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Peter Popken – Concept Artist | cgheute

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Peter Popken arbeitete als Concept Artist an Filmen wie „Bourne Supremacy“, „V – For Vendetta“ ,Jerry Bruckheimer´s „Prince of Persia“ und „Speed Racer“ mit. In diesem Interview gibt er uns einen Überblick über seine Arbeit als Concept Artist bei Hollywood Produktionen…..

CGheute: As I learned from your website you still live in Munich but work on Hollywood productions. Please tell us more about your education and how you got started in the international film industry.

Peter Popken: Ever since I can remember I have always 

been travelling from one place to another and still it seems to continue until today. Due to my father’s profession our family was forced to relocate several times. Finally I made my base in Munich to finish my studies of visual arts & communication in 1994. During that time I was already doing illustration work for architectural and industrial designers when I suddenly got a job offered in an animation studio as a story artist. The team was a melting pot of artists from all over the world and I was lucky to learn film making from people who had worked for Spielberg and Disney in the past. I was trying hard to apply my skills to various jobs for comics, small feature films and tv. In 2001 I made my entrance into the international film industry when some of my drawings accidentally appeared on the desk of production designer Nigel Phelps whose work is best known for titles such as The Island, Transformers or Aliens Resurrection. He called and asked me to join his crew for a period film directed by Neil Jordan. After a couple of weeks prepping in Berlin and Rome the film was cancelled but the contacts remained and the phone kept ringing.


CGheute: Is it necessary to work digital (with Wacom and Photoshop) when doing concept art for a film or do you still use traditional media?

Peter Popken: I started off traditionally with pencil, markers and painted hundreds of animation backgrounds in acrylics and gouache before I decided to go digital in 2003. It was the advantage of the computer to manipulate images and apply changes in terms of design, scale and color almost instantly that made me never paint traditionally again. Now I am able to provide multiple versions of a design for a director without loosing earlier attempts. (image 3, V for Vendetta) The fact to have a whole “art shop“ in my notebook makes it so much easier to travel and take on jobs all over the world. An A4 Wacom tablet does it for me rather than the Cintique because I like to see the whole image I am painting on instead of covering parts with my drawing hand.


CGheute:: It seems most of paintings belong to science fiction and comics. Are these your favorite genres?

Peter Popken: I guess it is in the nature of things that artists prefer to work on fantastic images rather than what they see in everyday life. Whether I use a historic or futuristic subject it seems to me more appealing than copying reality. But to answer your question – yes, I do like science fiction and all the technical gadgets that come with it. And comics give me the opportunity to draw figures in motion and human anatomy.


CGheute: You have worked on the film-adaption of „Aeon Flux“, „V for Vendetta“ and „Speed Racer“ which are based on famous pieces of mass-culture. Do you research a lot and gather references in order to depict the style of the original resources – comics or cartoon?

Peter Popken: Oh yes, absolutely. I spend a huge amount of time on research trying to find out what other artists have been doing already. I read the graphic novels and watch as much footage as I can find concerning the subject. Mostly in my spare time of course because of a lack of time I need to use most of my working hours to create the actual designs and illustrations for the film. I remember at one point even the original penciller of V for Vendetta, David Lloyed got involved into the project and his comic work became a great inspiration for all of us. Usually there is an extra research person in the art department that would provide us with useful material concerning history matters and background information. From there we try to create a style that works within the story and the budget given. A film is a medium of it’s own and very different from the approach of a graphic novel. Comics rely much more on the imagination of the reader and give them the opportunity to fill in the „missing“ images by themselves whereas in films the 4th dimension of movement comes into play.

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