Saturday, February 22, 2014

Khang Le Workshop and Notes

Today - I've had the privilege of attending a Khang Le workshop. He is a very famous concept artist and I've been following his artwork since high school.

The Current Situation of the Concept Artist 
Khang starts off the workshop by discussing today's current concept artists. He says that the modern concept artist is more like a music DJ. DJ's don't create the music themselves, they know the feeling and mix and mash different music together. Similarly, today's concept artist use photos and 3D models to create the illustration. They do not paint the illustration from scratch.

Concept art is slowly becoming more like production work. Concept artists now need to do motion graphics and use 3D programs like zBrush. I've been hearing the same thing from many different industry artists at the Massive Black workshop. The bottom-line is painting in Photoshop isn't going to cut it anymore.

Abstract Painting Method Demo
1) create an abstract composition with simple greyscale values and GRAPHIC shapes.
 2) Overlay with a finished painting he previously did until you get something you like.
- This is a method that surprises you. Even you don't know where it's going.

This workflow helps with a couple of things:
a) You don't have to sit around and do thumbnails/ color studies
b) There is already "free"photo texture in your painting before you start.  In addition, using photos will push you to design in directions you didn't think about before.
c) You can use the "noise" to inspire you in your image. Keep what works, and paint over what doesn't work. In my opinion, this method saves you a lot of brain power. Assuming appropriate style and subject matter.

Abstract shapes with overlay of Khang's previously done sci-fi painting

Khang does a lot of what some people might call "cheating."He will paint something one time, and then duplicate it over and over with different sizes and values. Even the "people" of the image were created using a "people" brush with "size jitter. This method allowed him to create multiple people of different sizes. He just erased and adjusted some limbs to give the illusion of variety. He will also use the same part of the image, and use it as texture for other parts of the images.

This method accomplishes multiple things:
1) establishes perspective
2) saves time and energy
3) helps created a unified form language and color pallets
3) Most importantly… it feels less "precious." By not investing as much time into each part of the painting, he is that he would free to paint over, delete, or cover up any part of the painting without feeling too bad. He is willing to sacrifice a small part of the painting for the greater good of the illustration. This is easier when not much time were invested in a single part of the painting.

Khang said "The most important thing is that you are willing to lose any part of your painting. It's not precious. If it doesn't work - just take it out. Work smart. Don't' work too hard." 

Khang repeats elements of his paint. This saves time and energy. In addition, it create unity of form language and color within the illustration.
People respond to polish, not innovation. 
Khang has a really refreshing insight on the matter of execution. He recommend that when taking on a task - don't be overly ambitious. Have it be about 70% of what you max capability is. This way you can finish the job, and not be too mentally exhausted. Use the other 30% of the time to polish the painting.

For example, a game studio might have a time budget of 4 weeks to build a mech. The designers might spend 3 weeks designing the mech, and give the 3D modeler 1 week to build it. This turns out a shitty mech.

Khang asserts that an alternate method is to spend only 3 days designing the mech, and give the rest of the 4 weeks to the 3D modeler to build it! Wow!

I really want to give this method a try. When I was majoring in Design at Carnegie Mellon, they really emphasized the importance of design and innovation. We spent the entire semester doing a bunch of stupid iterations. And by the time to build the model, I would always end up rushing it and doing a shitty job. Perhaps, I should try focusing more of my energy on execution rather than design. This feels like a more practical approach.

Khang Le recommends using tumblr or Pinterest for reference images. People spend years gathering interesting photos and niche subject matter that you won't see on google images.

New Tools I learned
- *select color range* - like selection tool but more custom
-  hue/saturation - isolate specific color channels in drop down menu
- unsharpen mask filter - Craig Mullins uses it to give the illusion of even more detail.


  1. Hi Chris,
    Great post. I don't necessarily agree with everything Khang says, but he does have some good points. I think that the merit of what he is saying is very specific to the commercial industry that we in LA are in, because the client generally does want to spend '3 days on design' and four weeks modelling it out (especially in gaming). That may not always be the case (for example, if I were working for an oil sheikh paying for a private yacht putting up billions of dollars, I would want you to pay more attention to the design and labor over that more-so than polish), but it does work within the realm of commercial LA where there is a budget, timeline, merchandising attached, etc. I also feel like the focus on the art foundation has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of the teachers CAN'T keep up with 3D/photobash/random crazy new technique that is being used in the field currently, so they work on at least sending you out with a proper foundation, and the rest is up to you. If you want to survive in the business, you have to be adaptable or really really really good at what you do (and a good person to work with) on your own, too. I do have friends who have been able to survive in the theme park business with just basic Photoshop and Illustrator skills but they are very masterful painters (they're also really really good). I think a lot of the time art/concept schools can be too scattered in terms of focus, and students can end up getting confused and frustrated, so it's good to have focus. Have a great day.

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  3. Hey Chris, thanks so much for these workshop notes, they do help me a lot!

  4. Hi, Chris
    like your work and thanks for the notes, which school are you going now?