SKETCH GALLERY: Will Htay
We didn’t have much money growing up so drawing became my play thing, the extension of my imagination. I drew a lot. I remember my dad bringing home trashed printer paper from work, I would tear off the perforated punched edges and get drawing.
"Star Wars" was the first film I saw, and that just acted as a catalyst. Being from an immigrant family without a visual arts background and working in film was a complete anathema, it was "be a doctor or a lawyer or else!”. But at school I joined a Theatre group called the Guild; acted a bit, got sidelined from directing and because I could draw and paint became the set designer, I had dropped Art as a subject by this time and only did it for myself.
I was training to be something and someone completely different, but something made me take Art in my spare time as an additional
A-level (UK system, 16-18 years of age) with the help of a friend of mine’s parents who were artists. They tutored me in my free time and they opened my eyes to the Art School system. I applied to University and Art School and got both, but by then my focus was on designing for films.
I went to Wimbledon School of Art and studied something called Theatre Technical Arts Design. I trained as a Theatre Designer but it also allowed me to specialize in Production Design in film thanks to a visiting tutor called Moira Tait, well known in the industry in the UK. I
really remember studying Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Akira Kurosawa and Stuart Craig among others at the time.
It was really tough to get into film then so I eventually found my way into designing music videos and quite quickly into designing TV commercials. This was a great environment to hone other skills such as pitching, researching and reference, budgeting, logistics and planning, presenting and lots and lots of meetings. I also got to sit in on a lot of post-production at the time, and began to learn more and more about VFX. Drawing was always there but I was finding that I was using it less and less, and felt that one in ten jobs was a real design job for me.
I worked on a new portfolio and got a break on "World War Z" (with PD Nigel Phelps and SAD John Billington) as a concept artist.
Eventually I started working as a concept designer in films, really using my drawing and design skills to develop concepts, set and environment designs, all with a view that I knew how to get them made as well.
This was something that proved useful when I met Neil Lamont, who was Stuart Craig’s supervising art director on all the "Harry Potter" films, when he was crewing up for Oliver Scholl on "All You Need is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow". Neil has been extremely generous over the years with his knowledge and insights into the art department and filmmaking, and also gave me the space to draw and could see the value in it.
For may years now I’ve had a digital set-up (Mac and Cintiq) and an analogue set-up: drawing board covered in pens and paper, I find bouncing between them helps keep my attention going.
Drawing helps me think about the story, the characters, the spaces and places of the film. Sometimes the sketches are quick and scratchy notes to self, other times they might get really worked up and detailed. It’s part of the journey for me, it’s a way of allowing the film to unfold and unfurl from my mind onto paper and grow from there.
I draw as much as I can when exploring design ideas in early prep, looking at research and reference as I go and sometimes a very loose and rough bit of 3D (SketchUp and more recently Blender) that I’ll draw over to iterate ideas or detail them quickly. I’ll draw shot ideas to explore a design and I’ll do floor plans, elevations and sections often so an art director can model it up and check dimensioning for stages/locations or backlots, and then maybe pass it back to me to draw over again or sketch details then pass it to a concept artist to illustrate as a keyframe.
On my last show I even had the director and producer stand around my drawing board whilst I sketched out ideas as we were discussing the film. I like sharing my sketches with directors, as this forms the basis of our conversations, alongside reference boards of mood and tone before I get into concept art.
Sketching and drawing can be a quick way of exploring ideas; it’s been so helpful in the transition from concept designer to production designer because it acts as a language in itself when communicating to concept artists, art directors, set dec - everyone really, even quick sketches down at the workshops to explain things, a quick section drawing and a little perspective drawing...
The act of drawing feels like a natural extension of expressing my imagination, it helps me form thoughts and ideas and expand and grow them into the production design. I can’t do without it. It helps asks questions and at times answer them.
I still prefer to sketch on paper, usually a Staedtler Triplus fineliner (available in most UK Art Department store cupboards) and my favourite Pilot Fineliner and a bunch of Copic Warm Grey sketch markers chisel/brush tips. I sometimes go back to pencils (B and 2B mainly), all I used when I did commercials, and of course digital Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro and just about to try Corel Painter again. 3D I use Sketchup Pro and Blender.
I don’t really get much time to sketch outside of work, I try and spend my time away from work with my family andI’m trying to learn to play the piano!