Concept artist Wayne Haag (The Fifth Element, Alien: Covenant) on what’s missing in modern science fiction
Best known for his work on The Fifth Element, Wayne Haag is a digital matte painter, science fiction oil painter, and illustrator for film and television. Wayne has worked as a matte painter for the The Lord of the Rings franchise and more recently done concept art for Alien Covenant, The Wolverine, and Maze Runner. We spoke with Wayne to learn about how he got started in the business, how he got to where he is now, and his take on modern science fiction.
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Can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you came to be an artist?
I was an electronic tech with the DOD here in Australia for 6 years before going back to school to study Photography. I got my BA in 94 and took that portfolio to SIGGRAPH in 95’. My portfolio was a mix of photography, 3D, and Photoshop compositing. I started using PS in 92’, back in the days before layers and only one undo!
Whilst at the SIGGRAPH conference I scored a job with Digital Domain. I started that job in April 96 and started working on The Fifth Element as a matte painter. I was there for a year before returning to Australia. I worked on Farscape the TV series before spending a couple of years in NZ at Weta, matte painting on The Lord of the Rings films.
After that I worked freelance, mostly for advertising. I eventually ended up transitioning to Concept Art in 2012 working on The Wolverine. I’ve worked as a concept artist ever since. When I have time I also paint large scale science fiction oil paintings for my own project.
What inspires you and what kind of research and reference do you do when approaching new vehicle or environment designs?
Sketches via ArtStation
Inspiration comes from the sci-if book cover art I saw back in the '70s and '80s as a kid. Star Wars was also an inspiration of course. This is for my own work.
Client work requires a different mentality and source of inspiration, i.e. professionalism. You may get called upon to create in any genre and/or subject matter and not be into it, so you have to find a way to fall in love with the work at hand. For me, that’s lighting and composition. I’m not a vehicle designer as such so I don’t do that professionally unless asked. Environment is more my thing. Having worked in the industry and being my own motor mechanic, I’m familiar with machinery and how things work so my references are always based on a level of reality or probable reality.
As far as reference goes, I shoot a lot of my own and use as much reference as possible for every shot I work on.
You’ve worked on a number of major science fiction productions during your career, what is it about the genre that is special to you?
Sense of wonder! Something that I feel is missing in sci-fi these days. My personal oil painting work is about that wonder and mystery of old forgotten spaceships. Because they’re derelict, you have no choice but to wonder about them and use your imagination.
Why do you feel that a sense of wonder is missing in sci-fi these days? Is this something you’ve seen change within the sci-fi genre over the course of your career?
I suppose it has to do with removing a lot of mystery from the genre. The future is reduced to a mundane world where people hate their Mondays as much as we do! As much as The Expanse is an awesome TV show, I wanted less angsty personal relationships and more wonder. I grew up on the sci-fi art of the '70s and '80s and it was all mystery and wonder. Nothing was explained and everything was left to the imagination.
In some ways that might be why I paint derelict spaceships because you will never know what happened to them, their history is gone, lost, and you’re forced to WONDER what happened. There was an exoticness to the art in those days too which I feel is lacking in modern sci-fi design. The new Dune may reverse that hopefully! Anyway, not sure I’m explaining myself here, it’s probably more of a feeling.
What has been the most challenging project you’ve worked on?
The Fifth Element. It’s where I was learning like a maniac! I was allowed to paint matte paintings I really had no business touching to be honest. But I was working till 2am almost every night on that film just absorbing and practicing and trying my hardest to get better.
Are there any projects you’d like to work on that you haven’t had the chance to?
There aren’t any film projects that I feel I need to work on anymore. I’d prefer to work on my own oil painting project but I never get enough time. I’m not financially free enough to be able to walk away from the film industry and devote all my time to personal work unfortunately.
Rover Scout via ArtStation
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