Story & Movement: Interview with Designer Ash Thorp

 

 

At this year’s Comic Con it was my goal to explore other artists — go beyond my favorites and find something new. It didn’t take long. I knew Mondo was going to have a booth, so that was one of my first stops and there they were — ‘Pacific Rim.’ ‘Predator.’

I didn’t recognize the artist. The style wasn’t from a regular Mondo artist, but just as amazing as they’ve become known for but still, these were different.

The posters were liquid — you felt the sweat and rain of the jungle in ‘Predator.’ In the ‘Pacific Rim’ design, there is a thud of the warring beasts. You hear it. It’s there. They were alive, full of movement.

The artist was at the Mondo booth signing each poster, all smiles and gratitude — friendly and full of joy. This was my introduction to the work of Ash Thorp.

There’s a technical and graphic prowess to Thorp’s work — a storyteller’s treatment of composition. In the ‘Pacific Rim’ posters there is a continuity, the posters — they’re twins, conjoined. The story propels from one poster to the next in violent and graceful upheaval.

The menace of the alien in Thorp’s ‘Predator’ is there. A monster ready to move forward. There’s something about his treatment of the shapes — there are very few hard lines in his drawings, just a flood of color and tone making the rain and sweat course across the paper.

Thorp is an illustrator — a designer. These are vague terms until you’ve see what he’s done. ‘Design’ is all encompassing, but so is his ability. When Ash was asked by Design Feast his preferred tools he responded, ‘Literally anything and everything, computers, sketchbooks, napkins — everything.’

When you find out that he works in the film industry you understand. His visual effects designs are incredible feats — a mixture of patience, diligence, and creative inspiration.

When I was talking to Ash there’s an enthusiasm to him that is exciting. Thorp is a workhorse. Doing what all great artists, what all great people should do — challenge themselves to advance and grow. His work in the poster world is fresh. The posters for Mondo were his first, and they’re brilliant. Unique.

I reached out to Ash to chat about his work in film and his first round of posters for Mondo and he was totally game for playing along. I’m grateful for that and hopefully his enthusiasm is as contagious to the reader as it was for me.

Here he is, Ash Thorp.

 

athorpintro

 

 

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Ash Thorp's 'Predator' posters at Comic Con at the Mondo booth.

Ash Thorp’s ‘Predator’ posters at Comic Con at the Mondo booth.

 

ET: I was at Comic Con this year and saw both your ‘Predator’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ posters at the Mondo booth. Those are incredible pieces and from what I heard you got an amazing response from them. What was your Comic Con experience like? Was it your first time attending?

AT: Thank you so much for your kind words! I would like to thank everyone at Mondo for having me out and for making this year’s Comic Con experience one of my all time most memorable moments in my creative career. It was a really special few days for me seeing all my hard work and efforts coming together.

 

Ash Thorp signs his 'Predator' posters at the Mondo booth at Comic Con 2013.

Ash Thorp signs his ‘Predator’ posters at the Mondo booth at Comic Con 2013.

 

I have actually been attending Comic Con since I was a little boy (about age 10).  I would bring my drawings and sketches to the editors and art director’s portfolio review. It was incredibly nerve racking but such a fun and intense part of my childhood, as I was completely enamored and surrounded by all the things I loved so much growing up.

To be at this year’s Comic Con signing my own work as a creative professional… it was immensely rewarding to say the least.

That’s so great! It’d be awesome to see what ten year-old Ash was drawing.

 

'Predator' by Ash Thorp

‘Predator’ by Ash Thorp

 

'Predator' variant by Ash Thorp

‘Predator’ variant by Ash Thorp

 

Both films ‘Predator’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ have massive unknown beasts. Your work history definitely suggests you could tackle these stories, but were these two films your choice? Was it a coincidence that they would work together so perfectly thematically?

The team at Mondo have select projects that they obtain the rights for, and then try to see who is interested in what and how they can connect emotionally and creatively with each project to bring the best out of themselves.

They asked if I enjoyed ‘Predator’, and that was my first offer. I jumped on it without hesitation. ‘Predator’ is one of the films that I would watch on repeat growing up. It’s a classic in my book and in some ways is untouchable.

