With the Italian release of Thor: The Dark World, the highly anticipated sequel to the God of Thunder directed by Alan Taylor, we present an exclusive interview with Ron Ashtiani, director of concept design for the AtomHawk Design, a company specializing in video games, which debuted on the great screen working on the movie with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, realizing the design of the Dark Elves look and many elements of the sequel.
First, thank you for the interview. Can you tell us something more about Atomhawk Design?
No problem, Atomhawk was founded by myself (Ron Ashtiani) and 3 of my colleagues from Midway Games (the makers of Mortal Kombat) when the studio closed in 2009. As the Head of Art for the Midway studio, I formed a plan with my best artists Pete Thompson, Corlen Kruger and Steve Pick to form an art studio that would produce very high quality work for the film, games and digital media industries.
We started out as a very small team but the reputation of our work spread quickly and while we have worked on many projects over the last 4 years, the highlights have been working on Pottermore for J.K Rowling, top selling video games like Mortal Kombat, Dead Island, Injustice and Killzone, and of course our movie work. Thor: The Dark World marks our debut in the movie world and we have several more movies featuring our work coming over the next year.
It has been an incredible journey and the team here has grown to almost 20 staff.
How do you get involved in Thor: The Dark World? How long does it takes you this work?
We were approached at the end of 2011 by the production designer, Charles Wood. We had an email out of the blue, asking if I could go and meet him down in London. The email was from a personal email address and so initially I wasn’t sure if it was real but I went to London anyway and we met and talked about the movie.
We worked on the concept art for the film for about 6 months in total, from the very start until the end of concept art production. We mainly focusing on the designs for the Dark Elf and the Asguardian spacecraft, but also many of the key action frames including the dark elf ship crashing into Odin’s throne room.
Can you tell us some technic details about your work on the movie?
All of our work is done in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet or Cintiq, it is a very simple process to paint directly to digital but takes great skill and experience from our artists.
So nothing unusual in our technique, however some of the statistics for the images we were painting are pretty mind boggling. The Dark Elf “Harrow ship”, which is the fighter craft seen a lot in the movie, took 133 iterations to reach a final design.
In order to get away from the mainstream spacecraft designs normally seen in the Sci-fi world, we covered a lot of ground quickly in order to exhaust all the pre-conceptions and generic influences that the artists might have lurking in their minds. Once all the expected designs have been purged, then we found that the really interesting ideas started to come out.
The development of the mother ship was a big collaborative effort with the clay modelling team at the studio. The ship was explored in both 2D and 3D simultaneously and we created more than 80 pieces of the concept art in its creation.
You worked for a very long time on video games. Was it difficult to work on a movie like Thor?
It wasn’t difficult at all. It’s funny as many people think that games are different from films but the concept art stage is pretty much identical. Especially for the larger budget console games that we normally work on, they tend to be like a movie anyway and feature similarly skilled teams of concept artists, designer and writers and often featuring movie actors too.
What kind of requests have you got from Marvel Studios and Alan Taylor?
It is the Production Designer’s role to discuss all the art related points with the director, otherwise the director (who is a very busy person) would be swamped with dealing with the hundreds of people who work on a film. In general the main message that came to us was to create something unique that had never been see before and I think in the design of the craft, we achieved this.
How many people from Atomhawk Design worked for this movie?
We had a team of 5 artists to start with, plus myself as Art Director for the team here, and Amy Hill as Production Manager. Later the art team focused down to 3 main artists, Pete Thompson, Roberto F Castro and Tim Hill, who saw the project through to the end, with me overseeing.
What about your feelings now that your work is over and can be seen by everyone?
I am very pleased with the movie and that the CG representations of the ships and scenes we designed look really awesome and true to the original ideas.
We were really proud to go and see the film and look forward to seeing the rest of the movies we have worked on recently on the big screen!!
Which are your next projects?
Ah now that would be telling! Unfortunately, we are always sworn to secrecy until public release of our projects, but I can assure you, we have some amazing stuff lined up for 2014!