Back to School in 32: Interview with Vladimír Mokrý
Where we talk about his career shift and going back to school
We interview 🐣 Status Quack designers and collaborators to go beyond portfolios and convey the personality of our studio.
This interview from 19.08.2018 is our goodbye to a designer and co-founder Vladimír who got accepted to a prestigious Syn Studio, a concept art school in Montreal and left everything behind to follow his 💜 for 🖌️.
Hello Vladimir. Let's start with a brief introduction:
You are a grown-up man (32) from Brno, who studied and taught visual arts on a university there. You lived in Techsquat and made a living as a designer and entrepreneur for several years. You also co-founded our design studio…
And suddenly, you are going back from design to art and also moving to Canada to study concept art in Syn Studio. What happened?
That’s a complicated story, Jiri :)
🤷♂️ So let’s start with what separates an artist from a designer, how did this separation manifest in your work and what label are you using for your work now?
Good question. So … I’m going to study concept art. There’s less difference between concept art and design than between concept art and fine art. Where concept art and design have to fulfill a goal, fine art doesn’t.
I mean it’s important to have an expression, but in concept art, you have to have goals. People in the company or team coming after concept art in the process will be basing their effort on the work you deliver. So it has to be clear, readable and has a to have a direction.
As a fine artist, I wouldn't have to care about those other people at all. I would have to focus on marketing and expositions or something, but not other people building on my work.
Maybe we don’t have a good frame for concept art in the Czech Republic. Hearing the term concept art in here, you would imagine conceptual art and spilling lot of blood on the floor or something expressive.
So, concept art is to use the tools and methods of art to solve a problem. Is that right?
Exactly! For example, you have been tasked with concepting a cool spaceship that … sails in space … and has specific attributes, some airlock, some capacity, some engines…
And you use all the art skills you’ve acquired: perspective, colors, tonality …, but also your creative input and all the spaceships you have ever seen in movies and games that had influenced you and synthesize them into a new, original shape and fulfill the task.
So how did you got to concept art? Or maybe how did you find yourself between art and design?
This has to be a pure calculation on my part. A year ago when I was staying in Tokyo, I realized that I don’t want to do design anymore.
I found design imposing too many constraints on me, combined with just about anyone judging your work without understanding the inputs and the process, has made me tired of it. Patterns of the applications are converging today, limiting the space even more — users expect to use everything intuitively, resulting in the apps to look the same. The creativity is too limited in digital design for me.
And the calculation?
Realizing this, I wanted to move the art field, where creativity is unrefined, but I also want to get paid for work. There are many graduates being hurled out of the art schools, who simply can’t make living by doing art. There are not enough galleries and expositions and there are not enough Czech audience to support this.
We are not Germany or Austria, where companies and institutions regularly lease art for their office spaces. We make do with the little we earn, now having enough to afford purchasing art for our homes. Art in Czechia is still only for the rich.
No wonder, with 10% of the Czech population being poor or under heavy debt. But how is art different from design on the judgment part? People don’t judge art?
Of course, they do. I got many warning to not expect a walk in a park. The process often is iterative. You deliver something at the end of the day, the producers and directors give you their comments over the evening, and you often start from scratch the next day. Day after day. The difference is it’s no longer just your work — the comments make it a shared effort.
And it’s still a craft. But I want to learn this craft as mastering it ultimately leads to an art director role and responsibility for a team on a product on a larger scale, which attracts me.
I can imagine the drawing part, but how exactly do you transition to the director role? Do you need to draw and draw some more, or get a good review by a critic or perhaps enjoy a team success?
Well, I am in fact taking a loan to even start the journey, so nothing is certain. Moreover, I don’t see it as a mandatory goal. Right now, I will be quite happy if I manage to join a creative team and start drawing with them on a shared project. In fact, I already really enjoyed the work I've done until now, but it just wasn’t on the level I could get paid for.
In design, when I was building Status Quack or the previous companies, I always had a big responsibility for the work and a lot of autonomy and I enjoyed that. But I can’t discern whether it was the design work I enjoyed or the responsibility. With drawing, I know that whenever I pick up a pencil, I enjoy that.
That makes sense. Let’s explore the concept art field a bit. Are there some notable companies where an aspiring concept artist would hope to end? Or is someone like Blizzard just waiting for any student coming out of the university?
Well, Blizzard isn’t waiting for anyone. The big advantage of Montreal are the tax cuts aimed at game companies. The city is a hub where you are visiting Eidos in the morning and then catch a Ubisoft crew for a coffee. But the demand from the companies is also growing. What was enough to get a job 10 years ago is no longer sufficient. Now you have to have a perfect knowledge of anatomy, some experience with level design … you have to be more of a generalist since the competition is fierce. And of course, the whole industry is 10 years ahead.
