The how for me was a bit of a round about way into concept. Early on after I graduated in 1984, concept was something I really wanted to pursue but I had no clue how to go about it and instead fell into doing comic work. I enjoyed the storytelling, but the world building and character creation for the books I worked on was what I had the most fun with.
Years later I eventually got burnt out with a lot of the headaches that went along with the actual comics business and had the opportunity to cross into more concept work when Guillermo del Toro brought me onto his core concept team.
How did you become good at art?
Thanks, but I guess the trick is to never feel good at it. After I finish a piece I usually wish I did something differently in hindsight which keeps me wanting to do better the next time. So it’s just years of practicing that routine.
How did you break into the industry?
I worked in comics for around 27 years, doing a lot of work-for-hire books for publishers and some creator-owned series. I did a few concept jobs during that time too (including ParaNorman and The Amazing Screw-On Head pilot), but my big break was when Guillermo del Toro brought me onto
his concept team forMountains of Madness and I’ve had an amazing time working with him on concept/storyboards for a lot of his other projects since.
How does art go from concept to the screen?
Lots of steps, concept is the early part of the job just working out the ideas and designs with the director/ art director. From there it will still go through different departments and hands (sculptors, pre-vis, VFX, props, etc) before it’s brought to life on screen.
What is your favorite part about being a creative person?
Aside from just getting to make a living by doing something I enjoy, I guess it’s the process of working up ideas and stories through art and hoping that in the end it will resonate with an audience. It’s always a huge thrill seeing something you designed come to life on the screen, but I also love it when I see fan art or cosplay of a creature or character I helped create. Getting to design something that inspires other artists and see their interpretations is hugely flattering and I always get a kick out of it!
What's the hardest part?
I guess just staying busy and making ends meet in the down time before the next project begins.
Do you work with anyone (director, other artists, crew, etc) when coming up with art?
All the time; it’s a very collaborative process. Sometimes you hit the mark with the first concept pass, but it will still go through different departments before ending up on screen. With my collaborations with Guillermo, he has a hand in every step of the process and will work with each concept artist directly to formulate the final concept.
Sometimes the approved concept will then go to a different artist to work up, adding to the idea or taking it into another direction. Or I’ll get something that has already been started and asked to rework it into a new direction or build on the basic idea. But that collaboration and seeing an idea come to life is amazing fun.
When you're not doing art, what is your life like?
Outside of work I still sketch for fun, something I hadn’t done for years but enjoyed getting back into. Other than that it’s usually reading, going to museums and spending time with my partner and friends - getting out to wander as much as possible or staying in and gaming or watching old movies.
Are you a geek? You've worked a lot of stuff popular with geeks, but a voice actress once told me she didn't watch many cartoons when she wasn't working because it was like working in a pizza shop all day, coming home, and not wanting to eat pizza. If you do enjoy geeky pursuits, what are they?
Oh sure, a proud geek but you know, comics would probably be my pizza. I never read many comics when I worked on them, but I still love old film and horror/sci-fi movies and books along with playing video games in some spare time.
What are you working on now? Upcoming projects?
After the STRAIN, I finished concept awhile back on Guillermo’s upcoming CRIMSON PEAK and did a few months' stint on a video game project and some other concept work that I can’t name yet.
What was your favorite project to work on?
That’s a hard pick - there’s always the bias of getting to do your own thing, personal projects like my creator-owned book The Marquis. Pacific Rim was an incredible experience and the longest project I worked on (11 months), Crimson Peak was another incredible time throughout but usually after every job I feel like that was my favorite until the next one starts.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Mostly from letting my imagination wander or seeing shapes in nature while hiking. Lots of times things totally unrelated will help form the idea for a design. If something sparks an idea, I try to take it to the base form and rebuild it into something new. Otherwise it becomes too obvious that say this creature is just based on a certain fish/bird or what not.
How do you make a character interesting and original, especially when it's for a new franchise (like *Pacific Rim*) without established aesthetics (like with* Batman*)?
I guess it boils down to trying to bring a different sort of language to the design in the hopes that it will click and become iconic in a silhouette. In the case of the kaiju I designed for Pacific Rim, I wanted them to have a personality and character that showed through the design instead of feeling like an object.
What is your favorite artist, movie, game, and book?
Wow, hard to narrow those down to just one, so I’ll cheat on a couple. But let’s say my favorite artist is Zdzislaw Beksinski, favorite film is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, my favorite horror film is Bride of Frankenstein. For favorite game I’d say the Diablo series, one of the few games I always revisit while playing others. Books I’d have to still say the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars series, with Chessmen of Mars my favorite of the lot.
Any advice you'd give to artists hoping to develop creatively and professionally?
Draw all the time, finished pieces or sketches, just keep those ideas coming. Try to have a unique voice and vision to your work and think outside of the box and your comfort zone as much as possible to push yourself in new directions.
What's it like inside your brain?
Haha - crowded and a bit wet.
If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
I don’t know, I’ve been doing art professionally for over half my life. So if it wasn’t something in the visual art field, I guess I’d try my hand at writing more.
What tools do you create your art with?
I usually start sketching out the rough ideas traditionally with pen and paper, or the the initial drawing in pencil and then work it up digitally through Photoshop so it’s quicker to make any revisions.
You do a variety of creative work, like realistic stuff for Guillermo del Toro, simplistic cartoony stuff for Steven Universe and The Simpsons, and more traditional, classically-styled comic stuff for Dark Horse, Marvel, and DC. What's it like working in different ways (sequential
art, storyboarding, concept, etc) for these different industries?
You know, I love all the variety and working in the different styles; it’s never really a problem to shift between any of them since it’s more about the art style fitting the feel of the specific project.
Which one is your favorite and why?
I’m really enjoying the concept work the most, as far as which style to work in as a favorite. I don’t know if I could pick, so it probably boils down to the individual project. Usually after I finish a project it’s my favorite till the next one starts!
We're looking forward to whatever "the next one" he "can't name yet" is! Thanks Guy! All images from guydavisartworks.com and guydavisart.tumblr.com.