The offer to work on ‘Pacific Rim’ came shortly after ‘Predator.’ I am a big fan of Del Toro as I feel he understands things on a fan based level and does his best with his projects to push those things forward. Del Toro and the team at Mondo where amazing to work with.

I think the coincidence was due to timing and what Mondo was able to get the rights to and share.  Both are thematically about mankind against an alien evil and play out in similar fashion but on different size scales of course.

 

'Pacific Rim - Kaiju' by Ash Thorp

‘Pacific Rim – Kaiju’ by Ash Thorp

 

'Pacific Rim - Jaeger' by Ash Thorp

‘Pacific Rim – Jaeger’ by Ash Thorp

 

Your film and television work is crazy involved – there’s visual depth and movement to the projects you’ve done. In something like your work on ‘Iron Man III,’ you have a million moving parts going along together, ratcheting in sync – plus with film you have the benefit of sound and time lapse, which you don’t get in a static poster.

Both of your Mondo posters have an immense velocity to them, you can feel the speed and weight of the creatures in ‘Pacific Rim’ and the cold downpour of ‘Predator.’ How aware were you of trying to capture that cinematic movement in your posters? What was your design process like for those compositions?

You know, I think it just comes down to what is in my mind when I sit down to draw or build ideas for a project.

I don’t really sit and think about those key things so to speak, but I do focus on the shot or ideas in my head. Things just manifest as I translate the rough ideas from my mind to the computer and away they go.

It’s an interesting process but I try to see the piece finished or close to in my mind and then I attempt to translate those ideas from within my mind.

 

Sketches for 'Total Recall' tech designs by Ash Thorp

Sketches for ‘Total Recall’ tech designs by Ash Thorp

 

'Total Recall' tech designs by Ash Thorp

‘Total Recall’ tech designs by Ash Thorp

 

'Total Recall' tech designs by Ash Thorp

‘Total Recall’ tech designs by Ash Thorp

 

'Total Recall' tech designs by Ash Thorp

‘Total Recall’ tech designs by Ash Thorp

 

'Total Recall' tech designs by Ash Thorp

‘Total Recall’ tech designed by Ash Thorp, animated by Ryan Cashman

 

'Total Recall' tech sketch by Ash Thorp

‘Total Recall’ tech sketch by Ash Thorp

 

 

In a film like ‘Total Recall’ where technology weighs in heavily in the character’s everyday lives, what guidance were you given in that design? How do you manage the balance between having design that appears functional and design that looks cool? Would you sacrifice designing something that might not seem practical if it were visually awesome?

I had a good meeting and talk with Patrick Tatopoulos (the films production designer) about what he had envisioned for the technological aspects on the film. I took those notes and built upon them while designing the assets to present to Patrick and Len Wiseman (the director of the film).

As far as functionality in the real world vs. movie graphics they are two totally different concepts in my mind.

For films like ‘Minority Report’ you have a lot of attention and time focused on realities of our soon to be future. For a film like ‘Total Recall’, it’s all about fantasy and a made up hyper real world.

The graphics and how they play a role in the film are tailored to suit the story and world.  Keeping all this in mind, I had all these thoughts and ideas mulling around in my mind while constructing the assets for the film.

 

'Sherlock Holmes' Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount of Prologue Films.

‘Sherlock Holmes’ Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount of Prologue Films.

 

Sketch for 'Sherlock Holmes' credit sequence. Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount of Prologue Films.

Sketch for ‘Sherlock Holmes’ credit sequence. Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount of Prologue Films.

 

It’s interesting to think about something like the work you did for ‘After Earth’ or one of my recent favorite title sequences, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ – there are teams of people behind those sequences.

From those that made the film and have input on that level, to whoever heads the team that creates the sequences – it’s a load of artists with creative input to reach one singular thing. How do you navigate your role in that world? What do you see your function as? Are you there to see your creative vision to the end or to guide each person toward a collective goal?

AH! This is a big subject and is very complicated to explain. Each project poses its different creative hurdles.

I always try to make my function keen on building as many things as I can with proper quality to support the thesis or task at hand. From then I try to break down what are the winning elements and apply them to the final.

Depending on the team and who I am working with or for I work accordingly, but my main objective is to provide the client with a result or solution to their requests.