So, how do you intend to break out into the industry? What are you bringing?
As I said, concept art is a craft. But it’s undergoing a productivity increase through introducing pipelines. Many artists start with SketchUp to see how light works with the environment, think about materials. Then they take them to a different 3D program to see the reflections. Then export this all in layers to photoshop to work with it in a more manageable way. The most work is still done in 2D, the best artists are bringing 3D models to form the basic composition and perspective.
I enjoy working on iPad, which has an entirely different workflow, more elegant than Photoshop, which was used for a photo editing and designers sort of adopted it out of necessity. You don’t drag other things as easily, but unlike on a computer, the feedback on inputs is instant. You just start working and it automatically creates a video of your process. Also, just the price itself is making the field of digital art and design more approachable. You just buy an iPad and a pencil and you are set.
The mixing of 3D and 2D approaches are interesting. As a lazy designer, I would try to mock up as much as possible in 3D using plain blocks in Unity or something to save some work. Is that happening?
That’s exactly what’s happening. This works on a scene perspective, but postures and anatomy could get you. There are also tools to model the posture, drag and drop some colors, tonality and you have a good picture. But you still need to have an understanding of the theory. And I was always sad that I don’t know the anatomy like all my classmates who got it from the fashion schools.
If you look at my older things, it’s often environment art which I am improving in mostly because I lack the courage to focus on the cool character. But the school should get me there.
Let’s get back to design. You are a renown designer in Czechia. But now you are taking a break from all that, So .. which good design concepts and tools are you taking with you to reuse them in concept art?
When I was working in Geeva this summer, they were excited over my experience with UI/UX. It’s quite common — in the smaller companies, the concept artist is usually helping with UI. And it helps when they know the UX and usability as well. I can also use my UI skills within the concept art — all those robots and spaceships need control panels and labels as well :)
That’s a lovely example, reminding me of the pivotal article of the Alien movie UI design, describing how all the interfaces in the spaceship made sense. Where do you take the confidence to design interfaces of the future, that would actually work?
For me, it comes out of an engineering high school. Where others were drawing, I was calculating the support forces of building columns. I know how the suspension works. When I was taking the ArtStation MasterClasses in April, I got almost angry as one of the artist made a Japanese sword and then cut holes into it to make it look cooler. Well, not angry, but of course the holes would ruin the sword — it would break.
Maybe the artist did it so the slices of fruit would stick less?
Nice! Sure, we get it that sometimes the artists in the entertainment industry have to make stuff cooler and therefore less authentic.
Why do you think the cool trumps authenticity?
Because of course, the goal of entertainment is to entertain its consumers. You have to have the concept believable, but I think it’s ok to omit whether the robot would be actually able to carry its batteries. You have to be creative first, realistic second.
Now that we carry such interfaces in our pockets and on our wrists, do you think it raises the level of the necessary authenticity? Perhaps we might be able to better discern a bad UI from a good one at glimpse?
Maybe. I see that it’s still not common knowledge. Even the interfaces in 30 years old sci-fi movies don’t look like we would expect them to be today. You still have massive computers in the movies, but today, they are all but massive. Because you don’t want to lose the feeling that a huge object evokes. You can hide a powerful computer in watches, but embedding it into a dark obelisk evokes completely different emotions. That’s a designer’s job, to decide on the right emotions and use aesthetics to get to them.
Which bring us again to the main topic: how did you realize you don’t want to be a designer anymore and become a concept artist?
Just like you, I visited Japan the last year, and realized, that the country has a weird therapeutic effect on many of its visitors, me including. I feel in love with the country. My takeaway was that something in my life needs to change.
So .. what was it about Japan that got under your skin?
I was there for three months, long enough to get past the honeymoon phase, and met many people staying there for longer, natives or expats. Thanks to them, I was to able to see the insides of the society there. I realized was how normal is to strive for perfection in any and every field. Even you are a train conductor, it’s natural there to perform to the best of your abilities — because it’s a common cultural base that every job has a place and a meaning in a grander scope of society. Seeing this filled me with the courage to try new things.
I tried this last question with Martin and it was fun. What would you advise to a younger self?
Well, since I am getting a loan to finance the school tuition, I would advise my younger self to embrace risk and treat money as a disposable thing. There are more interesting goals than money in life. Maybe I would tell him to start really thinking about what he wants to be and when something doesn’t feel right, just leave it and try something else.
I got the same advice in Japan by an older designer. He told me that today, you simply have to experiment. Give the concept art thing a couple of years and see if it leads somewhere. So you better start loving the experiments.
Thank you for reading!
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