Stunning concept work and spot-on sci-fi scenes. What makes Senior Concept Designer Joshua Viers tick? Gain insight into his process, his past projects and his unabashed love of Star Wars.

The piece that really caught our attention was “The Empire Bargains” (header image). What can you tell us about this particular piece of artwork? We’re assuming you’re a huge Star Wars fan (like us), so what are you most looking forward to in the new movie?

It’s funny that this piece became such a big deal for those five minutes. I was just beginning to work 3D into my process, and I was having a blast pretending like I was working on Episode 8!  Nerdy, I know. I was reading all the online rumors I could get my hands on, and the recurring theme of returning to Star Wars roots really got me stoked. So I thought I’d create an image inspired by Episode 4 and 5 (the desert scenes from New Hope and the bounty hunter moments in Empire). This image basically became a recreation of Vader’s meeting with bounty hunters on a Tatooine-like planet with some subtle variation in the characters.

Oh man, am I looking forward to Episode 7, but I’m doing my best to keep my expectations reasonable. It’s all too easy for excitement to grab my hand and fly away with me into the clouds before I even set foot in the theater. Then I leave disappointed when I’ve been forced to realize it was just a movie. I’d rather stay realistic for now and leave the theater floating.
You’ve been a concept artist for 15 years now. What has been the project that was most rewarding to you? Which did you find the most challenging? And why?
I’d have to say the most rewarding project I’ve been on is happening right now, but I’d get in big trouble if I said anything about it.  Ha!  But the project that was most rewarding before this one was probably when I was an Art Lead at a local game company. It was the first time I had my own team, and it was amazing to watch them grow and feel like I had something to do with that.
One of my most challenging projects was probably when I was working at ILM in 2010. I was helping with some last minute storyboards for an effects sequence.  My storyboarding skills were a little… rough. Okay, very rough. And we were having meetings every two hours.  So by the time I got back to my desk, which was in a different building than the meetings, I had less than two hours before I had to start heading back with new boards to show. It probably doesn’t help that I was showing my work to  Dennis Muren. The dude has more Oscars than Disney. Geez. No pressure, right?

c6bf349e79327a787d44ac9626346f50_origYour work tends to veer toward the science fiction side of things. What have been your biggest artistic influences and how do you incorporate them into your work while still staying unique to your own style?

Is it that obvious that I’m a sci fi nerd? My biggest influences are the usual suspects from the 80s: Syd Mead, Ralph McQuarrie, Ron Cobb, Lebbeus Woods, to name a few. I will just stare at their work trying to break down what makes it so incredibly successful. Then, once I’ve started working, I try to keep those elements in the front of my brain. I think what makes it look like my style is that I’ve just developed a way of rendering things that’s easiest for me.  Path of least resistance.

What advice can you share from your experience in dealing with directors and production designers? What’s the most important thing a concept artist should remember when creating something for someone else’s film?

Communication is key. No joke. Be specific with your words and avoid vague terms. If you’re not as clear as possible on what you should be doing before you begin work then you’ll be wasting the production’s time.

You will hear a lot of ideas that sound ridiculous, or just plain lame, that you need to bring to life. The thing to remember is that there is no excuse for your design to not be cool. Anything can be made interesting or fascinating. A huge part of your job is to find that angle and exploit the hell out of it. So when you hear about your next seemingly ludicrous assignment instead of thinking, “Ugh, this is going to be super lame,” think, “Alright, this is crazy, but I’m gonna prove that I can make this unbelievably cool.”

283e8021212d5b80b2d8df6ca8b7c048_origWhen you’re first approached for a project, what are the steps you take when tackling a new assignment? Do you have a working method that you’ve found to be particularly effective?

Definitely.  The very first thing I do is hoard photo reference like a maniac.  I need to be able to ground this idea in reality in my own mind before I can begin to do it for others.  Second, I find artists that do this better than I do, and I stare at their work hard.  Really hard.  And I do my best to try to match the level of quality in their work.  It’s a tough way to operate, but it keeps me sharp.

Want to see more of Josh’s work or say hello? Check out his Zerply profile.