Questions and Answers
In your bio you mentioned that you started conceptualizing Robota in 1993. How did the idea come about?
Robota initially started as a project to teach myself painting and design. During my weekends and nights, I would work on combining my two interests in art - nature and technology - in order to push my skills.
Nature and technology fascinate me. I love exploring the interrelationship between them. I never saw them as opposing forces, but rather as compliments, co-existing in harmony. As I started to explore this relationship with art, the story began to unfold.
However, once I started to develop the story, I quickly realized that stories are about conflict and not about harmony. Harmony is boring. Therefore, I turned my harmonious world into one of conflict while being careful not to compromise my personal views of nature and technology. I merely made it more interesting.
Are there plans to create another teaser or trailer for Robota?
There will definitely be more teasers and short animation sequences. I'm currently working on the next teaser that will be fully animated.
Is Robota a film or a book or what? What exactly is a "film book"?
A "film book" is simply an art book story told in a film-like manner. Books allow the viewer to delve into the thoughts and motives of the main characters in ways film canÕt. And films present drama in a linear time specific format that allows for a very controlled storytelling. I want to combine these two mediums, plus a third, the internet, to produce something different.
Eventually, this web site will compliment the book and any other mediums that are developed for Robota. Each will be used to tell a different part of the Robota world. For example, the web site will tell more of the backstory and character development using animation, text, etc. while the book will be the actual story of conflicts and how they are resolved.
This is one of the great things about telling the story in a variety of mediums. I can take advantage of the unique strengths of each medium to build a compelling world that couldn't otherwise be built in one medium.
Are you doing this by yourself or are there others helping you?
There are quite a few people helping me. As the project grows, more people will be brought on board. Currently, I am very fortunate to have a lot of extraordinarily talented friends and artists contribute and the momentum of this project is beginning to take a life of its own.
Are there plans for more "Limited Edition" prints?
Yes. There will be more Limited Edition prints. I'm currently trying to juggle all the priorities. My current plan is to release four more prints over the next two years.
Do you start with a sketch, then overlay it with another sheet of paper, or do you continue on the same sheet the whole way?
I used to work with overlays but I found that I spent too much time redrawing the design. A lot of my artist friends still use overlays and itÕs a matter of personal preference. My preferred method is the one shown in my marker demo. It keeps the drawing to one generation, making it more lively and fun.
In other cases when IÕm dealing with highly precise work like architecture, I will sketch with a blue pencil instead of a marker then go over that with a fine tip pen.
Do you find it hard to work within specific guidelines?
Not at all. In fact, the guidelines sometimes make the job easier. Designers like rules and often the most interesting solutions result from these restrictions. I always try to keep in mind as I work to bring as much of myself into the design. This is very important when you are working for others because the people who hire you want you and not a pale imitation of another artist (which they can go and hire anyway). You need to make a statement that stands out and is uniquely you. Even if I am restricted by the parameters of the project, I always try and push the boundaries as far as I can or at least bend the rules. Creativity is rarely punished.
Questions and Answers
How long does it take to complete one of your paintings?
Typically, it takes me about 3-4 days to complete a painting, not including the design and layout time. Of course, depending on the subject matter and the complexity of the painting this can grow to weeks. The longest that I've ever spent on a painting is three weeks for a commission by Oceanic, the scuba equipment manufacturer. The production paintings I did for Star Wars Episode I took from three to eleven days. My paintings are often small in size and very tight in style. My smallest paintings measure one and one half inch by one and one half inch. However, the average size of my work is about nine by twelve inches. I prefer to paint small because it allows me to complete a work within a reasonable amount of time. If it takes any longer, I get frustrated and want to move onto something else. I typically only work on one painting at a time but have a backlog of four to five paintings waiting to be started.
What is your daily working process?
I usually set a goal for myself at the beginning of the day. These daily short-term goals are instrumental for me to gain perspective on the bigger, overall picture and it allows me to know that I'm actually making progress. Also, breaking down the tasks into manageable sizes makes them seem less daunting. I usually begin by setting the number of drawings that I want to accomplish or determine how much I want to paint for that day. Typically, it's about 4 - 6 drawings a day. I won't quit until I've accomplished this and, likewise, I may stop early if I finish ahead of schedule.
What do you do when you have a creative block?
