Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like JURASSIC PARK or THE RELIC of course.
Mark McCreery) Thank you so much, that’s so nice to hear, they’re two of my favorite projects.
SFF) A lot of movie fanatics know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into concept art?
M.McC.) Before I was hired at Stan Winston Studio, I was actually following another passion of mine, music. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as good at playing guitar as I am at drawing. I was in several bands throughout Los Angeles during the Post Punk/Hair Band days (Late 80’s) while I was attending the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena. Unfortunately, none of the bands were successful enough to support me so I decided to fall back on my Artistic skills to pay the bills.
After graduating from Art Center, I was not prepared in any way for a job in the film industry. The school didn’t offer any classes in the entertainment design field at the time, so I was pretty much left on my own to figure it out. So, I designed a small portfolio of Monsters I made up, started looking at the end credits of my favorite movies like Terminator, Predator and Aliens, and Stan Winston’t name kept popping up. I made up my mind that Stan’s was the only place I wanted to work and back then, there were no cell phones or computers like there are today, So I had to look up his Studios address in the phone book.
I drove to the address and knocked on the door. I got lucky and met with Stan and John Rosengrant that day. They said they’d get back to me in a couple of weeks.
A little dejected and not wanting to hang around and wait, I grabbed my surfboard and trekked down to Mexico for a while. When I got back, there was a message on my home phone from Stan and the boys and they said they’d love for me to start working there. I was ecstatic! The rest is history I guess.
SFF.) Your first experience, if I´m correctly informed, with films was for EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990). Am I right and how did you get the job?
M.McC.) Actually my first design assignment at Stan’s was PREDATOR 2. I was blown away that I was working on the sequel to a movie that made me want to get into the film industry in the first place. It was such an amazing experience. Stan was so supportive, and even got me on set to help puppeteer and dress the actor.
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS was the next film I worked on there, where I met Tim Burton. I designed three outfits based on Tim’s sketches and he chose one of them which was then created by costume Designer Colleen Atwood. It’s still one of my favorite films to this day, it has so much heart.
SFF.) Do you have any personal idols or favorite movies in your business? Mine is PHASE IV for example. And which movies do you really don´t like and why?
M.McC.) When I was a little kid, I remember the original KING KONG affecting me in a big way. For some reason I loved dinosaurs at the time (and still do), I think because my Grandfather, who was a bit of an amateur geologist/palientologist , was always giving me dinosaur fossils he had dug up some where. That movie meant everything to me - it had a cool giant Ape, Dinosaurs that ate people and a pretty, street smart girl.
Then there was the original 1963 THE HAUTNING directed by Robert Wise. That movie scared the shit out of me as kid. That was the start of me loving to be scared I think.
As I got older, the three films I mentioned earlier, Predator, Aliens, and the Terminator, are the films that made me want to work in movies. At the time, I had no idea how to do that or what it meant. Kind of like when I was a kid I knew I wanted to have something to do with Dinosaurs but I didn’t know what that meant either. I guess all of my wishes came true. I’m so fortunate and lucky that way.
I’ll only mention THE PRINCESS OF MARS as a movie I didn’t like because the original books by Edgar Rice Burroughs were a huge part of my childhood and so important to me. They’re all I ever read and the movie was just a huge disappointment for me. They tried to make that move for a very long time and I was slated to design on an early iteration of it but it was cancelled before I could start. That would have been an amazing thing to work on. It would have rounded out another of my childhood fantasies :)
SFF.) Were did your nickname “Crash” come from?
M.McC.) When I was 18, I was driving the band I was in at the time, back from a gig at 3:00 in the morning. It was about a 2 hour drive back home and I fell asleep at the wheel. By some fortunate stroke of luck (or, I think, Devine intervention), my friend in the passenger seat next to me happened to wake up before we flew off the side of a cliff. He woke me up and I turned the wheel as hard as I could. We hit a guard rail and skidded around the highway for a bit before finally came to a stop. It was the closest near-death experience I’ve ever had. When I dropped off the singer of the band, which was a punk band by the way, he said “Thanks for the ride, CRASH!” And it stuck ever since.
SFF.) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in concept design? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
M.McC.) I think it’s really important to get back to the basics. It’s been said, “you can’t paint unless you know how to draw”. I think that holds true for any art media including computer programs, digital art and 3-d modeling. I think some artists rely too much on fancy filters and digital brushes to make up for a lack in drawing and design skills. Take basic drawing lessons and learn the properties of Light and Shade. That is one area of discipline that I think would help anyone trying to improve their skills. The rules of Light and Shade are always consistent, so there is no room for interpretation or guessing. If you get that down, you can draw or paint anything in a realistic manner.
SFF) Your Portfolio is a wonderful compilation of fantastic work. Do you have some favorite works of yours and is there a project that, unfortunately, never came to fruition, even though you had already designed a lot for it?
M.McC.) I think the best work I’ve ever done was for the first 3 Jurassic Park movies.
The design I am most proud of is “Davey Jones” from PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN. That design was the culmination of 2 years of working with Gore Verbinski and was one of the few designs that hit me like a lightening bolt right when I needed inspiration. We struggled with Davey’s design for a long time. I had designed a whole crew of cursed pirates but we still needed the captain and time was running out. I had done a background character that a few tentacles on his face and Gore said, “That’s cool, it looks kind of like a beard”. BAM - it hit me - Black Beard! That’s the inspiration for our Captain. I saw the design of Davey Jones in my head, completely finished before I put pencil to paper. It really was a magical moment in my career.
