I periodically update my Tumblr (which you can see here - darkmechanic.tumblr.com/) with fresh images for the forthcoming weeks, in doing so I trawl through a large amount of science-fiction, fantasy and other types of illustration based on the influences I had as a kid, trying to capture that feel for old record sleeves, sci-fi book covers, faded comics, toy boxes, that sort of thing.
When doing that this morning, I came across a quote from film director Neill Blomkamp (of District 9 and Elysium fame) about the state of the concept art industry, that matches with the sadness I feel when I'm looking through all these images:
"A lot of the stuff I see now — I mean, the whole industry in general — is this kind of revolting, disposable approach to everything. The films are disposable. The marketing is disposable. And I feel the way the artwork within the films is created is disposable. A lot of that is because in 1979 there was Syd Mead and Ron Cobb and now there are probably 5-6,000 concept artists using Photoshop and banging out 300 images a day. There’s a formulaic, non-thought process element to that that really gets under my skin and drives me kind of crazy, because they are on autopilot. You’re like "design me a robot", and they give you something that looks like you’ve seen it in 50 films. With Syd Mead, he will think about things. He was the person that started that process that now yields 5,000 concept artists, so he comes from a different place. He comes from, “Let me take your request and actually think about what that would look like, or what that would be”, and then hand it back to you. That was the main thing I wanted [referring to designing the space station in Elysium]. Something that didn’t feel like the disposable artwork that is so prevalent now.”
When looking back at all these fantastic artists like Syd Mead, Chris Foss, John Harris, Angus Mckie, John Blanche, Dan McPharlin and Roger Dean, among others, they incapsulate such an amazing sense of wonder and imagination, they created these mysterious, surreal worlds that just begged to be explored further. It was more than just producing a fine illustration, it was like a glimpse into another living, breathing world.
I feel sad when I look at these, because now it's so different how the world approaches things like science-fiction and fantasy, it's almost like it's an embarrassment, things have to be muddy, grey and depressing or no one will take it seriously. As Blomkamp said, everything is just repeated all the time, churned out, thousands of robots, spaceships, aliens and guns get thrown on the altar of digital painting, all rehashed from other peoples ideas.
Sci-fi book covers are now wishy washy photoshop abstractions, Heavy Metal magazine has disappeared of the book shelves, Imagine FX is more a catalogue of identical styles, Marvel and DC is all rehash, revamp, muscles and tits, film concept art is all '6 hours in PS', even Games Workshop has toned back it's imagination, it's artists all Karl Kopinski clones.
I feel sad because that realm of imagination has run dry. When was the last time you saw a new kind of fantasy? When was the last time you saw concept art that wasn't blandly digitally painted? Have a look at this, an art challenge inspired by Adrian Smith, one of Games Workshops original and distinctive artists - www.cgart.ir/challenges/mythic… - look at how everything looks the same, it's like everything is produced by a hive mind. Not to say that no one is talented anymore, thats far from it, there is much more talent around now than 20 years ago. But where are the new ideas? The new points of view? The new styles? People have talent, they have the means, just not the imagination.
I feel sad about this every time I look back over those old images, and I wonder if Sci-fi and Fantasy art will ever again be about new ideas.