The Gnomon Workshop

Interview with Ryan Church - part 1


GW: Hi Ryan, tell us, how did you become a concept artist? Did you start drawing as a child? 

RC: Yes, since about the age of five I have been drawing. Illustrating books, making my own books, copying dinosaur books, spaceship books and stuff like that.  My dad was an artist so he put a pencil in my hand early on.  He taught me the basics of perspective and stuff really early. I've been drawing as early as I can remember.  I always knew I wanted to go to school to be an artist, but I wanted to do other things too so it wasn't until later on that I made the decision and said this is where I want to take my life. 

GW: With your father being an artist it gives it an interesting perspective.  Did he encourage or dissuade you to be an artist? 

RC: No, actually my dad was an industrial designer and he was more interested in me being an artist for fun in my spare time.  He actually cautioned me against getting into the business. 

GW: Did you attend art school straight out of high school?

RC: Well, like I said, I had drawn my whole life basically, when it came time to graduate from high school I had to make the decision to either be an airline pilot or an artist?  It basically boiled down to who was going to offer me a scholarship.  I ended up going to UCLA right out of high school and got a very broad education there.  Their design program wasn't that hot at the time which is good because it kind of allowed me to grow and expand my boundaries and see what else was out there.  By the time I got half way through UCLA I thought, I might as well finish this.  I was going to Art Center at Night classes all the while and eventually I thought, well, let's pursue this art thing because it is king of paying off.  This is what I do for fun anyway so let's just go to school and do that. 

GW: So, taking classes at night at Art Center lead you into pursuing art full time?

RC: Yes, I had a couple of instructors at Art Center at Night who were really enthusiastic about me getting into the program, so then it became about getting my portfolio together and without a lot of guidance. It was about building as broad a portfolio as I could.  I was working in gouache at the time and basically doing a lot of Syd Mead -like stuff, very futuristic, cars and stuff like that.  At Art Center you had to choose a major so I chose transportation design because that's what Syd Mead chose.  It seemed that if you can draw a car with all its reflections and get the engineering basis and the artistic styling and emotional basis down that it could lead into what I knew I eventually wanted to do, even at that point, which was the movie stuff. 

GW: Now I've actually heard a few stories …and I don't know what's true or not, but rumor has it that when you were in school you found out that Syd Mead lived close by and took a trip out to his house. Is there any truth to that story? 

RC: I don't know where you heard that, but yeah, we can go into that.  It was when I was just out of high school.  I talked two friends of mine into going to his house. One guy was a fellow artist and the other guy, I think, had seen Blade Runner.  We just got our Syd Mead sketch books and we saw the address, got in the car and said let's go up there.  We just went up and just knocked on the door.  Syd was there working and he said, sure, come on up and I'll show you some artwork and stuff. So we spent the afternoon at his place just going through his flat file drawers. He's working of course too, he wasn't slacking to do this, but that was my first big introduction to this world.  I'm thinking, well, here's Syd Mead of course which is stunning, and just how nice the guy is and he had just started using a computer actually and I thought that was interesting.  It was just the fulfillment of a dream.  My dad had given me the US Steele book when I was a little kid and back then I thought it was cheesy because it wasn't Star Wars, it wasn't the hot thing, it was some old thing that my dad liked, but of course to this day you look back on it and that's what everyone is still looking at for inspiration. So yeah, that was a great opportunity.

GW: It's very cool that you did that.  One trait a lot of artists share is that they can be shy or reserved.  One particular challenge is the business aspect, just getting out there and pushing themselves.  Looking back, do you think it had any impact on you getting your first job?  What was your first job and how'd you get into that? 

RC: The Syd Mead thing was a crystallization of seeing in person, there's a drawing board, there's a guy working, he's making money, this is a really nice house and he's doing film work.  It made it all click.  From there, you know, I went through the transportation/entertainment design program at Art Center, which they were just figuring out.  It was kind of everywhere so I just took whatever classes I could get the best portfolio out of.  The senior show was the big thing.  Within every class it was about being noticed, about doing good design and showing good artwork, of course, but there was a huge push for self-presentation and self-promotion.  It was all about wallpapering the walls with your artwork, this was before the days of printers, so you bust out the 20x40 pad and do huge car renderings. At the time I had gone from doing gouache and markers to developing this acrylic technique that I could use to paint cars and I would go out and get the biggest piece of cardboard I could find and cover it with paint.  There is all this design theory and stuff you learn, but it was also about wall-papering and about self-presentation. So, I did this big senior show and as a result I got a job offer to go to Walt Disney Imagineering and at the same time there was kind of bubbling in the back ground with this ILM thing of like well- we're going to be working on this digital feature and we'll give you a call. 

GW: So now you have all this traditional training, however you work pretty much exclusively digitally, is that true? 

RC: Yeah, basically the whole way. 

GW: And your traditional media applies to that?

RC: yeah, because of the programs these days and the speed of the computers.  When I was in school it was like pulling teeth to getting anything on the screen that you felt remotely proud about showing.  It was just long hours and waiting and guarding your render to make sure nobody jumps on. At some point, when I was ILM the computer speed thing got fast enough to where you could actually sit down and draw where the speed of computers actually overtook the speed of traditional media which I was trained in, but now with the speed there's no turning back.  I love working digitally, I prefer it that way.

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