CGheute: I saw a trailer recently for Disney’s „Prince of Persia“ based on the well-known computer game. What part exactly did you work on?
Peter Popken: In April 2008 I joined the art department of „Prince of Persia“ for three months on location in Morocco. Mainly I worked on the virtual sets to be generated in the computer. There were two big ancient cities to be designed. One was Nasaf, the Persian capital and the other one Alamut where most of the action was taking place. For the latter we based the design on original Indian architecture and then advanced it into a fantastic superstructure. We spent a huge amount of time on research to get the architecture right and to make this environment believable as if it really could have existed in that period. Several concept artists got involved into it at different stages and we were working back and forth on each others paintings. Neil for example had done a few lighting sketches and found an iconic shape for the city itself. Then I would use his sketch and take it further by cluttering it up with buildings, minarets, walls, gates and palaces, creating the surrounding landscape too. The city was divided into different levels, from poor areas to more wealthy places up to the palaces on top, cascading into a massive tower reaching up into the clouds. Beneath was an underworld hiding the mysterious secrets. Later we’ve built the whole structure in 3-D and matched it with the pieces that would be build for real on stage and on several locations. And again paint over it to add mood and atmosphere and give the VFX guys an idea what the final image on screen could look like.
CGheute: It’s widely known that the final scene in the film very often differs from the early concepts of the art department. Are there examples of your designs that look exactly like the ones on screen?
Peter Popken: I agree, it doesn’t happen very often that you see a scene turning out to be excactly the way it was planned. Too many factors appear in real-life filming situations. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Maybe the set decorator wasn’t able to get that special piece of furniture in time or within the budget given. Or the weather changes during shooting etc. There is an endless list of reasons why. Concept art is produced at a very early stage of production whereas keyframe illustrations very often make use of footage already filmed. Post-production companies like ILM use their own concept artists to visualize a scene and get approval from the director before they get their whole crew involved. What you see is what you get then and from that point on any changes produce higher costs.
Most of the props I invented during my career turned out to be very close to my original designs. Some are designed from scratch, others made out of existing pieces and altered.
Peter Popken: There are many Designers I admire for their work but if I had to choose one I’d say Syd Mead. His work was a major influence on what I am doing today because it represents fantastic elements based on real life concepts. For me he is one of the designers aware of proportions and it’s underlying principles that make things so much more appealing to us, His illustrations show excellent craftsmanship and outstanding composition. I remember meeting him in Berlin one day during a presentation and looking at my portfolio. We exchanged emails and he took the time for giving me advice when I got stuck in my career situation.
CGheute: What advice would you offer to the young artist seeking for a job in the film industry?
Peter Popken: The job demands multiple tasks and you want to show in your portfolio that you are able to handle them: perspective, interiors, exteriors, human-, animal- and creature-anatomy, props, costume, contemporary and historic architecture, vehicles etc. Academic skills such as composition, design, colour, staging and lighting are basics. Try to do as much personal work as you can and do your best on every job no matter how small the company may be and I am sure you’ll get noticed soon. Take your time to develop your skills. Once working in the industry you won’t find time to do so and need to rely on what you’ve learned before. The artists I’ve been working with are usually in their late 30ies or 40ies and bring in work experience from all kinds of jobs they’ve been doing before such as 3D-modeling or animation, comic book, industrial design, architecture and so on. Most of the concept guys know each other and some are hired for their area of specialization. In general I think it helps to succeed in all these fields for you may end up as the only concept artist on a smaller film doing all by yourself. The designers like to work with people they’ve been working with before because they know what they are capable of and rely on their experience.
CGheute: Thanks for the interview Peter.
Lin´q Peter´s CGheute Artist Profile
Lin´q Peter Popken Website