I had done some designs for a very early draft of GODZILLA that I thought were pretty cool. There was a “Griffin”character I was really proud of. That one hurts to not see on the screen.
SFF.) Does CGI makes the progress of filmmaking easier?
M.McC.) I love what’s happening with CG - but it’s really about who’s behind the wheel. If it’s treated as a tool to be used subtly and not as an over-blown Christmas ornament, it can be really effective. I don’t think the “lord of the Rings” movies could have been made or be as successful without the technology. The technology made Peter Jackson's vision possible and was the perfect blend of live action and CG characters.
And then there are movies like PRINCESS OF MARS where I just couldn’t get into any of it. The books are so grounded and I didn’t feel that in this movie. I guess that’s the key, if CG feels grounded, grounded in reality, no matter how fantastic the world or creatures are, I’m all in. It’s the subtle stuff that impresses me.
SFF.) If we look back to the movies you have done, we see that you did a lot of genre-movies. I am really into science fiction (or fantasymovies in general) because I think, that those kind of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people?
M.McC.) Absolutely! Even when they miss the target a little bit like 2001 or 1984. Maybe the date is wrong but the messages were very clear and always relevant. They’re cautionary tales. I think the best Sci-Fi films started as books. It’s amazing to see when a lot of those stories were originally written. I’m not a huge fan of Sci-Fi - unless they are, again, grounded, like Terminator - a very Science Fiction concept, but a story told in a very personal and gritty way. The same with Alien which was a Horror film in space. I also love the old 1950’s Sci-Fi because they hit the same nerves, Like the original THE THING or THE BLOB. These are weird references but they’re what’s coming to mind.
One of my favorite Sci-Fi films is SILENT RUNNING with Bruce Dern. It’s not about spaceships and robots, it’s about loneliness and friendship. That’s when Sci-Fi hits home for me.
SFF.) Your pictures are marvelous and absolutely beautiful. Very detailing black/ white works. Sometimes it seems, that our nightmares come true. Do you take some (personal) fears into your pictures? Where did you take your inspiration from?
M.McC.) Yes, I do pull from my own fears sometimes. Most of the work I do is realizing other people’s fears and nightmares and it’s important for me to try and represent those feelings as best I can.
On RELIC I referenced a fear I have…Spiders. I have very severe Arachnophobia and I mustered up the courage to use spiders as a reference for the Relic’s Head. The top part of his head is like the abdomen of a spider and the weird tendrils that surround his mouth are meant to resemble Spider legs. It was a tough one to do. My palms are sweating just thinking about it and typing the word Spi… well, you get it.
SFF.) Do you have a certain style of painting that you admire the most?
M.McC.) I absolutely love Joaquin Sorolla and John Singer Sargent. The gesture of the paint and indication of detail that isn’t really there blows my mind.
A more contemporary artist I really admire is John Brosio for the same reason - and his subject matter and imagination is amazing. Zdenick Burian’s Dino Art was incredible to me as a kid. His paintings managed to make me feel like Dinosaurs actually existed which is hard to believe.
Sebastian Kruger can do no wrong!
There are so many artists I admire - I’m leaving out so many.
SFF.) I One of my favorite designs of yours is “Kothoga” from the movie THE RELIC. Some kind of mixture by THE PREDATOR, a lizard and certain animal influences. What was your intention by creating “Kothoga” and was it difficult to transfer your ideas in reality?
M.McC.) Kathoga was initially described as a reptilian lion. I just tried to make something that, although was huge, had a grace about it. Ironically, the design was a failure as a suit. The actor couldn’t move and the whole thing had to be rigged and hung to support the weight. I love the design but it was a hard design to execute. I think this was a case where CG actually saved the beast! The puppet was really cool and the sculpt was amazing - I just wish I had taken the fact that there would be a guy in a suit into account when designing him.
And of course there’s that whole Spider thing I mentioned before…Ugh!
SFF.) The pre-production for the movie INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE was very problematic regarding of casting and delays by the conceptional team of the Stan Winston Studio. What exactly went wrong and how could you help them?
M.McC.) That whole experience was a strange one. Before Tom Cruise was slated to play Lestat, the production studio was throwing out all kinds of ideas as to who should play him…like maybe, Al Pacino!?
The design challenge really fell on the shoulders of artist Miles Teves who was working at Stan’t at the time. My involvement was pretty limited.
SFF.) What do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Do Concept Design get enough recognition?
M.McC.) I have to approach my work as technical as opposed to artistic unless I’m called upon to get “artistically Creative” with an idea. It’s important to remember that I’m helping to realize a director or writer’s vision of what they see - they are the artist expressing their artistic idea, I’m coming along for the ride to help make that happen.
I’ve never considered my work as fine art. I think it’s artistic, but not Fine Art. However, I don’t think Concept Design gets enough recognition because the artists, more often than not, really do create the look of what you see on screen. I think the movie itself is an art piece, but like a painting, the canvas and tools to produce it, are just that - tools. That’s my own humble feeling. I have so much respect for Fine Art and don’t feel I fall into the same category. Not until I produce work of my own will I consider it even close to fine art.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
M.McC.) I can’t talk a lot about what I’ve been working on, but I’ve spent the last 2 years working on Universal’s original Monster IP in an attempt to re-boot the classics. It’s been amazing and wonderful working with the Universal crew and I get to draw Monsters all day. What’s better than that?
I would love to attempt a more authentic interpretation of the Mars series (John Carter of Mars). That would be a dream project of mine.
SFF.)Dear Mr. McCreery. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
M.McC.) You’re so welcome. Thank you for your interest in what I do, that really means a lot to me.