually Rare Stamps. In the realm of games, he has contributed during the conceptual stages of Final Fantasy IX and Lost Odyssey. Today Square Haven talks with the visual artist and filmmaker about a few of his experiences designing videogames and motion pictures.|
Christian Lorenz Scheurer is a concept artist for films and video games. The son of a zoologist and visual artist, he lived in many countries throughout his childhood, from South Africa to the Seychelles Islands. He studied math and science in Liestal, Switzerland and went on to enroll in art in Brussels, Belgium, where he won the prestigious Philip Morris Award for his graphic novels. His artwork aided the conceptual stages for such films as The Fifth Element, Titanic, and The Matrix. In the realm of Square's videogame series, he contributed to the concept and matte art of Square's vignette for The Animetrix called "Final Flight of the Osiris." His other game design entries include Final Fantasy IX, Spore, and Mistwalker's upcoming role-playing game Lost Odyssey.
The artist's illustrated book Entropia: A Collection of Unusually Rare Stamps recounts an epic struggle for power between Entropia's beneficent Queen Pingo the Young and tyrannical Childish Robot Czar. The story includes sketches of the world's diverse array of inhabitants, from the brave gondoliers who sweep precious firefish plasma from the waters of Takashiro Bay, to the youngster outcasts who matriculate as students of alchemy and palm-reading to the Institute for the Occult and Bizarre. Today the author talks with Square Haven about his career as an illustrator and storyteller of visual media.
Square Haven: Your educational background in Liestal, Switzerland is in math and science. Can you tell us how this training informed your work as an artist and illustrator?
Christian Lorenz Scheurer: One aspect of the math and science program in Liestal emphasized something called "Geometrical Drawing," which consisted of drawing 3-D objects in three-plan views. I find this very useful even today when I am working on architecture and when I am breaking up objects into volumes.
I also really like algebra and other logical systems - these systems today inform a lot of my storytelling and thinking in general. As a young kid, I started to program "Basic," and today I see a lot of parallels between linear storytelling and computer programming.
Haven: In interviews you have mentioned your interest in the artwork of MC Escher and HR Giger. Both figures seem to share a fascination with exploring the limits of the imagination through their mathematically precise sketches.
CLS: One of the things I have learned from Math and Science is that the more you explore the limits of provable logic, the more you also have to admit that the inexplicable exists. It is exactly in the field of science that the borderlines between the provable/palpable and the spiritual are defined.
In design work such as in Giger and Escher, the interdisciplinary relationship between art and science becomes visible. My early exposure to Giger's art first opened my eyes to the work of conceptual design.
Haven: You were schooled in figure drawing during your education in Brussels, Belgium, while your computer graphics and design skills are self-taught. What would you say are the advantages of these different methods of instruction?
CLS: I personally think that it is very important today to learn more "academic" artistic subjects such as anatomy, life-figure drawing, art history, etc. in an academic institution; however "technical" skills (and in this category I include everything from watercolor to Photoshop to Maya) can be just as easily picked up in a self-taught environment.
In an artistic institution, if the program and teachers are inspiring, one can learn a multitude of disciplines in a supportive environment with a community of like-minded people. Also, art school can give one more time to develop one's artistic skills in a very focused way.
Haven: The conceptual designs you contributed for Final Fantasy IX's theatership were a new take on the famed airships of the series. How was this novel approach to the dirigible attained?
CLS: For the theatership, I was at first only handed a very small sketch done by my quite brilliant art director, Minaba-san. My job was to design all the elements, turning a small lead-pencil sketch into a full-blown design.
One of the approaches that I took which differed from the approaches on previous airships was to to use "combinatory play," making the top of the ship reminiscent of a Versailles-style chateau while the lower half remained an aged mahogany barge-like structure. This idea of combining two different design languages into one ship broke traditional form for the Final Fantasy airship designs, which were for the most part solely wooden structures.
Initially, this break with tradition created quite a stir, but follow-up Final Fantasy games seemed to have adopted this design and integrated it into more recent airships and galleon figures.
Haven: Do you see more recent game systems as being better platforms for allowing players to interact with art forms such as those that you create.
CLS: In my opinion, the highest level of game player immersion was reached for 2-D games with Final Fantasy IX. Ever since, technology has been trying to catch up in the realm of full 3-D realtime games. At this point, I think that full 3-D games are matching the beauty of the high-end 2-D games . . . or in some cases, even surpassing them.
Haven: Matte art and concept art for "The Final Flight of the Osiris" lent some of the dreamlike atmosphere of Final Fantasy to the dystopian future of The Matrix. What were some of the challenges involved in approaching this artistic project?
CLS: As the Matrix was a pretty well-established universe, it was challenging to on one hand respect the already-existing design language of the Matrix while creating something completely original and new. The "Real World" in the Final Flight of the Osiris, of which I was assigned to pre-visualize, was basically a destroyed world. We started by thinking how would people in the future live, and then we created these giant monolithic cities, which are featured in the concept and matte art for the film.
The war-torn look of these megastructures was a result of the thinking that the populations of the Real World were finding refuge in these superstructures, away from the constant barrage of Sentinel attacks. The pock-marked look of these buildings reflected their ravaged state and the history of constant terror within the Real World.
Haven: What can you tell us about the world of your book Entropia?
CLS: About one year ago, I sold the rights to my first book, Entropia: A Collection of Unusually Rare Stamps, to a major Hollywood production company. I am now in the process of overseeing Pre-production for the film version and directing Entropia as a full-length feature animation.
Haven: You have worked with European artists in Switzerland and Belgium, Japanese game creators in Honolulu, and film designers in Hollywood. How has it been collaborating with such a diverse assortment of artists?
CLS: Each of the artistic and cultural communities that I have been privileged to work with has introduced me to new forms and creative ways of thinking. In particular, travel to and living within these countries/communities has provided the most enriching experiences from which to gather more creative material. Also, the cultural and artistic collaboration of working with diverse professionals in diverse settings has really opened my eyes to new creative processes and ways of expression.
Interview conducted by Jeriaska. See more conceptual designs by Christian Lorenz Scheurer by visiting christianlorenzscheurer.com and radioentropia.com. A review of Entropia: A Collection of Unusually Rare Stamps can be found at 8bit Hero!.