Over the years, I've developed my own methods or "tricks" to overcome these blocks. Sometimes they work but more often they don't. These "tricks" are the ones that work for me - but keep in mind that they really don't work, they won't give you great ideas or make you draw better. They are merely methods to help break the cycle of stagnation. When I find myself getting a mental block, it's important for me to not stop drawing. I've found from past experience that once I stop drawing, for whatever reason, it is so much harder to restart. This is especially true when I'm going through a particularly bad design period. My reason for continuing, even if the ideas and drawings are bad, is primarily to work them out of my system. By getting the bad drawings out, I'm hoping that the good ones will emerge at some point. This brute force method works well for me. Another trick is to try and draw the ideas upside down (literally), or use a different medium - a pencil instead of a marker, or start the drawing from the other direction on the paper. All these tricks are useful because they disrupt my current thinking pattern and force me to come up with new approaches that, hopefully, will result in new ideas. And, of course, I look at reference books. This is highly important. They can be books of any subject matter and not necessarily about what I am working on. With luck, I begin to see new connections and patterns that will inspire me. The main point, though, is to keep drawing. I feel better knowing that I am continuing to make progress, even though I may eventually throw everything away. But physiologically, I am moving forward.
What types of medium do you use? Do you use any special tools or technology in creating your art?
I still prefer traditional tools like pencil and paper over digital medium. For me it is quicker and easier to design on paper than it is for me to do it digitally on the computer. There are definite strengths and weaknesses to the old and new mediums and I try to find the most efficient method to achieve the goals that I need. During the various stages of the design process, I often alternate between the traditional tools and the computer -- taking advantage of their respective strengths. Although the computer can make it easier to do your art, it can also become a crutch for poor work. Pretty images easily created by the computer can often disguise poor design and trade flashy presentation for substance. My personal tools of choice are 30 percent gray markers, pilot razor point II pens, and blueline pencils. I paint with acrylic paints. For digital work, I primarily use Photoshop on the Macintosh.
How do I get a job doing what you are doing?
If you can draw well and have good ideas, you will most likely be able to get a job in this profession. This may sound too simplistic and easy, but keep in mind that this is one of few professions where lack of experience and training really doesn't matter. It's not unusual for someone who has no professional work experience in either the film or design field to get hired based on a strong portfolio. You will succeed mainly on the strength of your portfolio. In this line of work, your portfolio is everything. If you have the necessary skills, as evident in your portfolio, you will find work. However, I should add that this is also one of the most competitive fields. Try to focus your interests so that you excel in one specific area - architecture, machines, creatures, or costumes. Getting a quality education is very important. I recommend developing strong foundation skills such as life drawing, composition, etc. You will need good ideas that will set you apart from everyone else. In order to have good ideas, you will need a well-rounded education. The more versed you are in history, science, etc. the more likely you are to succeed. For me, this education never ends. I continually read and research as much as possible. Also, don't be hesitant about studying an area that you are not interested in. Inspiration can come from the strangest places!
What do you look for in a portfolio?
The main skill I look for in potential artists are good drawing abilities. Usually a sketchbook will tell me. I'm more interested in how well a person can draw and design rather than how extensive his or her resume is. In reviewing a portfolio, the people who can really draw versus the people who are faking it can be quickly differentiated. Those who have studied classical drawing and have built strong foundation skills of composition and color theory stand apart from the rest. Also in putting together your portfolio, be very critical and realistic about your work and skill level. Try and get objective opinions about your strengths and weaknesses before submitting your portfolio. And if you are not ready, wait and keep working on your weaknesses before submitting your work. Usually you will have only one opportunity to make a good impression and just one weak piece can bring down an otherwise strong portfolio.
What advice do you have for people starting out in this field?
Learn the basics of drawing, filmmaking, and the computer. Be patient and persistent. Always know what you want and keep heading in that direction. Any step towards your goal is good, no matter how minor. Don't turn away opportunities because they may not be exactly what you want. For instance, I have always disliked storyboarding but it turned out that my storyboarding skills allowed me to get my first job in the industry which, in turn, led to important contacts with the right people. The other part is simply hard work and the willingness to put in more than is required. You have to love what you do and be willing to sacrifice a lot of your personal time. It's all about homework. I used to create projects for myself on a weekly basis. They would be problems and tasks that I would invent to push myself in new directions. I would work on these personal projects every weekend and try to learn as much as possible. The work from that weekly regimen created a portfolio that eventually paid off when I landed my dream job as Design Director on the Star Wars prequels.
Do you have any personal hobbies?
This is my hobby. Most of my free time is consumed by what you see here. I'm very fortunate and grateful to do this for a living. But seriously, I also enjoy snowboarding and spending time with my family, especially my wife and two young sons.
© 2006 Doug Chiang Studio. All rights reserved.