Frank Hong is a Toronto-based artist who specializes in concept art, environments, and design. He came to fantasy and science fiction via video games, and it shows in environments so immersive it makes the viewer want to walk into the painting. His work has been featured various places, including Imagine FX, and he has worked on a number of major movies, including Godzilla and the forthcoming Pacific Rim.
“Dawn of the Round Table” has a very clear sense of motion, nicely complemented by the overall pattern of lights and darks. The title brings Arthurian stories to mind, not so much the distant future. Can you tell us about your inspiration for the painting?
The original motivation came from an art contest called “Up Lift the Universe,” which is a science fiction-based story where human and aliens made contact years ago. I borrowed ideas from that as a basis to imagine a transportation system in space, much like our train networks. This piece displays a docking station at “Dawn,” where the ship makes its stop on the train track.
What are your favorite kinds of scenes to paint?
I really enjoy painting vast and epic landscape scenes filled with atmosphere, sometimes filled with science fiction elements too. Creating a believable landscape true to the fictional background is a very exciting process. It involves a lot of in-depth research and brainstorming to reach a point where the environment created could be “real,” but is still being pushed as far out of reality as possible.
What changes have you seen in your work in the time since you graduated?
My work has certainly become more mature. It has changed in a way that’s more efficient. I am able to respond to revisions a lot more quickly because I’m more professional in organization, using a lot of layers, and keeping multiple backups and copies. The design process has become more fluent, with fewer hiccups, and I learned to communicate better with my director to achieve a desirable result. All of these are tied to working professionally, and not so much with personal pieces. When I find time, very infrequently, I still enjoy messing about with no rules in mind, and bringing a bit of fun back into art making.
Which artists influenced you most heavily when you were learning your craft? Did any particular picture or artist in particular lead you to change your practice?
There were too many to list; I remember how I marveled at all sorts of concept artists from all over the world, and I’m lucky to have become a part of the industry. I also learned a lot from tutorial DVDs, namely from masters like Dylan Cole, Raphael Lacoste, and many more.
Your personal site includes various galleries, as well as a link to sample animation you’ve done. Do you want to keep doing 2D down the road, or would you like to move entirely toward 3D?
I don’t think I’ll ever go entirely 3D. I use 3D as a tool to complement my 2D designs. Whether it’s for perspective or camera mapping, I would still use Photoshop as my main weapon. I find it much faster and more fluent to just paint out what needs to be done, and then perhaps hand it off to the 3D artists who rightfully do 3D much better than I could. I find them to be two completely different roles. I won’t try to take their position, because that’s what 3D artists are really good at, nor would I abandon my area of expertise. There is still tons of room to explore in 2D designs.
What tools do you use most often for creating concept or matte art?
I use Photoshop, a lot of references, and a good tablet. So far I haven’t used too much 3D aid in my works, although that’s an area where I’m slowly learning to be more proficient.
Your bio mentions being inspired by the games you grew up with. Can you name a few, and tell us if they still influence your art today?
I had a long background in games—ever since I was tall enough to reach a mouse. It’s probably why I decided to become an artist; I was always fascinated by the art and design for games and movies. It became clear when I chose to make art professionally that gaming was going to be my first direction. Having played almost every game that’s relevant, I tried to distinguish good art design from the bad ones. Some of the great games still influence my design decisions to this day. My favourites include the Metal Gear Solid series, Command & Conquer, and Halo.
What are you playing these days? Do you still get new ideas and inspiration from games?
For sure I still do, and I draw a lot of new ideas from modern games. These new titles are getting really elaborate and sometimes hard to improve on. I’m currently playing Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, and being a bit of a motorhead, I’ll always go back to GT5.
Many of your paintings have a great sense of depth and scope. While there’s obviously a long tradition of painting on a large scale, from murals to gigantic canvases, I don’t see that as commonly with F/SF art, given how artists tend to focus in on people or creatures. What leads you to paint at the depth and scope you do?
You are right, artists do tend to focus more on people and creatures, and environment art becomes almost secondary to these designs. Problem is, someone would have to take up this task! Almost 70% of concept art generated is environment concepts because of the vast number of levels and dungeons that have to be made for an entire game; for movies, every set and scene has to be illustrated, and people almost become scale references in those illustrations. When I go to an art show or convention, I’m usually one of the only artists selling environment art. That doesn’t upset me at all, because I’m supplying a growing demand, while it is harder for creature/character artists due to the heavy competition. Having said that, environments with depth and scope were my own obsession before I figured out it wasn’t a bad idea financially. I find myself more attached to cool scenery than the generic “bald space marine” of a main character.
What are you working on these days?
Most recently I was working in the art department of the upcoming movies Pacific Rim and Robocop.