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Visual Magic: Chatting with Sci-Fi Concept Artist Eddie Del Rio

Do you love the look of the rough-and-tumble cantina in Star Wars? Blown away by the sweeping futuristic cityscapes of Blade Runner, or the visual vast nothingness of space in Gravity? That’s the work of a concept artist, whose creative designs are a critical component to making visually stunning, immersive sci-fi films.

Eddie del Rio knows this as much as anyone. A concept artist who has worked for Lucas Arts, Lucasfilm, Disney, Warner Bros., THQ, Activision, and 2k, Del Rio’s work can be seen in films such as King Kong: Skull Island and the upcoming Ready Player One. Here, he shares insights into his love for sci-fi, his creative work, and more.

RECURSOR: What started you on your journey as an artist?

EDDIE DEL RIO: From as far back as I can remember, I expressed myself in art — specifically, drawing. I drew a lot and was really involved in comics in those formative years. I was writing and drawing my own comics at a very early age.

Original art created and (c) Eddie Del Rio, sci-fi concept artist on Recursor.TV

Original concept art by Eddie Del Rio

How did you become involved in creating concept art?

I have always enjoyed designing. And I always knew I wanted to either be a comic book artist or a concept artist. When I went to art school in the nineties, there wasn’t a lot of concept art being taught. The closest I could major in was illustration.

About the third year of school, I decided I wanted to fully pursue concept art, so I built a portfolio aimed at that line of work. I worked really hard and did a lot of work on my own, outside of classes. As a result, I was snatched out school shortly after I got my portfolio together to work for LucasArts.

Concept art created by Eddie Del Rio, sci-fi concept artist on Recursor.TV

Concept art by Eddie Del Rio

What was it like to work for LucasArts? What titles did you work on?

It was a fun moment in my life. I worked on some of the classic LucasArts adventure games that were being developed at that time — a few Star Wars titles, Monkey Island, and sequels to Full Throttle and Sam & Max. They all had a very stylized look, very different than the kind of work I do now.

I stayed there for about seven years, a long time in this industry. Eventually I left to work at THQ. But I wanted to move away from stylized projects and start working on my sci-fi and fantasy.

So, after being in the industry for 12 years, I decided to reinvent myself. I removed all stylized work that I posted online and redid my whole portfolio. This time, the work was all more dark and hard-edged than prior work, more realistic and bent in a more serious tone.

Around this time, I was introduced to Doug Chiang at Disney and was hired, and soon I began to work on feature films. But eventually, I left full time studio work and started freelancing. And I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now.

What inspires you and your creative work?

A big part of what inspires me these days is other colleagues and artists out there. Some of the work being done is simply breathtaking. And seeing all this talent on the Internet pushes me to dig deeper into myself to pull out better and better work.

That’s one part of my inspiration. Another is information. I read lots of science articles and books written about how technology and science will drive future invention. Then using that information, I try to imagine the possible world we will inhabit. How will these changes affect us? It’s really interesting to imagine. Even though it isn’t apparent in every image, it’s all there.

Filmmaking is obviously a team effort. How does your role as a concept artist play into the teamwork of making a film happen?

Yeah, filmmaking is a team effort, for sure. Concept artists are given a certain amount of information — sometimes a lot, sometimes very little, depending on what the director or production designer have in mind — but we are always given a brief on the project and often on the individual assignments. From that, we try and bring those ideas to life visually, usually through digital paintings, sketches, or sometime even 3D models.

Original art created and (c) Eddie Del Rio, sci-fi concept artist on Recursor.TV

Concept art by Eddie Del Rio

What are a few of your favorite movies, and how do they inspire your work?

Visually speaking, some of my favorite films are Blade Runner, Dune, Alien, and of course, Star Wars. As a child watching Star Wars, there was really that sense of transporting me to this new and totally unique world. Empire is the one that always stuck with me — the Walkers, Cloud City, and that amazing cliffhanger ending!

So, Star Wars is probably the biggest influence as far as design goes, at least for me. Those original art books from the original trilogy were my bible to entertainment design. The design philosophy behind Star Wars is key to the success of those films, and it has always stuck with me — the idea of taking something familiar that we can recognize, maybe something outside of culture or time, but something that has a known history, something that on some level, many of us understands.

Now, take that shape, or the dress, or that period of architecture and put a slant on it, taking something familiar and making it feel new and different, a little alien maybe, or maybe mixing two different cultures together. When you design like that, on some level, it makes it easier for people to connect to those worlds and those costumes and designs. It really helps ground the designs.

What projects are you working on right now?

I’m working some jobs in commercials and video games. I’m also spending time working on my own intellectual property. It’s very liberating not having constraints placed upon you. Not that you still don’t run into constraints, even when you are working in your own work. It’s just this time, you are responsible for what those constraints are.

Eddie Del Rio, sci-fi concept artist on Recursor.TVEddie Del Rio is an experienced freelance concept artist who has designed for film, television, animation, and games. Among his clientele are Electronic Arts, 2K Games, Activision, Warner Bros., Disney, Disney Imagineering, Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Visceral, and Maxis. Discover his artwork and connect with him  on his website, art station, or