In a perfect situation, I aim to build a concept that eventually wins the acceptance of the client and see it through to the final with various stages of notes and changes. It can be a grueling yet rewarding journey at times.

 

'Prometheus' tech design by Ash Thorp

‘Prometheus’ tech design by Ash Thorp

 

'Prometheus' tech design by Ash Thorp

‘Prometheus’ tech design by Ash Thorp

 

'Prometheus' tech design by Ash Thorp

‘Prometheus’ tech design by Ash Thorp

 

Sketches for 'Prometheus' tech by Ash Thorp

Sketches for ‘Prometheus’ tech by Ash Thorp

 

How did you translate your workflow from the complex world of the digital film work you do to the world of screenprinted posters for Mondo? Your end products for Mondo are insanely alive, liquid – I won’t pretend to be smart to enough know what you did and why they seem so fresh and new, but they do.

It would almost seem it must have been an easy shift – a few colors of ink on a 24 x 36 inch sheet of paper, but I shouldn’t assume that.

I have a process I try to work with when translating ideas as complex as a still image to the medium that I use. I try and start with an incredibly rough and small thumbnail.  I come from a world of design principles, and to me if a design can read as a small thumbnail it can read well at any size variation.

I think these are the things you are touching on when you describe them as being alive and liquid. When I roughly sketch out the ideas I try to capture as much energy and flow as I can and do my best to keep that within the final. It’s a very hard balancing act as the piece takes shape and gains focus.

It’s easy to lose that core energy and flow and I often times am left unsatisfied with what I end up with at the end, but I must let things go and move on to the next challenge and grow / learn from my past experiences. As a creative person I am never satisfied with the results and I’m always striving for a better result.

The process of screen printing is incredibly challenging due to its limitations, but living within those limitations and embracing them can be an amazing challenge in itself, which leads to me pushing my comfort zones and trying new things.

 

Process shot for 'Pacific Rim - Kaiju' by Ash Thorp

Process shot for ‘Pacific Rim – Kaiju’ by Ash Thorp

 

Process shot for 'Pacific Rim - Kaiju' by Ash Thorp

Process shot for ‘Pacific Rim – Kaiju’ by Ash Thorp

 

Process shot for 'Pacific Rim - Kaiju' by Ash Thorp

Process shot for ‘Pacific Rim – Kaiju’ by Ash Thorp

 

I have a tendency to collect things – posters, books. DVDs. VHS. Just stuff. For the work that you’ve done in the past there was nothing apparent; physical, for someone to collect. A DVD would only contain a fraction of your work, but a poster – that is 100% you. Are you a collector of anything? This might seem like a strange question, but do your posters excite you? Having something that you created, that’s your work alone?

I LOVE BOOKS!  I got a big wall of all my favorite books that I pull inspiration from daily. It’s a wall of muse that I cherish greatly.

I have a little collection of comics I have had since I was a little kid and have recently started collecting more high end toys but I have to limit that obsession as the price points get a bit out of control, haha!

I am a bit of a neat freak and like to keep my creative space and house in order as I feel it reflects my internal dialog. I would collect more things but I am running out of space now and will have to figure out another solution, haha.

 

'Thor' credit sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Thor’ credit sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

'Thor' credit sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Thor’ credit sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

I know! Space is always going to be an issue for any collector. It all has to go somewhere. With so much of your work being in the world of Hollywood, do you take time to work on your own projects, away from client influence?

I have recently been trying to just draw my own things, my own worlds, my own creations. I feel like a kid again, nothing else matters other then what is in my mind and what is coming out of its translation to my hand. It’s incredibly rewarding.

I am also working on stories and films with my close friend Anthony Burns who is an insanely talented and driven filmmaker up in Toronto. The projects and things we build are what help keep me inspired and creatively fresh. I can’t wait to show everyone what we have been constructing. I have a big bucket list and I can’t wait to start checking off some of these life goals!

 

Creative steps to finalizing a piece, brought to you by Ash Thorp.

Creative steps to finalizing a piece, brought to you by Ash Thorp.

 

In an interview with Motionographer.com you discussed your intense time at Prologue Films, your ‘Year of Complete Potential’ — an inspired concept to just work and push yourself, taking on as many projects during the year as you can in order to grow.

