Colin Shulver is a concept artist, creature/character designer and digital sculptor with almost thirty years of experience in the film and games industry. You’ll definitely recognize some of his work from Alien Convenant, Game of Thrones, The Mummy and much, much more. For his portfolio website, he chose to use a customized version of the ArtStation Pro Insta theme.
In this interview, Colin shares some behind-the-scenes insight into working on Alien Covenant and more.
With your years in the industry, what do you think separates a great portfolio from the rest?
A great portfolio in my view should show a broad range of your abilities. If it’s creature conception, show that you understand anatomy, real animals, characters etc. Don’t just do monster after monster, alien after alien. That’s fun and I’m a big fan of course, but anyone looking to hire you will assume that is all you can do. So keep it varied. I also think it’s important to be critical of yourself. Only show your best work, not everything you’ve ever done. If it’s not up to your best stuff, don’t show it.
Tell us about one of your most exciting projects.
I feel like I’m one of the luckiest artists around. Every project brings new challenges and the chance to develop my skills. One of my favourite recent projects has to be Alien Covenant. I had previously worked on Prometheus so this was a great opportunity to return to that world. I’m also a big Ridley Scott & original Alien fan. For me, Alien is the ultimate science fiction movie. In my opinion, it also has the best alien creature ever designed for a movie. H R Giger’s vision inspired so many artists. My Design Supervisor for both projects was Conor O’Sullivan. He’s a great artist himself & always tries to find new & exciting approaches to the brief. He never accepts your first design, always pushing for something stranger or more dynamic. I like to compare my first concept I delivered and the last to see how far the ideas have developed. I usually laugh to myself & say, “did I really think that was cool?!” My background is creature effects sculpting so I look at things from a very three dimensional point of view. What I mean by that is that I’m used to creating real world models so I’m always thinking about how bones, muscle & skin fit together & move. So for Covenant, I started my concept with ZBrush. This allowed me to approach the designs as sculptures. Working in 3D meant that we could view the creatures from all angles & solve all sorts of problems that may have not been evident is 2D. The Aliens are such strange shapes & have to be able to move around convincingly.
One of my favourite creatures that I got to work on was the Neomorph. A creature that Carlos Huante worked on for Prometheus. It didn’t make it into that movie, but resurfaced in Covenant. I’m a big fan of Carlos’s work so this was a big deal for me. I was able to colour these models & apply different materials to them in Keyshot so that we had a good idea of what the final creatures would look like. After going through the design process the next stage was braking these models up and working out what would be sculpted and what would be 3D printed. Finally, the models went off to the visual effects guys. Usually the final creatures don’t resemble what you sent, but in this case they were changed very little. They did a great job of the final effects. Alien Covenant was a very rewarding project and I had a great time working with the amazing concept & effects artists in the UK & Australia. A real treat form start to finish.
What do you think is the most challenging part about working in the industry?
For me the biggest challenge is to deliver something new & fresh. Something that you wouldn’t normally come up with yourself. It’s very easy to play it safe and do the same thing. I like to be pushed out of my comfort zone, to challenge myself. It’s difficult and sometimes downright annoying but in the end, it’s great to come up with something you didn’t think was in you.
What is your advice for aspiring artists?
The best advice I can give is always look at real things. Real animals, real anatomy, real situations. Its ok to be inspired by other artists, but don’t try to reproduce their work. Try to make it look real rather than something that looks like a movie monster. Find your own path and style, and keep at it. Keep a sketchbook with you at all times and sketch as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll come up with an idea while on a train or anywhere and it’s always good to be able to put that to paper. Also, when working for a client, don’t be too proud. I’ve known some artists who just don’t want to change something and will try to convince a client that their idea is far superior. At the end of the day, we are trying to deliver something for the client. The real challenge is to deliver what they want and make it work. Make it dramatic and make it original. If you do it right, everyone is happy, including yourself.