Four Top Concept Artists
Pascal Blanché, Tuomas Korpi, Andrée Wallin, and Simon Stålenhag are among the top concept artists working today. Most people might not know their names, but they certainly know their work. They help create worlds for gamers to wander in and moviegoers to relish in as they watch beloved characters inhabit them. But while other storytellers often have plenty of white space on a page or several to tell their stories in, concept art zeroes in on the concept art, for example, world-building and character design. Concept artists lay the
groundwork for what is to come, telling stories through snapshots.
According to a French Canadian 3-D artist and senior art director at Ubisoft Montreal Pascal Blanché’s Instagram, he’s had his “head in the stars since 1977.” The work he’s created in more than twenty years in the industry certainly reflects this. Set in space, Blanché’s pieces feature spaceships and aliens that could easily be part of the same universe, Blanché’s own inner world of sorts. He employs fauvist colour palettes and everything in his work has a double quality to it, it has both an ancient and futuristic feel to it. For Blanché, his passion for space and science fiction all started with the Star Wars movies. He counts British science fiction illustrator Chriss Foss, American conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie (who worked on the original Star Wars trilogy, Battlestar Galactica and E.T.), the ‘Godfather’ of fantasy art Frank Frazetta, French writer and cartoonist Mœbius and American writer Isaac Asimov. Though initially looking to work in animation, discovering computers and their potential meant a change of plans for Blanché and he switched to video games and creating vivid scenes set somewhere in the future in his free time. "I never really wanted to be an artist," Blanché says, "I just wanted to create worlds of my own."
Tuomas Korpi is a bit of a jack of all trades. He is a Finnish concept artist as well as a co-founder and creative director at Helsinki-based animation and illustration studio Piñata, and has been involved with world-building for clients like Marvel. His work has appeared in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Tarzan”, and “Doctor Who” as well as many other movies, games, and commercials. Other clients have included Lego, EA, and Ubisoft. Korpi’s breath-taking style ranges from cute and cartoony to the painterly and hyperrealistic, while imitating the aesthetic of classic video games like The Legend of Zelda series. He paints both digitally in Photoshop and traditionally using gauche. Unlike Blanché, Korpi’s art is more heavily influenced by fantasy than science fiction. His digital paintings always maintain an atmosphere that’s ripe for wonder, and his more cartoony work has a Pixar-esque feel to it. In fact, Korpi has written on his Instagram that going to see the first Pixar exhibition in Finland fifteen years ago was one of the reasons he decided to pursue concept art. In Korpi’s work, figures go out on journeys, stand before large trees or a landscape and look up in awe. They’re worlds imbued in shadows but there is a warm glow to them, even those that are set in winter. Nature is a muse for Korpi’s more everyday digital paintings as well as his concept art, in which natural elements abound, with a fantastical twist.
Andrée Wallin is a Swedish director and concept artist who has worked on films like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Rise of Skywalker”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, and “Godzilla”. His artwork is moody, inspired by Lovecraftian horror and often blends elements of science fiction with elements of fantasy. Intricately detailed and hyperrealistic, it has powerful compositions and a distinctly cinematographic look. It lends itself well on screen and it is no wonder Wallin boasts such an impressive portfolio of blockbuster film keyframes. Additionally, he can do everything from elaborate backgrounds, robot armour, to mythological monsters. His film work in particular is full of tension and dramatic suspense. Some of his other art depicts desolate post-apocalyptic environments where nature has taken over cities. One shows a large robot scorpion with this as a backdrop. It is unclear what’s happened in these images but Wallin’s concept invites the viewer to form their own narratives.
Simon Stålenhag is a Swedish artist known for his retro-futuristic concept art, eerie landscapes set in 80s and 90s Sweden filled with broken machinery and the odd dinosaur. He’s published four books of it so far, one of these was adapted in 2020 as the Amazon TV series “Tales from the Loop.” Stålenhag has described his style as a mix between that of prominent concept artists from the 70s like American industrial designer and neo-futurist concept artist Syd Mead (who designed for science-fiction films like “Blade Runner,” “Aliens,” and “Tron.”) and Swedish painters like watercolour painter Grunnar Brusewitz and wildlife artist Lars Jonsson. Stålenhag also imagines short stories while working on his pieces, and this is seen in the complexity of his worlds. They aren’t distinctly labelled utopias or dystopias. It may look like a dystopia, ruined machines and all, but it is more an alternate universe. For one, it is not set in the future, but in the past. Accompany this with a strong feeling of nostalgia that permeates his pieces and you’ve got something else entirely. He says: “...there is hot chocolate waiting for you at home in my world.” In this world, technology isn’t the enemy. Instead, Stålenhag takes inspiration from his own childhood and shifts the focus from a looming, all-knowing danger taken straight from generations of sci-fi movies to the mundane, and the biggest threats his characters face are being bullied at school or their parents deciding they’ll be getting a divorce. His pieces are refreshingly realistic additions to the genre.
World-building is an essential piece of storytelling, especially for genres that tend to take place in worlds that are more than a little different from our own like fantasy and science-fiction. For creating films and video games, concept art is vital. It fully immerses the audience in the world of the story. Blanché, Korpi, Wallin, and Stålenhag are storytellers, and we can’t help but look around and explore.