My wife is pregnant and I’ll be a first time dad in a few months and what you were talking about really hits home. The idea of having a full life with family and career, about deciding what kind of father and husband you want to be and then doing what it takes to make it happen.

Now that you’ve moved on from Prologue and that hectic schedule, what’s your work day like? How have you managed to still push yourself and maintain the family life you want?

Congratulations to you both! That’s a big, big, big deal. I am just now recently trying to take control over my life. It’s very, very difficult doing so as a freelance creative as there are not set schedules, no guaranteed work or income.

It’s nearly impossible to try and control. That being said, I don’t think I can work for any one at this point other then my clients. I love having that dynamic flow and creative connection with my clients directly. A lot gets lost in communication from a client to a boss, to a secretary, to a producer, to the producer’s secretary, then to an email. I have a hard time working in those restraints as I feel important things get lost in the flow.

I recently read a few powerful books that have been helping me create habits and pillars to rebuild myself upon that have been helping. Manage your day to day is one of them that I highly recommend.

 

'Iron Man III' title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Iron Man III’ title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

'Iron Man III' title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Iron Man III’ title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

'Iron Man III' title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Iron Man III’ title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

'Iron Man III' title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Iron Man III’ title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

'Iron Man III' title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

‘Iron Man III’ title sequence designed by Ash Thorp

 

 

You’ve worked on some of the biggest films in the past few years and the first posters you’ve done for Mondo sold out in minutes. Where do you want to see your work take you? What’s next?

I am just so lucky and thankful to be on this wave of success. It comes with great sacrifice and honest hard work, but I am thankful for everyone and everything that has gotten me to this point as I remind myself daily.

I am wanting to focus more on my internal creative dialog these days. I have lots of ideas and visuals I aim to start releasing of my own intellectual properties. I feel like each day is a new start and I am just now getting started. The day I stop thinking like that will be the day I hang up my hat and do something else. The future is bright and I feel blessed to live the wonderful life that I live.

 

 

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This interview was done over a few weeks, and even after it’s over I still find myself peppering Ash with questions. He’s a totally kind and down to earth artist, oh, and also incredibly generous with his time. In the upcoming months we’ll be seeing more of his work in the film ‘Ender’s Game‘ and hopefully a few more posters. Like I said, I am a collector.

If you didn’t follow the link above, you should check out Ash’s interview with Motionographer.com about his work / life balance. Interesting take on the whole thing. Check it out HERE.

Ash Thorp on Twitter

Ash Thorp on Tumblr

Ash Thorp’s ‘The Collective Podcast’ on Soundcloud

Ash Thorp on the ‘The Creative Circle Podcast’

 

Sketch for 'The Amazing Spiderman' design by Ash Thorp

Sketch for ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ design by Ash Thorp

 

'The Amazing Spiderman' design by Ash Thorp

‘The Amazing Spiderman’ design by Ash Thorp

 

'The Walking Dead' design by Ash Thorp

‘The Walking Dead’ design by Ash Thorp

 

'The Walking Dead' design by Ash Thorp

‘The Walking Dead’ design by Ash Thorp

 

'The Walking Dead' design by Ash Thorp

‘The Walking Dead’ design by Ash Thorp

 

'The Tourist' Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

‘The Tourist’ Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

 

'The Tourist' Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

‘The Tourist’ Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

 

'The Tourist' Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

‘The Tourist’ Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

 

'The Tourist' Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

‘The Tourist’ Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

 

'The Tourist' Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

‘The Tourist’ Design, illustration, direction created with Danny Yount at Prologue Films

 

'Arthur' Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

‘Arthur’ Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

 

'Arthur' Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

‘Arthur’ Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

 

'Arthur' Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

‘Arthur’ Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

 

'Arthur' Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

‘Arthur’ Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

 

'Arthur' Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

‘Arthur’ Design, direction, illustration (collaberation with the Talented Troy Galuzzi), created at Prologue Films.

 

'After Earth' Concept : Design, Art direction, for After Earth. Studio: Digital Kitchen. Creative Director: Camm Rowland, Executive Producer: Katie Isaacson. Client: Overbrook/Will Smith

‘After Earth’ Concept : Design, Art direction, for After Earth. Studio: Digital Kitchen. Creative Director: Camm Rowland, Executive Producer: Katie Isaacson. Client: Overbrook/Will Smith

 

 

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