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Ron Crabb's art is almost undetectable, yet it has been seen by millions. He is a matte painter for major Hollywood films, such as X-Men, The Bucket List, and Speed Racer, and it is a compliment to say his work is undetectable. As a matte painter, Ron's role is to create imaginary scenes that look entirely real. Building on an early career in motion graphics, he has developed his incredible photorealistic style. He spent twenty years working with digital painting systems beginning well before the advent of Photoshop. Today, Ron uses a combination of Photoshop, CGI, photographs, and good old-fashioned painting skills to create stunningly realistic matte paintings, special visual effects, title sequences, and concept art for movies. He also creates fine art using the same set of skills. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers a thousand miles from L.A. to Bainbridge Island, Washington to get a look at the career, work, and lifestyle of a man who escaped Hollywood only to master it at a distance.
(Music playing.) Ron Crabb: Concept art is a part of what I have been doing pretty much my whole life. I mean, if you are doing an illustration, you are developing a concept first. But I think in a way it's kind of classically thought of now as, particularly in the film business, is concept art for the actual visual effects itself. My first exposure to that was on X-Men 2 at Cinesite. The really fun part of that was, and what was new for me, was you are just taking something that has written in a story, in a script.
Somebody can walk through walls, somebody can disappear instantaneously and leave the smoke behind or maybe not leaving the smoke behind and that's kind of what you are working on. So you are working with the visual effect supervisor, you are working with the director and the art directors and this kind of thing and the reality of concept art is just repetition. You do up to zillion different versions of these things, because they are really exploring every possible way to do what they want to do. So you sit there and I'd spend a whole day doing versions of Nightcrawler for instance.
He was the one that probably took the longest. I have got kind of a vision of him. And he is the kind of the scary looking guy in X-Men 2. He is kind of all dark and a little demonic looking. But the concept as it was explained to me was this guy is kind of a troubled individual, has this religious side, but he is kind of this mutant. And when he transfers one place to another, there is a little poof effect. bamf is what they called it. He was kind of going through a door into hell and then popping out another side somewhere else.
So initially that's what we were trying to capture and it's like okay, so what's that look like, how does a guy disappear and I was working with Steven Rosenbaum, who was the visual effect supervisor for Cinesite on that one and he was describing it. "Well, have him kind of turn into himself, have it all kind of curl in and then make this kind of dimensional gap inside." So you are hearing this language and this verbiage and it's up to me, okay, so what does... I'll paint that. What does that look like? But that's the fun part.
Okay, there are flames in here and then he kind of pops turns in on himself and then there is a smoke effect. The reality of the Nightcrawler effect was he does this so rapidly that in experimenting with it, it turned out, you don't have time to show flames. You don't have time to show much. In the final film where we ended up was, boom! He disappears and there is this little smoke thing that kind of fades away, as he disappears, and boom! he pops up somewhere else. But you get there through all the trial and error of doing the stuff. That's with the concept art, one of the really fun shots was the Kitty effect, is where she disappears through walls.
But this was another case where they weren't sure where to go with her, how extreme to make it. In other words, she is rapidly moving and she kind of goes through walls. So we had to go through a whole discussion of do the walls bend? Is there this dimensional thing where she kind of blends with the wall? So it was a long series of concept pieces that showed varying degrees of that to wherever she got near a wall, she would start stretching towards the wall and the wall would stretch towards her. Again, time constraints, when you are moving that through, when you are moving through that fast, that changes.
But that was another case where the actual concept art ended up being in the film itself, because we just rotoscoped those shots, because they were short enough where they just gave me, there is a plate of the wall where she is going through, there is a plate of Kitty and then I have to combine them and make her disappear. So you are in Photoshop, you are just kind of painting out the edges and adding a little dimensional twist and those kind of thing. I have done other kinds of concept work as well for television commercials. I often do things that are car related for television commercials. This was a Max Life commercial and again you are working through the different parameters of what they need for the commercial.
So you drew a long car at first and it won't fit in the frame that we actually shot. So you shorten it up. So you get those kinds of things. One of the other fun projects, the same thing for Max Life was working on robot stuff. Again, it's bringing my Illustrator background into things, which doesn't happen often in this kind of thing. So anytime anyone ask me to design a car or design a robot, oh! cool, okay because this is different. In the concept stage of things, it's wide open. You are basically listening to what somebody is asking for but you are free as an artist to kind of say, well, what if, what if I go this route, what if the guy is a little softer edged than more kind of happy looking, what if he is a little more mechanical looking? So those are kind of options you give the client.
That's your job as a concept artist is to give them a range of options, so they can start looking at that and say no, he looks too scary. No, he looks too cutsie. And somewhere along the line you end up coming at what they end up having in the commercial. So concept art is a subcategory of what I do again. Mainstay's matte painting. But concept art is a lot of fun. I mean it's one of those things I wouldn't mind chasing around a little more and kind of putting out there, because it is. It's a very creative process. Matte painting is creative on front- end and then you've got kind of a long process of just executing on the other side.
Concept art is all about the idea and capturing what somebody wants and making that visual. So I will probably chase that around a little bit and kind of encourage my clients to utilize those aspects of my skills a little more.
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