Steve Wang has a habit of creating captivating scenes and designs that literally grab you by the eyeballs. This is because he is a master at picking the right tool for each job which allows him to ‘hack’ concept art.
Aside from a fascination of pairing dragons with other cool stuff, Steve is currently working on his own IP. Professionally, he has blessed his talents to the likes of Ubisoft, Microsoft and Blur as well as being handpicked by Neill Blomkamp to work on a bunch of Oats Studios’ amazing films.
So what makes Swang do his thang? How does he switch from props to environments? What is it like to work with Neill Blomkamp? And what can you expect from his new course? Find out all of this and more in our Q&A with Steve Wang below.
All About Steve
What is your origin story?
I was a kid from Taipei and Vancouver who loved drawing manga. I initially went into product design without knowing that concept art existed. Eventually, I lost interest in the technical side of product design and kept on having ideas where they wouldn't work in real life but would be cool in movies. It took me a few years to discover the entertainment industry, and I eventually dropped out of college to pursue training in concept art. By then I was already 21, and after a year of training, I was able to land my first job! It has been a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs, lots of fulfillment matched by equal disappointments. It has been a short 7 years, and I feel like I'm just getting started.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I love how creativity can be exercised in many different ways. For example, the morning is my time to think and come up with ideas, whereas night time is when I like to zone in and execute artistically. Most importantly, I tend to lose track of time when I'm zoned into the creative process, which is a great feeling to have overall. I was very fortunate to find this job that gives me this feeling!
I feel like I'm just getting started.
Who are 3 artists who have influenced you the most?
Feng Zhu was the person that indirectly introduced me to the industry and how fun this career could be through his Youtube channel. John Park and James Paick helped me upgrade my entire portfolio which led so many great opportunities. Lastly, Jaime Jones just through his art. I look at his work every single day.
Which types of subject matter influence you?
It truly depends on what I'm working on. In my course, I have a few videos that go over my mindset when picking references which would tie into my answer here. Long story short, I think a great composition or idea can come from unexpected places. Obviously, sci-fi and dragons though.
Any hobbies outside of art?
Art does consume most of my life. I try to stay in shape by working out and challenging myself physically. I find it to be a nice balance to an artist's life, and an easy way to measure self-improvement when the art side plateaus. From time to time, I like to venture to other fields of creativity such as photography, fashion, and car design.
Tell us a bit about your professional experience. Have you worked in studios and well as a freelance?
I've tried everything when it comes to being a concept artist. I started out working in studios as both contractor and full-time employee. Eventually, I started freelancing from home, or even freelancing on site which was what Oats Studios needed from me. Recent years, I've incorporated and founded a studio, so most of my contracts go through there.
You work on pretty much all areas of concept art - vehicles, props through to characters and environments. Do you have any advice to Concept Artists who wish to also do this level of variety?
I don't recommend it because people who specialize tend to reach a higher level in their area of expertise. However, I would just say yes to all the opportunities that come and try to do the best job you can. You either win or you learn, and I think I've been doing a lot of learning in the past 7 years in the industry. Also, study shapes a lot! A pleasing balance of shapes will look good on a character or on a mountain.
You either win or you learn, and I think I've been doing a lot of learning in the past 7 years in the industry.
What are you currently working on?
This year (2019) has been interesting because aside from my full-time contract at Microsoft, I was invited to work on a few film pitches and medium size game projects trying to go AAA. I figured those were a lot more fun than doing IP that is already well established. Obviously, it took a while to construct the course for Learn Squared, and I'm taking that experience to run a live workshop in the summer. My personal IP is an ongoing project as always, and it is not something I want to rush.
[Note: Steve will be running his workshop at Daisho Workshops on July 13. Learn more at www.daishoworkshops.com]
How is your IP coming along?
It's a constant struggle because I'm definitely not a writer. Coming up with stories and a world that makes sense requires quite a bit of research. There are months where a lot of images come to mind, and there are months where I can't seem to get past the sketching phase. Currently, I'm going back to the drawing board to comp out potential shots I want to bring to a final image. This process is what I will cover in Concept Art Hacks!
You have worked with some of the biggest companies around. What are the noticeable differences between working for a client and working on your own IP?
The biggest difference is creative control. In a big studio, I actually get very little say in the creative direction of the IP. That is not to say that I don't influence the product in my own ways, but it usually has to be greenlit by at least 5 people. There are also way more constraints in things like story, gameplay, tech, budget, etc. In my own IP, the only two things I care about are fun and cool. I try to bring that to my professional work as much as possible.
What is it like working closely with a director let alone someone like Neill Blomkamp?
At first, it was the most intimidating and stressful experience of my professional life. It's always cool to have casual conversations with him and pick his brain on design. The immediate feedback loop was refreshing since it was mostly me and him making the design decisions. I truly felt like I was able to impact the outcome of the films. Eventually, I realize that he is also just an artist that takes his craft to levels that most people can't reach.
What developments in technology are catching your eye as a creative?
I think a lot of people would say VR nowadays, but since I haven't tried it for myself... I would say AI image making. The ability to turn random shapes into photorealistic images ready for paintover is both terrifying and exciting. It's probably something that everyone would have to utilize to stay competitive in a few years.
How would you like to see your career progress?
I want to slowly work fewer hours for my professional work, and put more time into my own IP and education. I had the opportunity to teach in schools and mentor privately in the past, and there is a sense of satisfaction I get from seeing the students have fun and succeed that no jobs or money could replicate. Every student I've taught never believed that they could work in the industry until I show them exactly the sacrifices they need to make to achieve just that.
There is a sense of satisfaction I get from seeing the students have fun and succeed that no jobs or money could replicate.
Concept Art Hacks
What would you like to see from students who are taking your course?
For the students that are early on in their concept art career, I hope to bring some attention to some basic painting theories like shapes and edges. For those that are more experienced, I hope my workflow can speed up their own production or inspire new ways of making images! Most importantly, I want to see the students have fun taking my course.
Any particular advice that Students should heed before taking the course?
Take the course at your own pace, and take it with a grain of salt. At least that is how I approach taking classes myself. The instructor's tastes, experiences, and goals are likely to be different from yours, so take what you can and apply it to your own work. Some of the information may even come in handy years from now!
Take Steve's New Course: Concept Art Hacks
Steve's new course Concept Art Hacks is available now! You'll learn all the various techniques Steve uses in his concept art, as well as creative ways to hack your workflow, making sure you stay focused on creating beautiful artwork. For a limited time, you can Save $100 when signing up for Concept Art Hacks while the course is hot off the presses. Be sure to act fast, because this offer won't last!